Welcome to the first
edition of the CGC monthly E-newsletter!
Our newsletter is designed to keep you informed of
important service changes, special promotions and general
hobby news. In addition, you will find interesting feature
articles written by the experts at CGC as well as thought-provoking
articles by guest contributors.
We hope you enjoy this first edition of the CGC E-newsletter,
and we look forward to your feedback.
Comic Book Grading:
The Hidden Science
The thought of grading comic books is, to say the least,
a difficult and opinion-based task. Grading a comic
book, or any item for that matter, is rather subjective
in nature. Some people tend to be strict, while others
are liberal in their grading. Many collectors strive
to find collectibles in the best condition possible,
and grading without a doubt is an extremely important
factor. If one were to purchase a low grade example
of a comic in good condition it may be worth a hundred
dollars. The same book in near mint condition would
be valued at maybe a thousand!
For years, comics have been graded in many different
ways. The early grading scale in the 1970s - when the
hobby formally began - was rather simplistic in design.
Over the years, this grading system has been altered
and changed many times. The past 10 years brought professional
grading to coins and sportscards. This has now entered
the comic book market.
Recently, I sat down with Steve Borock, the Primary Grader
at Comics Guaranty (CGC). We discussed the changes in
the comic book marketplace and third party comic book
Gordon: How did the concept of third party comic
Borock: Third party grading has been around for
a while. Our affiliate companies Numismatic Guaranty,
LLC (NGC) and Sportscard Guaranty, LLC (SGC) have been
around for a long time. We are all independent members
of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG). The concept
of third party grading for comics came about because
it was really needed. The comic hobby was at a lull
because of undisclosed restoration and over-grading,
mostly on the Internet. It was like the Wild West -
anyone could put a comic book up for auction regardless
if they knew how to grade or spot restoration. It was
a becoming a haven for people who wanted to take advantage
of the novice. Collectors were becoming scared to buy
anything on the Internet. The principals of CCG saw
this and, with the help of top comic book dealers and
collectors, decided to open CGC.
I came on board after the decision to go ahead was made.
Stephen Fishler, knowing my reputation in collecting
for my integrity, professionalism, grading expertise
and knowledge, introduced me to the founders of CGC.
At first, not knowing anything about certification and
third party grading, it sounded like a way to scam my
fellow hobbyists - I was going to have no part in that.
After hearing what they had to say and seeing how they
operated their other two companies, I knew that these
people were truly impartial, third party authenticators
and graders. The feeling that I could protect novice
and veteran collectors alike with a full restoration
check and truly impartial grading, while helping the
dealers sell their comic books, was like a dream come
true. I had been doing this for years, taking new collectors
under my wing and helping them learn about grading and
restoration. Now I am getting paid for it. I have the
greatest job in the world!
Gordon: How many books has CGC graded to date?
Borock: We have graded about 150,000 comics since
opening our doors in January of 2000.
Gordon: Is there any competition from other companies
Borock: Right now there is no competition. I
think the reason is that opening a comic book certification
service was much more work and much more expensive than
anyone could have anticipated. I really give the principals
of CGC credit for sticking with it; they could have
opted out early on. No one knew if this was going to
be successful or not. We had to hire specialists like
Mark Haspel, formally of Comics on Parade, as a grader.
Mark is an expert in comic book history and has an incredible
knowledge of pedigrees. We also hired Chris Friesen,
formally of Renaissance Restoration, as our restoration
detection expert. Chris has one of the best eyes in
our hobby. Remember, a comic book is not a card or coin
with only 2 sides and an edge. Comic books have to have
pages counted and if the page count is correct, is it
the right page? We have seen lots of restored comic
books that have the centerfold of a different issue
inserted just to make it look as if all the pages are
there. It takes about 40 times the time to grade a comic
book compared to a coin or card.
There is also the trust factor. We spent a lot of effort
proving that we are truly expert, impartial and third
party. Collectors were sending in comic books hoping
that we would not find hard-to-detect defects such as
very tiny color touches, an advertising page that does
not affect story missing, replaced staples, a cover
on a different interior, a married page, foreign editions
and so on. The collectors saw that we would not play
favorites. If the submitter sends in 1 comic or 200,
all comics are treated the same.
Gordon: What is the process for grading a comic
Borock: The process of grading a comic book takes
a long time. When comic books come into CGC, they first
go to the receiving department where the packages are
opened and checked against the invoice it is sent with.
All comics over a certain value, for insurance purposes,
are then scanned under a video camera. The comics are
then put into new mylars with a backing board. The comic
books are entered into a computer and each is given
its own barcode and corresponding number on a sticker,
which is carefully placed on the mylar so that each
comic can be tracked no matter where it is in the building.
The comics are then put into a box labeled with the
invoice number and put in our safe where it waits
until it is up for the restoration check. After the
restoration check has been performed and the information
about any restoration that has been detected has been
put in the computer, the box goes back to the safe.
When it is time for the comic books to be graded, a
pre-grader will count the pages, take notes and give
the comic book a grade. It then goes to a senior
grader who does the exact same thing except he does
not need to count the pages because that information
is already in the computer. The next step is that the
comic books are graded by a Finalizer. After the Finalizer
decides the grade and page quality that he wants to
give the comic book, he then checks what the other graders
have given it. If it matches, he moves on to the next
comic book. If the two senior graders' grades don't
match, they discuss it, figure out the best grade, finalize
it and move on.
