Fixing CGC Grading

looks crooked

Now I have no idea what it says in the CGC grading manual so this will be my opinion only, totally based on me having absolutely no facts! All I will go on is the many discrepancies in grade I’ve seen with my own eyes. These of course would be discrepancies in my eyes but maybe not in yours.

I’m assuming there is some “points off” system where they start at 10 and knock off grade points based on the number of flaws they see.

I’m assuming it does not have to be much to downgrade a 9.9 to a 9.8 but that same defect would not bring the book from a 4.0 to a 3.5. Defects must be weighted near the top of the chart.

I’m assuming some defects hurt books more than others. Water stains are worse than ¼” tears etc.

The funny part about severity of defects is that there may not be a consensus in the collecting community as to which defect is worse. Some collectors hate tape but don’t mind a little water stain, other collectors despise chipping while some will take the chipping as long as there is no pen on the cover, and so on.

dog ear

CGC’s demerits are structured in order of severity but it would be an order that they chose. Arbitrarily? I know guys that absolutely hate those little dog ears at the top or bottom of the spine, yet I’ve seen  9.8s with said dog ears.

Take me for example. I was looking at a CGC 9.8 Silver Surfer #14 a few days ago and was shocked to see just how mis-cropped and mis-bound it was. Cripe there was a ¼” of white on the spine on the bottom while it’s perfect at the top! What gives?

This brings me to my point; they have to reset the parameters of their grading guide. Off centered cards would never grade high because they look off centered and off centered or mis-cut comics should be no different, the thing looked terrible! CGC 9.8?

All comic collectors have at one point or another pick up a CGC copy and said “are you kidding me” or “are these guys on drugs”. These reactions are normal since we all think we know how to grade better than CGC but the boys go through a lot of books and they for the most part do a bang up job.

I think the problem lies in the rigidity of the manual they are following to grade.

Last weekend I sold a CGC 7.5 comic for the CGC 7.75 GPA price. Basically I told the buyer what GPA 7.5s get (GPA being the site that tracks realized prices of graded books) and what GPA 8.0s get and I wanted the point in the middle for my “mis-graded” book. The customer thoroughly examined the book and together we went over the flaws I knew of (I’d called CGC earlier to get the notes). The bottom line is that the buyer also thought the book under-graded and was willing to pay above market for the Grade given the book by CGC. The buyer was convinced he was getting the book below market, CGC grade be damned.

On the flipside we’ve all tracked auctions where a book we want looks nowhere near as good as the grade on the CGC label. These comics most often underperform at auction as the bidders basically reject the grade assigned to the book. Now I’m not sure what the other 9.8 looks like (there are 2 on the CGC census) but imagine a near perfect, glossy, dead center Silver Surfer #14 graded CGC 9.8 getting a great result at auction then imagine the Silver Surfer #14 CGC 9.8 that I saw on the weekend go up on auction a month later. It would be lucky to get 3/4th the result. We then get misleading, though totally true, information being posted on sites like GPAnalysis. “Boy is Surfer 14 ever tanking, I better unload mine while I can”. But that is another post for another time.

So the CGC guys are in tough, 10 years of grading by many different graders has to lead to some glaring discrepancies thus the company puts in systems to iron things out.

I’m arguing 2 things.

  1. The system must be reviewed and tweaked. No dog eared 9.8s please, personally I don’t think CGC 9.8 should be allowed to have Off White pages, the page quality is part of the grade and should not be noted after the grade is given.
  2. The graders should be given more flexibility in adjusting the grade for the general feel and appearance of the book. Grading by the manual nets you a 9.0 but the book just looks terrible for some reason, the grader should give the thing an 8.5 and visa versa, if a book grades an 8.5 by the manual but somehow presents amazingly then take that into account and give it a 9.0. These can be dangerous waters for automatons that can only follow instructions but they can also be smooth sailing for a team of well versed pros given some subjective freedom.

Just reminding everyone that these are my opinions only!!

Walter Durajlija Written by:

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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13 Comments

  1. Mike Huddleston
    September 2, 2011
    Reply

    Walt I agree with the arguments and points you have made in this  rant about CGC grading.
     Now – What are YOU and I’m looking at you Walter Durajlilja Overstreet Advisor going to do about it?

    What is the relationship between  Overstreet and CGC?

    Do Overstreet advisors ever get together to discuss the state of the comic industry? If not , why not?

    Wouldn’t a collective voice from a respected  grading authority like Overstreet, expressing the types of concerns about grading listed above and others, be welcomed by CGC and make them and the industry better for it?

    CGC entered this business a 10 years ago to fill a huge gap (and to make money)in the comic industry. Almost every comic shop owner I knew poo=pooed these guys when they first started up.  They would never last. They are lousy graders. No one will buy slabbed books. 

