CGC Now Grading Pulp Magazines

Posted on 2/6/2024

Pulp collectors, rejoice! CGC Comics is now grading the short-story prose fiction novels published in the early-20th Century.

CGC is thrilled to announce that pulp grading has officially begun! Closely related to comic books, pulps have been seriously collected, researched and written about for many decades. They were one of the primary forms of entertainment during the first half of the 20th century, impacting American pop culture by influencing movies, radio, comic books and eventually television.

Even though the format and target audience of pulps differed from comic books, the two have several things in common. Pulps played a key role in the genesis of comic book superheroes during the 1930s, and by the 1940s several pulp publishers were producing their own comic books, such as Street & Smith, Fawcett, Fiction House, Timely, Nedor/Popular and Ziff-Davis.

What are pulps?

Pulps came into existence at a time when publishing was revolutionized by the development of high-speed presses and the availability of cheap wood pulp paper. Working-class Americans had more leisure time to read as the country became urbanized towards the end of the 1800s, giving rise to periodicals, a form of entertainment that was more affordable than hardcover books.

Pictured left-to-right: "The Argosy" was the first pulp issue, "The All-Story" was the first appearance of Tarzan and "Doc Savage Magazine" was the first appearance of Doc Savage.
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The first pulp appeared in 1896, titled The Argosy. Publisher Frank A. Munsey altered an existing publication by swapping its slick paper for wood pulp and eliminating pictures and articles, giving readers 192 pages of stories for 10 cents. Pulps took off, providing fast-paced fiction for millions of readers a month.

In 1912, the pulp All-Story featured the first appearance of Tarzan, a groundbreaking character by Edgar Rice Burroughs that proved immensely popular with readers and raised the bar for pulp writers. Over subsequent years several famous characters were introduced through pulps, including Zorro, Buck Rogers, Conan the Barbarian, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Sam Spade and John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

Because of pulps’ frequency of release, which was often monthly or even bi-weekly, writers had to work fast, banging out stories to fill issues that contained upwards of 60,000 words each. A narrative form developed in pulps over time: straightforward stories of dynamic action that were told in clear, direct prose. Their themes, plot devices and character types profoundly influenced radio, movies, comic books and eventually television.

Pictured left-to-right: "Amazing Stories" was the first appearance of Buck Rogers, "Black Mask " was the first appearance of Sam Spade and "Weird Tales" was the first Tennessee Williams published work.
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Several prominent writers made their mark in pulps, including Ray Bradbury, Tennessee Williams, L. Ron Hubbard, Robert E. Howard, Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Philip K. Dick, Dashiell Hammett and Isaac Asimov. H.P. Lovecraft carved out his own niche with a unique style that continues to attract fans today. Early comic book creators were pulp readers themselves, inspired by characters and concepts that were foundational in the creation of the first superheroes. Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent is a name blended from Clark Savage (Doc Savage) and Kent Allard (The Shadow).

Pulps began to decline after the 1940s, ultimately meeting their demise in the face of rising costs and the advent of paperbacks in the 1950s. But they left behind a legacy that continues to permeate American culture today. Like comic books, pulps were ephemeral, and yet collectors sought them out, saving them from destruction and memorializing their stories and authors in countless reprints and books that elevated pulps to a historical and literary art form.

Check out the first video in a series about pulps presented by CGC President Matt Nelson, and stay tuned to our social channels — @CGCcomics on Instagram, Facebook, X and YouTube — for more videos coming soon.

How are pulps made?

For the most part, pulps were manufactured the same way throughout their existence. The printing process was nearly identical to squarebound comic books; interior pages consisted of stacks of folded 16-page signatures, which were grouped and stapled together. The cover, printed on a thicker, glossier cover stock, was attached with glue along the spine. But there were subtle differences between both printing processes that add complexity to pulp grading.

Examples of a serrated edge and a squarebound assembly.
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The most infamous is the “overhang” of a pulp cover, which means the cover is slightly larger than the block of interior pages, and thus hangs over its edge. Unlike comic books, most pulp printers skipped the final step of trimming to save time and money. Instead, each signature was individually cut using rotating saw-toothed blades, leaving serrated edges and a slight unevenness when the signatures were stacked and folded. The cover was purposely cut larger than the signature block to insure it was covered, leaving overhang on two, and sometimes all three open sides.

