Thoughts on “Slabbing: The Results Are In”

Eric Kaylor in response to Charlie Kim’s Slabbing: The Results Are In. Eric started this as a comment on the site but it became so much more.

Very nice summary of the CGC grading experience, Charlie.  Anyone interested in collecting for profit would do well to read this article.  I’m late posting a comment, but wanted to add a couple thoughts to your bullet points in case anybody is still paying attention…

Is CGC more generous with older books?

Yes, absolutely. I think this is fairly well documented within various ‘net discussions about the mysteries of CGC. A CGC 9.4 from 2008 is most definitely not the same condition as a CGC 9.4 from 1958 or 1968.  The Modern Age 9.4 comic may have 1-2 spine stress marks and sharp corners; while the Silver Age 9.4 may have 4-5 spine stresses plus some minor signs of wear at the corners.  (I’m just giving rough examples here; not grading rules.) My observation has been the older the comic is, the more flaws that are allowed for a given grade. You could call this “grading on a curve”, as CGC (and I’m sure CGCS), when assigning a grade, seems to be factoring in the number of high-grade copies of that item that are likely in existence.  So a modern comic with thousands of NM/Mint copies circulating is held to a much higher standard than the decades-old comic with very few high-grade examples on the planet.  I’m not saying I agree with that approach.  I’m just saying that’s how it is.

White covers are more forgiving and explains the price discrepancy between such books as the lesser X-Men #94 versus the more “key” Giant-Size X-Men #1 in the same grade.

Yes, that is true. As you know, with any collectible, the typical rule is that scarcity equates to value. A little spine stress on a black or dark cover is going to break the color a lot more easily & clearly than on a white cover.  And those stress lines can usually be pressed out of a white cover but not a dark one.  So the higher-grade white covers are always going to be more plentiful, as a general rule.  Examples of darker covers selling at premium prices are plentiful.  Look at ASM 28, FF 112, Marvel Premiere 1, etc.  A personal favorite example: Not long ago, Web of Spider-Man #18 in CGC 9.8 was quickly selling for around $200, but at that same time it was not even singled out as a significant issue in Overstreet and was listed at something like $3 in 9.2.

Apparently, CGC does follow Overstreet guidelines very closely.

True, although grading always involves some level of subjectivity.  It would be impossible to define a specific grade for the thousands/millions of possible combinations of possible flaws (like “if there are three color-breaking creases of an inch or more on the front cover, and one rip of less than one inch, and…).  So there is no realistic way that we can document a perfectly consistent grading standard.  Individual human interpretation is always going to be involved.

In addition, Overstreet doesn’t differentiate based on age, but as you rightly pointed out, CGC does.

Water stains bad, ink stains good… or better.

I think this was important for all collectors/investors to understand, so it is great that you posted your findings and started the discussion.  I agree with everyone else that the penalty for smaller, less-noticeable water stains is far too severe.  And the reverse example of the ugly distribution spray on the CGC 6.5 Hulk 181 is equally ridiculous.  CGC’s strict adherence to their “water & ink” policy seems contrary to the fundamental idea that overall look & feel should be a significant factor in the final grade determination.  But, all complaints aside…

I can only assume that CGC does this because the ink overspray was a normal part of the comic distribution process (in some areas) back in the 1960’s/1970’s.  So one could consider the ink overspray to be an original feature of the comic in the same way that an arrival date written on the cover is acceptable as an original feature.  In either case, with ink or arrival dates, you can still get CGC grades up to maybe 9.0-9.4.  But a water stain is not a normal part of the comic creation or distribution process, so it can always be defined as “damage”.  That would seem to be the CGC justification for their “good/bad” decisions with the two types of stains.  Again, I don’t agree with how strictly they interpret their own rule, but that’s just the way it is.

Points are deducted for every quantifiable flaw. Outside of this, it becomes subjective.

We covered this above.  One side note – for Copper Age & Modern Age comics, you can predict a CGC 9.8, 9.6 and 9.4 with a good deal of accuracy by counting the number of tiny flaws.  With middle & lower grades and with older comics, it is more of a subjective crapshoot.

Lower grade books are generally not worth grading.

This is usually true, except in the case of extremely high-value and/or rare comics.  Buyers tend to question the authenticity of high-priced collectibles, and grading eliminates almost all doubt about authenticity or restoration.  (I say “almost” due to a widely publicized CGC scandal or two in past years.)  So if you have a low/lower grade book that is worth thousands of dollars, grading can be worth the investment to ease the mind of the potential buyers.

Size matters. The same Lois Lane book that I wanted to sell, now I want to keep.

That is a personal preference, and is totally understandable.

Never question Mike Huddleston… ’cause he knows his stuff.

Amen.


