Well, technically, I’m Silver Age.

§ November 13th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, question time, retailing § 9 Comments

So Matthew asked last week sometime

“Speaking of the ‘copper age,’ What years and terms do you use to define different eras of comics?”

Which, you know, fair enough, since I’m very vocally not a huge fan of that very term “copper age,” which still to my ear smacks very much of a marketing term generated to make back issues of Nomad sound rare and collectible.

I’ve gone into detail on this before, actually also in response to a query from the very selfsame Matthew, in this post from last year. Actually, I’m glad for the chance to revisit that post becuase just the briefest of glances revealed some pretty awful typos (which I’ve since fixed), and more to be found, I’m sure. I’m guessing this was written during one of my “cloudy vision” periods, of which there have been too many. But I presume most of you got the gist of my typical too-long foray into the nomenclature of comic ages then, despite my obfuscated spelling and word use.

But to defy tradition and provide a more succinct answer to this most recent query, let me say to you, Matthew, that I use “Golden” and “Silver” frequently, and “Bronze” less so. However, as we get farther away from the period supposedly defined by “Bronze,” i.e. circa 1970 through 1984, I find my incidences of usage increasing, perhaps identifying a psychological barrier against acceptance. “Why, there can’t be an ancient sounding ‘age’ for that period…that’s my time frame!”

A naming of ages is, almost by definition, a matter of historical definition, and one tends not to think of a time lived through as being “historical,” no matter how long ago, in truth, that time may be. However, I suppose, 35 to 50 years on, I must bite that bullet and accept that the range of years is thusly dubbed.

As has been pointed out by some, including me in that very post from last year I linked above, some distance is needed to fully appreciate the characteristics of the industry’s behavior before one can really begin to divvy up specific eras into “ages.” I go into a little detail at the end of that post about what I think the current “age” might be called [attention Allen M, who brought this up last week], but we’re still way, way too close. So long as it isn’t “the Final Age,” a joke I’ve made at some point in the past here or on Twitter, though truth be told I’m only about half-joking.

Okay, I clearly didn’t defy any ProgRuin traditions with that answer, so let me move on to another response to last week’s post.

• • •

Tenzil Kem, Esq., bites off more than I can chew with

“I get the argument about the ‘rarity’ of newsstand comics vs. direct market, although I’m not sure if newsstand copies from the 70’s/80’s are truly that much rarer (since, as you know, print runs were hundreds of thousands of copies and available widely back then). I think the argument is stronger for comics from this century, such as DC New 52 newsstand issues with the higher cover prices, but I still don’t know that it should translate into higher valuations.”

Oh, sure, I’m not sure I was clear on that, but yeah, with comics from when newsstand distribution was still a major thing, there really shouldn’t be much of a difference, if any, in secondary market pricing. It should be restricted to more modern releases, though, as I noted in that post, I’m not a fan of that sort of pricing behavior anyway. I understand the impulse, but it still feels like making a collector’s item out of nothing for no really solid reason. (Like, as you say, the price differences on those DCs, but even then that’s bit of a stretch).

Now look, when it comes to collector’s markets, it’s the money that talks, not me, and history will side with whatever makes some people’s wallets fatter while I walk the streets with my sandwich board filled with tiny scrawled handwriting. I’m sure eventually I’ll fall into line if the back issue market leans in that direction, but rest assured I’ll be making passive-aggressive complaints about it on whatever Nazi-free microblogging platform eventually replaces Twitter.

“For that matter, I don’t like the inflated back issue pricing on comics with Mark’s Jewelers ads, and I have several of those that my grandparents bought me from the Fort McClellan PX near Anniston, AL.”

Yeah, that’s been a thing for years, but I think tradition has won over any objections we might have had. To be fair, if a comic came with some kind of insert, and that insert is removed, then that comic is not “as new” and should be graded accordingly. While I think advertisements should be treated differently from inserts more directly related to the comic book, or comics in general (like, say, trading card inserts that Marvel would occasionally include in their books throughout the ’90s), the problem of “where is the line drawn” does begin to creep in.

