Tuesday, January 19, 2016
What's It Worth?
It's probably the most common question I receive in comments... "I have a ________ and I was wondering what it was worth." Typically, the item in question was either featured in a "Cool Stuff" post, or is related to something there. I also see the question asked in some of the Facebook groups I belong to, when someone is at a yard sale, auction, or thrift store and sees something, and is wondering if it's worth the asking price... or they already bought it and is asking if it was a good deal. Or maybe they're looking to sell something.
The short answer to what something is worth is: Whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. It doesn't really matter what any price guide or sold eBay listing says, if you can't find someone willing to pay $50 for your mint-on-card first version Captain Jack Spaceman action figure, it's not worth $50.
Having said that, however, there are ways you can gauge the value of something.
These days, printed price guides are barely worth the cost, in my opinion. They're worth it to get information about an item or helping identify it, but the collecting market can be rather volatile at times, and values of specific items rise and fall on a regular basis.
I know most people don't want to hear this, but the best gauge of an item's value is eBay. Look at sold listings for that specific item and you'll have an idea of what someone may be willing to pay for it.
But there are a few caveats, mind you...
First of all, is your item in the same condition as the one that was sold? If yours is in better condition, it may well sell for more. If it's in poorer condition, it will sell for less.
Secondly, look at the shipping price. If the item was listed with "free shipping," that really just means that the shipping price was already included in the starting bid or fixed price. The total of the sold price plus shipping will give you an idea of what the total "value" of something would be if you were to sell it directly to another collector.
Thirdly, consider how many bids there were on the listing. If there were a lot of bids, it's possible that two individuals that had more money than brains decided to "fight" over an item, driving the price well above what it was really worth (if you're a seller, you pray for this to happen). Or it could just mean there were a lot of bids because it's a high-demand item.
But what if there were few bids, or only one? Was a "buy it now" price paid, or a "best offer" accepted? This likely means that the seller had a certain price in mind they wanted to sell it for, and this could've been originally listed for more than it actually sold for, and the seller was just looking to clear out some inventory. Even if there weren't many bids, the potential sale value of the item could be higher than it sold for... it was just a case where the right buyer (or buyers, in the case of an auction) didn't happen to come along at that time.
I've had items that I've listed as auctions close with no bids, and then I'd relist them, and suddenly, there's a competition for that item. This just means that those bidders didn't see it the first time around (or perhaps they were watching a similar listing that, by the time it went above the price my listing started at, it was too late to bid on my item).
There are a couple of factors to consider when looking at selling a collectible. The first one is the rarity of the item. How often does this item get offered for sale? Are there not that many of them available at any one time?
Next, consider the demand. Just because something may be rare, or old, it may not be that valuable to collectors. Consider in the comics world the disparity in price between the issue of The Incredible Hulk with the first appearance of Wolverine compared to other Marvel books that came out that same month, then look at DC books, then consider the value of that month's output from publishers like Charlton, Gold Key/Whitman, Archie and Harvey. It could be that the issue of Richie Rich that was published that month had a much smaller print run than The Incredible Hulk, making it rarer, but the demand just isn't there to push up the price.
Finally, consider the condition. Some collectors only collect items in Mint condition, which means it's absolutely perfect in every way, as if it was brand-new. For toys, this typically means it's Mint in Box (MIB), Mint on Card (MOC), or Mint in Package (MIP). Whatever packaging the toy came in is complete and in perfect shape, and the toy has never been removed from it.
In all fields of collecting, condition goes down from there. Some people prefer to use a decimal system for indicating condition (with 10.0 being the grade for perfect condition), but I still prefer to go old-school myself. The next major category down from Mint (or, more often, you'll see Near Mint listed, where something is almost like new, but with one very minor flaw) is Fine, followed by Good, with often Fair following Good. Between these lie Near Mint, Very Fine, Near Fine, Very Good, Near Good, etc. to indicate that it's a little better or worse than the base condition. Sometimes a plus sign (+) or minus sign (-) will be added, to indicate slight deviations from those.