Back when Matt Nelson had his own pressing company (Classics Inc., or something like that), before he sold it to CGC a few years ago, he had a fantastic article on his web site analyzing the familiar topic of “to slab or not to slab”.  That must be one of the top five questions comic collectors ask at some point.  But I can’t find that article anymore.  It disappeared with the company’s web site after it became part of CGC.  But if anybody knows Matt, or would like to just email him and ask nicely, maybe he can send you a copy of it.  It was a very informative, well thought-out and well organized analysis, complete with a basic breakdown of the various costs involved.  It would be great to post on Comic Book Daily if Matt were willing to give permission.

One other thought, and I’m guilty of not always remembering this… Let’s always come back (to) a basic truth, which is that there should be more joy involved with comic collecting than analysis of grades, how to maximize profits, and all that.  Whenever we are getting too caught up in the details, then we should take a moment and regain our balance.  We should also accept that grading is not a perfect science, and we’re not all going to agree on every graded comic.  I think that the human factor of grading, deciding how we perceive the overall “look and feel”, is a good thing.  Our goal cannot be to create the “perfect” grading standard, because that is not only impossible but is also not the best use of our energy.  We should enjoy the hobby.  Remember, not too many years ago, the Overstreet guide contained only two or three columns for different grades.  Now that we’re all breaking down more grades into different prices and studying CGC/CBCS sale prices and such, are we happier for it?  Of course the answer is no, as it is with many aspects of our increasingly complex world.

My point is that it is up to each one of us to decide how far we really want to go with the analysis of grades and prices.  It can certainly be entertaining and fun up to a certain point.  Each of us gets to decide what that point is for our personal lives.  Let’s all try to keep a healthy perspective.

As a final side note, I’d also be interested in seeing CBCS get some recognition when we create articles and discussions on the topic of slabbing.  Every monopoly needs competition (and most have concluded that PGX isn’t it), so just for that reason alone, I hope that CBCS succeeds as another legitimate player. CGC grading fees will be more reasonable with competition than without it.  Unfortunately I have read a few reports that some CGC-graded prices on eBay have been higher than their corresponding CBCS-graded issues.  That is unfortunate, but not surprising.  Hopefully as time goes on, CBCS will become known as a CGC equivalent and the sale prices will equalize.

I enjoy reading so much of what you guys post on this site, mainly Undervalued Spotlight, but also much of the other nostalgia & collecting tips.  Keep up the good work!

Eric Kaylor is an IT professional, small business owner, very part-time comic book investor and seller, and very full-time happy husband and father (of one amazing girl, plus a few needy cats) in Columbus, Ohio. He got hooked on Spider-Man comics in 1977 and then quickly became a big fan of several other Marvel and DC titles.

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11 Comments

  1. I want to underscore Eric’s point about how there should be more joy in collecting. I suppose speculating and collecting are two sides of the same coin, and we all know that gambling can be fun but when people start dropping tens of thousands of dollars on a book or collection, then it becomes serious business. Even if you’re well off, nobody enjoys taking big losses. I try to base my write ups with the intent to inform or reveal but ultimately it’s an individual decision and like any habit, we need to know our limits.

    I also agree with Eric’s point about CBCS. Competition is healthy so I hope they continue to do well. However, between the CGC boards, GPA and the various auction sites, there is a lot more information out there for CGC books. Hopefully this will change over time as CBCS continues to build out their infrastructure. They’ve got a long road ahead of the but in the mean time I think we can add to the mantra… “buy the book, not the grade… or the grading company.”

    Thanks Eric… I sense there’s a blogger inside of you waiting to come out.

  2. Boy’s Boy’s………..it’s a Sweet Thing, Sweet Thing…….Content Trumps All.! Candidates should be graded and slabbed , comic books cherished first then curated with luv and respect!

  3. Eric is so right re the joy of collecting. The thing is we can’t afford to “just collect for joy” anymore because comics are so expensive now and some semblance of a plan/exit strategy should be in place.

  4. Or, you could just read the dumb things. That’s why they invented trades and HC collections. I left the collecting side of comics years ago, having hundreds of long boxes floating around my house was not only stupid with regards to space I really had to ask myself why I was doing this? Did I really need a complete run of Robin? Why in the world did I need two long boxes of Catwoman comics? I wasn’t collecting comics, I was collecting stapled pieces of paper with little or no monetary value whatsoever. Modern books are valueless to a large degree, go try to sell your hundred long box collection anywhere and let’s talk about how much you get. In the current economy and state of the hobhy we all know what will happen, 20 bucks a long box, if your lucky. I used to collect this stupid stuff then one day I woke up and realized I needed to grow up, for real. Collecting comic books when your in your 30’s or 40’s is so painfully sad and lame.

  5. Then choose what’s right for you . Climb Everest, collect pictures of dead presidents, endless Portfolios and Retirement Plans? Go for it Jim!

