By Benjamin Nobel, December 13, 2016
I continue to be simply amazed by how much I learn from readers — truly one of the huge benefits of blogging! A reader by the name of Greg Holland reached out to introduce himself; he is the curator of a website by the name of CGCdata.com, and he had some thoughts for me about how I might make use of his website as a research tool, when investigating newsstand comics.
What a great site! It is basically a “time machine” for CGC census data.
Want to learn how many Signature Series copies of a given issue existed at a given point in time in the past? Greg’s website can tell you. Want to figure out to what degree submissions of Spawn #9 exploded in number after the date of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie? Greg’s website can tell you.
His website can also be used to tease out a list of CGC-recognized newsstand variants. [This tool will be a huge help to keep tabs on future CGC submissions containing new $3.99 Newsstand Editions (and other categories of newsstand variants) that will get broken out by CGC as they receive them over the course of time.]
And now, on to the focus of this particular post…
Amazing Spider-Man #252: “Canadian Edition” vs Regular Copies Over Time
Want to learn how many “Canadian” Edition copies of Amazing Spider-Man #252 existed on census back in, say, July of 2001 versus how many “regular” copies? Greg’s website can tell you that too (and the answer is 5 Canadian Editions, versus 228 regular copies back then, which is ~2% Canadian Edition).
[Note: “Canadian Edition” is what CGC presently calls these on census, even though “Type 1A Cover Price Variant” or “75¢ Cover Price Variant” or “Canadian Price Variant” arguably would have been a better labeling choice; I’m going to be using the term “Canadian Edition” throughout the post because of CGC’s notation and because we’re discussing CGC census information, but readers should please know that my personal feeling on the matter is that Jon McClure’s notation “Type 1A” is really the proper notation that CGC should have used; more on the subject of this terminology here.]
I was curious to learn how these numbers compared over the course of time for this issue. And one of Greg’s suggestions to me was to figure out the percentage of new submissions over time that represented variant newsstand copies, to see how they compare as time goes on… Perhaps this would reveal an increased interest in newsstand comics among collectors over time. In other words, if we know the census numbers at point-in-time-A, and we know the numbers at point-in-time-B, then we therefore can know how many new copies were submitted to CGC just during that time-frame, and see what the Canadian Edition percentage looks like.
That’s an interesting idea, and I had the thought that ASM #252 might be ideal for this type of number crunching, because not only does the data go back very far, but there also happens to be a huge sample size of data for this particular comic: a full 129 Canadian Edition copies are on record as of today!
Some of you will probably be pausing here and thinking: you’re telling me 129 is supposed to be a “huge” number? For Canadian Edition comics from the 1980’s, that’s relatively a huge number indeed. Consider Web of Spider-Man #1 — there have been several thousands of CGC submissions, 3,776 “regular” copies in fact, but guess how much Canadian Edition data appears for that issue when we peek into the census today? Ten copies. That’s right, after all these many years just 10 Canadian Edition copies, have been submitted to date for Web of Spider-Man #1. So to find an example issue with well over a hundred Canadian Edition copies on record is — relatively speaking — a huge number for this “category” of 1980’s price variant comics.
Part of why there is so much ASM #252 data on census is because this issue is a huge “key” featuring an Amazing Fantasy #15 cover swipe and the 1st appearance of the black costume. The CGC census total for “regular” copies of issue #252 as I type this sentence on December 12, 2016 is: 7,285 copies. That’s a very nice sample size indeed. Few Marvel keys published during the 1980’s “price variant window” can match this type of robust CGC submission interest among collectors. Secret Wars #8 is competitive (higher even) at 8,755 total “regular” copies, yet, we find that a mere 35 Canadian Edition copies of that issue appear on census.
