Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grading Comics and Amazing Fantasy #15

Welcome back to Sounds Better in a Bubble, this week I will be writing about comic book grading, and how you can give your own comics a grading estimate. First we might want to ask, why do my comics need to be graded? Well, truth be told, your comics do not need to be graded. First and foremost, unless you are strictly using comic books as an investment, they are to be read and enjoyed. If however, you are an advanced collector, you are insuring your collection, or have high end Golden/Silver Age comics you may want to consider professional grading services (which I will delve into later.)

So what is grading? Comic books use a 0-10 point scale to estimate the approximate dollar value for a given comic book. This scale takes condition factors found on a book, compares them against a given set of criteria, and assigns a grade based on said criteria. The assigned grade then allows us to give an approximate cost and condition analysis for that book.  To simplify the process and to help add some measure of objectivity (as well as help to stabilize market volatility and protect consumers) there are a few companies which offer grading services for a fee. Two of these companies PGX (Professional Grading Experts) and CGC (Comics Guaranty Corp.) are the most recognizable names in independent grading for the collector or consumer. 

For self-grading purposes, I will refer you to Overstreet’s Grading definitions (as seen below), a handy guide and easily accessible resource for you to estimate the condition of comic books in your collection.[1] After that I will try to help you visualize books in different conditions using 3rd party certified grading and some ungraded books. To do that we will be taking a gander at graded copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man.)

Overstreet Scale:

10.0- Gem Mint (GM) zero defects, perfect in every way, rarely seen especially in Golden Age material (or earlier.)

9.9- Mint (MT) near perfect, only subtle bindery or printing defects allowed. Paper is white.

9.8- Near Mint/Mint (NM/MT) nearly perfect with only minor imperfections that keep it from the next higher grade. Paper is off-white to white. Staples are original.

9.6- Near Mint+ (NM+) nearly perfect, looks as if recently purchased and only read once or twice. No bindery tears except that Golden Age material have been noted with up to 1/8” tears. No creases bends or color breaks. Paper is off white. Staples are original and generally centered.

9.4 Near Mint (NM), 9.2 Near Mint- (NM-), 9.0 Very Fine/Near Mint (VF/NM) 8.0 Very Fine (VF) and 7.5 Very Fine- (VF-) continue with subtle and slight degradations as you descend.

7.0 Fine/ Very Fine (FN/VF) at this point we have reached where most well-tended to, but read collections generally fall. Overstreet calls this an above average copy that shows minor wear. Can have minor creasing, interior yellowing or tanning, may be some spine roll present, missing staples may be replaced (using vintage staples only, however note that mint condition books will have their original staples) and may show some rusting. Paper is tan to cream, no hint of acidity in newsprint.

6.5 Fine+ (FN+) differentiated from FN/VF by very minor degradations.

6.0 Fine (FN) above average copy with reduced eye appeal due to slight surface wear and the accumulation of small defects.

5.5 Fine- (FN-) differentiated from FN by minor degradations.

5.0 Very Good/Fine (VG/FN) an above average, but well used comic book. Inks have major to extreme reduction in reflectivity. Cover shows wear. Blunted or abraded corners are not uncommon. Minor staple tears, stress lines and rust migration may be present. Paper is brown to tan with no evidence of brittleness. May have faint trace odor of acidity emanating from newsprint.  Centerfold may be loose, but is not detached.

4.5 Very Good + (VG+) differentiated from VG/FN by minor degradations

4.0 Very Good (VG) the average used comic book. May have store stamps, name stamps, arrival date stamps, persons initials, with no effect on grade. Worn but still desirable copy overall. May have 1/8’-1/4” tears present in corners, discoloration, fading, foxing, and moderate spine roll. Paper is brown but not brittle. A minor acidic odor is noticeable. Centerfold may be loose or detached at one staple.

3.5 Very Good- (VG-), to 3.0 Good/Very Good (GD/VG) cover shows significant wear and may be loose or detached at one staple. Low cover reflectivity is evident. May show minor to moderate interior tears as well as ones present on cover.

2.5 Good+ (GD+), to 2.0 Good (GD) Shows substantial wear and is generally considered to be a reading copy. Tape and other forms of amateur repair in Silver Age and earlier books are not uncommon. Paper is brown but not brittle. Centerfold may be loose or detached. May have up to a 2” spine split. Staples may be degraded, replaced or missing.

Grades from 1.8 Good- (GD-), 1.5 Fair/Good (FR/GD), to 1.0 Fair (FR) all show substantial or heavy wear. May be missing pages/incomplete or have coupons cut out. A book may have serious tears and spine splitting. Paper is brown and may show brittleness on edges, but not interior.

0.5 Poor (PR) little or no collector value. Books may have soiling, water damage, suffered from extensive amateur repair, and may have been defaced. Extreme brittleness is not uncommon as well as having an extreme acidic odor. A book may be unreadable in places.

Ok, so those are the highlights (again please refer to Overstreet for a more complete description of grading conditions) now let us try a more visually oriented approach. To do this we will be looking at graded copies of  Amazing Fantasy # 15.

 Our first example has been given a CGC grade of 9.0 Very Fine/Near Mint. We can see that the cover is very neat and very little damage is present.
Our next issue is rated 6.0 Fine by CGC. This comic shows some obvious creasing in the upper right hand corner, and the cover has a lower reflectivity. Overall this is still a highly desirable copy of this book.

Continuing on we have CGC rated copy at 2.0 Good. This book has obvious spine rolling toward the left. There are small chunks missing, foxing and abrading are evident and the corners are noticeably blunted. While not as desirable this copy can still fetch a decent price.
Our next example is an ungraded copy that I would rate as 1.0 Fair. We have a noticeable amateur repair attempt with tape along the spine (see now duct tape would have made it SUPER professional and look awesome…or not.) Cover shows creasing, substantial wear and handling. Corners are blunted or torn.

Our last example also ungraded I would rate 0.5- Poor or in my humble opinion less than Poor condition. Cover is torn; significant spine rolling to the right is evident. Colors have lost nearly all their reflectivity.

 Last but not least, what do those grades translate to in price? Well that depends. There are guidelines that are generally accepted and what a market is willing to bear. What may be listed for 500 dollars may sell for 5000 dollars if demand is high enough.

 Per Overstreet:[2]

Amazing Fantasy #15

9.0: $100,000.00

6.0: $50,000.00

2.0: $7,000.00

Those are the approximate dollar values the Overstreet Guide placed on the graded conditions of Amazing Fantasy #15, in the 42nd (current) edition. Even with that knowledge, Comic Connect (an auction site) was able to auction off a copy of AF#15 for $ 1,000,000+ (yes a million plus dollars.) The Guide therefore is a starting point for negotiations, if someone is willing to pay it, the sky is the limit.

There you go boys and girls…and cosplayers, a place to get started grading your own collections. Until next time, keep it…fictional, and go buy some comics.

Oh and before I forget, for Thor’s sake DO NOT Duct tape your damned comics!!!



[1] Robert M. Overstreet, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 0042- ed. (Timonium: Gemstone Pub, 2012), 169-171.
The scale as seen here is highly truncated; please refer to the Guide for clearly defined condition issues that affect grading.
[2] Robert M. Overstreet, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 0042- ed. (Timonium: Gemstone Pub, 2012), 400.

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