The following is based off of the $100,000 Club list, a catalog I keep of all the individual comic books that might sell for over $100,000. Unlike some lists I've seen out there (in print and online) both this article and the $100,000 Club strive to name not only the title and issue number ("Action #1 is the most valuable comic book in the world") but to try to pinpoint the individual copies that make up the hobby's stratosphere. For a real world analog, all the other lists are the equivalent of saying "Picasso's paintings are amongst the most valuable in the world" and leaving it at that where my list is would point out that "Picasso's Garçon à la Pipe sold for $104,000,000 in 2004."
All of this is the result of a couple of years of research and discussion of these top end books both in private conversation and online. Before anyone points it out, there are obviously holes in my data set as there are books that have slipped out of the hobby (many of the Reilly books, for example), there are books I don't have full information on (some people are less free with their knowledge than others) and there are non-pedigree books that I just don't know about, so this should be treated as a work in progress.
Feel free to speculate about what "might" be out there. That's part of the fun.
To that end, I'm always interested in feedback on these lists.- if you've got into on any of these books, or just want to talk in depth about my reasoning, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment below.
When I originally wrote this, the cutoff for inclusion was around $550,000. In light of the events of the past couple of years, the cut-off is much higher. These are all million dollar comics.
1. Mile High/Edgar Church Copy of Action #1
The best copy of the first appearance of Superman, the single most important American comic, wins this particular horse race. This was the easiest book on the list to position (although #2 is a virtual tie in that regard.)
A truly legendary comic, speculation about the value and (more recently) condition of this book has been a favorite topic of conversation for hard core (and even some not so hard core) collectors for more than 20 years. The current owner, (hereby referred to as "The Dentist"), famously overpaid for this book in 1984, spending an unimaginable $25,000 on it. At the time, people openly questioned his sanity. Fortune favors the bold apparently, as that $25,000 investment is now worth at least 40x as much. I say "at least" because there is a popular anecdote that "The Dentist" turned down a $2,000,000 offer* from coin dealer Jay Parrino when Parrino was exploring the comics hobby. Assuming the offer was legitimate, and with the vast sums of money Parrino spent on comics I have no reason to doubt it, it would peg the value needed to actually get the book to change hands somewhere north of 100x the purchase price.
Speculation about the book's condition is also a popular topic in today's condition-conscious, CGC world. The best estimate of its condition are anecdotal. Stephen Fischler from Metropolis Comics and Steve Borock have both seen it and have prodived grade estimates. Fischler, certainly someone in position to know, says that the book would be an Unrestored 9.2 (on CGC's ten point scale) if it were in a CGC holder. Steve Borock, former grand poo-bah at CGC, says it would be a 9.4. Until we see a photo or a high resolution scan, or CGC gets their hands on it down in Sarasota, that estimation is as good as we're going to get.
Of course, regardless of the number attached to the book, it's generally agreed that this is the best copy and if that's truly the case the technical grade is practically irrelevant. It's the best copy of the best book from the best pedigree and it's in the best collection on the planet.
Estimated Value: $3,000,000
2. Allentown Copy of Detective Comics #27
If the Church Action #1 is the #1 book in the hobby, then this book is #1a. The best copy of the first appearance of Batman is another book owned by "The Dentist" and it's another book for the speculation files in terms of grade. Called NM/MT when it was sold 15 years ago, this book is generally accepted to be the best copy, and unlike the Mile High Action #1 this book is supposed to be the best by a pretty wide margin. I've always assumed it was at least a 9.4, but judging by some of the other books from the Allentown collection images of a 9.6 Detective Comics #27 dance through my head from time to time.
If you're thinking "Does this guy really daydream about million dollar comics?"
The answer is, "On occasion, yes."
To be honest, I'd pay money for a high res photo or a scan of this book.
3. The "other" high grade copy of Detective Comics #27
I've had this book pretty definitively quoted as being a 9.*. Interestingly, it was listed as only a FN68 in the 24th edition of the Overstreet Price Guide. I'd love to know why there's such a discrepancy. Still, the people who have spoken of it say it's an extremely nice book and one that would be the best available if it were to come up for sale. As such it's the second best copy of the second best book and the best potentially available. By that logic it should be 4th. Thing is, it's the only 9.* copy of either book that has the possibility of seeing the open market (assuming all The Dentist's books are locked away for keeps.) With that in mind, I'm slotting it ahead of the second best Action #1.
In that same guide it was listed as having sold twice in a year- once for $81,000 then again for $101,000. The latter figure, I believe, makes this the first documented member of the $100,000 Club.
I say "documented", because John Verzyl told me that he spent over $100,000 for the Church Marvel Comics #1 when he purchased it in the 80s (!)
4. Action Comics #1 CGC 8.5
The second best copy of Action #1.
The highest price ever paid for a comic book? It's this book.
A gorgeous copy. Without the rusted staples it would be even nicer (if that's even possible.)
4. Best Existing Superman #1
"The Dentist's" copy. I've heard a range of grades for this book ranging from 8.0 to 9.2. Considering this is the copy he chose to keep I would guess that it's nearer the 9.* end of that range.
As to value on this book, the Church copy sold for $170,000 nearly ten years ago and a 7.5 sold for $250,000 in the oughts. We also have heard tale told that the Church copy traded hands for big bucks in 2009 (rumors have ranged from $500,000 to $1,000,000) This book would clearly blow all of those numbers out of the water, being the best copy of one of the top five books in the hobby. This is especially true since Superman #1 is a book that is notoriously difficult to acquire in high grade. From my research it's this book, the Church copy (a sketchy 8.0) and then the 7.5 at the high end. Compare that to the half dozen copies of Marvel Comics #1 over 8.0 and you'll see why I push this book up to #4.