Unfortunately, determining condition can be very subjective. I've lost count of how many times I've seen comic books that were at best in Fine condition get priced as if they were Near Mint at yard sales, antique shops, or thrift stores. To the average person, an item that's in Fine condition may look Mint to them, while a more discerning collector will spot flaws.
I'll do what I can to clarify what I feel those terms mean here:
Mint means something is in perfect condition. There is not a flaw on it. For a comic book, this means no wear on the spine (such as color rub, where the printing has been worn away), the pages are all clean and bright, no wrinkles at all. For toys, as I said before, there's the various in package terms with Mint, but there's also Loose Mint, which means that while the toy is no longer in the original package, it's still in perfect condition. In my eBay listings, I rarely use Mint as a description, because it's difficult at times to spot any tiny imperfections in an item.
The next level is Fine, which usually means that to the casual collector, something looks "great" or "like new," but in reality, it has some minor flaws. For a comic, this usually translates to it looking as though it's been read. There is likely some flaking of the color off of the spine, and the pages may be slightly discolored. There's no tears or wrinkles, nothing has been cut out of the book (think Marvel Value Stamps -- a book with this cut out of it really shouldn't be listed as any better than Good, or perhaps Very Good if it's in perfect shape other than that). For toys, this means there is only minor rub of any paint applications, any stickers are still present and in good shape. It may or may not mean that any accessories are included, in the case of action figures (read the item description). An item in Fine condition usually is worth about half of the Mint condition price.
Next we have Good. As you might imagine, a few more flaws are acceptable here. There may be stickers missing from a toy, or a fair amount of paint rub. For comics, it usually means there's a wrinkle or two or perhaps minor dog ears on the cover or interior pages. The book should be complete, but as noted above, if the Marvel Value Stamp (or another coupon) was cut out, this is the best the book could be graded -- and if the clipped item was backed by a story page, it really shouldn't go for better than Fair. Good condition items are worth about 25% of the Mint price. For the most part, Good condition items are purchased by beginning collectors, or those who are looking to have a particular item, so long as it's complete they're happy. When looking at eBay listings, you have to be careful about items listed as "Good," because some sellers aren't up on the terminology, and they'll say something is in "good condition" without it being in Good condition, if you get my meaning. When in doubt, ask questions!
Next we have Fair, and this gets into tricky territory. Some people consider this to be equal to BTH (Beat to Hell) in the case of comics. Some pages may be loose, and there's been obvious wear. For toys, this means it's been played with, probably extensively. With toys, this usually means that a buyer is probably intending to use it for parts to put together a more complete toy. An example of this might be a Mego action figure (one of the eight inch superheroes, perhaps) that's missing its costume entirely, but is otherwise in good shape, with no color rub on the head. Some collectors may buy this with a plan to replace the clothes, or perhaps they have one where the clothes are in good shape, but the figure itself is broken. This usually goes for about 10% of the Mint price, and sometimes less, depending on the number of problems the item has.
Depending on how discerning a collector someone is, they may be willing to purchase an item that's not in such great shape just to have that item, with the plan to "upgrade" it with a better condition item in the future. As a buyer, it's always a good idea to ask questions if condition is important to you, especially if the photos (in the case of an online listing) aren't as clear or large as you would prefer. As a seller, if you list something online, it's always best to be completely honest about any flaws an item has, and if you're not sure what level the condition is, just list all the flaws and provide detailed photos. eBay lets you put up to 12 photos in your listing, but if you use an image server such as Flickr, you can save photos on that site and copy the HTML to include even more and larger photos in the description of the item as well.
Hopefully, this whole diatribe here has been illuminating for some of you, and has given you some food for thought. I hope I haven't gone on too long with this, as it's something that I'd imagine a lot of my readers are probably fairly well aware of, and might even be hoping that there's another article posted today to check out!