Distributor's ink stains?
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15 posts

I recently uncovered a couple boxes of raw comics. Many of them have a blue or red ink stain on the top front or back of the book. It looks like the ink that some distributors used on the top page edges has bled down over time.

I saw an old post (though the images are gone) that said the distributor's ink on the top edges is not considered a defect. But what about this kind of stain? This particular book isn't a key or anything, but some of the other stained ones are. :o

WBN_036_back_top.thumb.jpg.9679e167b17934da5f328cd11f35f381.jpg

WBN_036_front.thumb.jpg.41172227b0dc74d21bdbe8adf70905eb.jpg

Thanks!

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My recollection is that ink denotes the comic as a "return".  Originally, when a vendor returned unsold comics, they would tear off the top half of the front cover to make unsaleable.  And it also couldn't get counted for credit twice.  Later they used a spray paint across the tops to accomplish the same thing, much faster. 

I am going by what I was told 20-30 years ago, which sounded right at the time.  Maybe there are other explanations that confirm or contradict this.  I'd be interested to know either way, and maybe someone knows how it relates to grade.

 

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36 minutes ago, Lightning55 said:

My recollection is that ink denotes the comic as a "return".  Originally, when a vendor returned unsold comics, they would tear off the top half of the front cover to make unsaleable.  And it also couldn't get counted for credit twice.  Later they used a spray paint across the tops to accomplish the same thing, much faster. 

I am going by what I was told 20-30 years ago, which sounded right at the time.  Maybe there are other explanations that confirm or contradict this.  I'd be interested to know either way, and maybe someone knows how it relates to grade.

 

I think that might have been the case in some places. But I remember buying most of these books fresh off the spinner racks at my local drug store back in the day. Maybe the local distributor used the ink to color code books for distribution or something? 

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Posted (edited)

Yes, same here -- the ink was applied before the comics hit the stands of the ones I purchased.  In later years, no longer needed once publishers went to the printed color striping.

(As far as affidavit returns, as late as the late '70s retailers were still tearing off front covers of unsold issues, for credit.)

Also, to the OP, your ink has not bled "over time."  What you're seeing is how the ink looked once it was applied and dry.  It was often messy, and sometimes books stuck together at the edges -- so comics sometimes hit the racks joined to other copies (from the same stack that was sprayed).

Edited by EC Star&Bar

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The good news is that CGC seems to have relaxed their standards for this over the years; I remember when they used to hammer books with distro ink. A small amount of ink is allowed on Near Mint books. But the book you've shown appears to exceed what I would call a "small amount." So it's anyone's guess as to how hard they'll hit it...

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It always bothered me more when it appeared on front covers.  I can remember having to choose between a copy with significant ink on the back vs. one without much, yet noticeable on the front.  Just another factor when hand-selecting that later (thankfully) became an obsolete practice.

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Posted (edited)

This is return ink, not distributer's ink.  Distributer's ink was typically applied to a small center area on the top edge of the covers on the stacks of that weeks books.  The color varied from week to week to make it easier for newsstands to pull unsold books for return.  Eventually, they started preprinting it directly on the top of the pages during the manufacturing process.

When books where unsold, the returns were stacked up and a large amount of purple ink was slathered over them rather than clipping covers.  These books often made their way back into the market for pennies on the dollar.

Edited by pug productions

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10 hours ago, EC Star&Bar said:

Yes, same here -- the ink was applied before the comics hit the stands of the ones I purchased.  In later years, no longer needed once publishers went to the printed color striping.

(As far as affidavit returns, as late as the late '70s retailers were still tearing off front covers of unsold issues, for credit.)

Also, to the OP, your ink has not bled "over time."  What you're seeing is how the ink looked once it was applied and dry.  It was often messy, and sometimes books stuck together at the edges -- so comics sometimes hit the racks joined to other copies (from the same stack that was sprayed).

Right, I remember picking up these books at the local shop as soon as they came out, so I'm pretty sure they weren't returns.

I'm seeing a pattern where books from the early '70s had the full top edge inked, but books from the late '70s-early '90s just had the small center area linked, like @pug productionsmentioned above. Here's an example from my "A" box.
distrib_ink.thumb.jpg.c1ad66208ca65207113d9f82d17e9659.jpg
 

I guess the distributors in my area (SF Bay area) were pretty aggressive with that ink. Alas I was more of a reader than a collector back than, and didn't pay attention to some of those stains!

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Here's another one with staining on the front cover too. Sad because it's in great shape otherwise. This came out in 1974 so it fits that full-top-edge-ink time frame.

GSC01_top_right.jpg

GSC01_front.jpg

GSC01_back.jpg

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I found this description from another site which indicates that we're all somewhat correct: the over-spray was done by distributors before sending the books to stores, so the store owners would know which distributor to return the book to later, if needed.

"It was common that distributors would code bundles of books by spraying the top edges with a colored liquid mist. This was done as a method of identification used by distributors so they would know which books were the ones they distributed (there were multiple distributors). Often books would be returned to distributors, and in the event of a return distributors only accepted books they originally distributed, and not books from other distributors."  http://www.comicpressing.com/blog/over-spray

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