It’s the 1950s or the 1960s or maybe even most of the 1970s. You’re getting married, and even before you send out wedding invitations (in envelopes, mailed with stamps) you have to trot down to the mall and register. For China. You have to struggle to pick out a set of China with a pattern you can stand to look at for the next fifty years. And it has to include small pieces of China that any of your friends can probably afford to buy you as presents.
Probably doesn’t sound familiar to most of us anymore. I can’t remember any of our four kids picking out china, or silverware, or silver trays and tea servings, or any of the wedding gifts that covered the tables at weddings in our past. Oh, sure, people can still go to Wal-Mart and set up a wedding registry, but a quick look at the online listings show that the most common gifts are beddings, cookware sets, and complete place settings, not individual pieces of expensive china. What happened?
Maybe we all just came to our senses and stopped trying to impress folks whose opinions never really mattered to us after all. Instead of shelling out untold riches for plates that you’re afraid to damage, you can simply go to Kmart and pick up a box with plates and dishes for four or six people for $50 or so and eat off the plates with no concern for the plates’ well-being.
Or better yet, you can hit the garage sales or estate sales and pick up complete sets of the China that the last generation spent years collecting, one piece at a time. There’s lots of that for sale at bargain prices because nobody wants it anymore. Not their kids, or their cousins, or anybody. Gone are the days of having a display cabinet full of expensive plates and bowls because we no longer have the need to “entertain” guests, we simply invite them over, set up a buffet of quick, easy food like pizza and wings and chips and dip, and stack some paper plates at the end of the table. Sounds like progress to me.
This is symptomatic of a paradigm shift that is taking place. In the past, perhaps because of memories of the depression in the 1930s and early 1940s when most people had nothing, the greatest generation and the younger Baby Boomers grew up accumulating stuff. It probably started with functional stuff like furniture and kitchenware and clothing (and shoes!) Later it expanded into collections of useless but art-like stuff like coins and postage stamps and records. During World War II there were paper drives to create the recyclable pulp that could be used to support the war effort, and millions of magazines and comic books were destroyed nearly every week. It wasn’t until the war ended that people started collecting and keeping books and comics and magazines. As George Carlin observed, we then had to build bigger and bigger homes to put all our accumulating stuff into.
What was considered collectible expanded and we got Barbie and Hummel figurines and the Franklin Mint and sports cards and “antiques” and Cabbage Patch dolls and Beenie Babies and pogs and non-sports cards and video games and early personal computers and it seemed like it would never end and then it ended. Now the kids that have grown up with a phone attached to themselves 24/7/365 collect and quickly discard pictures and memes and posts and videos and can easily find pictures of anything so why bother collecting things when they only take up space?
The sports card market is simply gone. We used to buy the cards and read and memorize stats for our favorite players, but now that information and pictures and even videos are readily available online, so why bother having physical cards?
Every week we get calls at the store asking if we buy things. We don’t get enough calls about selling us comics, but most of the comics people want to sell us are from the early nineties. There are so many copies of those comics that there are no customers left who want to buy those comics. Anybody who simply wants to read older comics can do so very cheaply online. While older comic readers are still attached to their physical comics, the next generation of physical comic book readers doesn’t seem to exist. Instead, they have Comixology (a division of Amazon) supplying them unlimited access to every Marvel comic more than six months old for less than $10 a month. Perhaps if we had tablets that were 15 inches wide and 12 inches high that could reproduce a double-page spread you could hold in your lap it would replace the physical comics nicely. Oh, wait, they do exist, they just still cost too much and aren’t quite bright enough. Okay, maybe we’ll get those electronic comic book readers Real Soon Now.
If you search online for a bit, you’ll find a lot of confused posts by Boomers who have inherited a house from their parents that is full of a ton of stuff they are now stuck with. One of the growth industries of the next decades will be people who can swoop in and turn all that stuff into cash. The hard part of that industry will be knowing what prices all the stuff will actually fetch, not how much it is all “worth” based on price guides. The only true price guide for anything anymore is completed auctions on eBay.
We also get calls quite often from people who want to sell us books, and magazines, and autographed items, and an endless stream of collectibles, but I’m sure we don’t have customers who want to buy those things, either. Which leaves me wondering about selling back issues of comics.
In the past two weeks, we bought boxes and boxes of Magic: The Gathering cards from three or four customers who were simply trying to get rid of them. I spent time looking through all the cards before giving the customers the bad news about how little they were worth. I even chased a few customers away and told them to sell their shoebox full of cards at a garage sale for $10 to $20 because nobody plays with hardly any older common and uncommon cards. I have stacks of rare cards left that won’t sell at $1 each, although my regulars did just about cover my cost buying a handful of rares and a few stacks of twenty-five cent cards. We didn’t buy any of the Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards people brought in since cards from those games are even more difficult to sell.
Over 90% of our comic book sales are comics that came out in the past ten days. After that, new comics simply gather dust until I box them up and put them away under a table. We can sell some back issues for a dollar, but books marked $2 or $3 tend to stay around a very long time, even though price guides insist those comics are worth $6 or more…of course, the price guides don’t list any comics for less than cover price, proving how inaccurate the sole remaining price guide (Overstreet) really is. There is still enormous heat on key issues, but non-key issues only sell when they are in extremely high grade or dirt cheap. Perhaps comic books are now little more than a modern version of tulip madness, with silver age comics selling for high prices to people who buy them simply because they are convinced that they are a good investment because someday somebody will pay even more money for their treasures. This can be summed up by the bigger fool theory:
I may be a fool to pay this much for a comic book, but somewhere there’s a bigger fool who will pay me even more.
Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 may sell for over a million dollars, but it’s unlikely any comic from the New 52 will ever again sell for more than a few dollars…and most of them are already worth about 25 cents each at shows…and discounts are available for quantity purchases!
It’s okay to collect things that make you happy, just be sure you’re paying cash and not borrowing the money. Here’s a warning along those lines from Traffic.