This "Cowboy Stories" is an example of pulp overhang.
Click image to enlarge.

Pulps contained a higher page count than most comics, typically running between 100 and 200 readable pages, and printed only in black and white. Because of the higher page count, their spines are wider and more prominent than the spines of squarebound comics, which allowed space for text and sometimes color. Like comics, their page count and size diminished over time to save on printing cost. Pulps’ higher page count, uneven signatures and serrated edges make page counting more tedious.

This "Amazing Stories" is an example of bedsheet format, and "Ace Mystery Magazine" is an example of pulp format.
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Several issues of pulps were printed in a larger format during the 1920s and ‘30s — nicknamed bedsheets — with dimensions like a sheet of paper (8.5” x 11”) or even bigger. Some pulp titles began with the bedsheet format and eventually moved to the standard pulp format, while others switched back and forth between the two. While bedsheets were printed in the same fashion as regular pulps, their covers were of thicker paper stock, and they were trimmed after assembly, eliminating potential cover overhang and rough edges of the interior page block.

By the 1950s, many pulp titles still in circulation converted to a small format called digests, which were dimensionally like paperbacks. This decade witnessed the end of the traditional pulp format.

CGC pulp grading standards

As many seasoned collectors know, pulps are generally scarce in high grade because of the way they were manufactured, read and stored. Most pulps average between 2.0 and 4.0 in grade, with 6.0 considered a high grade, and 8.0 or higher regarded as exceptional. Cover overhang keeps most pulps from achieving a grade between 9.0 and 10.0 because they usually exhibit creasing, tearing and chipping. Early collectors often trimmed off a cover’s overhang, which is frowned upon today. Factory-trimmed pulps and bedsheets stand a greater chance of achieving a high grade because they do not have cover overhang, but their scarcity and age are other factors that can inhibit the population of high-grade copies.

With a few exceptions, CGC’s grading standards for pulps mirrors its standards for comic books. The same 10-point scale is used, including NG, PG and CVR, as well as the four grading categories (Universal, Qualified, Restored and Conserved). Page quality is assessed and identified on the CGC label, ranging from white to brittle. Because of the different paper used and the way it was trimmed during production, the outer edges of interior pages may flake with age, but this is not necessarily an indication of overall brittleness.

Examples of "Mystery Adventure" that show untrimmed and trimmed on three sides.
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One significant difference between comic book and pulp grading is how trimming is categorized for pulps. Unlike comic books, where trimming is classified as restoration (purple label), trimming is allowed in the Universal category for pulps. A trimmed pulp will be downgraded instead, depending on the severity of trimming and the grade otherwise. For example, a high-grade pulp will be downgraded less harshly if only its cover is trimmed, versus one that exhibits trimming to both the cover and interior. All trimming will be noted on the CGC pulp label as it is on the CGC comic book label.

Another grading distinction involves missing pages. A comic book missing a page is automatically assigned a grade of 0.5 (or a Qualified grade). Because pulps have a considerably higher page count than comic books, one missing page may have less effect on grade, depending on a pulp’s grade otherwise. For pulps, one missing page can receive a grade as high as 1.5. Two missing pages can garner a grade as high as 1.0, while three missing pages will grade no higher than 0.5. If a pulp is missing one or more pages but is free of restoration and otherwise grades 3.5 or higher, the pulp will receive a Qualified grade.

Examples of spine fading on these "Weird Tales" pulps, and a close-up look at bindery chipping.
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Faded spines and bindery chips and tears play a significant role in grading pulps, particularly high-grade copies. Early pulp collectors often stored their pulps on bookshelves with spines facing out, and exposure to light over time faded spine color. This was particularly true for Weird Tales, one of the most popular pulps whose spines were often printed deep red — a color that fades the fastest. A pulp’s wide spine often led to tearing and chipping at its top and bottom, defects commonly found on pulps of any grade.

CGC pulp holders

CGC’s pulp holders are identical to our comic book holders but are deeper to accommodate pulps’ higher page count. The inner well has been specifically designed to protect pulps, exhibiting angled sides that provide space and safety for pulp cover overhang. Each pulp is centered within the holder, and pulp holders stack and lock with comic holders as well, sharing identical dimensions.

