Did You Count The Pages?

I was getting some books ready for the showcases in the back of the store and was doing my thing of checking for completeness, assigning a grade and noting any pertinent comments that the prospective buyer should be aware of. It hit me that there are hardly any collectors that come in and buy from our showcases that actually ask whether they can take the book out of the bag and have a look for themselves, I’d say maybe one in ten guys will ask if they can take the book out of the bag, most don’t even ask to see the back cover. I doubt they will ever open that bag and board, that book will be sold years later with the tape I put on it undisturbed.

Back in the day we always opened books up before we bought them, I still do. Are people more trusting today? Has the industry cleaned itself up and rid itself of the shysters? Or is it just a hard thing to master and it’s easier to assume what I write on the backing board is true?

Like I said above, I always ask to take the book out of its bag and board. I always ask, never assume, and if the dealer will not let me I will walk away.

There is a certain ceremony to the whole thing, I make sure my hands are dry and clean, I make sure to take the tape cleanly off the bag before sliding the book out and if I don’t like the snugness of the bag and board I always give everything back to the dealer for him to put back in when I’m done looking.

It’s pretty exciting looking through an old comic, there is a lifetime of built-up knowledge I subconsciously tap into as I cup that book in my left hand, turning it over carefully to access the back cover, I’d hold it close to my nose looking for a scent of mould, my eagle eyes looking for dings, creases, tears or anything that doesn’t look like it should be there factoring in the grade and price the book is presented to me at. I can just tell by the feel of the paper, is there gloss, are the pages supple to the tough, are the pages white or are they tanning, are the staples firmly affixed to the cover and to the centrefold.

My mind adjusts to the age of the book, to the publisher, to the issue number even. For those mid-70s Marvels, I instinctively go to the Marvel Value Stamp page, I’m not scared away if I see those printer sheared off pages in the Timelys during World War II, those protruding staples on many of the giant size issues and annuals. I count the pages, 8 to the center on the regular books or 12 or 16 to the center for the Golden Age stuff.

There are so many small things, littles nuances to assessing a book’s grade. With Dells you have to check for puzzles etc, is there pre-Marvel chipping? Superior Comics from the early 50s have notoriously bad page quality, seeing a White Pager would get my attention.

Not all grades are created equal, give me a high gloss white page 8.0 over a tanning off colour 8.5 any day.

I have no fear when I look through a book, a book is like a dog that way, it will smell your fear, its paper will stain to your sweat and tear to your jerky nervous movements. Hold that book with care and with confidence, it will sense and it will comply.

How will it be when we start going back to shows? Will dealers allow us to open the books up and have a look inside? today things are different, a 0.5 grade decrease could mean a lot of money lost for that dealer and things are so expensive generally that I could see them being more reluctant than they were in the past. And having a few of us walk away may not be that big a deal to them, I said earlier that nine out of ten of my customers never ask to open the books up.

Comics may be like dogs but dealers are more like plumbers or electricians, they don’t like when another plumber or electrician inspects and critiques their work, in this case grading a comic.

I hope you still open the book up before you buy it, if you don’t then you should start, the more books you open up the better you will get and getting that all-important feel as to whether this is a good buy or not, don’t be afraid, comics don’t bite.

I’ll tell you something that bit hard last night was our weekly internationalcollectiblesexchange auction on eBay. We offered up some very high-grade comics and posted that we felt they had a good chance at a CGC 9.8 grade. Near perfect and raw is what these books are. The thing with CGC is that it will take well over half a year to get these things back so we are trying to see how the market takes to these raw potential CGC 9.8s. We listed a near-perfect Thor #338, at CGC 9.8 they get around $200, at 9.6 they get around $100. Our copy fetched $51. I checked eBay listings and saw that a copy advertised as High Grade sold for $19.99 as a Buy it Now. I think our first salvo went well, stunning copy, Advantage Buyer!

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

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

Articles: 1713


  1. Walter
    I guess you made my point with this post. In my day at working at the comic shop people did take the book out and look at the whole comic book. I believe slabbing books have contributed to collectors not caring if they see the inside of the comic book. I also believe that graphic novels have contributed to it as well. Collectors save the individual issues and just read the graphic novel. With slabbing I can only see the front and back covers. Slabbing has made the inside of the book unimportant and not worth looking at. I mostly blame slabbing for collectors not looking inside the covers.
    This is why I don’t buy slabbed books. Just my opinion.
    Thanks, Jeff Kepley

  2. I think there are a number of factors at play here. Also I disagree (obviously) with Jeff about slabbing. Slabbed books have their place, and any bad change of behavior by buyers is their responsibility, not some evil of slabbing.

    First, Walt, I think your observation is a positive reflection on you and your business. If buyers trust you to grade fairly and price fairly, they are going to feel less need to check the book on their own. My guess is many of your buyers would behave somewhat differently when looking at book from an unknown seller at a con.