The comic books then go to encapsulation, where they
have two pieces of archival safe paper put between the
covers and first and last page to help stop the deterioration
of the paper. It is then sealed in an archivaly safe
well and a label is put on stating the grade, paper quality
and any pertinent information about the grade or the
comic book's history. It then gets put into the CGC state
of the art, tamper-evident holder. The next step is
called the QC (quality control). We take a final look
at each and every comic book before it leaves CGC to
make sure that the grade is correct, the comic matches
the label it has been given, and the comic
book is set correctly in the holder. It is then shipped
out by either USPS, UP, or FedEx.
Gordon: Approximately how many hours a week
do you work?
Borock: The demand for CGC has been so great
that I am working about 70 hours a week.
Gordon: What type of individual purchases graded
Borock: There is no one type of person who purchases
CGC comic books. I first thought it would only be the
person who is buying expensive comic books, but I see
people buying $25 comics just to have a great holder
Gordon: Do you see more high grade vs. low grade books
Borock: I was very surprised by this. The number of
high grade comic books we get in are only about 15%
more compared to lower grade books.
Gordon: What era of books do you see graded the most?
Borock: Marvel Silver Age (1961-1968) are the most prevalent.
Spider-Man seems to be the most popular comic book out
there. We are also seeing a large number of brand new
Gordon: How successful has professional grading been
in the comic book hobby?
Borock: From the look of things, it is very successful.
I get phone calls and e-mails all the time from collectors
and dealers alike, thanking us for the great job we
are doing. It makes me feel great to know that we are
moving the comic book industry to a safer and brighter
Steve Borock is the Primary Grader at Comics Guaranty
What About Grades
Guest article written by Mark Wilson owner of Professionally
Graded Comics Mint (PGCMINT.com)
collectors, especially investor - collectors, are reluctant
to buy in the lower grades because they assume that
a better copy of a particular issue they want will eventually
come their way. However, the idea that there is an NM
9.4 or higher example of every Golden Age or Silver
Age book is pure nonsense. That is FAR from the truth.
As more books are professionally graded, the Census
report will clearly show that many of the Highest Recorded
Grades of a specific issue will be in the Very Fine
to Near Mint range (VF 8.0 - VF/NM 9.0). This is especially
true with the Golden Age books and some of the early
Silver Age books. And believe it or not, several of
the best existing will be in the Fine range (6.0 - 7.0).
Are these books a good deal? You bet! The bottom line
is this: if it is the best existing of a kind, it WILL
command a premium. Granted, it would be nice if it possessed
that magic formula of NM status, along with being the
highest recorded grade, but the fact remains that if
it is THE Best, how can you do better?
Remember, that as we look into other professionally
graded collectibles hobbies, many of the most valuable
pieces are NOT always in the highest grade but are the
most rare of a kind. True, popularity of a character
weighs heavily into the pricing structure, as does cover
content, but having one of the very top copies is a
smart move. I say "one of" because you don't always
have to have the Very Best copy for your purchase to
be a good investment.
Let's talk about this for a moment. Not everyone can
afford, or have access to the best existing copy of
a particular book. Some fantastic opportunities exist
in going after one of the top ten or even top twenty
of a given book. Why? First of all, it is still one
of the best and would be considered rare. Secondly,
especially if it is a popular series (like Batman or
Spider-Man for instance), understand that there are
thousands of collectors worldwide who may be interested
in that book, so the demand is there or will be there.
And finally, the price would be much easier on your
pocket book, yet they will increase in value as the
supply is stressed.
Most current investors of CGC books understand that
a NM 9.2 (for instance) commands double Price Guide
value. That is the multiple that it settled into over
the past year or so. However, this is probably the BEST
grade to buy in right now because the price is based
on a flawed formula, especially for Golden Age and
early Silver Age books. It is an accurate formula for
books that have a strong supply of copies in the 9.2
grade, but is ridiculous where only a handful (or less)
exist in that grade. Mark my words, you will see tremendous
growth for many of the NM 9.2 books over the next year.
This is a time where you need to do your homework and
not get too caught up in the popularity battle. Because
right now, there are some incredible opportunities out
there if you know what to go after. Look through the
Overstreet Price Guide for historic data on a given
book, but keep in mind that the prices do not accurately
reflect the current value of a professionally graded
book. This will help eliminate the frustration of seeing
that the assigned Guide value is far lower than the
price of the book you are considering purchasing.
If you know anything about coins, you can compare the
Overstreet Guide to the Red Book of coins. Both of these
annual publications are designed to give accurate information
about their respective hobbies and are truly a wealth
of information. However, both annuals do not give up-to-date prices on the professionally graded segment
of their hobbies, nor offer a census as to how many
exist and in what grade. So also keep your eyes on the
CGC Census Report as you make your purchases.
I am reminded of a friend of mine who went against
the trends in the early 1990s and bought up a
large amount of the average grade 1930s and early
1940s baseball cards. The PSA grading service
was fairly new and all of the "smart" collectors
were passing on the non-NM graded cards, thinking that
there would be several NM cards to come from that era.
Well, as the years passed, it turns out that his "average
grade" cards are worth several times what he paid
because no hoards of NM cards ever did surface. So get
your shovels out and start digging into this hobby!
You may turn up some real treasure where no one else