Australian Newsstand Edition, Canadian Newsstand Edition, U.K. Pence

Applause to CGC Now Labeling Type 1A’s as “Canadian Price Variant”, “Australian Price Variant”, and “UK Price Variant”

5/5/2019

Breaking news, Type 1A price variant collectors! Until now, CGC has been labeling the three discovered-to-date categories of Type 1A price variants as “[Country] Edition when breaking them out on census, but going forward from Monday of next week, they are switching from Edition to Price Variant:

cgc-cpv-announcement-may-19

Applause to the team at CGC for making the great decision to move ahead with this important change! I know it is not without cost/effort/man-hours that this is being done and the effort is truly appreciated — and I’m confident that looking back from the future, CGC will recognize it was well worth the effort, as it places CGC on the correct side of comic book history with regard to recognizing Type 1A’s and labeling them in a way that better highlights them as the US-published first-print originals they are!

And please join me in a round of applause for my fellow Pence Price Variant Issue Guide collaborator Steve Cranch, who recently made the case anew to CGC for the need for this change, presenting it from the Pence Price Variant perspective. As recognition to Steve’s involvement in their decision-making about the change, CGC made the initial official announcement above in Steve’s pence threads, just a number of hours ago.

Why This Is Milestone News:

I’d expect one of the typical reactions to the news to be along the lines of: “they already were breaking these out as distinct census variants, so why is it a big deal precisely what we call them?” I totally get this reaction: a rose by any other name smells just as sweet, and the variant name atop a CGC slab changes nothing about the comic within the slab to those of us who collect it and understand it — the incredible rarity of the comic is just as sweet to us, whether we call, say, an ASM #238 a “75¢ Variant” or a “Canadian Edition” or a “Canadian Newsstand Edition” or a “Type 1A Price Variant” or a “CPV” or anything else!

And while that’s absolutely true, consider that calling a first print US-published cover price variant a [Country] Edition causes confusion to those of us not already in-the-know about Type 1As, by conflating them with foreign-published editions (such as the ones published in Canada that actually say Canadian Edition on them). The “actually from the USA” aspect of Type 1A’s is already confusing enough for these comics being that they were distributed in another country…

And when you think about it, “Canadian Edition” sounds foreign to a US-based collector, doesn’t it? But the truth about Type 1A’s — and what we want the rest of the comic-collecting world to get — is that Type 1A price variant comics were ♬ B-O-O-O-O-R-N IN THE U-S-A ♫! The Marvels are first print Marvels! The DC’s are first print DCs! And they were printed at the same time and in the same location (on the same presses; same paper; same ink) as their regular US-cover-priced counter-parts! If Type 1A’s are an edition of anywhere it would be an edition of the USA!

Consider as well how the CGC label name is often inputted verbatim at various online comic book auction sites when it comes to the description and the keywords attached to a listing; consider, for example, how a typical collector would typically find a Canadian price variant over at a site like ComicLink — they would not be able to search on “price” or “variant” or “price variant” to find Type 1A’s (the way they would search to find Type 1’s)… They would instead need to search on the word “Canadian” for the listings to come up — and in doing so, the 1980’s price variants would be mixed together with the actual Canadian Editions of the 1940’s and 1950’s! So by switching to a Price Variant label, this will eliminate a lot of confusion, especially among collectors new to this type of variant.

Another reaction I expect out there — and my own reaction to the news — is to be absolutely thrilled that CGC has finally moved ahead with a much-needed change that so many of us have advocated for (myself included)! My fellow Price Guide collaborator Jon McClure told me, back when we were working on our inaugural edition of the guide, that it takes time to change people’s Variant viewpoint, but the truth will win out. How right he was: first CBCS, and now CGC, have come around to understanding the truth about Type 1A variants and in turn, the need to change their labeling!

The name CGC places on the slab has a huge impact on the “first impression” that a collector gets the first time they see one of our Type 1A variants. A Price Variant Label is, in my opinion, going to cause a way-different “first impression” on someone coming across one of our variants for the first time. I see the odds as greatly improved that they will research further upon seeing the new labeling, versus the old labeling. I expect that will mean that the ranks of Type 1A price variant collectors will grow at an incrementally-even-faster pace than otherwise! 🙂

Yet another reaction I expect some will have to today’s news, is that CGC has not gone far enough, because they are taking what could be viewed as the “shortcut approach” of blanket-labeling regardless of actual cover price, as “UK Price Variant” or “Canadian Price Variant” or “Australian Price Variant” — some may feel that CGC should go the further step of placing the variant price itself into the variant name, e.g. “75¢ Price Variant” etc. And I wish they would take that further step too, but, I think we need to be understanding about the amount of man-hours we’d be talking about to actually implement that change… Maybe they’ll one day go that further step, especially since they now have almost a year’s worth of data collection already in place from the time of their last Type 1A labeling improvement where they began inputting the cover price onto the right-hand side of the label. They may want to do it eventually to keep pace with CBCS, and it strikes me as only another small step from having it on the right-hand side of the label to having it in the variant name itself. But for now, I for one am just thrilled that they are changing Edition to Price Variant, and I hope you’ll join me in another round of applause to CGC for this great improvement!

And: I hope you’ll join me in another round of applause for Steve Cranch, whose efforts in engaging CGC on the subject were responsible for finally pushing them over the edge in making this important change — this is a true milestone moment that will greatly benefit the hobby, and I can’t thank Steve enough for helping make it a reality, it shows that Steve is a true rainmaker!

rainmaker: (2) a person whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success — Merriam Webster

One last person I want to applaud before bringing this post to a close: you, yes you, the one reading this post, because chances are if you’re reading this sentence, you are one of my long-time blog readers and thus you were way early versus your comic-collecting peers in coming to understand and appreciate just how collectible Type 1A price variants were. You “beat CGC” to the punch of understanding these comics! If you ask me, you deserve a round of applause for that! Well done! The future certainly looks bright for broader collector awareness of Type 1A price variants in the future, and today’s milestone news from CGC has made the future look all the more sunny indeed!

Happy Collecting! 🙂

– Ben p.s. Since the change only starts Monday there are no pictures to share yet of the new label, but I happen to have a couple of Canadian price variants in at CGC at this moment, and when the box arrives back I’ll follow up in this space once I have example pictures I can share!

5/23/2019 Update — Example Pictures:
cgc-canadian-price-variantobnoxio-1-cgc-price-variant

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Australian Newsstand Edition, Canadian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Growing Newsstand Awareness

Applause To CBCS’s New “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” Labeling

By Benjamin Nobel, October 9, 2018

The first type 1A cover price variant to be labeled “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” by CBCS.

My fellow price guide collaborator, Angelo Virone, has just received back the very first CBCS slab carrying their new labeling treatment for Type 1A cover price variant comics: instead of “Canadian Edition” in the variant field of the label, going forward CBCS will now use “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” (with the variant name beginning with the individual variant cover price for the particular issue, 75¢ or otherwise)!

This excellent improvement by CBCS demands our applause! Three cheers for CBCS!!! I have no doubt this change required a huge amount of effort to accomplish; if you had asked me a year ago when I discussed the “what to call these” question and encouraged grading companies to make an improvement, I would have said that the best we collectors should hope for would be that a grading company like CBCS would be able to do a “find/replace” and go from “Canadian Edition” to “Canadian Price Variant” — i.e. that having the variant cover price itself in the variant name seemed like too much to hope for because of the man hours necessary to input each individual cover price and change each census entry one by one…

Since then, as collector interest in Type 1A price variants has continued to build, pressure on the grading companies to make a labeling improvement has built as well; and earlier in the year we saw an incremental improvement to CGC’s labeling — although they retained the “Canadian Edition” variant name, they began to input the variant cover price for each issue onto the right-hand side of their labels on a piecemeal basis as new books are submitted.

Not to be outdone, CBCS decided to take on the workload necessary to input each cover price into the variant name itself in their census entries — and in doing so, CBCS has now leap-frogged CGC in appropriately labeling Type 1A cover price variant comics as cover price variants and with the individual cover price included in the variant name!

This move by CBCS is a milestone moment. When I first looked at the new label atop Angelo’s slab (shown below), it struck me that for all of us who work so hard to hunt down these rare variants, we’re going to want this new CBCS label (I for one am absolutely going to send my next submission of Type 1A variants to CBCS) because we will feel gratification when our comics are appropriately recognized as the 1st print US-published cover price variants that they are!

75¢ Canadian Price Variant - CBCS

In the past I had argued that the ideal label name for a comic like the above was “75¢ Cover Price Variant,” but I recognized how time-consuming a task it would be to accomplish inclusion of the price in the variant name itself (necessitating each variant cover price be individually inputted for each of the many variants already on census). Since 75¢ was the intended price for Canada, using the shortcut “Canadian Price Variant” would have been understandable and likely a heck of a lot easier — so it is wonderful that CBCS has taken the extra time and effort to place the cover price itself in the name.

At first it struck me that including both “75¢” and “Canadian” was redundant — either of those words tells us we’re looking at the Type 1A variant — but I think CBCS may be including both of those words because the labeling change they have made is larger than the newsstand cover price variants of the 1980’s… They are actually changing their labeling for all of the different “classes” of Type 1A variants, and the inclusion of “Canadian” or “Australian” or “U.K.” helps identify which “class” the given book belongs to — here below is a quote from CBCS’s International Comic Specialist, Tim Bildhauser, commenting on the labeling change:

“CBCS’s perspective on labeling comics submitted for grading has always been to do so as accurately as possible and providing as much information about the books on the label as we can fit. We had previously notated these as “Canadian Edition” and, while that’s not necessarily an incorrect classification, it also doesn’t do a clear enough explanation of the difference from the standard U.S. versions of these books. A more detailed notation was needed to not only make them more identifiable but also to help educate newer collectors that might not be familiar with these books.

We will be carrying this change in notation over to both the Australian newsstand comics from the early 1990s as well as the various U.K. price variants as well.”

— Tim Bildhauser, CBCS International Comic Specialist

So indeed, this is a milestone moment not just for the newsstand-exclusive 1980’s cover price variants but for all Type 1A price variants! The terms “Type 1” and “Type 1A” were coined by fellow price guide collaborator Jon McClure. Most collectors are familiar with the 30¢ and 35¢ price variants of the 1970’s — these are “Type 1” variants. Such price variants are true 1st print US-published copies, fully identical on the inside to the other first print copies but carrying a different cover price; and as far as their distribution, Type 1 variants were restricted to certain test markets. Type 1A variants are also true 1st print US-published copies, also fully identical on the inside to the rest of the print run, but carrying a different cover price and restricted in their distribution to a certain country as the target market.

