There's only one thing on Earth that is more complicated
than quantum physics: Figuring out Collectors Illustrated
It's a subject I have been putting off writing because, well,
E=MC squared makes for breakfast reading compared to determining
a CI edition. It's downright mind-boggling and makes ones
But it is an important topic because editions that look alike
aren't necessarily the same and values can vary greatly. Some
issues were reprinted often - such as War of the Worlds - while
others only had a few printings.
CI comics are among the most popular because they not only
attract collectors who love the art and artists, but also people
who want to avoid reading a classic novel. Or maybe they are
truly loved because they do tell a classic tale.
Why read The Moonstone when the comic will do? The Moonstone,
in fact, was the first CI I read, followed by the Man in the
Iron Mask, and the Count of Monte Cristo. My family brought home
a copy of the War of the Worlds for me as a gift, but of course
they overpaid. The comic was priced for an earlier edition. (Don't
tell em. It's the thought that counts.)
Albert L. Kanter, the brains behind Gilberton Co., believed
the comic book form would be a great way to link children with
the classics. By the 1950s, CI was booming while other comic
companies floundered and some vanished.
Another point, as pointed out in the Overstreet Price Guide,
is that CI titles were marketed as books rather than comics and
the line expanded to include international editions of Classics
Illustrated, and CI Junior, CI Special Issue and the World Around
Initially called Classic Comics, the first comic was The
Three Musketeers, published in October 1941. It had 64 pages
and would eventually be reprinted for the 23rd time in the spring
The price difference of near mint copies between the two
editions is about $8,400 and there's about a $475 spread between
the two editions in good condition. That emphasizes why it's
important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of telling
the editions apart.
While some editions were mere reprints of earlier editions,
others had their artwork updated and cover art moved from line
drawn works to painted covers.
The first step in identifying
the print edition of a CI is to know the comics Highest
Reorder Number, or HRN. It is the highest number of the reorder
list that is found on the back cover.
Let's look at that War of the Worlds, CI 124, comic my family
got me for more that it was worth. The indicia states it was
printed in October 1954, but as a collector, never rely on the
publication date, as Gilberton often didn't change it.
However, on the back cover, there is a checklist of all the
comics published to date by CI and the last number 165, is The
Queens Necklace. So the full number of this version of
the War of the Worlds should read 124 (HRN 165).
The next step is to look up CI 124 in the price guide and
we'll find that the War of the Worlds had a total of 11 editions.
Looking for the HRN numbers listed, mine is revealed as the sixth
printing, the most valuable of the reprints in near mint. Huh,
who knew? But mine is in good/very good condition, worth about
Determining original editions is a task and a half.
Originals have an ad indicating only what is coming next,
not a checklist like on the back cover of my War of the Worlds.
But of course there are always exceptions to very complicated
complications and please rely on the Overstreet Price Guide for
guidance. In a nutshell, there are three rules and a number of
The first rule is only originals have ads announcing the
next issue. The exceptions are that CI 14 (HRN 15), Westward
Ho!, has a coming next ad, along with CI 55 (HRN 75) Silas Marner,
and CI 57 (75) The Song of Hiawatha, all second editions, have
coming next ads. Both CI 168 and 169 don't have these ads.
The second rule is the originals between CI 1 and CI 80 have
10-cent covers, except for reprints CIs 37 (HRN 62), 39 (HRN
71) and 46 (HRN 62) have 10-cent covers.
The third rule is all originals have an HRN close to the
titles issue number. And the exceptions are (drum roll,
please) CIs 58 (HRN 62), 60 HRN (62), 149 (149), 153 (HRN 149)
and titles between 160 and 169.
There are also 82 foreign editions in various collections
and some are very collectible, particularly the Dr. No issue,
CI 158A. Brazilian versions boast 80 titles not on the American
The Canadian editions, started in 1946, have 15-cent covers
and an HRN between 44 and 75. Also check the publishers
address in the indicia.
Some collectors just want a cheap copy to read, others want
to collect the line drawing covers or the painted covers. Interior
artwork was regularly updated to keep up with the times or to
match the reduced number of pages of later editions. Later editions,
particularly the 25-cent editions, were also bound with stiff
covers as opposed to glossy paper.
There is a resistance by buyers to plunk down more than a
couple of bucks for these comics. Many have a tough time reconciling
market values for early editions and the scarcity of some of
these comics with their memories of reading them when they were
It's hard to find a high grade CI. They were very well read.
The same reluctance to spend big bucks also applies to other
once common titles like Sad Sack, Casper the Friendly Ghost and
Archie, where early editions are truly valuable and tough to
come by in higher grades.
Now that this lesson is done, let me get back to studying
works about frame-dragging of space-time around rotating bodies.
You know, simple stuff
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting
comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker
really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit
in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on
his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great
metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a
little bit of history the past three decades.