So yes: the 129 Canadian Edition copies we see on census for ASM #252 make it a stand-out for sample size. There’s simply something about ASM #252 in particular where we see more Canadian Edition copies, as a percentage of total copies, than the comparable percentage that we see with other nearby keys…
One possibility to explain this, has to do with the “variable fate” of newsstand returns. Canadian Editions at Marvel (and D.C.) during the 1980’s were a newsstand-only phenomenon — a “newsstand exclusive” if you will — and the model for newsstand distribution called for unsold newsstand comics to be returned to the publisher for a refund. The publisher was then free to do whatever they wanted with the returns. Often, they simply recycled/pulped them. But not always.
Suppose you’re Marvel, and you’ve just released an Amazing Fantasy #15 cover swipe, with Spider-Man wearing a new costume, and collectors throughout the U.S. are going wild over it. Suppose you now get to decide the fate of the returns of Canadian newsstand copies with 75 cent cover prices on them… What do you do? To meet unusually high U.S. demand, perhaps if you’re Marvel you’d then sell the Canadian Edition returns into the U.S. market instead of pulping them…
That’s a hypothesis. It also happens to be pretty much exactly what one reader shared when commenting on this post, saying:
“It is important to note that the ASM #252 with the 75 cent price variant, was used and sold in the US for price marketing. This particular ASM252 is probably the most abundant $0.75 price variant out there.”
It definitely makes a great deal of sense as a business decision, for Marvel to have taken the Canadian Edition newsstand returns for this issue and sold them into the U.S. market if the demand was abnormally high for this issue — and if nothing else, it could be used as an exercise in testing how well the market responded to a 75 cent price point. This strikes me as a scenario where Marvel would come out a winner no matter what: Marvel could win if sales of 75 cent copies were strong, and Marvel would win useful sales data regardless.
So I think this possible scenario of Marvel selling Canadian Edition newsstand returns for this particular issue into the U.S. market to meet strong demand makes a whole lot of sense as an explanation for why we see so much data for the ASM #252 Canadian Edition showing up on census, versus the percentage of Canadian Editions we see for other nearby keys.
But whatever factors may have come together to contribute to the abnormally-large amount of census data we see for Canadian Edition copies of Amazing Spider-Man #252, for our purposes here today with the analysis that follows, it may mean the numbers Greg suggested digging into could be interesting given that we have such a nice sample size here.
Let’s see if we get an interesting result when we tabulate the numbers in a roughly-year-by-year fashion (the exact timing of each census “snapshot” is variable), from 2001 onward. Here’s the “raw” data first. To arrive at the below table, I plugged in the numbers from the “Universal” category into a spreadsheet, then went back and added in the “Signature Series” copies as well. Between these two categories, we should cover the vast majority of submissions.
|Universal + CGC SS Copies of ASM #252 Over Time|
|Census Date||Regular Copies||Canadian Editions|
Interestingly it starts at ~2% Canadian Edition in 2001, ends at ~2% Canadian Edition here in 2016, and during the in-between years we have a fairly steady stream of submissions of both types, but times when the count of Canadian Edition copies doesn’t move much (or at all), and other times when it moves ahead more noticeably. When I calculated (and then charted) the percentage of submissions during each period that were Canadian Edition, the chart turned out to be kind of interesting… Did it reveal increasing collector interest in these variant newsstand comics? I’ll show you the chart in a moment.
Before I present it, let me say one thing: Buying comics has never been easier or more global than it is today, in that I can go online to eBay and with a few key strokes I can scour the world over for the comic I seek. It might be that the nicest-looking match for what I seek is a copy in Canada; or the U.K.; it might even be that the nicest-looking match is in Cyprus [I actually bought a US-manufactured newsstand comic recently from a seller that turned out to be from Cyprus; in case you’re curious which particular comic did all this world-travel it was a Maxx #1, and in case you’re curious how CGC treated it, they broke it out as “Newsstand Edition”].
To me, what matters first when I’m out there online buying a comic, is that I located a nice copy of the issue I’m looking for; the total cost and shipping time then determine the purchase decision versus available alternative copies, resulting in a situation where I may buy a comic I’ve found regardless of where around the globe the comic may happen to reside.