I checked in with Jon to get his reaction to the new CBCS labeling change. He said as follows:

“How we categorize books, and especially what we name them, has a tremendous impact upon value and desirability. Calling any U.S. Published Cover Price Variants by the name “Canadian Edition” conflates them with foreign editions which is misleading to collectors. The new “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” CBCS labeling is a tremendous improvement! Type 1a variants are universally scarcer than regular editions, regardless of era, going all the way back to the Golden Age. Because scarcity and demand drive the market, CBCS’s new formal recognition of them as price variants ends the “Canadian Edition” (or UK or Australian edition) nonsense for U.S. published comics and provides accuracy for the fast growing market of Type 1a variant comics. CBCS has done the hobby a great service by properly identifying such books. I predict that the fast growing Type 1a variant market will reflect and embrace this important change with ever-increasing fervor, as collectors realize what they are actually looking at (for a change), and that they will pursue and invest in them accordingly.”

— Jon McClure, Senior Overstreet Advisor

CBCS is on a roll with their labeling improvements… Last year, CBCS began to “break out” newsstand comics broadly, from their direct edition counter-parts — recognizing what I would call a “mega-trend” in the hobby. On page 178 of this year’s Overstreet, Steve Ricketts of CBCS discusses this trend, stating as follows:

“Newsstand and Direct variants are quickly gaining popularity with the mainstream collectors. CBCS has seized the reins on this niche of the hobby, by being the only grading service to identify Newsstand and Direct Edition copies in the variant field of the label on books from 1977 through 2000. Once the CBCS census goes live, it will be interesting to see the numbers that have been submitted. In the late 1970’s, Direct Edition comics were less common than Newsstand Editions. As years progressed, Newsstand copies became more and more scarce, with the Newsstand copies of some comics being incredibly hard to find. The hobby will start to learn about the scarcity of each issue in the coming years. More information is better for everyone, especially involving something that was hiding right under our very noses.”

— Steve Ricketts, CBCS Head Presser

It is indeed an exciting time to be a collector of newsstand comics; and if we’ve already reached the conclusion that we should be hunting down the more-rare newsstand version of a given comic from the 1980’s-onward, instead of the prevalent direct edition version, then indeed if there’s an even-more-rare newsstand version — a Type 1A Cover Price Variant newsstand version — then shouldn’t that be the type we treasure the most? And after all of our hard work hunting down that most rare of all the types, do we not want our selected grading company to properly recognize our comic with appropriate labeling? My applause to CBCS for giving Type 1A cover price variant collectors that gift: the ability to now have a slab that dignifies our variants with a price variant label!

You can bet my next submission of Type 1A comics is headed to CBCS — I want that new label atop my Type 1A’s! 🙂 This change by CBCS has elevated their grading company to “top-of-mind” for Cover Price Variant (“CPV”) collectors. Fellow guide collaborator and CPV collector and historian Angelo Virone agrees and puts it this way:

“Eureka! C.B.C.S. has done it!

Being the “first mover” and correcting labels to better reflect historical accuracy, regardless of the cost incurred and manpower needed, elevates this respected company to a level that is second-to-none.

As a play on words from a famous quote after the lunar landing, “That’s one small step for a collector, one giant leap for the comic book collecting community.”

In my humble opinion, I believe we are now at the top of the second inning … skipping the third … and now entering the fourth. This is an exciting time to collect and/or start investing in Canadian, Australian and U.K. Cover Price Variants because awareness of their scarcity is picking up, thus increasing demand and leading to future potential price increases.”

— Angelo Virone, Cover Price Variant Collector and Historian

Happy CPV Collecting, everyone! 🙂
– Ben

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$3.99 Newsstand Editions, 35 Cent Variants, Australian Newsstand Edition, Canadian Newsstand Edition

6 Epic CGC Labeling Blunders Of Price Variant Comics, And What We Can Learn From Them

By Benjamin Nobel, September 26, 2018

Off the bat, the very first thing I would like to state is that I am a fan of CGC, a customer of CGC, and I would not hesitate to recommend CGC to others. And, I believe that everybody makes mistakes — we are all only human, after all! Labeling mistakes are bound to happen. And mistakes will happen at any grading company. Even epic ones, like mis-labeling a Star Wars #1 reprint as the rare 35¢ cover price variant (yep, that will be one of the six examples; read on…).

Ever since CGC introduced the online form method of order entry by customers, it feels to me like I’ve been seeing more and more labeling blunders. Have you noticed this too? And to my way of thinking, an increase in labeling errors makes a whole lot of sense to me under this new system. Because with the old way, when submissions came in on paper, how did those books get entered into the computers at CGC? Well, while I have no first-hand knowledge of the detailed inner workings at CGC, I have to imagine that in those days of only paper submissions, a person at CGC needed to themselves enter each book into the computer, as the order was verified, book by book. How else would those books have gotten off the paper and into the computers?

Picture yourself doing the following task: you are going through a stack of raw books one at a time, with the information for each book listed out on a paper next to you, and you are typing each one of those books into a computer spreadsheet as you go through the stack — and one of the columns in the spreadsheet is the variant designation for the book. Because you are doing that data entry, you are probably more inclined to be checking for correctness as you type the books in, ensuring that if a variant is mentioned on the paper, that it matches up to the book before your fingers type it in…

But times have changed with the advent of the online submission system: now, the customer enters everything into the computer… So by the time the submission arrives at CGC, the computer already has all the information for each book as CGC’s staff is unpacking the order… that is, the computer has the information that the customer entered. And while I have no first-hand knowledge of the inner workings and steps of the internal process at CGC, I imagine that this new method is an absolutely huge time-saver, allowing for a much more efficient order acceptance process where instead of entering everything, they now only need to check everything that the customer already entered themselves.

Greater efficiency in the CGC submission process brings good for all of us — CGC presumably saves many man-hours and therefore costs, and in theory those incremental savings can be passed along to customers in the form of better rates, better speed, or both. But is some amount of accuracy lost in the trade-off?

In the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the authors show just how powerful the concept of the “default option” really is — presented with a default, i.e. something that happens if we take no action, we humans are very likely to just go with that default. Thinking about this concept as applied to CGC’s new online entry system, what I believe we’re witnessing as collectors, is that when a customer enters their comic as a variant in error, it is now much more likely that it will remain in the computers there at CGC as that variant, in error, all the way through to arriving at your doorstep: because once the customer has entered the variant information, it appears that what the customer entered is now the default option — i.e. for an error to be corrected later, CGC staff would have to catch the mistake and fix it sometime during the rest of the process.

Suppose for sake of illustrative example, that someone owns one of these:

Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

As the customer, how would we enter that comic into the online form? First, we’d type in the Title: Star Wars. Next, we’d select the Publisher: Marvel Comics. For the Issue #, we’d type 1. Then the Issue Date: 7/77. Now comes the crux of what this post is about: the Variant field. A drop-down appears, and the customer may optionally select a choice from a drop-down list. As the mouse hovers up and down, the choice selected is highlighted in gray. Below is a screenshot of what this looks like:

cgc-comic-entry-form-online

It is extremely easy to select the wrong choice by mistake. Hover your mouse ever so slightly in the wrong direction, and you can select the wrong variant.

cgc-entry-form-star-wars-1

Erroneous selections by customers can in turn lead to labeling blunders where the book leaves CGC with the label erroneously identifying the comic as the wrong variant. In this post I will review six such observed mistakes as applied to various cover price variants, and I will discuss what we can all learn from these mistakes.

What Can We Learn From These Mistakes?

Before I present the six example CGC labeling blunders, I want to quickly address the “what can we learn from this” question — because observing the blunders is one thing, learning something from observing them is much better. First off, I want to share with you that in the process of researching this post, I learned something important when I contacted CGC: I learned about CGC’s policy regarding correcting labeling mistakes. I hadn’t really thought about their error correction “policy” very much before this. I sent them pictures and eBay links of some of the books you’ll see later, and what I learned in the process is that CGC will not correct this type of mistake if a third party (like you or me) sends them an eBay link.

Even if those eBay photos clearly show the certification numbers and clearly show the features of the comics that prove they are not in fact the variants listed on the labels, their current policy (as of this date) is to change the books only after being in contact with the rightful owners. At first, the CGC representative I corresponded with thought perhaps I was the owner of the initial book I had mentioned, and asked me for a photograph of the book along with something showing today’s date — like a newspaper — in the photograph. Clearly, their stance is that they need to be able to trust the photo before they take any action; and there are understandable reasons for this stance.

So one thing I learned, is that — as of today — CGC’s error correction policy makes it highly likely that erroneously labeled books will stay erroneously labeled. They will apparently only make a correction at the request of the owner of the book, whereas a third party like you or me pointing out an error does not seem to trigger any kind of “recall” process nor review of any internal photographs stored at the time of grading (which tells me that perhaps they do not currently take such photographs internally).

And so one thing CGC may want to learn from this, and may want to consider doing differently to “react” to error reports and be able to correct them, is to implement a process where they do snap a picture of each slab and store that picture internally for future reference. Then, if a third party like you or me points out a mistake on a given certification number seen on the marketplace, CGC would be able to reference their own internal photograph and examine that reference photo to verify the mistake. Adding such a reference-photo-step to their internal processes would mean they would not need to rely on the accuracy of third party photos uploaded to eBay by sellers; the “hurdle” to correcting an error would therefore be dramatically lowered, making it more likely that errors such as the ones you’ll see later actually get corrected. Leaving errors uncorrected can produce nasty marketplace results — just wait until you see what the mis-labeled Star Wars #1 sold for at auction… I’ll show you that in a moment.

Another thing CGC may want to consider doing differently, which could prevent this type of labeling error from occurring to begin with, is to change the internal process followed when the customer has entered a variant designation into the online form. For example, one possibility is to distrust the customer by default and literally prompt CGC grading staff to perform manual entry of the variant designation — I picture the computer system used internally by CGC staff refusing to “continue” until each book that was denoted by the customer as a variant is reviewed and manually categorized by CGC grading staff; and to ensure this review by the graders is not biased to any default, the staff member could be prompted to make their own choice without seeing what the customer entered in advance (knowing only that the customer denoted it as “a” variant but not knowing which variant — leaving it up to the CGC grading staff to review the book and choose the proper variant designation, and then once they have made their choice they could next be shown whether that choice matched what the customer entered).

What can we learn as collectors (and as participants in the online marketplaces)?

For one, if we spot a book we believe might be mis-labeled as a variant, and we enter that book’s certification number into CGC’s website, then unless the owner has contacted CGC to have it corrected, we can expect the bogus variant designation will show up online too — meaning CGC’s website will appear to “corroborate” the erroneous variant designation, to any market participant researching the book they are considering.

Let me pause on this point for a moment, because it is important. CGC is trusted as an “authority” and if the label says a comic is a variant — and the online lookup “corroborates” that it is a variant — but a collector’s own background knowledge tells them the book inside the slab is not that variant, then a collector who suspects a labeling error is going to be faced with an internal question: do I believe myself and my own background knowledge, or, does CGC know something I don’t?

“Might CGC know something I don’t?”

That’s a critical question… And our certainty of the answer depends on the situation. For example, let’s think through Type 1A Canadian Price Variants of the 1980’s and Type 1A Australian Price Variants of the 1990’s. Whether we are looking at a direct edition copy of a given issue, a regular newsstand copy of that same issue, or a Type 1A price variant newsstand copy of that same issue, we know in advance that by definition, all three of those types are identical on the inside. Said differently, the only information that tells the types apart is already on the outside. We need not crack a slab to know what we are looking at! We need only look at the outside of the comic!

