How to Find the Value of Rare Ashcan Comics

What makes ashcan comics so rare and valuable? What is an ashcan comic book, and how much are they worth?

Ashcan comic books are extremely rare – only one or two of each issue ever existed in the first place – and as such, are almost exclusively found for sale at auction. When looking for collectible ashcan comic values, it’s best to go to a leading auction house and look at previous sales. You can also speak with an appraiser who can verify that your ashcan edition comics are authentic.

When in doubt, check the Heritage Auctions Comic Book Auction Archives. If you’re ready to sell, request a free auction evaluation.

What is an ashcan comic book?

Ashcan comics are extremely rare comics that were used to secure naming copyrights. Ashcan comic books were created by re-using old content and existing material, creating a new title logo that the publisher wished to copyright with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Ashcan comics were often cobbled together on short notice and as such weren’t designed for sale. In fact, the name ashcan comic was likely popularized because they were designed to be thrown away after they had served their purpose.

An ashcan comic book is often distinctive from other comics as they are in black and white — due to the use of the special photographic paper called Velox which was used in the production of the covers. The interior of the book often was either previously published work or loose story pages.

That makes ashcan comics less an actual collectible comic and more akin to production or legal materials — the interior pages rarely have anything in common with the cover, and even the title page of an ashcan comic might have nothing to do with the content that would come in future issues. Because of their minuscule print runs (usually just one or two copies). ashcan comics are extremely valuable with collectors. They rarely come up at auction, and when they do they sell for thousands of dollars.

Which ashcan comic editions are collectible?

Ashcan comic editions are collectible because of their place in history, the cover artist, but also because of their scarcity. As such, the most collectible ashcan comic editions are typically the rarer ones from the 1930s and 1940s. Action Comics #1, Wonder Woman #1, and Flash #1 are some of the more collectible ashcan comic editions. In 2007, an ashcan edition of Superman Comics #1 sold for $80,000 at auction. In general, and as is the case with non-ashcan comics, the collectability of a comic depends on the popularity of the character at any given time, scarcity, and its historical importance. Most ashcan comic books only had one or two copies printed, so in that way, nearly every ashcan comic of the 1930s and 1940s are collectible.

How rare are collectible ashcan comics, and how many exist?

Ashcan comic value is directly tied to how rare ashcan comics can be. When they were first printed in the 1930s and 1940s, only a copy or two ever existed in the first place. By the 21st century, it’s become quite rare to encounter a notable ashcan comic from that era. Heritage Auctions has a great history with rare ashcan comics, including in 2012 when we were able to bring 12 exceedingly rare DC ashcan comic books to auction.

These ashcan comics were collected by Gary Colabuono, perhaps the greatest expert on Golden Age ashcan comics. He had spent his entire life collecting these comic books and was able to bring a select few to auction — all between the late 1930s and 1940s and representing some of the most important ashcan comic books of that era. Action Funnies Ashcan Edition (1937/38), is perhaps the rarest — only three copies are known to exist. Another notable of that lot was Boy Commandos No.1 (1942) as the cover was done by one of the legends of golden age comics, Jack Kirby.

What about ashcan edition comics from the 90s?

Ashcan edition comics from the 1990s are not as valuable as Golden Age ashcan comics. That’s because they aren’t the same thing. In the 1990s, publishers used the term “ashcan comic” to refer to a promotional, mini-version of a comic book before the official one hit stands. These were different in several ways from the original ashcan comics of the 1930s and 1940s, but most notably they were produced in large print runs and designed to be sold to the general public — both details that are not true of the original ashcan edition comic books.

What determines the value of ashcan comic books?

The value of an ashcan comic book depends on its grading and rarity, plus the demand. Grading is a must for any potential ashcan comic before it comes to auction, most send their books to CGC for a grade (between 1-10, with one decimal point). The higher the number, the better the quality, the more that ashcan comic will demand at auction. Rarity is a given for all golden age ashcan comic books — most print runs numbered in the single digits.

The condition of a book will be reflected in its grading — is the binding bad, are there tears or creases in the book itself? This can be especially hard with ashcan comic books, as they didn’t use traditional materials, and were fragile to begin with. They were designed to be thrown away (hence the name). The demand for ashcan comics has grown in recent years. There are several reasons, collector awareness of ashcan comics has increased, their extreme rarity and the general boom in the comic collecting and grading business are all large factors.

How much are ashcan comics worth?

Original, Golden Age ashcan comics can be worth anywhere from $1,000 all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Action Comics #1 Ashcan Comic Sells for $204,000.00

This ashcan was published by DC in 1937, and graded CGC NM- 9.2 with cream to off-white pages. 

Arguably the most important ashcan ever produced, the Action Comics ashcan was created by DC publisher Harry Donenfeld to prevent competing publishers from stealing what Donenfeld said would be “the most important comic book title ever published.”

Superman Comics #nn (DC, 1939) sold for $37,375

This ashcan comic was graded as very fine to near mint condition (9.0) and represents a major ashcan comic of one of DC Comic’s most popular characters of all time.

How much are 90’s ashcan comics worth?

The value of ashcan comics from the 1990s is significantly less, most sell between $10 and $100.  

Prices for ashcan comics sold by Heritage Auctions

Here’s a list of valuable ashcan comics sold at auction:

Do you have collectible ashcan comics?

If you think you have a valuable, vintage ashcan comic and are ready to sell, we encourage you to contact the experts at Heritage Auction. We have several specialists with an encyclopedic knowledge of ashcan comic books, and even give free comic auction appraisals so you can know what your comics are worth!

Request a free auction appraisal for vintage ashcan comic books.

Why sell your vintage comics and original comic art with Heritage Auctions?

Our marketing reach and a huge base of members mean more bidders and higher realized prices for your collectible comics.

  • We sell three times more comics and comic art than of all other comic auctioneers combined!
  • World’s record for Most Valuable Auction of Comic Books, Comic Art and Related Memorabilia: $16.5 million (April, 2021)
  • World record for comic artist Robert Crumb – Fritz the Cat Cover, $717,000.
  • The world record for comic artist Frank Frazetta – Egyptian Queen, $5.4M
  • World record for comic artist Neal Adams – Batman #251 Cover, $600,000

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Posted by Heritage Editorial

This article was written as a collaborative effort by multiple experts within the category at Heritage Auctions.

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