On History: Valueless?

By | Tuesday, May 05, 2015 1 comment
Trash pickup in my neighborhood is Tuesday morning, so most people put their garabage out Monday night. Last night, as I was walking the dog, I saw what looked to be a pile of long boxes on the curb. I walked over, and sure enough, there were six of the very familiar white cardboard boxes stacked a few feet from a trash can. I skeptically lifted the lid, and it was indeed filled with comics. Another lid, another row of comics! I flipped through a few and saw mostly Marvel and DC books from the past few years, but they all appeared to be in excellent condition, many of them bagged and boarded. I ran home to grab the car and haul these back before someone else stumbled across them!

Found comics
Once I got the boxes home, I was able to look through them a little more carefully. Each box was full, and the contents seemed to be completely unorganized, but most of the issues were in near mint condition. There was a lot of X-Men and Justice League books, but a noticeable number of titles from Image, Dark Horse, and a few smaller publishers. The most obscure titles I came across were Scud: The Disposable Assassin and Grafik Muzik. There were some issues dating back to the mid-1980s, and the most recent issue I saw was from about three years ago.

All of which is to say that I didn't see anything super-valuable or rare, but it wasn't exactly crap either. They looked liked they'd be perfectly at home at a comic shop or a convention table with a "$2 each/5 for $5" sign on them.

But they were sitting on the curb. With the garbage. It was easier for the person to drag six boxes of comics out to the street and get zero recompense for them, rather than go through any other channel where they might receive some value back. Either in terms of cash for selling them, or just an emotional warm fuzzy from donating them to a hospital or children's home. I understand that going to a comics shop might be intimidating, and setting up a garage sale or a series of ebay auctions can be a hell of a lot of work, but there's a Half Price Books less than two miles away. They're absolutely not going to give you top dollar for newish comics, but with the store that close, it's scarcely any more effort than dragging them to the end of the driveway.

What's interesting to me here is that the previous owners put so little value on a couple thousand comics that throwing them out was the best option. Sure, in the 1930s and '40s, comics were essentially valueless and discarded with casual abandon once they'd been read. That changed over the years and, with the rise of comic shops and collector's market, people started to see some significance in holding on to those old issues. Not every one was a classic, of course, but you never knew when some random issue of The Incredible Hulk would suddenly feature the first appearance of a character that would become insanely popular.

As most of you probably know, things got out of hand as people started trying to game the system for the express purpose of making money. The classic idea of funding your child's college education by selling old comics. We got #1 issues sporting "Collector's Item!" across the cover, then die-cut/chromium/hologram/embossed covers, and eventually the forced scarcity with limited edition variants. There still is some of that going on, but certainly not to the extent that we saw at the tail end of the last century.

But now we're seemingly swinging back to where the floppies are literally next to the garbage. While I'm certainly grateful for the opportunity to acquire a decent collection, it makes me wonder about where people see the cultural value of comics going, relative to where it's been.
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I worked at a Fortune 100 pharma company in the library. We were moving to another location, so I was tasked with throwing out the contents of binders of advertisements and the documentation used to make the claims for those ads going back to the 1890s.

When asked what I was doing I said that I was throwing away historically significant, irreplaceable documents that no one wants.

That's pretty much where we are with floppies.