With these thoughts in mind, let’s proceed to look at the “most epic” of the six blunders I will share with you…

Blunder #1: Star Wars #1 35¢ Variant

In the beginning of this post, we considered the hypothetical question of what we’d enter into CGC’s online submission form if we were submitting one of these:

Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

So first and foremost: What are these? One go-to resource we can reference is the Overstreet guide. Overstreet lists Star Wars #1 as follows:

star-wars-1-overstreet-info

As you can see above, there is the regular 30¢ cover price type (valued at $215 in 9.2), the 35¢ cover price type (the Type 1 price variant; valued at $11,000 in 9.2), and then the various reprint types each valued at just $70 in 9.2.

To help us identify the types, Overtreet notes that the 35¢ variant has “Price in square w/UPC code” and further goes on to say: “NOTE: the rare 35¢ edition has the cover price in a square box, and the UPC box in the lower left hand corner has the UPC code lines running through it.”

Why would Overstreet need to “spell out” that the UPC code has lines running through it? Shouldn’t that be obvious? Well, as it turns out, there also exists a 35¢ cover priced REPRINT where the UPC code box is “blank”/empty (just a white rectangle; no lines running through it). Overstreet is “spelling it out” to help collectors avoid a big blunder: buying a reprint by accident, thinking it is a first print copy.

And then for the Reprint entry, Overstreet says, “has “reprint” in upper lefthand corner of cover or on inside or price and number inside a diamond with no date or UPC on cover; 30¢ and 35¢ issues published.”

So by the above, a reprint copy can say REPRINT in the upper left-hand corner of the cover, or in the indicia inside. And clearly, from the above descriptions, Overstreet is teaching us that if there is a 35¢ price but that price is inside a diamond shape, the book we’re looking at is a reprint. Another resource, MyComicShop, catalogs/lists the various types out there for Star Wars #1 like so:

star-wars-1-mycomicshop-ver

So at MyComicShop, per the above, they have cataloged four different types: two first print types (30¢ and 35¢ cover prices) and two reprint types (“diamond” reprint with blank UPC and newsstand type with UPC). Note that the description on the diamond entry says “cover or indicia” indicating that the REPRINT designation is either shown on the cover itself for some copies, or, in the indicia for others.

In the marketplace, we sometimes see CGC-graded copies of the “diamond” reprints, where CGC denotes them as “REPRINT” on the label:

Note how the above example copy says Reprint at the upper left of the cover. And indeed, if we look inside other diamond copies for a Reprint indication in the indicia page, we’d see the indicia says this:

But once encapsulated, the example indicia page above would be out of view — one would have to crack the slab to see it. Suppose CGC were to encapsulate one of these reprints and label it — in error — as “35¢ Price Variant”? Would market participants “trust” their own background knowledge and conclude they are looking at a mis-labeled reprint copy? Or, would they place some odds — some non-zero chance — that CGC knows something we don’t, and the book inside is a actually special case first printing that nobody has yet discovered/documented?

We actually got to find out the answer to that “trust” question… because this (below) recently came onto the market (on eBay):

Image of CGC slab 1269363002

If you are reading this post around the time I wrote it (in September of 2018) then you can still access the eBay listing at the following hyperlink (note: you may see a message like the below — clicking the “View Original Listing” will take you to the original item): https://www.ebay.com/itm/283037236937

view-original-item

And this is the price it fetched at auction:
false-star-wars-variant-sal

Wow: as you can see, the book fetched multiples of what a CGC 9.6 first print 30¢ copy would normally go for — below are a couple of recent example sales of 30¢ copies:

star-wars-1-cgc-9.6-sales

Let’s examine the listing description of the “35¢ variant” copy that went for $1,075 at auction:

The description states: “Up for auction is a super rare 35 cent variant of the first Star Wars comic ever made!! As you can see, it has been graded by CGC at a 9.6!! HUGE VALUE!! I collect sports cards, and not comics, so I do not know much about these but I was told this particular version in this condition is worth anywhere from $6500 – $12000!! I am starting the auction at 99 cents and will let it ride. I was also told that this was an original as CGC always prints “REPRINT” on their grading page but I was also told to sell it as “I don’t know” to be safe. Again, I do not know much about these so am only going by what I was told. Serious bidders only please as I do not accept returns for graded items. They are the experts, not me, so I must go with what they say 🙂 Thank you for looking and good luck!! “

Notice how the seller points the finger of responsibility at CGC and basically says “they are the experts, not me.” Would they not have placed REPRINT on the label if it was a reprint, the seller asks? And by suggesting that, a small sliver if doubt is placed… because we don’t know what we can’t see and we can’t see the indicia page of a slabbed book… so is it possible this copy doesn’t say reprint inside? Is it possible CGC knows something we don’t? After all, their certification lookup tool “corroborates” the variant designation (shown below). [And that small doubt is likely what caused the copy to be bid to an insane price level.]

cgc-1269363002

It would obviously be better if CGC corrected the lookup above so that any future lookup did not falsely corroborate the book as being the 35¢ variant. I asked them to correct it, but alas, by CGC’s current policy, they will not correct the above unless the winner of the book contacts them. If the winner does contact them, they assured me they will be more than happy to make the correction. Hopefully any future bidder/buyer (should the book be listed for sale in the future) will google the certification number — #1269363002 — and find this post as a “cautionary tale.”

I dug deeper into eBay’s sold listings and discovered that this is not the first time this particular book has been sold! Does the below picture taken from an earlier listing look familiar? It is indeed the identical serial number atop the slab, previously listed by a different seller:
star-wars-1-blunder-cgc

And instead of pointing to CGC as the “authority” and suggesting the label must be accurate, this seller wrote as follows, in their listing description:

star-wars-1-false-35c-desc1

The description says: “We believe this copy is a reprint, thought it does not say REPRINT on the cover and it was graded and marked on the label by CGC as “35 Cent Price Variant” and not a “Reprint.””

So the prior seller of the book came right out and said “we believe this copy is a reprint…” And here’s how that prior seller had priced the book on a buy-it-now:

star-wars-1-false-35c-sale-

It is clear to me that what we have here is an epic CGC labeling blunder involving the #1 most highly valued bronze age comic book, inflating the census count of 35¢ variants on record in 9.6, and causing major market confusion as evidenced by the auction bidding taking the book to $1,075. Because the indicia page is buried inside the slab, it is likely that some market participants assigned non-zero odds to the notion that this particular copy was, in a ground-breaking discovery, not actually a reprint; but in reality this was a labeling mistake, pure and simple. A blunder… and quite possibly a blunder that originated with the submitter selecting the wrong variant from the drop-down list by accident.

The blunder draws attention to how the new online submission system may have made a major change to the “default” — i.e. the variant information associated with any books that are submitted through the online system now originates with the customer. The default action of “doing nothing” (leaving the designation alone) can now result in “false positives” where books are leaving CGC labeled erroneously as variants that they are not. The Star Wars blunder highlights how there is room for improvement in how the customer-entered online submission information is later error-checked at CGC before the book leaves the building. The blunder also highlights how the current policy of requiring the book owner be involved in the error correction makes any error correction “after the fact” extremely difficult; surely there is room for improvement in how CGC reacts to reports of such labeling errors in the future, perhaps by adding a step in the internal process to photo-document each slab before it leaves the building, thus allowing for later internal photo lookup by certification number and examination of that trusted internal photo to check for labeling errors at a later date.

Blunder #2: Amazing Spider-Man #654, “Sensational Spider-Man” Newsstand Edition

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #654 — a key issue where Flash Thompson becomes Venom — have a really cool “variant-worthy quirk” (i.e. a feature which is remarkable enough in CGC’s eyes that it causes CGC to “break out” the newsstand copies as their own census variant, something they do not normally do [normally direct edition and newsstand copies are “lumped together”]): They were distributed as “Sensational Spider-Man”:

Note in the picture above how the word “Newsstand” appears to the left of the UPC code, and the words “Sensational Spider-Man” appear to the right: this tells us we are looking at a newsstand copy of issue #654. If we were looking at one of the prevalent direct editions instead, then we’d see the words “Direct Edition” aside the UPC code instead, like this:
asm-654-direct-close-up

Anybody can tell a newsstand copy apart from a direct edition in this manner; no examination of the interior of issue #654 is necessary.

The Blunder:

While ASM #654 newsstand copies are “variant-worthy” due to the UPC codes that mis-identify the comic as a different title than it actually is, another “variant-worthy” attribute that we sometimes see with newsstand comics, one which also causes CGC to “break out” newsstand comics distinctly from their direct edition counter-parts, is when the newsstand edition is a cover price variant of the issue number — and many Amazing Spider-Man newsstand comics in the 500’s and 600’s carry a $1.00 higher cover cover price, such as $3.99 for the newsstand edition while their prevalent direct edition counter-parts carry a $2.99 cover price. [Read more about the dramatically-more-rare $3.99 cover price variants here; one example key $3.99 cover price variant is Amazing Spider-Man #607]

For issue #654, both the direct edition copies and the newsstand copies carry a $3.99 cover price. So issue #654 is not one of the newsstand comics that falls under that cover-price-variant category. But when CGC created the newsstand census entry for this issue they accidentally named it “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” instead of just “Newsstand Edition.” So by the census, a cover price variant record existed! This mistake may have led submitters of direct editions to first look at the price tag on their copy, see $3.99, and reach the false conclusion that their copy was a newsstand copy. Oops!

I’m happy to report that CGC has now corrected the census entry name itself for issue #654, even though they would not correct the individual examples I gave them (because by their current policy the owner of the books themselves would need to request the corrections).

Here are two mis-labeled examples I’ve come across to date; as you can see, the CGC slabs read “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” but inside the slab is just a plain old prevalent direct edition! And we do not need to see the interior of the comic to know for certain that we’re looking at a direct edition, because the interior of newsstand copies is 100% identical to the interior of direct edition copies; thus, from the outside of the slab we can see the defining feature, that UPC code box, which tells us when we’re looking at a real newsstand copy. In this way, we know for certain that the following copies of issue #654 have been mis-labeled:

Certification #0341630004 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/401558181947):

image-0341630004image2-0341630004

A certification look-up still erroneously lists the above copy as the variant, although as you can see, CGC has changed the variant name from “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” to “Newsstand Edition” (the “$3.99” part was removed) and the entry now includes a note about the Spectacular Spider-Man quirk in the Key Comments:

cgc-0341630004

Certification #1993043003 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/123381315710) is another example of a plain old direct edition labeled as “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” and still comes up in a certification lookup as a newsstand copy, in error:

image-1993043003image2-1993043003cgc-1993043003

Blunder #3: Transformers #1

Transformers #1 is one of the “mega-keys” that fell within Marvel’s 1980’s cover price variant window on the newsstand (ranking #6 in the 2018 guide) — during the window, instead of one batch of newsstand copies carrying both US and Canadian prices, Marvel printed two distinct newsstand batches each with their own cover price. All three types — the two newsstand types plus the prevalent direct edition type — were published in the USA on the same equipment and at the same time (so all are 1st print copies) and all types are fully 100% identical on the inside. The higher cover price batch is “broken out” by CGC as its own census variant.