  6. Jim, I have to respectfully disagree. I’m closing in on 50 and I still enjoy collecting comics. I have groupings of comics which I hold for various reason… stuff that I would never sell. I also pick up books to flip, which is a different kind of fun. Although the bulk of comics is junk, there is still enough good stuff out there to fill my basement so I need to consciously make an effort not to get over loaded. Comics are not a necessity… it’s a hobby. No different than playing sports or going to the movies. If you’ve moved on from comics, that’s your choice but there’s nothing wrong with having interests.

  7. If you are selling the books yourselves my belief is that every comic worth more than $60 should be slabbed. The undeniable benefit is dispute free sales. Hopefully, you can average higher than that number. Incidentally, Jim with that attitude why bother coming here?

  8. Shame on me for not replying sooner to comments on my own post! Hopefully the old “better late than never” still applies. Starting with the most recent comment…

    John, I tried a similar approach for some time but later found that I could have saved money in quite a few cases. If you want to maximize profits with your “slab vs. raw” decisions, you’ll need to consider more factors than just value. If selling on eBay, build up a strong feedback rating, use excellent pictures/scans, use sensible keywords in your listing titles, and end your auctions at prime times (and I also highly recommend using “Buy it Now” in many cases). When you do all that, you will often enjoy the same or even higher sale prices for raw comics vs. slabbed. This is a complex subject, as I’m sure you realize by now, but if you do some eBay searches (and HA.com and others) on Sold items, you’ll see some patterns emerge. For most of the newer comics, the premium sale prices are for CGC/CBCS 9.8 and above. For most Copper and many Bronze age, it is 9.4 or 9.6 and above. For Silver Age, roughly 9.0 and above. (In fact, I am often surprised by the comparatively low prices garnered by very nice CGC/CBCS 8.5 comics.) For Golden Age, it depends on scarcity and the subject matter. In all cases, you of course need to factor in the grading cost, which increases with the age and value of the comic. Oh, and page quality is also a factor in any slabbing discussion, but then we’re getting into too much detail for this forum…

    As just one example, try searching for sales of New Teen Titans #2 (first Deathstroke), CGC 9.2 and 9.4. Then take a look at a few sales of the same raw comic listed as “high grade” or “NM” or similar, with pictures that justify that claim, sold by a reputable seller. The average sale prices are about equal. But when you have a slabbed 9.6 or 9.8 copy, as with all comics, the price increases exponentially. Many collectors place a very high premium on grades above Near Mint, and at the same time, those grades are impossible to verify by just pictures or scans of a raw comic – they must be slabbed for a buyer to know that they are getting the super high grade that they’re paying for. Again, that was an over-simplified explanation because there are several other factors involved, but hopefully that gives you some useful info as a starting point.

    Charlie – Thanks as always for the insight, feedback, and kind words. Your expertise and love of the hobby really shows in your writing!

    Jim – Many of us have been bitter after an investment gone wrong. Yes, when a comic or sports card or anything else is available in the thousands/millions of copies, it can easily become worthless. Value is often in the scarcity, but also in the condition and certainly the subject matter. (If you had a long box of New Mutants #98, you would probably sing a very different tune about modern comics.) But as in the stock market or anything else, if you get in it and make the wrong decisions or have the wrong timing, you’ll lose money. If you choose wisely, you often make money. To be bitter about the whole experience, well, that is your prerogative. I certainly understand having an emotional response. I’ve been there. But personally, I would not disrespect another person’s choice to participate in a particular hobby or pastime or investment that brings them joy. If it didn’t work for you, that’s one thing. Understood. And some of your points are valid. But to berate people for a perfectly legitimate hobby – I can’t agree with that.

    Walt – Well said. I think everyone should: 1. Spend within their means, 2. Set a budget in order to do so, 3. Make a conscious decision on whether you want to buy for fun or buy for investment, or some mix, and then stick with that decision or adjust as it makes sense for your life. There is some gray area between the following: collector, investor, gambler, hobbyist, and hoarder! Each person should examine whether they are going too far down the gambler or hoarder path, and then modify his or her habits as necessary!

  9. Hello!

    I’ve been collecting since 1970, and as i approach the 50 year mark of building this collection of mine, I realize it has helped me to focus on what I love to do. I love collecting comics! I’m 55, a professional broadcaster for the last 33 years and have a truly great family who understands my passion. I have gotten some great deals, and have over paid as well. But it all evens out in the end if your in the hobby long enough.

    “Buy what you love, and love what you buy” as the saying goes. If you spend too much, than take a break for a few months and just enjoy what you already have. Sometimes I’ll take a break for 6 months or more if I feel I’ve spent too much time and money on this hobby just to prove to myself who’s in control!

    I loved the article, but I also loved the comments.

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