Scott's Classic Comics Corner: Measuring Scarcity

Ever since comic book collecting began as a hobby, people have tried to figure out just how many copies of various issues are floating around out there. This week, I’m going to take a look the scarcity of Golden Age books.

A couple of decades ago, the Gerber Scarcity Index emerged out of the Gerber Photo Journals (if you don’t them – you should track down a set). It’s a flawed system, but it was the first and likely still the best attempt to estimate how many copies of books remain in collectors’ hands. Many will point to the GCG Census as a more modern and accurate way of tracking the scarcity of comics. I have many problems with the GCG Census – the main being it is reactive and not proactive. It relies on the submissions of collectors, and that likely skews the numbers of key books vs. non-key books. People are only going to pay slabbing fees for pricey books. So, the number of Showcase #4s and Young Men #24s may seem high when compared to books with relatively little value such as Little Lulu #53 or Boy Comics #77. EBay could have been a wonderful resource in tracking copies of books – but as far as I know, nobody has set up such a system.

Let’s review the Gerber scale, and then go through some examples of tough to find books.

1. Every store has a copy2. Can be found without trouble (eBay has certainly changed this)3. Greater than average availability (I’m not really sure what that means)4. 1,000 – 2,000 Copies5. 200 - 1,000 Copies6. 50 – 200 Copies7. 21 – 50 Copies 8. 11 – 20 Copies9. 6 – 10 Copies10. 0 – 5 Copies

I’ll start with some Gerber 5 books. Many highly collectible books fall into this category, which is good news as there may be enough to go around. I’ve always had a tough time believe that Batman #1 and Amazing Fantasy #15 are in the same category, as they were published more than 20 years apart. This level does, however, encompass a range of 800 books so it’s feasible that they are at either end of the spectrum. Flipping through the Gerber book, I’ve own a good numbers of 5s through the years (including Aces High #4). Books can be a bit tough to track down in this range – but I’d guess there’s a few of them at each large convention and always at least one on EBay at any given moment.

The Gerber 6 category is where things start to get very interesting. Detective Comics #27 allegedly fits into this range, but so do a lot of other books that you might have thought were more widely available. For those trying to complete runs of EC books, you know that many of them are fairly easy to find (and do indeed fall into the 3 & 4 category). Final issues of some of the titles, such as Tales From The Crypt #46 are a 6, and can be much tougher to track down. Other popular books, such as every single one of Famous Funnies issues with Frazetta Buck Rogers covers, fall into the 6 category – and the combination of low supply and high demand lead to high prices.

Gerber 7 – the scarcest category for books which I’ve personally owned (all 3 posted have been in my collection at one time or another). If you scan through many of the long-running titles in the Photo-Journal Guide – you’ll see a bunch in the 4 and 5 categories and a few 6s, but every now and then a 7 jumps out as an outlier. I’m not sure why certain books, such as More Fun comics #96 or Doll Man #44 and tougher to find than others from those titles. I’m not 100% on the reported scarcity of the latter day Doll Man issues – as I’ve had decent luck tracking many of them down and prices have been reasonable. Every now and then, you’ll see a relatively worthless book like Fighting Undersea Commandos #5 noted as a Gerber 7. I picked up my beat up copy for $1.99, so scarcity doesn’t always lead to high prices.

Books in the Gerber 8 category are indeed tough to find, although I’d say that some in the category are likely 7s, while others may be so scarce to be listed as 9s. Many books from the early days of the Golden Age fit into this category (such as Fantastic Comics #2), while others are highly sought after by collectors (such as Daring Mystery Comics #8), which makes it all the more frustrating and expensive for those folks to get their hands on a copy. From time to time, there’s a book from a readily available series that is listed as an 8. Exciting Comics #30 would fall into this category and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t really a 7.

With Gerber 9, you’re getting into a book about which a dealer might say “haven’t seen one of those since San Diego in ’94”. Most of the books that fall into this category are from the late 30s, such as Detective Comics #3 and All-American Comics #4. If you see them, chances are they aren’t going to be in high grade. There are, however, some other odd ducks in the 9 category. Gilberton produced a handful of Classics Illustrated Giants, and these all fit into either the 8 or 9 category. I know that there are plenty of Classics Illustrated completists out there, and these books must drive them to the brink of madness.

Gerber 10 is the category of the mythical books that may or may not even exist. Since the Gerber Journals came out, I believe that we’ve had many confirmed Gerber 10 sightings. You’re more likely to encounter a Yeti than one of these books. I haven’t taken the time to scan the Gerber books looking for all of the 10s, but I imagine there are fewer than 20. You’re into very early Golden Age books like New Adventure Comics #12 or Double Action #2 or strange quasi-ashcans like All-New Comics #15 (if anyone can explain the story behind that book, I’d be grateful).

Where do we go from here? Is there anything beyond 10? I know that a certain friend of mine is still on the hunt for Brother Power the Geek #3. It would be fantastic if someone with more time and statistics capabilities than me would try to put together a new Scarcity Index based on all of the information available today, but until then it’s still fun to look through those Gerber Photo Journal Guides for all of these rarities.

For more comic book nonsense and other junk – stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent.

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