Arguably, the name CGC chose when breaking out these Type 1A cover price variants is itself a blunder… There is no special name ascribed by the publisher, so CGC needed to come up with one; at their own choosing, CGC picked the name “Canadian Edition” which is arguably a blunder because it conflates these Type 1A price variants published in the USA, with the actual Canadian Editions of the 1940’s/1950’s. Read more on the topic of “what should we call these 1980’s newsstand-exclusive price variants” in this separate post.

But the census name itself is not the blunder in question with this example. The blunder in this example has to do with the cover price of the variant. Imagine if a 30¢ first print copy of Star Wars #1 was given a “35¢ price variant” label — that’s essentially what happened here, with this Transformers #1 example.

An easy mistake to make with these Canadian Price Variant comics, is to assume that newsstand comics with a 75¢ cover price are the variants… after all, “75¢ variant” is a highly common phrase you’ll hear with this class of variants. But the cover price actually varies from issue to issue and for Transformers #1, the 75¢ copies are actually the “regular” cover price copies, while the $1.00 copies are the variants. Here is an example variant below:

transformers-1-variant

Having seen the variant above, with its $1.00 cover price, you will recognize that the 75¢ cover price copy within the slab pictured below is not the variant… it is just a regular newsstand copy.

Certification #1276709017 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/352452127491):

image-1276709017

cgc-1276709017

Blunder #4: Amazing Spider-Man #276

You might notice that the Transformers #1 slab from the prior example has no indication anywhere on the CGC label of what the variant cover price is supposed to be… The slab says “Canadian Edition” but doesn’t give any inkling of a definition for what that means to a collector. But if you look at the very bottom of the certification lookup picture above, you’ll see that it says “$1.00 Cover Price.” This last line is now there because a good incremental improvement to CGC’s labeling was made recently, whereby CGC now places the variant cover price on the right-hand side of the label.

For comics where the variant cover price is not 75¢, this new labeling improvement should in theory help with identification (and error-catching) — because if a CGC staff member is looking at a slab and sees, say, 95¢ Cover Price on the label note, but the book inside the slab carries a 75¢ cover price, they will be more likely to realize that something is amiss. But unfortunately the below copy slipped through the cracks anyway!

Certification #1272465008 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/223135444963):

image-1272465008cgc-1272465008

Blunder #5: Secret Wars #8

A mistake in which newsstand type you are looking at is one thing; but for a direct edition to pass as the newsstand price variant is a tough error to understand any CGC grader making “on their own.” Anyone should be able to tell a 1980’s direct edition comic from its newsstand brethren at a glance, even from a great distance (just spot that Spidey-head logo in place of the bar code and you know you’re looking at a direct edition). Yet somehow the below direct edition Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8 was labeled “Canadian Edition” which I can only imagine originated with erroneous customer-entered information and then “slipped through” CGC without being noticed.

Certification #1245151020 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/192664685427):
image-1245151020

Fortunately, the owner of the above copy appears to have contacted CGC, because the certification lookup tool itself no longer denotes the book as the variant.

Blunder #6: Amazing Spider-Man #361

There are newsstand-exclusive Type 1A variants from the 1990’s too! Marvel experimented with Australian newsstand distribution for a window of time, and just like the 1980’s newsstand price variants these Australian price variant copies are 100% identical on the inside to the rest of the print run. For Amazing Spider-Man #361, the variant carries a cover price of $1.80 AUS (read more about these and see pictures here). The cover month differs as well, and CGC catalogs the variants by the cover month instead of the indicia month.

Similar to the Secret Wars #8 example, you will find that the below “Australian Edition” labeled slab contains a plain old direct edition inside instead of the newsstand cover price variant! Can you picture a CGC grader making this error if they were the one choosing the variant designation, with no default option selected? I can’t imagine that; no way. I can only imagine this kind of error occurring because the customer entered it as “Australian Edition” and then the error went unnoticed as the book proceeded through the grading process at CGC all the way through to leaving the building.

Certification #1266443016 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/173265969239):

This one too may have been corrected — a certification lookup now fails, and, the eBay link indicates the original seller ended the item due to an error in the listing.

Circling Back: What We Can Learn

What can we learn (and what can CGC learn) from these example labeling blunders? Earlier, I described two suggestions for things CGC can consider as improvements to their internal process — one being an idea to counteract how customer-entered variant information changes the default versus the old paper method by forcing the grader to make their own selection; another idea being a way CGC could improve its “after-the-fact” error correction capability by snapping in-house reference photos which could be referred to in the event of error reports by a third party.

As for us as collectors, I think we have learned:

  • We cannot go by the labels alone; if we are in the market for a variant, we must be able to see the book in a photograph and verify for ourselves that it is indeed the variant we seek.
  • We cannot expect that a mis-labeled book will see a correction later to the online certification lookup tool; CGC’s policy today demands involvement by the owner of the book before such a correction is made. This means mis-labeled books may stay mislabeled indefinitely.
  • Census data therefore isn’t always going to be 100% accurate; these uncorrected books will linger there on census until/unless a future owner puts in for a correction; e.g. there are not three Star Wars #1 35¢ variants on record in the top 9.6 grade today… because the “false variant” pictured earlier is still counted toward that total.
  • We can be 100% certain in spotting newsstand versus direct edition labeling errors, since the interiors of each of the books are already known to be identical. But when a labeling error raises the question of what might be inside the apparently-mislabeled slabbed copy (like in the Star Wars example), a small sliver of doubt — the thought of “what might CGC know that I don’t know” — can cause bidders to pay absurd prices, inflicting real monetary damage on the unlucky winners.
  • Realization of absurd market prices may create an incentive for bad behavior — a bad actor could purposefully make an “error” on the online submission form and hope it slips through.
  • Because the online submission form has “changed the default”, we collectors should not be surprised if we see a continuation of labeling errors or even an uptick in labeling blunders.
  • Based on this expectation for continued errors or even an uptick in errors, CGC may want to consider taking one or more steps to “adapt” their process to the reality of what the customer-entered “new default” means for the likelihood of continued errors; I gave two suggestions earlier which I believe would help.
  • We are all only human. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so we should forgive CGC the occasional labeling blunder; but we should also expect their organization would strive to be the best it can be, which means reacting to the new online-submission-form-reality with improved processes for error checking and correction.
Standard
Australian Newsstand Edition

AUS Price Variants (Australian Newsstand Editions)

By Benjamin Nobel, May 17, 2017

Australian newsstand editions.

CGC denotes these Australian newsstand comics as “Australian Edition” on census and on their labels. [ May 2019 UPDATE: this article was written in 2017 but readers should be aware that CGC announced that as of May 6, 2019, they will label as “Australian Price Variant” going forward 🙂]

Welcome back! This is “Part II” of my look at Marvel’s 1990’s-era AUS price variants (Australian newsstand editions), a fascinating “class” of first-print, US-published cover price variants targeted to the Australian market — specifically to Australian newsstands. Before reading on, make sure you have read Part I, which introduced you to this “class” of comics using the mega-key that falls within the variant publication window: Part I: New Mutants #98 — $1.50 Cover Price Variant.

One of the interesting observations we explored in Part I, is how these comics are identical to the rest of the print run on the inside (including the all-important indicia page), but carry a different cover price — as well as a later cover month — on the outside. Because the batch of newsstand comics produced for the Australian market would likely have spent so much time traveling in a container (probably on a slow boat), the cover month for the 1990-1994-era AUS price variants was set three months later than their North American newsstand counter-parts — so for New Mutants #98, we saw that instead of February on the cover, the variants show May. And although the indicia of the variant copies still reads February, CGC catalogs the variants by the May cover month, resulting in a second census entry under a different issue date:

CGC opted to catalog the variant under 5/91 (what appears on the cover) for the issue date, rather than 2/91 as appears in the indicia page.

CGC opted to catalog the variant under 5/91 (what appears on the cover) for the issue date, rather than 2/91 as appears in the indicia page.

And then at the time of my Part I post, we saw how CGC did not indicate anywhere on the label of these variants, that the indicia month within was actually February. I mentioned how I was going to suggest an improvement to CGC when submitting my own copy, and I am pleased to be able to report that CGC has edited their Key Comments notes across New Mutants #98 and other AUS price variant examples as well, in order to include the indicia month information on the label. Public thanks to CGC for this great improvement — because it helps collectors who may be unfamiliar with this “class” of comics to grasp that they were indeed manufactured right along with the rest of the print run. Once encapsulated, that indicia information is then forever out of view and buried within the slab, so including it on the label is an important improvement.

Here is how the CGC census lookup for variant copies of New Mutants #98 looks today, which you can compare against the screenshot from my Part I post; notice how the Key Comments note now ends with “Indicia reads 2/91” and my copy has brought the total on record up to 6 from the previous 5:

New Mutants #98 variant CGC census entry.

New Mutants #98 variant CGC census entry now states “Indicia reads 2/91” within the Key Comments note.

Other Keys Beyond New Mutants #98

A 1990 population comparison for the USA, Canada, and Australia, shows Australia at 5.8%.

A 1990 population comparison for the USA, Canada, and Australia, shows Australia at 5.8%.

Although New Mutants #98 is the mega-key within the Type 1A AUS price variant window, many other interesting comics with AUS variants are confirmed to exist as well, including some other really important keys I’ll present below.

Confirming the existence of AUS price variants case-by-case from the 10/90 to 1/94 window (and the 2/96 to 11/96 window) is incredibly difficult: there are some which I expect should exist, such as Iron Man #282, but I’ve had my eyes peeled for going on six months and have yet to spot a single copy [10/26/2017 Update: Thank you to Paul Nicholls who confirmed the existence of the Iron Man #282 variant and supplied a photo!  Paul also mentioned Silver Surfer v3 #44 (1st appearance of the Infinity Gauntlet) as another critically important key to list as falling into this Type 1A Cover Price Variant window].

Estimated 1990 split for Marvel: 15% newsstand to 85% direct edition.

Estimated 1990 split for Marvel: 15% newsstand to 85% direct edition.

But it makes sense that these AUS cover price copies should be next-to-impossible to find as a “class” of variants, because Australia is such a small market by population, in contrast to North America. And that small population percentage is then applied only to the newsstand slice of Marvel’s comic books… where we see a 1990 newsstand rarity estimate of 15% and a BPA audit revealing 14% newsstand sales by the beginning of 1999.