The imperfect analogy that immediately comes to mind is the usual comic grading policy of “age is not an issue.” A comic from the 1940s is held to the same grading standards as a comic that came out last Wednesday (or Tuesday, if it’s a DC). Otherwise you have to create sliding scales for what is considered “mint” or whatever for multiple time periods, and frankly, that sounds like an enormous pain the All-Star Squadron. With that as precedent, one can perhaps see where trying to distinguish between the kinds of inserts would eventually turn problematic, and it’s simply easier to apply the same pricing/grading rules to any comic with any insert.

As a side note, you’d think having the stiff-paper trading card inserts or jeweler ads would create a wider prevalence of these comics being in higher conditions with less spine creasing. Let me tell you, friends, that this is not the case.

“I’ll go full grumpy old man and complain about Canadian price variants and British price variants because I feel those are just “rare” here in the USA.”

An issue I recently experienced when I acquired a large number of 1960s Marvels and DCs from a lady who’d spent her youth in England. The DCs were all stamped with ink impressions featuring the price in, I don’t know, ha’pennies or whatever was goin’ on there, but were otherwise as distributed in the U.S. with the American prices printed thereon.

The Marvels, however, were printed with British pricing replacing the U.S. pricing on their covers (for the most part…there were one or two that also had to be stamped). I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these in regards to back issue pricing…especially as some of them were quite the in-demand books (such as the first appearance of Black Panther).

Did a little research, consulted with former boss Ralph, and eventually decided to just price ’em up as normal. I mean, these weren’t new, different foreign editions produced specifically for their markets. It’s the exact same contents, exact same covers and ads, the only difference is that the U.S. price was swapped out with another price at some point during the printing process. This minor cosmetic change might increase demand as “a variant,” might decrease demand as “a repint” (which I don’t think it is), so I just split the difference.

“With all of these examples, I think sellers are just trying to justify why someone should pay more for their specific copy, but the market seems to be looking for rarity wherever it can find it.”

As I’d noted…or rather, as a customer brought to my attention and I shared here, as older comics become less available folks are looking for reasons to make newer, more common comics into collector’s items. Even with brand new comics, as almost any “first appearance” that turns up in a recent release inspires the purchase of multiple copies, even when more often than not any increased value that accrues is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than any indication of organic widespread demand. Investors create the scarcity that increase the demand from those who need the issue and couldn’t get it because investors bought them all. Artificial rarity…those who forget the ’80s are doomed to repeat them.

9 Responses to “Well, technically, I’m Silver Age.”

  • I remember working at my LCS in the early 90s and the phrase Chromium Age was being tossed about.

    Hey, Mike. Don’t know if this has ever been brought up. Youve talked about the Marvel Value Stamps and the jeweler ads, then there’s Nick Lach–never mind. But have you, has anyone reading this, ever had a comic with a coupon clipped out for Palisades Park NJ? This couldn’t have been local, as every comic I bought in the 60s was eith er in Chicago or Louisville. I’ve asked employees at other stores old enough to remember, and no one has ever seen the coupon clipped out. One guy, in fact, said if he did come across one, he would fold it to that page and put it on display.

  • John Lancaster says:

    To kind of go back to the previous post when mentioning the ever on-going debate on when the Silver Age actually started, I’ve always kind of liked the brief go-between of the Atomic Age (1948-1955). I know it isn’t widely used or recognized but a lot of the comics of that era just don’t “feel” like Golden Age books, and they’re not quite Silver Age yet either. Being an oldie like yourself, I struggled with Bronze for a while but gave in to its use by the early 2000’s. Copper Age is an affront to decency and I refuse to use it (except when Ebay forces me to in my listings). It does feel like we’ve got to insert some kind of identifier for a chunk after “copper”. We’re coming up on 30 years in the “Modern Age” – almost the entirety of the Gold and Silver age combined. I certainly don’t know what that should be called, but whatever it is I’m sure I’ll hate it and refuse to use it until 20 years after it becomes popular.

  • Rob S. says:

    Wayne, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a Palisades Park coupon or two clipped out from some of my DC back issues. The issue that springs to mind was Action Comics 388… it was from 1970, and I think they were still running those ads then (the park didn’t close until a year later). Of course, I’m from Eastern PA, so it wouldn’t be too crazy for me to have access to a fair number of back issues within traveling distance of a New Jersey amusement park.

