As a passionate collector I like to know how much my collection is worth. Not that I’d ever sell it, I just like to know these things. This is where a book such as Johnson’s Official Phantom Price Guide comes in quite handy.
Mr. Johnson has copped a bit of flack over his past price guides from many Phantom collectors. The reason for this is that every man and his dog selling Phantom collectibles, be it toys, clothing, key rings or back issues, has a copy of the guide on hand. When you try to buy a Phantom item the seller would look up the price guide, see the price of that item and then add a few dollars on top to cover their own costs and make a little profit.
While I’ve bought back issues both above and below the prices listed in the Guide one must remember that Johnson’s book is exactly that, a guide, not the be all and end all of pricing Phantom items. Just because the Guide says you should pay $5 for whatever number back issue doesn’t mean that you will.
As the prices of collectibles, especially back issues, are in a constant state of flux the reliability of the price information in this book is not something that I’ll be taking into account in this review. Rather, I’ll be looking at how the work is presented and if its information outside the pricing framework is helpful.
As stated on the cover this is the third edition of Johnson’s’ Phantom Price Guide. I have not seen the first edition but did buy the second edition in 1996. While my copy of the second edition is a much loved piece of my Phantom library, dog-eared from constant re- reading, it is not by any means a perfect publication. Things such as the index telling us prices for Phantom stationary kits can be found on page 120 when there are only 112 pages in the whole book are almost laughable. But that is the sort of problem the Third Edition can iron out….
…And it does, but introduces completely new problems. While the index listing is correct this time around there are a number of other strange goings on that are confusing and at times simply infuriating.
The book starts off really nicely with an introduction to the world of The Phantom and collecting with a very helpful breakdown of the grading system Johnson uses and diagrams on how to tell a Near Mint grade book from a Very Good grade. These diagrams would have been a little better if they had been in colour and a bit bigger as the small back and white images can be a little tricky to see, but in all it’s a helpful visual guide.
The guide proper begins with a section on Frew’s comics. Unlike the previous edition which had one big list of issues here the issue list is divided up into years of publication which makes both viewing the list and finding the issue you’re after a lot easier. The year divisions start off being highlighted by a strip of grey behind the year text making it very easy to see where one year ends and another begins. Suddenly, these strips disappear and you need to do a double take. Then they return. Then disappear. And return…..And eventually they are gone for good. Although this could be considered a minor oversight the book would look much more appealing if the design remained constant.
Something I noticed as soon as I opened the Third Edition was the lack of images. The Second Edition is chock full of images of various Phantom collectibles and they make the book very interesting visually. What we have here in the Third Edition is page after page of text. The only images are the advertisements and visually the book is quite boring. Flipping through the Second Edition you’d see an interesting image and then read the entry on it to find out information connected to that image. With the Third Edition your eyes search only for the entry you’re interested in and your eyes glaze over everything else. “But the CD”, I hear you cry, “the images are on the CD.”Third Edition comes with a CD boasting over 2000 pictures. (By the way, if this is an Australian publication, why is the American spelling for“colour” on the front cover?) A CD full of images is all well and good but not everyone wants to be sitting in front of their computer while they are looking through the Guide. Also, such a CD would need to be easy to navigate and have high quality images. Johnson’s CD manages to be easy to navigate – not perfect, a search function would have been nice – but it is a simple click to find what you want and each image is given a reference number which corresponds to a reference number in the Guide so you can see what images belong to which listing. However, the image quality leaves something to be desired.
All the images are quite small and most of them look as if they have been taken with a digital camera. Taking photos of toys, clocks, mugs and other collectibles that wouldn’t fit on a scanner if fair enough, but why take photos of the comics or cards? The image quality would have been so much better had these items been scanned. And, as I said, the images are very small, most no higher than 150 pixels. I have most of my comic collection scanned onto my computer, each cover image being 750 pixels high at a resolution of 75dpi, the normal resolution for Internet images. In total that is about 2000 images, the same as the number on Johnson’s disk and it takes up 266MB of hard drive space. A CD can hold up to 700MB, so there is plenty of unused space that could have been used for higher quality images.
One would think that for a publication such as this high quality, large images would be expected so readers could get a good look at the various items. And if the small size and poor quality isn’t bad enough a number of the images are so badly blurred that you can’t make out what they are supposed to be. Truly, the CD is a wasted opportunity.
Moving back to the Guide itself, the book still holds lots of interesting information on each of the items listed and is very informative. The information is very good at providing background info on your collectibles and will have you reading for hours.
There are, however, some annoying exclusions. Take, for example, the section on Videos and DVDs. Here Johnson’s says “I have not included Defenders of the Earth, Phantom 2040 DVDs and video tapes as they have not really increased in value.” Increased from what? Obviously not from the prices listed in the Second Edition as there weren’t any. Regardless of the prices changing the prices for these items should have been listed here. Some people may have received these items as gifts or as ex-rental videos and there for would have no idea of the original cost. There are many other reasons why this information should have been listed. To me, this sort of thing seems simply lazy.
Another infuriating trend Johnson seems to have adopted in this edition is listing what price brackets items fall into. For example, the 1994 Monkeys of Melbourne Phantom plate is listed as valued “between $80-$150.” Ok, but in what condition? Are we to assume that $80 is what a chipped, Good to Poor quality plate would cost while a Mint quality plate is $150? $80 seems a lot for a chipped plate. I realise this is a guide but that is simply not enough information to make even an informed guess. People new to the grading system may be at a complete loss as to how they should price their items. Not every Phan has been collecting for 20+ years.
On a smaller note, where Johnson does actually give graded prices I wish he’d use more grades than just Fair, Very Good and Near Mint. There are many grades between those listed and it makes it hard to guess what price your item would be if your grade is not listed. Again, I think people new to collecting and grading would have some trouble here.
Scoring the Price Guide has been hard. Although it has some very annoying problems and the CD is a huge let down, the book does still give you a decent idea of what your collection might be worth. People new to collecting and grading may feel a little lost and if you want decent images of your items you’ll have to take them yourself. Yet the Guide does hold interesting information and while the books image-less presentation is boring to look at it is still easy to read and find the item listings you’re after.
If there is to be a Fourth Edition of Johnson’s Official Phantom Price Guide I would like to see it presented as a high quality production. Colour pictures throughout, items listed and valued at all grades, not just one or two, the same amount on information if not more and an interesting presentation.
In the mean time though, if you simply want a no frills price guide Johnson’s Official Phantom Price Guide delivers. If you’re are after something more, you may be left feeling a little cold.