So dividing up the newsstand pie slice by market size to reveal just the Australian newsstand copies within that already-small newsstand slice, we’d get to a minuscule percentage of total copies sold of a given issue being our AUS price variants — in the Part I post, I penciled out a range of 0.87% to 2.61%, before the high destruction rate that newsstand comics are notorious for.  That math makes for a huge number of “regular” copies you’d have to scroll through before you spot 1 AUS variant copy… and in so many cases, you can scroll completely through every single copy on eBay and find zero AUS variants.  Despite this extreme rarity level, through my own hunting and with the help of readers (thanks for all your help!!) I was able to confirm the existence of the following interesting keys and picture them here:

Amazing Spider-Man #344 (1st Cletus Kasady appearance)

Amazing Spider-Man #344, $1.50 AUS variant

Amazing Spider-Man #344, $1.50 AUS variant.  Cletus Kasady eventually becomes Carnage.

Amazing Spider-Man #360 (1st Carnage in cameo)

Amazing Spider-Man #360, $1.80 AUS variant

Amazing Spider-Man #360, $1.80 AUS variant

Amazing Spider-Man #361 (1st full Carnage appearance)

Amazing Spider-Man #362-363 (Carnage storyline)

Amazing Spider-Man #365 (1st appearance of Spider-Man 2099)

Amazing Spider-Man #365, $5.95 AUS variant

Amazing Spider-Man #365, $5.95 AUS variant; very high cover price; hologram cover.

Uncanny X-Men #282 (1st Bishop appearance)

Uncanny X-Men #282, $1.50 AUS variant

New Mutants #99 (1st appearance of Feral; X-Men #138 cover swipe)

New Mutants #99, $1.50 AUS variant

New Mutants #100 (1st appearance of X-Force)

New Mutants #100, $2.00 AUS Variant

New Mutants #100, $2.00 AUS Variant

Iron Man #281 (1st cameo appearance of War Machine)

Iron Man #281, $1.80 AUS variant

Iron Man #281, $1.80 AUS variant, 1st War Machine in cameo

Iron Man #282 (1st full appearance of War Machine)

Iron Man #282, $1.80 AUS Variant

Iron Man #282, $1.80 AUS Variant

X-Force #11 (1st appearance of “real” Domino)

X-Force #15 (Deadpool vs. Cable)

And here are a few other interesting comics, just to give you some more ideas…

I always find it interesting to compare and contrast different kinds of variant comics, when considering their relative value — and during the 90’s while this AUS price variant window was open on newsstands, there were meanwhile some well known X-Men variants that were sold in conjunction with an X-Men board game. Many buyers of these board games got a variant copy of X-Men #11 included, with a silver background on the cover; and there were other variant issues distributed with the board game as well: X-Men #’s 297, 303, and 307.

pressman-board-game

The X-Men #11 variants are not especially difficult to find out there as judged by eBay availability — for example at this particular moment in time, if I wanted to buy a nice NM-range copy of the silver/Pressman-board-game variant of X-Men #11, I could go onto eBay and I’d have eleven copies to choose from including three CGC graded copies above NM in grade:

x-men-11-pressmen-comps

Those are some high price tags!  Which goes to show how hungry collectors are to own variants… the variants they know about.  In the sold section of eBay I found two recent Pressman X-Men #11 listings, both of which described the offered copies as NM- and one of which had availability of two copies:

pressman-sales

The Pressman variants are indeed interesting for context here… because these X-Men issues with Pressman variants also fall within our AUS price variant window by publication date. So we have a nice contrast looking at market values for these Pressman variants that collectors are already aware of and out there looking for — i.e. we can think about the following question: if NM- Pressman variant copies of X-Men #11 are going for $30-40, what should AUS price variant copies of the issue go for?

Looking today on the CGC census, there are 53 Pressman copies of X-Men #11 on record, but zero AUS variant copies.  Looking today on eBay, I find only one AUS price variant copy of the issue in the “sold” section (and only one currently-active listing); the sold copy was described as VF+, and take a look at the price the seller decided to ask for their copy on a buy-it-now — you can really see the relative value here (even with overseas shipping cost we’re talking about a fraction of the cost of a Pressman variant):

x-men-11-aus-variant-sale

And VF+ is actually a very strong grade in the context of these variants as newsstand exclusives (and with the associated typical poor handling and high destruction rate that newsstand comics are notorious for). The more typical condition you’ll find out there among AUS variants is more like this:

x-men-11-aus-vs-pressman

Finding stickers affixed to the front covers of AUS price variants is a very common occurrence and is reflective of how the comics were treated — as something to read, with no thought given to preservation of collectible condition.   Another common occurrence you’ll see out there is a newsstand marking in the upper left corner of the front cover in pen (the number portion of these markings appears to have to do with the month) — here are a few examples below with such markings (when submitted to CGC, the following showed up as Grader Notes: “small writing top left of front cover“):

aus-newsstand-markings

I haven’t been able to confirm sightings of AUS variants for all of the other X-Men issues that also have Pressman variants, but based on the AUS variant publication window they likely do all indeed exist for each of the issues that have Pressman variants; here below is confirmation of the existence of an AUS price variant for one of the others, X-Men #307:

x-men-307-aus-variant

Similar to Pressman variants as a simultaneously-existing variant “type” that we can use for value comparison, another “type” of 1990’s variant has to do with the common use of holograms on comic book covers during the 90’s: sometimes, these holograms took on different shades of color when they were manufactured. Collectors, being ever eager to seek out rare variant versions of a given comic, have identified blue holograms as more desirable and rare. For example, consider X-Force #25:

x-force-25-hologram

As you can see above, these “rare blue” hologram copies are asking quite a bit (and that first listing also touts an orange tinted version). And toggling over to the “sold” listings, we can see that such copies described as having blue holograms are indeed finding buyers willing to pay a considerable premium over what the “regular” copies sell for:

blue-hologram-sales

And as you already guessed, these blue holograms aren’t the only variant version out there of the issue… because there indeed exists an AUS price variant for this hologram issue as well (and check out the high cover price Australians were asked to pay to get their hands on one of these cool hologram covers, at a whopping $5.60):

x-force-25-aus-5.60-variant

And X-Force #25 isn’t the only hologram example; one of those sold eBay listings we saw earlier mentioned “Like Wolverine 75” in the title, and indeed, that’s another one where collectors are paying a premium for blue hologram copies.  And it is also an example where an AUS price variant exists (and look what a high cover price Australians were asked to pay for this one!):

wolverine-75-aus-hologram-v

And AUS price variants exist for other hologram issues as well, including Amazing Spider-Man #365 which we saw earlier (first appearance of Spider-Man 2099 — and yes, the 2099 titles also have AUS price variants), and Spectacular Spider-Man #189 (and once again, an abnormally high cover price associated with the hologram cover; and once again a sticker affixed to the cover of this particular example):

spectacular-spider-man-189-

Hologram covers are arguably a big piece of “1990s comic book memorabilia” and it is interesting to consider the little-known AUS cover price variant hologram copies in contrast to the blue hologram versions that collectors are already out there looking for today and paying premiums for as rare variants — because between the tiny percentage of total copies that the Australian newsstand market represented, the notorious high newsstand destruction rate, and the abnormally high per-issue cover price these hologram issues were consistently given (potentially deterring a lot of would-be buyers from opening their wallets), finding these surviving AUS cover price variant hologram covers in high grade is beyond challenging… and there are several other hologram issues I haven’t included here simply because after nearly six months of looking, I’ve yet to see a single copy come up for sale (not even a beaten-up reader copy which would at least confirm their existence).

A similar category to holograms (in the sense of sometimes creating variant versions known to collectors today) was “foil” covers with known manufacturing errors; one example being Silver Surfer #50:

silver-surfer-50-foil-error

Here’s a recent sale of a Silver Surfer #50 error copy in the “sold” section of eBay:

silver-surfer-50-error-sale

In the context of this “known variant” that collectors are already out there looking for, it is interesting to consider the little-known AUS price variant of the same issue:

Silver Surfer #50, $1.50 AUS cover price.

Between Pressman variants, blue hologram copies, and foil errors, these other 1990s variants help calibrate a sense of what kind of potential the AUS price variants have as a “class” of variant comics if collectors broadly start to become aware of their existence (and their extreme rarity) and begin actively looking for them.  Today, the awareness of their existence has got to be extremely low out there…  I count myself among those who until recently had no idea whatsoever that AUS price variant newsstand comics even existed.

Even with the current low level of awareness of this “class” of variants, a recent sale of the “mega-key” example (New Mutants #98) shows their market value potential…  Since the time of my “Part I” post, we have seen one New Mutants #98 copy described as the AUS price variant hit the “sold” section of eBay, with an impressive price result.  The one sale was this one screen-captured below, described as VG/FN, and I can tell from the sold listings section sorted by order of highest to lowest sale price, that this variant copy fetched a higher sale price than the three books pictured below it in the following screenshot, which are: (runner-up-#1) a CBCS 9.0 copy signed by Rob Liefeld; (runner-up-#2) a CBCS 9.4 Direct Edition copy; (runner-up-#3) a CGC 9.4 Direct Edition copy.

new-mutants-98-aus-value

A dramatic price difference for sure, when a raw VG/FN AUS price variant copy of New Mutants #98 beats out these slabbed Near-Mint-range direct edition comps… Which prompts one to wonder: what would a Near Mint variant have sold for?  What would the one single CGC 9.4 variant copy presently in existence today have sold for (as of today, 9.4 is the top grade)?

And what would a near mint AUS variant copy of New Mutants #98 sell for in the future if more collectors begin to realize they actually exist and then come to comprehend their rarity as newsstand exclusives targeted to the relatively-tiny-by-population Australian market?  I can’t imagine knowledge of these variants is currently very widespread… the tiny numbers and the principle of “out of sight, out of mind” has kept them nearly-invisible (the current grand-total six CGC graded copies of the New Mutants #98 AUS variant stands in stark contrast against the 12,611 CGC graded “regular” copies presently in existence… in fact, 765 “regular” copies of New Mutants #98 have been graded since year-end 2016 alone).

And if that’s true that awareness of these AUS price variants is indeed on the low side today, then that means we presently have a nice window of opportunity to hunt for AUS price variants while they are still broadly under the radar and can sometimes be found out there for “regular price” listed on eBay.