    That said; I might be misremembering. The one thing I’m sure of is that *something* was clipped out of that issue and I missed the last two panels of that story!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Marvel Value Stamps”

    “DAMN YOU MARVEL VALUE STAMPS! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”

  • Rob S. We are dating ourselves, right? In all my 61 years, likely 55 of them getting old comics from flea markets, our old Maxwell Street, and even a few old aunties, I have never seen one gone missing. If I recall, there were at least two to cut out, because I even gave *that* some thought. (One might have been for a discount, another for the roller coaster.)

    I’m sure that back then PP got a decent deal on every single damn comic around the country having that ad. I hope others here will have answers, as well as saying how close they live(d) to NJ.

    Let’s hope that one day you aren’t missing two panels of a DC comic because someone cut out both Nick Lachey Twix ads.

  • Brian says:

    I agree on the historical nature of the Golden/Silver/Bronze naming, and how you can’t quite extend that system past a certain point. Partly it’s, as I’ve commented before, that the naming scheme itself is a reference to bygone ages in Hesiod. Partly it’s that “modern” comics have systems of storytelling that are very different from books prior to 1984-1986. I mean that not necessarily within any individual issue, but between and across issues.

    The Golden Age was the era of effectively disposable comics (as they were understood to be). There wasn’t quite continuity, but consistency developed over titles as characters formed with varying among of “in-story” time passing or not (or effectively resetting).

    Silver Age books had tight interconnected continuity at Marvel and a looser connection at DC, but both tended to happen “in real time” — there were a lot references to dates and years passing, and real people made appearances (even having titles of their own). Whether readers were expected to buy and own a whole run (“each issue is someone’s first”), the stories tended to build as if running from go.

    By the Bronze Age a decade later, the “aging” of characters and artistic stretching of stories into arcs meant that it was no longer one month issue ≈ one month time. Peter Parker stopped aging in real time and the kids born to various characters famously became forever toddlers. Time still passed is basic synch and continuity remained chained across titles, but different titles might be a few months apart (so Batman, for example, could be acting six months to a year “in time” separate across titles, rather than assuming everything in a month of books happened within a few weeks of each other).

    By the time Secret Wars, with its time jump for characters, and Crisis, with its lead-ins and tie-ins, came about, that stretched chain of continuity-in-almost-real-time was broken. Books started having events that lasted varying amounts of time compared to others, continuity of one title or character was rewritten where another wasn’t, and Ten Year Timelines and the like emerged (to be replaced and shifted again and again). After the mid-eighties, it becomes hard to really say what age a given character is supposed to be (if the writers even agree), for example.

    Mind you, I’m not saying the Modern Age (I’m using that broad term anthropologically, in that the modern age in history is largely marked by timekeeping and measurement, the word modern itself deriving from the Latin modus for measure) is bad or wrong, just that it has different storytelling and continuity assumptions than the Classical Age (to again reference the Hesiod bit) and requires different sorts of periodic breakdowns.

  • Rob S. says:

    LACHEEEEEEEY!

    I imagine one of Nick Lachey’s bodyguards is solely devoted to the Twix detail.

    Did the Sea World Waterski Superhero Spectacular ads include a coupon? Those were the ads I’d see in the DC comics I was buying off the rack in my early days. (I desperately wanted to go, of course.) If they did have a coupon element, I don’t recall ever seeing it cut out… or maybe they were usually placed so they weren’t opposite a story page.

  • Rob S.: I don’t recall ever seeing a Sea World ad, if we are still talking Palisades Park. I don’t even need to look to tell you that every book I had was one for Free Admission (or maybe half-price) and another with Superman holding a roller coaster in his hand. Hey, I just remembered Google. There were several with Batman and Superman on it, but I’ve only seen the one I mentioned. The two coupons were for Free…PARKING?! and a carousel. Then there were Crazy Crystals, Teacups (from a Wonder Woman comic) and the Caterpillar. I’m sure I have some Caterpillar ads now that I’ve seen them. Its raining and 45 degrees, I know what I’ll be doing later. (By the way, I was buying Superman back then, any Batman was World’s Finest.)

  • Snark Shark says:

    people cut out Nick Lachey ads?

    Why, to burn them?

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