    10 years on they have become an industry standard, particulary  with the investment crowd and on internet auctions. I haven’t seen a internet auction with big money unslabbed books  lately, and I don’t expect to in the future. They are big, and they are here to stay. 

    That being said, they are far from perfect. As you have adroitly decribed above there are many things that they can improve upon to make the service they provide to the industry, an even better one.

    Who is better qualified to provide this “voice of the customer” to CGC  than a group of Overstreet advisors?

    PS I hate date stamps on 9.6 and 9.8 books, and don’t understand why writing a number on book is not considered a defect (White Mountain) no matter where it is from..

    Best regards,
    Mike

    • Charlie
      September 2, 2011
      Reply

      Hey Mike, I see this as a communal issue and so I think we all have a responsibility to instil change. As an advisor, Walter may have some insight but Oversteet as an organization is in cahoots with CGC so I doubt we’ll see any action from them.

      Real change has to come from the masses which is us. But unfortunately that may never happen because the market is too fragmented and for the same reason that retailers haven’t organized themselves against Diamond… people just don’t care enough to make the effort.

      Regarding date stamps, Overstreet does address this. Their rationale is that it adds character to the book… As long as it’s doesn’t detract from the overall eye appeal. Personally, I can accept this… in the same way that certain flaws provide character to antiques and old furniture. And, for the same reason, I generally don’t like signed books, especially Stan’s signature. I respect Stan’s contribution but his signature is everywhere making it too common, and he signs books indiscriminately which to me defaces and detracts from the “eye appeal” that Overstreet is trying to preserve.

      You make some good points Mike but if history is any gage, we all know that people in power rarely every relinquish their power for the greater good.

      • Mike Huddleston
        September 2, 2011
        Reply

        Thank you Charlie for the kind words and for the info on the date stamps. I am still not a fan of them but I like them better than unseen or unreported tears in the cover
         . 
        I agree that trying to change CGC is everyones issue, and I am not trying to dump this issue at the feet of poor old Walt alone. I do think he would be well served in the trying. Let me explain.

        For more years than I care to count I worked in middle management at a supplier to the automotive sector (all hail the assembly line). Automotive OEM’s like GM, Chrysler, Ford etc., were  amongst the most rigid and monolithic corporations on the planet. Almost impossible to affect change because of the long chain of command (now who’s ranting!).

        Our company had many issues with the OEM’s that weren’t being addressed. One day out of the blue a thought occured to me that our competitors might be expierencing some of the same issues. I’ll called them. After getting over the shock of having competitor call them directly about a mutual customer, we talked. I called others some of whom wanted nothing to do with discussing these problems and some who did. We got together, discussed issues and came up with 5 common issues we wanted addressed to the OEM’s. The OEM’s agreed to meet with the group. I think it was about this time when the idea got legs that upper management wanted to get involved and they went to the OEM’s. 1 of the 5 proposals stuck and made all companies some significant money. I think I got lunch and the  undying graditude of my bosses.

        The point of all this –  I don’t believe you will completely change CGC. But you might get those dog ears out of the 9.8 category! and you will have the undying gratitude of your customer base. You will also probably make alot of new freinds andcontacts along the way.

        Start calling all your fellow advisors Walt and good luck!

        Mike

    • September 2, 2011
      Reply

      I’ve never heard of a group of advisers meeting to discuss anything to do with the industry unfortunately (at least nobody has ever invited me!).

      I don’t like the writing either but I’d take a perfectly centered Surfer #14 with an arrival date over the one on the picture I posted any day. Like Charlie says, we need to be able to see the CGC guidelines for grading and then perhaps influence these guidelines through some sort of debate or forum.

  2. Charlie
    September 2, 2011
    Reply

    I think you’re right on the money Walt and I know others who feel the same way. The mantra among CGC collectors is to “buy the book, not the grade” which sounds great from a purist point of view but not so simple when there is a dollar value attached to those numbers. However, I’m seeing a greater distinction among true 9.8s, and even 9.6s these days. These sharp books are being picked up way above GPA averages. My guess is that it’s due to a combination of supply and economic factors but clearly there is value in what you’re saying.

    The concern I have with CGC is one of relationships. As a monopoly there is no set of checks and balances to keep everyone honest. It happens with Government, it happens with big businesses, so why not at CGC? I know a guy who called them up and begged for his grade and got it, simply because, over the years he had became chummy with some people there.

    I would encourage CGC, their associations and the market as a whole to be more open and transparent in the spirit of fairness. CGC should consider posting their guidelines, if they have any so that collectors are better informed. The issues wont all disappear but it would provide some balance for the collectors. But uninformed collectors are the lamb so who are we kidding…

    • September 2, 2011
      Reply

      I’m still not totally sold on your ‘relationship’ angle. Though I won’t argue it never happens I will argue that CGC has too much to lose if the practice was widespread. It’s not like but can say “if you don’t grade these 500 books I’m submitting to my advantage I’m going to PGX!!”