Hopefully the example comics I’ve talked about today give you some other good ideas for AUS price variant comics to collect beyond the mega-key presented in Part I.  And although I’ve only focused on the first “window” (1990-1994) in this post, there are also confirmed 1996 AUS price variants out there too. Below is a list a reader shared with me, of Amazing Spider-Man Australian newsstand comics they had personally collected and verified to date:

Confirmed Amazing Spider-Man Australian Newsstand Editions
Issue No. Indicia Date Cover Price (AUS) Cover Date
341 Nov-90 $1.50 Feb
342 Dec-90 $1.50 Mar
343 Jan-91 $1.50 Apr
344 Feb-91 $1.50 May
345 Mar-91 $1.50 Jun
346 Apr-91 $1.50 Jul
347 May-91 $1.50 Aug
348 Jun-91 $1.50 Sep
349 Jul-91 $1.50 Oct
350 Aug-91 $1.50 Nov
351 Sep-91 $1.50 Dec
352 Oct-91 $1.50 Jan
353 Nov-91 $1.50 Early Feb
354 Nov-91 $1.50 Late Feb
355 Dec-91 $1.50 Early Mar
356 Dec-91 $1.50 Late Mar
357 Jan-92 $1.50 Early Apr
358 Jan-92 $1.50 Late Apr
359 Feb-92 $1.80 May
360 Mar-92 $1.80 Jun
361 Apr-92 $1.80 Jul
362 May-92 $1.80 Aug
363 Jun-92 $1.80 Sep
364 Jul-92 $1.80 Oct
365 Aug-92 $5.95 Nov
366 Sep-92 $1.80 Dec
367 Oct-92 $1.80 Jan
368 Nov-92 $1.80 Early Feb
369 Nov-92 $1.80 Late Feb
370 Dec-92 $1.80 Early Mar
371 Dec-92 $1.80 Late Mar
372 Jan-93 $1.80 Early Apr
373 Jan-93 $1.80 Late Apr
374 Feb-93 $1.80 May
375 Mar-93 $5.95 Jun
376 Apr-93 $1.95 Jul
377 May-93 $1.95 Aug
378 Jun-93 $1.95 Sep
379 Jul-93 $1.95 Oct
380 Aug-93 $1.95 Nov
381 Sep-93 $1.95 Dec
382 Oct-93 $1.95 Jan
383 Nov-93 $1.95 Feb
384 Dec-93 $1.95 Mar
408 Feb-96 $2.50 Feb
410 Apr-96 $2.50 Apr
411 May-96 $2.50 May
412 Jun-96 $2.50 Jun
413 Jul-96 $2.50 Jul
414 Aug-96 $2.50 Aug
415 Sep-96 $2.50 Sep
416 Oct-96 $2.50 Oct
417 Nov-96 $2.00 Nov

[Thank-you to the reader who contacted me and shared the above!]  These are their confirmed hits, and it is possible others exist outside of this list, for example Amazing Spider-Man #340 seems like it should fit into the window.  Here’s a picture of one of the AUS price variant ASM examples from 1996 ($2.00 AUS price in UPC code box):

amazing-spider-man-417-aus

And I’ll end this post with a few more example AUS variants just to give you a further sampling of what’s out there.  Happy Collecting! 🙂

Standard
Australian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Rare Comics To Collect

New Mutants #98 — $1.50 Cover Price Variant (1st Deadpool Appearance)

By Benjamin Nobel, January 14, 2017

I begin this story with a bar code, the kind that appeared on 1990’s Marvel newsstand comics…  There is so much you really should know about newsstand comics versus direct edition comics in general [read this first if you’re not already in-the-know about the difference between the types], but for the purposes of this story all I want you to know right now is that in the below bar code that I’m about to show you, the numbers along the bottom are what you could think of as the “base code” for the monthly New Mutants title, and the numbers at the top right corner tell you the month.

new-mutants-98-upc

New Mutants #98 newsstand UPC code.

Direct Edition copies of New Mutants #98 have this logo in place of the bar code.

Direct Edition copies of New Mutants #98 have this Captain America logo in place of the bar code.

What you’re looking at above is the bar code — the Universal Product Code (UPC) — for newsstand copies of New Mutants #98 (“direct edition” copies meanwhile lack this code, instead they have a logo in this spot as pictured at right… such copies with logos were direct-sold to comic shops on a discounted but non-returnable basis and make up the vast majority of copies you’ll find out there in the marketplace). The publication month for New Mutants #98 was February, so the corresponding numbers on the top right of the code you just saw are “02” as pointed out below:

The circled portion, with the numbers

The circled portion, with the numbers “02” denote the month of February.

new-mutants-98-feb

If you find a copy of New Mutants #98 with the above code on the cover, the price box at the top left corner of the front cover of that copy will look like the picture at right — showing a $1.00 US price in bold, a smaller $1.25 CAN price underneath, then the issue number (98) below that, followed by the month (FEB).

Below the month, notice the numbers “02207” (and now look back at the UPC code I showed you before, and note where 02207 appears along the bottom).  That part will be consistent from month to month.

So, knowing this information, if I asked you to now predict the code you’d find on newsstand copies of New Mutants #99 (published in March), and New Mutants #100 (the final issue, published in April), you’d be able to correctly predict that the code on issue #99 would look just like the one you just saw but would read “03” at the top right, and the code for issue #100 would read “04”— and you’d be right in your prediction; here are pictures of newsstand copies of New Mutants #98, #99, and #100:

New Mutants #98 (Newsstand)

New Mutants #98 (Newsstand) [ ENLARGE ]

New Mutants #99 (Newsstand)

New Mutants #99 (Newsstand) [ ENLARGE ]

New Mutants #100 (Newsstand)

New Mutants #100 (Newsstand) [ ENLARGE ]

And here, to zoom in and show you that you were right in your prediction, is a close-up of the code for issue #100, the final issue of New Mutants (a fact we see quite clearly proclaimed and repeated across the cover), where you can see that your “04” prediction was correct:
UPC code for New Mutants #100, the final issue.

UPC code for New Mutants #100, the final issue.

So that’s the final New Mutants issue, where the code ending “04” would have therefore been the end!  The X-Force would appear in this issue, and then begin with their own title with the smash-hit release of X-Force #1 in August.

And it is at this part of the story that I have to throw a mystery your way.  There was no issue #101 of New Mutants… that’s confirmed…  So, how is it possible, that I hold in my hands a 1991 New Mutants comic with the following UPC code on it?

That's right folks, this NEW MUTANTS comic, newsstand code 02207, is from 1991 and the month is 05... MAY.  WHAT?!?!

That’s right readers, this code above is from a NEW MUTANTS comic, carrying the same newsstand code 02207 that we’ve become familiar with, it is from 1991, and the indicated month is 05… MAY.  But… but… the New Mutants title had ended at #100 in April!  It didn’t go to #101… WHAT is going on?!?!  What have we found here?  Read on, and by the end of this post, you’ll find out!

At this point in the story I need to give some credit where credit is due.  I did not make this discovery myself.  Instead, this is one of the many times I’ve learned of an interesting comic I’d never encountered before, from a reader of this blog.  As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again now: this is one of the huge benefits of blogging… I learn so much from readers!

The reader who brought this to my attention is Bill Alexander, an advisor to the Overstreet Price Guide.  So before I proceed further in the story — before I answer just what this mystery comic is and how it came to exist — a big thank-you to Bill who not only gave me the heads-up on this fascinating situation, not only shared invaluable research he’d already done, but actually sent me example comics in the mail so I could see what he’d seen, with my own eyes — and hold the comics in my own hands.

As I continue this story of the “05 mystery comic” I need to briefly give you a taste of Marvel’s history as a newsstand experimenter through the decades — and I’ll start with the 1970’s just before direct edition comics came to exist — so that you’ll have the background information I feel you’ll need to fully appreciate the answer to the mystery when you hear it.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— A quote often attributed to Mark Twain

1970’s:

A smaller batch of copies carrying a 35 cent price tag were distributed.

A smaller batch of copies carrying a 35 cent price tag were distributed.

The UPC codes (and everything else about the comic within) were identical.

The UPC codes (and everything else about the comic within) were identical.

Before committing to a cover price increase, it turns out Marvel sometimes experimented, to test the market reaction to the higher price tag…  by distributing smaller batches of comics carrying the higher price, to specific North American test markets, and seeing how well they sold by comparison to the regularly priced copies.

A famous example you’ve probably heard of, are the 35 cent cover price copies of Star Wars #1-4 from 1977. As the lower distribution version, copies with the 35 cent cover price are quite rare as a percentage of the total copies out there.

What percentage are we talking about? A great source of data that collectors are very fortunate to have in this day and age, is the CGC Census. CGC has kept track for us, of just how many copies they’ve graded, of the rare 35 cent type, versus the common type.  Much like election polling and TV ratings that tell us relative popularity are done with a small sample of the total population of voters/viewers, CGC census data, while representing just a portion of the total copies out there (the portion that have been turned in for grading), can still tell us a heck of a lot about relative rarity.

I just looked up the current census numbers for Star Wars issues #1-4, and as I type these words, a grand total of 8,375 copies across these four Star Wars comics have been graded by CGC to date. And out of that grand total, across these four issues, 388 variants appear, or 4.6% of the total. That’s a very small percentage indeed!  No wonder the higher cover price variants are so much more valuable than their ordinary counterparts!

By the way: outside of Whitman packs, “direct edition” comics didn’t exist yet at this point (that development would happen in 1979… and arguably represented one of Marvel’s most successful business “experiments” ever, as direct sales not only worked, they quickly grew to be the dominant form of comic book distribution).

Marvel is a business… we must remember this, as collectors.  And businesses, to remain successful, must continually experiment, they must try different ideas and make changes to the way things were done in the past, in order to adapt to what is thrown at them, and survive (and even to try and grow). In this way I think using the word “experiment” to describe their initial foray into direct edition comics is a great way to think about the business-level decision-making.

If they knew exactly what they were doing at each step along the way to inventing non-returnable direct edition comics, then they wouldn’t have had the initial ‘loophole’ where the earliest direct-sold comics were indistinguishable from newsstand comics, and could therefore be sneakily returned through the newsstand channel (a problem, because direct sold comics were heavily discounted and sales were meant to be final)…

Marvel learned as they went along, reacted to problems thrown at them, and in the case of direct edition comics they closed that loophole, first by putting a strike through the bar code on the cover of direct sold copies, and then eventually introducing the “Spider-Man Rectangle” (and other such logos) to direct-sold copies in place of the bar code.

So that when we now proceed to look at the 1980’s, there are now two distinct sales channels for Marvel’s comics: direct edition sales, and newsstand sales.

1980’s:

The currency exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar had been relatively stable during the 1970’s, fluctuating around parity (sometimes a tad above, sometimes a tad below, but on average it was roughly one-for-one). But in the 1980’s the exchange rate began to jump substantially and didn’t reverse course, with the Canadian dollar becoming weaker against the US dollar. This meant that when Canadian revenues were exchanged back to US currency, they were a much smaller amount for Marvel — and the solution was to demand a higher price when the buyer was paying with Canadian currency.

Direct edition copy with both US and Canada price

At the time this exchange rate movement became a problem for Marvel, the normal price tag on their comics was 60 cents. And they solved the currency exchange rate problem by adding an alternate 75 cent Canadian price in small type, to their direct edition copies…  I’ve pointed that out with an arrow in the picture at the right (the comic shown is Amazing Spider-Man #238, the 1st Hobgoblin appearance).

75-cent-variant-copy

A rare 75 cent variant copy of Amazing Spider-Man #238 (1st Hobgoblin).

But with their newsstand copies, instead of putting both prices on those too, Marvel essentially experimented… That “experiment” was to have two newsstand batches instead of one, a separate batch for each price — a 60 cent batch, and a 75 cent batch (thus giving birth to 75 cent variants as a category — and yes, there is a rare 75 cent variant version out there too for this Hobgoblin key as pictured at right [here are some other keys and interesting example comics from this variant window]).