And as a U.S. based buyer, the currency I use when I reach for my wallet is U.S. dollars. But around the world, different countries use different currencies… and so depending on the exchange rates at the time, my U.S. dollars may or may not give me stronger purchasing power, versus at other times in the past. It just so happens that at this particular moment in time, one U.S. dollar exchanges to 1.31 Canadian dollars — nicely in my favor if I’m looking to buy something from a Canadian, right? Within the past year it has been as high as ~1.45! So this has been a great time to be a U.S. buyer shopping for comics located in Canada. But rewind back to circa 2011 and the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars was 1-for-1… It fluctuates over time.
With the caveat that correlation does not equal causation, I couldn’t help but notice that the shape of the chart I ended up with when I did this ASM #252 exercise to study the percentage of new submissions over time that were Canadian Edition, reminded me a heck of a lot of the USD to CAD exchange rate chart. It may very well be the case that the primary thing this historical census data exercise has revealed, is that Americans tend to buy a greater quantity of comics located North of the border when the exchange rate is in our favor…
If a Canadian wants $100 CAD for their copy of ASM #252, then there is strong logic to the notion that a collector in the USA might tend to be the one to hit the buy button at times when our currency happens to be very strong (that $100 CAD comic would cost $76 USD at this particular moment; it would have cost just $68 USD back in January; but back in 2011 it would have cost a full $100 USD).
And by population we here in the USA are ~90% of the North American market for Marvel’s English-language comic books while Canadians are ~10% — so our purchasing habits and CGC submissions should simply matter much more to the census data, because we make up the bulk of the North American population buying Marvel’s comics. So it may not be a coincidence at all that the highest spike in the exchange rate chart matches the highest spike in the ratio of Canadian Edition submissions of Amazing Spider-Man #252.
I hope you have enjoyed walking through this examination of the data with me. Thank you to Greg Holland for the great website resource (and your proof-reading assistance)!
Final thoughts: If ASM #252 has one of the most abundant supplies of Canadian Editions out there as a percentage of the total, versus other key comics in this “class” of cover price variants, and that percentage still lands at a mere ~2% on the CGC census (which is minuscule: equaling “1:50” to put it in “modern variant terms”), then you start to understand why I’m so fond of this entire category. If 2% is abundant and a category-stand-out, you can start to understand how finding the variants for some of these other keys where the variant percentage is lower is an incredible challenge, especially if you require a high grade copy and not just a reader copy.
And challenges are fun: it’s kind of the whole point of collecting comics… if there’s no challenge to it, then we’re just shopping, just accumulating ordinary things. But finding something out there in the market that we know by the math is super-rare, and finding it at “regular price” (or near it) is a highly rewarding feeling! Buying a plain old Direct Edition copy by contrast is boring to me — and doing that only gives you one way to win (you win if the issue number rises in value).
If you collect the Canadian Edition variant, then you have two ways to win: (1) The issue number itself may rise in value over time, and (2) the extreme rarity of this overlooked variant may start to be given a market premium by collectors much in the way 35 cent variants were initially overlooked as a “class” of comics but now command such a premium all these years later.
How often in life do you find a way to double the number of ways you can win, from one simple decision (the decision to collect the Canadian Edition variant as your preference when going after a comic you were looking to acquire anyway), at no appreciable additional expense (these are still possible to find out there at “regular” prices where the seller has no idea their copy is any different from the rest)?
[By the way, the 35 cent variant copies of Star Wars #1, just for some perspective, have CGC census rarity of ~3%, with 195 variant copies versus 5,906 regular copies as of this writing. Yes: Incredibly, at 195 CGC graded copies that highly-valued variant outnumbers the CGC graded copies in existence today of variant copies of ASM #252!]
Readers: if you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably want to read this one too, because Canadian Edition comics are not the only newsstand comics CGC “breaks out” and you should know what other interesting newsstand variant “categories” are out there! Over time, maybe the type of exercise done here might be applicable to some of the other categories as the data fills out!
Happy Collecting! 🙂