To editorialize for a moment, the Church copy is an absolute stunner. Apparently, it's got internal damage that brings it down a little bit technically, but I remember it looking a lot nicer than the CGC 8.0 it received when I saw it way back when.
Estimated Value: $1,500,000
6. Mile High/Edgar Church Copy of Marvel Comics #1
To be quite honest, I'm reluctant to place this book on this list. I'm also reluctant to exclude it.
(This isn't an exact science.)
I'm listing this book this high because it's possibly the best technical copy of any major Golden Age key book, it represents the dawn of the Marvel Universe and it's the Church copy. I just can't imagine the floor on it being that low, even if I don't hold it in as high esteem, price-wise as some folks.
That said, I hesitate because to me, Marvel #1 is just not the same caliber of book as Action #1 or Detective Comics #27 or even Superman #1 (at least in high grade). I don't mean just in terms of absolute value, but in terms of "strength" of sales. Recently, seemingly every copy of this book (many high grade!) that has come up for sale has crossed the boards for what has felt like a bargain price**. The same cannot be said for either Action #1 or Detective Comics #27 which sell for extremely healthy prices in all unrestored grades. As cool as this book is for long-time collectors, I can't help but feel like it's got more in common with Whiz #2 than it does with either Action #1 or Detective #27.
Maybe if this were an October** copy?
Estimated Value: $1,250,000
6. Mile High/Edgar Church Detective Comics #27
The Church copy is reportedly nicer (I've had around 8.5 quoted to me) than the 2 8.0s and is the Church copy. What more argument do you need?
For perspective's sake, this book sold for $125,000 almost a decade ago and a 7.0 Detective 27 sold for $200,000 at Investment Collectibles in 2006. That $125,000 investment looks pretty good from where I'm sitting.
Estimated Value: $1,250,000
8. Detective 27 CGC 8.0
The single most exciting comic auction I ever had the pleasure to witness (even if it was just streaming over the internet.)
Estimated Value: $1,100,000
8. Kansas City Action #1
The first million dollar comic book. For now and evermore this will be the one that broke that magical barrier.
Estimated Value: $1,100,000
8. Detective 27 CGC 8.0 (the missing copy)
Assuming, of course, that it can be found!
Estimated Value: $1,100,000
Some other books of note (in no order)
Church All American #16
Church All American #16
Sure it's the golden age Green Lantern and not Hal Jordan, but the book is incredibly tough, sits in the top ten by Overstreet value and we didn't riot when presented with the idea that it sold for $1,000,000. It was a little high, in hindsight, but for a book like this a premium is deserved.
Also, a gorgeous book.
Estimated Value: $600,000
Action #1 CGC 7.5
Sold for 192,120 in 2002. Something like a tiny spot of glue or a dot of color touch (I don't remember which) is noted on the label, which will hold it back a little. Still, I can't imagine that it hasn't moved significantly from the 2002 sale price.
Estimated Value: $700,000
There's a picture of me holding this book somewhere on my hard drive. It's a nice copy Traded at a $450,000 valuation. While trade values aren't worth much to me most of the time, I was very comfortable with that as a value for this book.
Estimated Value: $500,000
Sold for $260,000 nearly six years ago now. The thing is, it's already in the hands of the guy likeliest to spend a lot of money for it, so I don't know how much it's grown over the past half dozen years.
Estimated Value: $400,000
Mile High/Edgar Church Superman #1 CGC 8.0
Another one of these books that I've actually seen in person. It's a stunner. Bechara paid a pretty strong price all those years ago. Still it's the second best Superman #1 and it's a beautiful copy. I'm curious what the removed restoration would do to the price. From what I can tell people are a little hesitant about the book because of it and I think that would put a brake on the price.
This sale made quite a splash, as I remember it. It even made CNN. My mother called me and said "that comic guy you know, Bechara? He was on television. He bought a comic book for some record price? Know anything about it?"
Estimated Value: $750,000
Mile High/Edgar Church Flash Comics #1 CGC 9.6
This book snuck in and grabbed the #4 spot on the all-time record comic book sales chart. Sure, we were all excited about the seven figure deals, but this was still a great result for this book.
Estimated Value: $450,000
Amazing Fantasy 15 CGC 9.6
I'm thinking somewhere between $500-750,000 for this book right now. It used to appear on the list proper. No longer. Not that Amazing Fantasy #15 is somehow weak. It's just the recent sales have brought some sense of order back to the comic market. We just hadn't had any good examples of true golden age keys selling to set expectations and prices. We now have those. so some of the Silver Age books need to take a step back.
Now, what if a 9.8 were to appear on the market? At that point all bets are basically off. I don't know how high a copy that nice would climb up the list as at this level the technical grade is less important. It's more important that it's the "best", but it would certainly take any doubt out of my mind as to whether or not the best AF15 deserves to be in the top ten.
*Speaking of offers for high grade Action #1s. Steve Geppi, owner of half the hobby (Diamond, Gemstone, The Overstreet Price Guide, Hakes Auction House, etc.) offered up a $1,000,000 bounty for a near mint copy of Action #1 in a widely circulated press release a couple of years ago. The press release made the newspaper in several markets. No unknown high grade copies came out of the woodwork. Too bad. I'd love to see the reaction to a new high grade copy.
**to my mind we've passed the threshold where the prices have stopped being "bargains" and started being "the price"
***On that, I'm not entirely sold on the difference between the two versions being that much of a price driver, by the way. The logic is there, I just don't know if people really feel the difference in their bones, so to speak. As a side note, how incredible is it that there are so many high grade November copies and no October copies (that I've heard of) better than Nic Cage's old copy which is mid grade? Every pedigree seems to have had a nice Marvel #1 and not one of them was an October cover.
Weirdness like that is what makes this hobby fun.