An example of CGC's angled inner well for overhang protection.
Click image to enlarge

CGC’s magazine holder accommodates the larger bedsheet pulps, allowing CGC to certify nearly every type of pulp in existence. A small number of pulps cannot be encapsulated due to their larger dimensions (certain bedsheets measure 9” x 12” or bigger) or page count (a handful of pulps contain nearly 500 readable pages). CGC’s pulp label is identical to the comic book label and uses the same color categories of Universal (blue), Qualified (green), Restored (purple) and Conserved (blue/silver). The label’s art and key comments will display pulp writers and cover artists of note, as well as popular cover motifs, first appearances and significant stories.

CGC pulp numbering system

Publishers used a volume and issue method to number pulps, unlike comic books that numbered their titles #1 and up. The volume/issue numbering system for pulps varied from title to title and were not printed on the front cover. Most collectors do not refer to specific pulps by their volume/issue number because of these factors, instead referencing the month and year of publication.

To ease identification, CGC has systematically numbered every US pulp in its database, beginning with #1 for the first issue of each title. The pulp label will display both the original volume/issue number and the new CGC number; the CGC number will accompany the title on the label, followed by the original volume/issue number in parentheses. A full list of US pulp issues and their corresponding CGC issue numbers will be available online soon.

Oftentimes a publisher altered or completely changed the title of a pulp run midstream; if the new title was significantly different from the previous one, the CGC numbering system starts over with #1. For example, in 1938, the title Strange Detective Mysteries ran for two issues, changed to Captain Satan for five issues, then changed back. The Captain Satan issues are numbered #1 through #5, separate from the Strange Detective Mysteries numbering, which runs #1 through #28. For minor title changes, like Far West Illustrated to Far West Stories, then to Far West Romances, the CGC numbering system continues uninterrupted.

International pulps

Several US pulps were also published in other countries, particularly Canada, Australia, and the U.K. In many instances, these pulps are identical to their U.S. counterpart, or exhibit slight variations. CGC identifies these international pulps in the same tradition as international comic books; they are assigned the same CGC number as their U.S. counterpart but will retain their own volume/issue number and date of release, which is sometimes different from the U.S. counterpart.

Some countries outside of the U.S. produced their own pulps. If a pulp is unique to a particular country, or if the cover does not have a U.S. counterpart, the pulp will be labeled with its original volume/issue, and not display a CGC-assigned number.

"Shadow Detective Monthly" Canadian edition (5/32) and Fantasy #1 UK pulp (1938).
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Pulp pedigrees

CGC recognizes two pedigree collections centric to pulps: Strasser and Yakima. The Strasser collection was found stacked on shelves in the basement of a farmhouse in Ohio in the late 1980s. The collection numbered nearly 2,000 pulps, encompassing issues published between 1933 and 1939, and was very high grade with white paper. A code containing the letter A, D or C (and sometimes the name “Robert Strasser”) was written in fountain pen on each cover, usually in the logo. Many popular titles were present in the collection, including Shadow, Doc Savage, Spider, Operator 5, Wu Fang, Yen Sin, Pete Rice, Phantom Detective and Argosy. They were sold piecemeal at pulp conventions in subsequent years.

"Secret Agent X" and "Popular Detective" pulps from the Strasser pedigree.
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The Yakima collection surfaced in Yakima, Washington, in the late 1990s, containing mostly science fiction pulps between 1939 and 1953, which were stored in wooden boxes in a basement. The collection also included many pre-1939 pulps in lower grade, but those from 1939 on were unread copies with deep ink, full gloss and white pages. Dave Smith purchased most of the Yakimas and included certificates with each copy as he sold them. Full runs of Amazing Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Planet Stories, Fantastic Adventures, Astounding and Doc Savage were present in the Yakima collection.

A Yakima pedigree certificate and images of the Yakima storage upon discovery.
Click images to enlarge.

Several comic book pedigree collections also contained pulps, including Edgar Church/Mile High, Bethlehem and White Mountain. Pulps identified as originating from a comic book pedigree collection, as well as from the Strasser and Yakima collections, will receive the CGC pedigree label if in unrestored condition.