These different versions were all identical on the inside; so if you tore the front cover off of a 75 cent variant copy (don’t!), or just snipped out the price box with scissors (don’t!), and then sent it in to CGC, they’d grade it as a “regular” copy… because the all-important indicia page (and everything else about the comic within) would be identical to the other copies.

What this 1980’s two-batch newsstand window means for the rarity percentage of the 75 cent cover price variant copies (or whatever the higher price tag was issue by issue) is quite interesting.  Let’s briefly walk through it, in steps, to arrive at the likely percentage of total copies that were the variants.

By the middle of the decade, Marvel reaches the 50:50 point of direct edition to newsstand sales.

By the middle of the decade, Marvel reaches the 50:50 point of direct edition to newsstand sales.

In the book Economics of Digital Comics by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, we learn that by the middle of the 1980’s, direct edition sales began to surpass newsstand sales. This 50/50 point is corroborated by information published by industry insider Chuck Rozanski, as well as supported by the writings of former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who described his 1986 struggles to save the ailing newsstand channel [see this slideshow for relevant quotes from these various sources].

This 50:50 point for direct-edition:newsstand falls right within the “window” of time in the 1980’s when Marvel was printing out two separate newsstand batches [the variant window eventually closed when Marvel “merged” these batches and began to put both US and Canadian prices on all newsstand copies, thereby returning to one newsstand batch].

So in thinking about the rarity of these middle-1980’s Marvel cover price variants as newsstand exclusives printed for Canadian newsstands, we’re starting with that 50/50 direct/newsstand point, taking that newsstand pie slice, and then thinking about how to split that newsstand pie slice up between Canada and the USA — which I will do next by considering the relative market size between the two countries… and the best way I know how to do that, is by population.

The market for Marvel's newsstand comics was the USA plus Canada; by population size in 1985, Canada represented 9.8% of that market.

The market for Marvel’s 1980’s newsstand comics was the USA plus Canada; by population size in 1985, Canada represented 9.8% of that market.

Example copies of New Mutants #1: the top copy is part of the large batch priced at 60 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the US market. The bottom copy is part of the small batch priced at 75 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the small Canadian market.

Example copies of New Mutants #1: the top copy is part of the large batch priced at 60 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the US market. The bottom copy is part of the small batch priced at 75 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the small Canadian market.

When we look up the population of each country in 1985, we find that Canada was just 9.8% of the market for Marvel’s newsstand comic books, by population size. So, starting with the 50% newsstand pie slice, and then 9.8% of that being our higher priced variants, we’d arrive at an estimated 4.9% of the total copies being the higher cover price variants at that middle-1980’s 50:50 point [here’s a discussion of how it might have broken down year by year during the variant window].

Interestingly, CGC also tracks these variant comics separately on census, just like they do for our higher-cover-price 1970’s variants, but with different terminology this time:  Instead of calling them “75 cent variant” akin to their terminology from the 1970’s, they instead dub these “Canadian Price Variant” on the Census [read more]. CGC knows from looking at the prices listed on the corresponding direct edition version of any given comic, what the higher cover price would be for that issue for the batch of copies produced to serve the Canadian newsstand market.  In the case of graphic novels, however, where the newsstand variable wasn’t in play and the purpose of the higher cover price isn’t crystal clear [i.e. no direct edition version to look at for reference to see both prices], CGC simply denotes the higher cover price variant by the price itself, for example the variants for Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (1st New Mutants appearance) are simply denoted “$5.95 Cover Price” by CGC.

I recently studied the historical census data for the variant copies of Amazing Spider-Man #252 — data which, it turns out, goes back to 2001 in census snapshots.  I found that back in 2001, the 75 cent variant copies of that issue were about 2% of the total CGC had graded at that point in time… and, fast-forward to 2016, the variants were also about 2% of the 2016 total going into year-end. And for these past 15+ years in between, the numbers have fluctuated a bit as new submissions of each type came in to CGC, but the total variant percentage has consistently been in that same ballpark ~2% percentage rarity neighborhood for the last decade and a half.

This incredibly low variant percentage showing up on CGC’s census may be so much lower than the estimated original distribution percentage in part because of survivorship difference between newsstand and direct edition comics.  The direct edition copies of any given comic should see a “magnified” survivorship percentage given that they were so well cared for by the collectors who took them home (and also well cared for by the comic shops that sold them who knew all too well that preservation of collectible condition was important — the owner of the comic shop I frequented as a kid had a special program for repeat customers like me where a mint condition bagged-and-boarded direct edition copy was set aside with your name on it, ensuring not a single collectible was missed).

The typical newsstand comic, by contrast, needed a lot of luck to survive through to the present in any kind of decent shape worthy of sending in to CGC…  The typical buyer on newsstands bought a comic to read it, not as a collectible — remember: the extreme rarity as a higher cover price variant wasn’t known to the original buyers who took them home.  So instead of treating them as treasured collectibles (like they’d treat modern-day 1-in-whatever retailer incentive variants), generally speaking they were treated as an entertainment purchase, something to read, with no thought given to preserving collectible condition.

The chances of a Canadian cover price 75¢, 95¢, or $1.00 variant surviving in the top grades is very slim indeed. I can remember all too well how newsstand copies were not cared for,  especially by the retailers who put them out on the spinner racks. I can remember how I would walk into a 7-11 store and see a shopping cart with string-bundled comics waiting to be unleashed onto the comic racks by store employees. The strings cut right into the spines on most of the comics in the bundle, leaving deep grooves and indentation marks. This lowered many of the NM copies down to FN/VF to VF grade even before they were crammed into the comic racks where they were then carelessly handled by kids. I believe the few comic rack newsstand copies that survived in NM grade were in the center portions of the bundled comics (protected in that way), or else the ‘string bundle effect’ would have surely gotten to them. People just have no idea how ‘uncared for’ and mishandled newsstand copies were.”
— Bill Alexander, Overstreet Advisor

“Serious collectors” knew the condition of the comics over on newsstands was terrible — so if they wanted to collect mint condition copies, they needed to make their purchases over in comic shops instead… where, whether they realized it or not, the direct edition type were sold.   With this myopic focus on condition, collectors “self-sorted” the market for comic books into a mostly-collector-group taking home (and carefully preserving) direct edition comics, leaving a mostly-reader-group as the ones buying the newsstand copies — which was where the cover price variants were found — and then reading those already-low-distribution variants to death from there.

But graphic novels didn’t have this “newsstand variable” in play.  Take first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 for example, where, instead of direct edition and newsstand types, there was just the one type, with a batch priced at $4.95 for the USA, and another batch at $5.95 for Canada.  So, with that newsstand variable removed, the behavior of the buyers (and staff) comparing the $4.95 and $5.95 first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 would have been similar

With similar behavior — and without the Canadian market split between the two sales channels with two distinct versions — variant cover price copies of this graphic novel would therefore have reached that full Canadian pie slice of that graphic novel market (remember, with comic books, the market demand was satisfied by direct edition copies and variant newsstand copies — but in this case, the whole Canadian market got the same one version).  Therefore, we might expect the variant percentage on census for Marvel Graphic Novel #4 to be driven purely by that Canadian:USA market size difference, in this particular case.

And indeed, when we look at the census numbers for first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4, we see the CGC census rarity for the $5.95 variant for that issue comes in at almost 9.8% on the nose — this near-pinpoint-precision tells me that using market size by population as a “guidepost” along the path to understanding rarity is the right way to think about the 1980’s category of cover price variant comics produced for Canada.

2000’s:

Yes, I’m skipping the 1990’s for now but I’ll come back to them in a minute (they are the topic of this post after all).  Newsstand sales at Marvel, over time, continued to decline dramatically relative to direct edition sales, and by 1999, Marvel made a conscious decision to “walk away” from the newsstand model.  The impact this decision had on newsstand sales apparently further exacerbated their relative decline versus direct edition copies, with newsstand comics falling from 14% of sales in 1999, all the way down to 4.25% by May of 2003, as discussed in the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, citing BPA audits.  Marvel would eventually shut down newsstand sales altogether (in stages, with certain bookstore partners being the last to carry them), but not before the newsstand percentages fell to as low as 2% by 2005 and 1% by 2013 for Marvel, according to estimates by Chuck Rozanski.

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #569 (first Anti-Venom) are a price variant.

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #569 (first Anti-Venom) are a price variant.

And it turns out that Marvel once again experimented with newsstand cover prices in this 2000’s era, with many known instances where newsstand comics carried a higher price tag than their direct edition counterparts, either for the US price, the Canadian price, or both.  This higher price tag phenomenon includes an entire “publication window” where direct edition comics were regularly priced at $2.99 (US) each, and the same comics appeared on the newsstands with a $3.99 (US) price tag.  (Eventually, apparently satisfied that the market would accept the $3.99 price tag, direct edition copies “caught up” to that $3.99 price point).  Comics such as Amazing Spider-Man #569 (1st Anti-Venom, 10/2008), are among the keys that can be found out there with this $3.99 variant price (and once again CGC “breaks out” such variants, this time with the terminology “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” — here is a separate post that covers these in greater depth and gives some keys and other interesting examples out of this window).

So here yet again we have comic book history rhyming, where there are key issues many collectors would like to own, and with the existence of cover price variant copies out there as a very low distribution percentage of total copies of each issue.  Effectively these newsstand copies represent a “1-in-some-much-larger-number variant” version (where that much-larger-number grew bigger in size as newsstand sales dwindled in relation to direct edition sales over the course of time), but one that wasn’t actually known to be rare by the market that purchased them at the time they were originally sold.

Imagine, if you would, a comic shop owner sitting behind the counter enjoying a slice of pizza. The bell on the front door jingles and it is a delivery: they have gotten a new 1-in-100 variant through their door.  The comic shop owner casually wipes their greasy hands on their pants, signs for the delivery, then proceeds to open the comic up,  read it with their still-greasy fingers, and then toss it haphazardly in a pile.   The scenario I just described would be crazy, right?   That would be like setting fire to a pile of cash.  Would never happen!  Yet, what I just described, that’s effectively what late modern Marvel newsstand comics are: low distribution variants that were treated terribly by not just the staff but also most of their buyers, buyers who were unaware they had purchased anything special or rare by print run comparison…  Thus leaving precious few highest-grade-survivors out there among these already-ludicrously-rare cover price variants.

1990’s:

And now back to our “mystery comic”… and the 1990s.   The comic book industry was booming as we entered the 1990’s.  This boom period would eventually go bust, with Marvel famously going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization (they filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of 1996 [chapter 11 is a “reorganization” where the company doesn’t disappear, it survives on, but debts are restructured]).

But in 1991 when the New Mutants title was going into its final issues, they had no idea bankruptcy reorganization was looming five years on the horizon… instead, times were great for Marvel with sales roaring.   In our heads we can imagine Marvel executives of this time period popping champagne bottles and optimistically projecting out continued boom-time sales growth in charts presented in the board room, with discussions taking place about new growth initiatives to penetrate markets they hadn’t attempted in the past…

To get an idea for the established markets for Marvel’s comics of that time, let’s look at the price box for a direct edition comic — here’s a direct edition New Mutants #98 for example:

A

A “direct edition” copy of New Mutants #98.

