A Guest Blog Post by Ian Pengilley
This article was originally written for Rareburg, who in 2016, joined forces with hobbyDB to provide an excellent source of collectible knowhow for the community.
There is little doubt that the issue of Marvel Comics Pence Price Variants is a contentious one when raised among comic book dealers. Many opinions abound as to the collectability or desirability of these copies, and hence, the retail value to be given to them on the open market, which becomes more relevant as trading barriers are broken down with increasing cross-Atlantic sales.
As the selling prices of geographically limited Marvel 30c and 35c variants continue to increase, there is little consensus in the hobby as a whole as to what kind of value difference the Pence covers make.
The hobby’s old pricing bible, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, makes no mention of pricing variation that is typically seen in completed sales on Pence variants.
Asking prices of Pence variants with respect to Cents copies are reportedly as much as 70% disparate (Pence variants being offered at 30% of Cents issue price), depending on the condition and demand commonly encountered for the Cents copies of the same issue.
One thing to establish early on is that Marvel comics with ‘d’ (old British Pence) or ‘p’ as opposed to Cents pricing have been erroneously described as reprints or ‘UK editions’ which is suggestive of a separate print run with Pence pricing. They are not. Pence variant copies are the same book entirely as the Cents version, printed at the same time on the same press, with only a change in the cover price printing plate separating the two kinds of copies. It has even been suggested that since the Pence copies were printed to a specific number of copies for reasons of limited import quota, the Pence copies were printed first, and for that reason many of the Pence copies have better ink density than the equivalent Cents issues. Under that assumption, I have heard Marvel Cents copies cheekily described as reprints!
I decided to investigate the attitudes toward Pence Variants among comic dealers, and find out how this small variation in the cover detail can largely influence the pricing and desirability of these books.
The first comic book dealer I spoke to on the subject was Gary Ochiltree of Krypton Komics in North London. Gary is regarded as a ‘crusader’ of Pence issues who has approached several of the hobby’s leading members to clarify some of the misconceptions commonly voiced about these books.
I was very pleased to receive an incredibly detailed e-mail on the subject which clearly is close to his heart!
“The subject of pence price variants is one that I’ve been banging on about for several years now. The problem with these comics has always been one of perceptions and understanding of the true facts of what they are. Most people in the US and indeed many in the UK continue to labour under the false belief that they are somehow reprints of the US editions. As you no doubt know that is not the case. They are the same comics printed at the same time on the same presses, with the same paper and the same ink. The only difference is that at some point in the print run, the cent cover price is changed to Pence for the copies intended to be shipped to the UK. The cover month was also removed as it would make the items appear out of date when they arrived in UK shops. This was because the ships (at a time when shipping meant shipping) would take around a month to cross the ocean. This is the only difference. If you look inside any American comic with a UK cover price you will still find all the US cent pricing in the indicia.
As a result, the pricing of Krypton’s books reflect the idea that they are the same comic. Gary’s most outstanding example is a boldly colored 9d copy of X-Men #1 in VF condition, which maintains the guide price for Cents issues in this grade.
The next suggestion is that due to the small print runs implying scarcity, there is no reason that Pence copies should not even sell for more than their Cents counterparts; Imagine if you will that there were in existence copies of Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #1, Hulk #1 etc. that had a cover price of 9 cents rather than 10 or 12 cents; that they had been produced at the same time on the same presses, with the same paper and the same ink as the 12 cent editions, and that the only reason for the price change was because of the specific geographical area they were intended to be sold in. Let’s say it’s Texas.
Let’s assume that the print run for this geographical market was only 2-5% of the total copies printed. How much would they be worth today? You’d sell your house to get a 9 cent price variant of FF# 1 right? You bet you would, because it would be the rarest of the rare!
So why should a 10 cents copy (which is a fantasy) be worth a mint, whilst a 9d copy be seen a poor second cousin? The answer is purely about understanding of what Pence price variants really are. They are genuine original Silver Age variants. The price of the comic on the cover reflects part of the history of that particular comic book. If it’s cents then it went a US newsstand somewhere. If it’s Pence it went to Thorpe & porter in the UK. But it’s still the same comic!
In reality the Pence cover price is still seen as second best to Cents issues among a number, if not the majority, of collectors and dealers. I asked reputed seller and Overstreet Price Guide advisor Harley Yee of his pricing on Marvel Pence Variants.
“It depends mostly on which comic and the condition. For books in the region of Very Good condition there is very little difference in the selling price. When it comes to high grade and particularly key issues, the difference would usually be a 50-70% reduction in price”.
UK dealer Chris Pearson of Chris’s Comics went further; “I used to have a sign on my show stand offering a `sympathetic shredding service’ for Pence copies, but I had to take it down as it got some people’s backs up! The experience of low demand for Pence issues has forced him to review his stock and he does not offer any Pence copies except Silver and Bronze age X-Men books. They are sold at about half Overstreet guide value on his stand.
“It depends very much on the situation- I wrote in to Comics International suggesting a cartoon where a dealer buys Pence cover comics from a collector saying “Well, they’re not going to sell, so I’ll offer you a few cents on the dollar of guide value. In the next panel the same dealer is selling the books at a huge cost over guide value, calling them ‘Rare Export Variant Editions’.
In his view, some people will pay the same prices for Pence copies as for Cents, but in his favorite market areas of high grade Golden Age, Silver Age and pre-code ECs, Pence priced books are a fly in the ointment.
“Some people want to buy Cents copies because that’s what they were used to buying from the newsstands”, says collector and dealer Ken Harman. “Myself, I was used to buying Pence copies because that was what was available at the time. But I still collect Cents copies.” [He lays two copies of Fantastic Four #2 in front of me] “This one is Cents but the other is a Pence copy- the Pence one is in higher grade, and that makes more of a difference to the value than the pricing on the cover”.
The nostalgia goes some way to explaining the resistance of some collectors in paying similar sums for Pence copies as for Cents issues. There is the perception that there is something ‘ersatz’ about Pence copies that make them seem ‘less authentic’, particularly to American buyers and to those using comic books as an investment vehicle.
David Finn of Incognito Comics admits “We sell to a collector who only buys Pence copies” which is seconded by Silver Acre’s Darryl Jones; “People start to buy Pence copies when they’ve completed a nice run of books. They are a proper Variant, and in fact the chances of getting them in high grade are much less when they’ve been sitting on a container ship for seven weeks. I have talked to Bob Overstreet about how Pence copies are described, as they used to call them ‘UK Editions’. We would like them to be called ‘Pence Price Variants’.
The last word on the subject of changing perceptions on Pence variants should go to Gary Ochiltree; “I noticed that CGC were using the term UK Edition on the census of their web site. After various email discussions between CGC myself and Dave of Incognito Comics we wound up having to compare two copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 (one cents & one Pence) in order to convince them that the description was misleading. It seems that they had seen very few Pence copies. Anyway, the UK Edition heading on the census was amended to Country/Variant. Again, not the exact phraseology I would chose, but much better than ‘UK Edition’. If the standard rules of supply and demand were to apply they should be worth way more than the common cent copies. As ever with these things the market will decide, but I think just changing the way we describe these things is step in the right direction”.