Pulp submissions

Pulps are submitted to CGC using the same Online Submission Form (OSF) as comics, broken out into their own category. Nearly all 50,000 pulps produced in the US have been added to CGC’s database, which eases the submission process. Because the new CGC number assigned to each pulp will not be immediately apparent to submitters, the original volume/issue number or date should be used in conjunction with the title to locate pulps in the dropdown menu. (The volume/issue and date can be located on the contents page inside each pulp.) Initially, most international pulps will not be present in CGC’s database. If a pulp is not present in the OSF’s dropdown menu, the freeform field must be used when submitting.

Because the production of pulps ceased during the 1950s, there will be no modern grading tier for pulps. Submitters should choose either the Vintage, High Value or Unlimited High Value tier for each pulp submitted, based on value. The Fast Track option is available for the Vintage pulp tier, and CGC pressing, restoration removal and restoration services are available for all tiers. As of now, the prescreen option, custom labels and the Signature Series program will not be available for pulp submissions.

Ready to submit your pulp collection?

All it takes is a free CGC account to submit, but paid members get great benefits, including discounts on grading. Join now!

CGC pulp enhancement

Pressing will be offered for pulps and bedsheets. Pulp pressing must deal with unique challenges that include cover overhang, glued spines and occasional warping that occurred during the printing process. Pulp overhang is smoothed out during the pressing process, particularly for higher grade pulps when the condition of overhang is a factor, but the edges of overhang will remain curled down the sides of the pulp for encapsulation. Pulps may be rejected for pressing due to brittleness, fragile areas of the cover or interior, or excessive glue application along the spine.

Like comics, pulps sometimes exhibit restoration, particularly trimming, glue repairs and color touch. Traditional pulp collectors more often applied structural repairs for handling and reading, rather than aesthetic repairs. Other restoration techniques are rarely found on pulps due to the way they are manufactured, such as cover cleaning, interior page lightening, piece fill, staple replacement and married pages. In some cases, CGC’s restoration removal service can be utilized to remove or reverse minor amounts of color touch, glue repairs, tear seals, spine split seals and reattached pieces. Trimming cannot be reversed. All restoration removal submissions must be screened first to determine if removal is feasible.

CGC’s restoration service can be utilized for certain pulps, although full restoration is often limited due to the inability to remove a pulp cover that is glued to the spine of the interior pages. All restoration submissions must be screened first to establish feasibility and cost.

Now are you ready to submit your pulp collection?

Sign up for a free CGC account to submit. Paid members get discounts on pressing services in addition to grading. Join now!

Books on pulps

There have been many great books written about pulps over the years. Here are a few highlights:

Bookery's Guide to Pulps & Related Magazines – By Tim Cottrill. Foreword by Jim Steranko. The new 2020 edition of the most complete pulp magazine data and price guide reference in print. Updated values as well as an all-new color selection of classic pulp covers and a comprehensive grading guide. Published by Ivy Press, 2020.

The Blood 'n' Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction – By Ed Hulse. The top-selling, best-reviewed title in Murania Press history is now available in a newly revised and expanded edition! With nearly 2,000 copies in print, sold in 23 countries, The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction has been acclaimed one of the foremost reference books covering the subject.

Danger is my Business – By Lee Server. Pulp 101! Lee takes the reader on a genre-by-genre look into pulp history. Available in both hard cover and soft cover. Published by Chronicle Books.

Click images to enlarge.

Pulpwood Editor: The Amazing World of the Thriller Magazines – by Harold B. Hersey. A published history of the pulp market during the 1930s by a well-known pulp editor from that period. First editions are very difficult to find but was later reprinted by Adventure House with the addition of cover reproductions.

The Adventure House Guide to the Pulps – by Doug Ellis, John Locke and John Gunnison. This book features a published checklist for virtually every pulp that exists in an easy-to-read format. It includes the total number of issues for each publication, as well as dates for each issue. The perfect book for the pulp completest.

Yesterday's Faces – By Robert Sampson. For those into serial characters and the hero pulps, this six-volume series is a must. Each title takes an in-depth look at several pulp characters. This book and its companion volumes are concerned with the slow shaping of many literary conventions over many decades. This volume begins the study with the dime novels and several early series characters who influenced the direction of pulp fiction at its source. Published by Popular Press.

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Pulp conventions

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