As you can see, there are three prices shown on direct edition copies: $1.00 US, $1.25 CAN, and then at the very bottom, UK 60p (for copies sold in the United Kingdom).  That covers all the biggest English-speaking markets for Marvel, right?  Or does it?  Any other big countries out there with English as the primary language?

What about the “Land Down Under”?

And here, finally, I give you the answer to the “mystery comic” I presented in the beginning.  The comic that would have appeared from its newsstand code to be New Mutants #101 (a non-existent comic)… the 1991 comic with the “05” New Mutants newsstand code… is, in fact, New Mutants #98 again!  Note the $1.50 AUS cover price:

New Mutants #98 with

New Mutants #98 with “05” newsstand code… May month on the cover… and $1.50 AUS cover price.  Under the UPC code at the bottom, $1.50 AUS is repeated.

Marvel, that continuous newsstand experimenter, produced the above-pictured copies of New Mutants #98, continuing the same New Mutants UPC code used on newsstands here in the USA (and Canada) but with “05” at the top right of the code (it is possible these copies would be sitting in a container on a slow boat to Australia for quite some time, and the May month would ensure they didn’t seem out of date when they eventually hit the stands there)… And of course, it was priced for Australia, at $1.50.

And here’s the craziest part…  If I tore off the front cover of one of these and submitted the book to CGC for grading, guess what they’d find in the indicia?  It is, in fact, identical to all the other copies of New Mutants #98, just like we saw with the variants of earlier decades.  Everything on the inside — from the February 1991 publication month, to the “Printed in the USA” line, literally everything inside the cover — is identical to other New Mutants #98 copies!

Despite the

Despite the “05” code and “May” on the cover, the indicia page states February.

printed-in-the-usa-close-up

The indicia (and comic within) is fully identical to all the other copies of New Mutants #98, down to the Printed in the USA line.  This comic’s birthplace: The United States of America.

The existence of these newsstand variants is extremely surprising, because there was no “cue” in the direct edition copies to go looking for their existence… i.e. there is no Australian alternate price shown for any direct editions.  So why would anybody think to go looking for a newsstand edition priced for Australia?

So: how might we begin to think about the likely rarity percentage of these variant copies?  Let’s see what we get when we do the same kind of breakdown we did earlier for the 1980’s variants, i.e. we’ll start with a pie divided into two slices between direct edition and newsstand (this time based on 1990’s sales statistics), and then we’ll divide the newsstand pie slice by market size (by looking up the 1990’s population of each country that got newsstand copies).

newsstand-estimate-1990

Estimated 1990 split for Marvel: 15% newsstand to 85% direct edition.

For 1990, there is an estimate from Chuck Rozanski at 15% newsstand to 85% direct edition; and the book I mentioned earlier, Economics of Digital Comics by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, mentions a 1999 audit showing Marvel’s newsstand sales for the first half of that year at 14%.

Since these two percentage figures from two different sources are pretty close both in year and in value, let’s proceed to see what happens when we take an assumption of a 15% newsstand pie slice, and then divide that by market size (by population) among the countries that got newsstand copies.

population-comparison-1990

A 1990 population comparison for the USA, Canada, and Australia, shows Australia at 5.8%.

According to the US Census Bureau and World Bank numbers, entering the 1990’s we had a population here in the USA of 249.6 million people, Canada had a population of 27.79 million, and Australia came in at 17.07 million.

As we saw in an earlier picture, Marvel’s North American newsstand batch had both US and Canadian prices listed, in other words the newsstand copies found on the stands in the United States and Canada were the same in this time period (that 1980’s dual-batch-window had long since closed). So in dividing the newsstand pie slice, we’re really just dividing it into two types: the North American type, and the Australian type.

Australia’s population represented 5.8% of the combined market size across the total of these three countries that got newsstand copies.  So if we now take 5.8% of the 15%-newsstand-pie-slice, that gets us to: 0.87% (zero point eight seven percent) of total copies being these AUS variants. (Excuse me a moment while I pop my eyes back into my head).

It is very difficult to know, as a probable newsstand experiment, and as one conducted overseas, whether the population size would have followed through in this way to the number of copies — after all, with any experiment, the one conducting the experiment calls the shots just as much as the market size does, and in this case the experimenter had an interesting problem to consider: what to do with any copies that didn’t sell through on the stands.

Here in North America these unsold newsstand copies would be known as newsstand returns… with the infrastructure in place to recycle/pulp and/or sell the returns into a secondary market (like these example Whitman packs containing 75¢ copies inside the plastic and sold in Toys R Us) as warranted by market demand.

But the idea of Marvel pulping unsold returns is a very different question across the world in Australia.  Given this unknown, how might we think about the possibilities?  Here in North America, it was common to over-produce (not knowing how many would ultimately sell through, it was better to err on the side of over-producing, than under-producing, knowing the excess could simply be recycled forward).

If Marvel was just doing a “test” with these Australian copies, and the overseas aspect made handling of returns tricky, might they have erred on the side of under-producing so as to minimize unsold copies?  Or, might Marvel have still erred on the side of over-production with the idea to later liquidate any unsold newsstand copies locally there, for the best bulk price they could get?  Either of these scenarios makes sense to me logically as possibilities, but I have no way to know what actually occurred (or if it was something in the middle).

So with the caveat that we can’t really know for sure how well we’ve done coming to these numbers, and this is an exercise in estimation, I’m going to take the 0.87% figure we arrived at earlier and turn it into a range to allow for the possibility that Marvel may have over-produced the Australian newsstand copies, and that the unsold copies still made it out to the Australian market via some other sales channel rather than being destroyed.

So let’s triple our number on the high side to give plenty of leeway for some of the unknowns, and use “0.87% to 2.61%” as a range for the rarity percentage, and then let’s apply that against the total count of copies of New Mutants #98, to see what kind of total numbers we might be talking about for the $1.50 AUS variants.

According to this source, New Mutants #98 had a print run of 275,000 copies. Apply our estimated variant percentage range just discussed, and we’d be in the neighborhood of 2,400 to 7,200 copies with the variant $1.50 AUS cover price. [By the way, Bill Alexander shared with me that he independently arrived at his own estimate for this issue, of 3,225 copies].

And this is before considering buyer behavior — that notorious-newsstand-destruction-rate variable would be in play with these.  Recall that when we looked at the rarity percentage for Marvel Graphic Novel #4 variants (where the newsstand variable wasn’t in play), it followed the predicted distribution rarity almost on the nose, but meanwhile when we looked at 1980’s newsstand variant comic books which had that newsstand variable in play, the percentage we observe on census (like Amazing Spider-Man #252 — at a mere 2% Canadian Edition) is much lower than what we might have expected if our expectation had been based on the likely percentage sold at the time of initial distribution.

Marvel Australian cover price variants were only newsstand distributed (no direct edition copies exist). These are type 1A Marvel Australian cover price variants, where the 1990-1994 issues are both cover PRICE and cover MONTH variants, while the 1996 group are only cover PRICE variants. Marvel appeared to be test marketing these, and they were so off the radar to everyone that until a few years ago I myself had no idea they even existed!”

The 1990-1994 Marvel AUS variants as far as I can tell began with 10/90 issues and ceased with 1/94 issues. The 1996 Marvel AUS cover price issues as far as I can tell began with 2/96 issues. The test marketing apparently failed and Marvel gave up completely when the 1996 AUS variants ended with 11/96 issues.”

— Bill Alexander, Overstreet Advisor

[ Related discussion: Type 1A Price Variants — “What’s In A Variant Name?” ]

New Mutants #98 Variants — CGC Treatment

I’m a big fan of CGC, as so many of us are — and a logical next question that might occur to you at this point is: How does CGC treat these $1.50 AUS copies? I certainly had that thought myself upon learning about the existence of these variants, and for one thing I was very curious to see how CGC cataloged the comic as far as the publication month — would they use the “05” (May) month shown on the UPC code on the front cover? Or would they use the February month shown inside the comic on the indicia page?

I suppose one way to think about this question, if you were the one deciding how to catalog the New Mutants #98 variant, would be in the identification of a coverless or damaged-cover copy. Tear off the cover — or remove key pieces of it with scissors (don’t!) — and if you handed me one of these in that altered state, I’d most certainly identify it by the indicia page, and I’d therefore conclude it was a plain old “regular” copy of New Mutants #98, published in February of 1991… just like it says there in the indicia.

CGC, however, appears to have gone with what’s on the UPC code on the cover: May. Here below is what a census search turns up; as you can see, there are two separate entries, one for February as the Issue Date (regular copies), and the other for May (our $1.50 variant):

new-mutants-98-census-cgc

CGC opted to catalog the variant under 5/91 (what appears on the cover) as the issue date, rather than 2/91 as appears in the indicia page.

I was curious to see, clicking through on that May entry, whether the “key comments” note would carry any indication that the indicia for this comic shows February as the publication month.  And I found there was not such a note presently there (see next picture below — the note does carry the 1st appearance credits, but no note about the conflicting indicia date or the USA birthplace).  I feel a special label note would definitely be appropriate given that the indicia information inside the comic is in conflict with what is shown on the cover (I will suggest an improvement to the “key comments” when I submit my own copy).

As you can see below, they denote these copies as “Australian Edition” (following the same naming tradition they use with 1980’s newsstand variants which they opted to denote as “Canadian Edition”), and as of this writing there are 5 copies total on Census, with 9.4 being the top grade — as newsstand survivors it is no surprise to see only 1 of the current 5 has been graded above VF/NM:

Present CGC census data, as of this writing, for the $1.50 cover price variant. As you can see, CGC denotes these as

Present CGC census data, as of this writing, for the $1.50 cover price variant. As you can see, CGC denotes these as “Australian Edition” but the key comments note does not make mention of the 2/91 publication date shown in the indicia.

More To Come…

If you’ve read all the way to the end to reach these words, hopefully that means I did proper justice to the topic of this rare variant version of New Mutants #98 (such an important comic!) and that you were as fascinated with it as I am, or, at the very least it means I did a minimally-decent-enough job to at least hold your attention through to the end! 🙂  There are of course other Australian newsstand comics out of this very same publication “window” and next time, I am going to delve into some other examples from this 1990’s newsstand variant window.  This has basically been “Part 1” of a two-part post…  I have submitted my own $1.50 AUS copy of New Mutants #98 to CGC along with a few other books.  And when the box arrives back, I will snap some pictures and compose “Part 2″…

Until I see you then, I wish you Happy Collecting! 🙂

[5/17/2017 update: here’s Part II: AUS Price Variants (Australian Newsstand Editions)]

[5/6/2019 update: the post above was written in 2017 but readers should be aware that CGC announced that as of May 6, 2019, they will label as “Australian Price Variant” going forward 🙂. Additionally, CGC appears to have changed their mind about the month they catalog the variants under, with recent submissions using the indicia month.]

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