  3. September 2, 2011
    Reply

    I think that the problem becomes somewhat exacerbated by people who don’t know what 9.8 means but just want the best possible book. Walt, Charlie, and Mike can all tell the difference between a 9.6 and a 9.8 book because of the grading knowledge they possess, but most people can’t (I can’t for example). 
    That is one of the reasons CGC has been so successful, the average consumer will educate themselves somewhat on grading but not on the minutiae of what each grade means. It is much easier to have a 3rd party do that hard work for you. So you don’t need to decide if the 9.0 you are about to buy is really a 9.0 if the book has already been slabbed.
    I have issues with CGC as well, but I do think that all will agree that some 3rd party system is better than the wild west we used to have. 
     

    • September 2, 2011
      Reply

      The 3rd party system is better Anthony but that is not saying it is good enough, it’s simply better than the chaos that came before. I think this all comes a bit too late (who am I kidding, it’s not coming at all) because too much has already gone through. There is still room for improvement though!

  4. Charlie
    September 2, 2011
    Reply

    Hey Walt, you would think that Dick Cheney would have too much to lose if he ever admitted to war crimes and yet there it is in his new book because he knows no will prosecute him… all because of the company he keeps.

    CGC is a finite business. There are only so many comics in world and only so many collectors. On top of that, the back issue market is contracting. So, picture if you will a python that has swallowed a pig. Once all those comics have been graded, how do they sustain themselves as a business? One way is to re-grade books. Enter: PRESSING. Collectors send books to Matt or Joe, Matt and Joe sends to CGC, CGC bumps it up a notch… voila, everyone is happy cause they’re all making money. However, if CGC maintains the same grade, or worse, bumps it down, collectors will stop sending in books, Matts has less business, and CGC loses as well. The beauty of this model is that I’m convinced that many pressed books are being pressed multiple times simply because pressing is not detectable.

    Now, I’m not sure how many books are out there so I have no idea if the pig is still at the front, middle, or is ready to be pooped out of the python but I suspect it will go on for a while longer till the market hits critical mass. Of course there is a limit to this cycle as well… a 4.0 can’t be made into a 9.0 even after a dozen pressings. I mean. a tear is a tear… but in matters of subjectivity, what real difference is there between a 9.2 and a 9.4, especially after multiple pressings.

    On the back of each CGC label they admit that their grading is “opinion” only. So, they are covered with the fine print and with no one to prosecute due to the subjective nature of grading, CGC actually has nothing to lose.

    I’m soooo jealous I didn’t think of it myself… it ingenious!

    Do guys like Doug Schmell, Vincent Zurzolo or Josh Nathanson get escorted to the head of the line? Well… lets just say it is what it is. Okay, time to start the long weekend… woo hoo!

  5. Charlie
    September 6, 2011
    Reply

    I’ve laid out this grading chart in case anyone wants it. I’ve consolidated descriptive, numerical and alpha definitions based on Overstreets guidelines. Formatted to a standard 11 x 17 page… grades at a glance:
    http://www.eltoro505.com/_comics/grading_table_v1.pdf
    9.9 has basically been grouped with 10.0

    • September 7, 2011
      Reply

      See, this is what we need for a start and the debate it and aim for some sort of consensus. I already have issues with some of the charts points, for example a small piece of tape on an otherwise 9.2 does not take it down to a 2.5, the tears and water stain threshold is too severe etc.

      Hey, at least we’re talking.

  6. richard
    March 14, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve always had an issue with CGC and their grading. I have over 30 CGC graded copies of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 in my possession. It’s a long story, but safe to say the grading varies greatly from one to the next. I have a 9.2 that should grade. 9.4 in my opinion and have a 9.2 that should probably grade an 8.5. I have one that is an apparent 9.6 but for the life of me I can’t find the color touch-up they speak of. Think with today’s technology they could eliminate the objective eye and just have a computer grade them.

  7. March 26, 2014
    Reply

    I Know CGC Grades Older Comics With Less Restriction. On Older Comics, Centering And The Staples Being Place Right Is Totally Off, So I’m Pretty sure CGC Is Going To Forgive That. Also The Same GuYs That Grade Silver Age Don’t Grade Modern Age In Their Company . As Far As A Computer Grading, I Think That’s Hogwash, How Can That Ever Happen. Then You Get People Who Don’t Trust Robots, Lol. I Recently Got An Amazing Spiderman Volume 2 36 Graded And It Came Back Exactly The Grade I Felt It Needed. I Sent A Hulk 180 And Was Praying It Was 8.0. I Personally Graded It A 7.5 To 8.0. Came Back With A 8.0. So I Was Real Happy.

Make It Good.