Why Are Comics from the 1930s and 1940s So Rare?
Updated: Oct 20, 2021
The term "rare" in collectibles can be a very relative term. Something that one person considers to be rare, might be considered to be common by another. For comic books, it can be difficult to know what is exactly rare, but when trying to understand the basics it's important to know that comics from the 1930s and 1940s are usually the rarest among the hobby. This is due to a number of reasons. In this article, we will try to understand why comics from Golden Age are the rarest and usually the most valuable and why later comics are much more common. If you have any comics from the Golden Age, then the following may prove useful to you.
In the 1930s and 1940s, comic books were just starting out and most people who purchased them did not know they would become collectible or have any future value. They thought that comics were something to read and enjoy. Comic books would have great, fun stories and art which was enough for most readers. Most of the people who bought comic books at the time were younger and at the time most people in their age group did not have any kind of concept of collecting. This idea was generally shared among all collectibles (cards, stamps, etc.). It would not be until the 1970s that widespread comic collecting would emerge. Obviously, there were some who collected comics prior to the 70s, but those people were few and far between. This is why comics from periods before the 1970s can be difficult to find in higher grades.
The print runs for comic books in the 1930s and 1940s were not low (some books would be printed by the hundreds of thousands). Let's take the example of the title "Famous Funnies." In the late 1930s, the title had average print runs between 300,000 to 400,000 copies per issue. This is actually much higher than most books being printed today. While the print runs were higher, what we need to understand is that most people did not keep their books. They were thrown out or recycled. We all know that family member or friend who has told us about how their mom threw away their comics, and during this time, it was much more common.
During World War II, in the United States, there would be an effort to conserve all supplies to help in the war effort overseas. This would lead to lower print runs, and more importantly, it would lead to many recycling their comics and other non-essentials to help their country. At the time, there was such a short supply of materials, that it lead to some comics being printed with only 1 staple. As you might guess, finding those particular comics with the covers still attached can prove to be difficult.
So you might be thinking that maybe if you found some 1930s and 1940s comics, then you could have a great investment. This is the case sometimes, but please know that not all comic books from this time period are good investments. Just because it is hard to find, does not mean the comic will go up in value. In addition to supply, demand is also important. A hard-to-find Batman comic from 1942 might be worth a few thousand dollars in mid-grade, but a Hulk 181 which is much more common might sell for close to the same price. That's because the Hulk 181 has the 1st appearance of Wolverine, so the demand is much higher.
During the 1970s thru 1990s, there was a major increase in comic book collecting. This helped change comic books and shifted to focus of some. Comics became something that many collected and invested in. The hobby was now much more focused on money. This lead many to start saving their books in hopes that the values would rise. This started because many noticed that the older books from the 1930s and 1940s were becoming valuable, so they thought that the new comics would eventually become valuable as well.
Now you might be thinking that you have a pile of 1990s comics that were "limited edition" or "collector's edition" which should be considered rare, and unfortunately, that cannot be further from the truth. Comics from the 1980s and 1990s were made to be collectible. They were printed in large quantities and even the limited ones were printed by the thousands and more importantly, they were saved by collectors with the intention of collecting and investing in the books so their future values would increase.
Many other modern collectibles followed in the footsteps of 1990s comic books. Graded Pokémon cards that are 1st edition can sell for thousands, despite being printed by the thousands and being very common. Funko produces products that are blatantly collectible or limited edition to encourage collectors. Sports card companies make cards that are printed in low quantities to encourage the purchase of packs among collectors. This might seem like fun at the time, however, this leads to an issue among collectibles when considering the term "rare." The problem becomes when something is manufactured to be "rare" then it is not organic, and it is only being driven by greed (both among collectors and manufacturers). Having an organically rare collectible is uncommon these days. This is because manufacturers understand collectors and try their best to appeal to them while creating a collectible market.
This article goes a long way to try to explain that sometimes rare isn't exactly the same for everyone when looking at comics and collectibles. If you have a comic book from most time periods then it's likely that the book is not rare. If you have a comic from the 1930s or 1940s then chances are much higher than the book is rare. Just remember that if you have a rare book, then be sure to do your research and make sure the book is original and has good content that is in demand. If that's the case, then you might have something of value.