A lot has been said about Stan Lee and his public appearances lately. Earlier this month at the Silicon Valley Comic Con, fans worried about him being mistreated and wondered if he was even fit to be doing a signing. A friend of mine was in attendance, and he said the 95-year-old Marvel icon needed help to even sign his name.
Sadly, Lee’s age and health drive up the collectibility of his autograph. Whether or not we agree with that, it is what it is. Many collectors get as many things signed by Lee as they can with the hope that once he passes, it will drive the price upward. Others get an autograph because they’re lifelong fans and admire his contributions to comics.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that, of all the living comic creators’ signatures you could get, it’s Stan Lee’s that adds the most value to your items. I’ve seen some random items brought to his signings, and at around $130 per signature, I’m surprised people aren’t more particular about what gets autographed.
That $130 signing fee - which is what was being charged at Silicon Valley in April - is what brings me to my point: From an investment standpoint, is it worth it?
Autographing comics is a hotly debated issue. You’ve got collectors who hold firm that no one - not even a creator - should write on the comic feeling that it diminishes the value. Others argue that as long as it’s someone directly related to that comic or character, then it raises the value.
Let’s break down the price for the Stan Lee signature. First, you’ve got that $130 fee for the signature. Most serious collectors will want that witnessed and graded by either CGC or CBCS as part of the respective company’s signature series. For a silver age comic to be witnessed and graded without being pressed, you’re looking at about $40-$50 per comic. If you opt for the exclusive Stan Lee label on the CGC slabs, you’ll pay an extra $10-$15. That raises your investment closer to the $200 range for the signature and grading.
One of the hottest comics being sold on eBay, Fantastic Four #52 is bringing high prices in virtually any condition, signed or not. An unsigned CGC-graded 5.0 has sold 10 times this year for an average of $501. Last year, those same 5.0 grades that had witnessed Stan Lee signatures brought an average of $645. The price difference between an unsigned versus signed copy at that grade doesn’t cover the costs. However, a Stan Lee-signed FF #52 at an 8.5 sold for $3,634 last September. Without the signature, that same grade averaged $1,963 in 2017, so clearly adding “Stan the Man” to a higher grade does increase in the value.
Another comic often signed by Stan Lee is Amazing Spider-Man #300. Like FF #52, this is another hot comic. Although Lee wasn’t directly involved in this comic, it’s still an iconic moment for one of his most famous creations, Spider-Man, so it’s common to see him autograph this one. However, the numbers show that his signature doesn’t offset the investment costs on this particular issue.
In 2017, a near-mint CGC-graded 9.0 ASM #300 sold on average for $329 over 159 sales. Take that same comic and add Stan Lee’s signature, and the price jumps to $472, but that’s not enough to cover the near $200 in fees.
When it comes to signatures, whether it’s Stan Lee or anyone else, it is simply a case-by-case decision. Mostly it comes down to personal choice and amount you’ve invested in that comic. The main thing is to do your research on that particular issue and grade.
A final thought about those looking for the big payoff when our beloved Stan passes: Have you seen the lines for any of his autograph sessions? There’s a huge number of Stan Lee signed comics and memorabilia already circulating. While you’ll see the inevitable mark up on that day by collectors looking to profit from his death, which I feel is shameful, the prices will eventually settle down.
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