    For modern NM- books at fairly low prices, I also would tend to not bother opening them. Almost always these are unsold inventory, and most damage is easily visible by just looking at the bagged book. Sure every now and then there might be a loser, but there is the time vs. money issue.

    For any lower grade low price book, what’s the point? Again time vs. money.

    So we are left with higher-priced books. For me that point is maybe $10. At that point I am again going to make a judgment call based on the seller, how the book is packaged, how it looks, etc. If that all points to a good outcome, I am likely to move my examination price point up. It is a slow process to open a book, and there is always the possibility of damage. I would rather not get into that to save a few bucks, so let’s say the price point in that case might be $25.

    Above that price I think you always should be examining the book. HOWEVER:

    Examining super-high-grade books is problematic, especially for older books. Also, in any case once the book starts to get above a few hundred dollars in value, it starts to get dicey. You are an experienced book wrangler, but most buyers are not. In those cases I generally ask the dealer to go through the book for me. If you are an expert maybe the feel means something, but to the non-expert it is more about the look, and you have to accept that your grading will be approximate. I generally won’t buy an expensive book (>$300 say) on just my own examination, mainly due to hard-to-detect restoration issues, and otherwise I am mainly looking for basic issues like tears/separations/missing pieces etc.

    This is where slabbing comes in. If we believe the grading company is reliable, we get to hire an expert for a relatively small amount of money, and also “freeze” the grade via the slabbing. This means everybody who buys this book on down the line gets the value of that expert grader built in. We can argue all day about how reliable CGC etc. is book by book, but the market has voted on the whole.

    So: for the books that I think should be raw and examined (say $25-$300 range), I agree with you guys that the buyer is doing themselves a disservice, and also missing out on some fun. I do agree that slabbing might be leading people to the habit of not examining, but slabs don’t hurt buyers, buyers hurt buyers. (I am a proud member of the National Slab Association.)

  3. Walt, I do something even MORE RADICAL: sit down, liquor up…

    I read them!!!

    I buy the book, have it sent over and then read the thing and if there’s an issue I bring it up. Honestly I’ve only been ripped off once (Canadian seller on ebay!!! I thought you we’re all nice) but it hurt a lot.

    But everything that comes into this house is read.

  4. Jeff, you are right about CGC conditioning us to just look at the front and back only, for younger buyers it is transferring over to the raw books too.

    Chris, your breakdowns of the books that need to be checked is correct, I don’t even check modern books, I wouldn’t cap an top value though, why not look through a $2500 book if it is offered to you? The CGC grader for hire is also spot on and I’ve mentioned before that I know guys buying blue label CGC 3.5 Golden Age books for say, $290 and then cracking them open for their collections. I was lamenting more on all the old raw comics sitting on dealers walls at cons and in showcases at comic shops.

    Spider, sorry to hear about your Canadian deal that went sour. I know a couple of old time dealers that still love to read the comics, these guys can’t get anything priced up, they end up reading the stories as they try to go through and grade the book. Fanboys!!

  5. I think the best policy is to find a dealer you trust (like my friend Andy of Carry On Comics in Waterloo, who I have known for almost 40 years) and stick with him. I know Andy has done the due diligence and have no inclination whatsoever to handle the product until I get home. Plus, I always know that, upon inspection, if I am at all disappointed in my purchase, he will take the book back and refund my money without question. Good dealers always want to keep their customers happy and will go that extra mile to ensure return business. I bought a copy of Grand Slam-Three Aces a while back and he warned me it was a mite on the funky side, but I was eager to have a copy and took it anyway. When I got home, I found it to be just too rank to put with my other books and took it back. No problem. If you’re a regular customer with a good relationship with the dealer, he is going to trust your judgement too!

    And, Spider, “everything that comes into this house is read” is music to my ears. I have many people who come to my place, look around, and say, “surely you couldn’t have read all of these books.” I mean, why the hell else would I have bought them?! I not only collect comics, but also, antiques (all of which I have “handled”), coins (all of which I have handled…by the edges), vinyl (all of which I have played…many times over) and rare books ( and, yes, I even read that 1659 edition of Cicero’s De Natura Deorum in Latin). No book left unread! That’s my motto, and the main reason I loathe slabbing if you want to know the truth.

  6. I have owned a copy of Amazing Spiderman #20 (first Scorpion) for over forty years, and suddenly it has gotten very hot (like all Marvel comics related to movies). I recently saw an eBay listing mentioning that their copy still had the Spidey Pin-Up poster. Hmmm…does mine? I opened it up and…phew…the poster is there! Then I counted the pages and found that someone had very neatly cut out an entire ad page near the end of the book. This doesn’t affect the story, letters page or pin-up in any way, so I never noticed it before. What it does greatly affect is its price! It’s not only important to check a book when buying it…but also to check it thoroughly before selling it so you don’t misrepresent. Luckily I bought this book for about ten bucks and it’s still worth many multiples of that…so all is good.

  7. Walter, this new format is terrible. I kept looking for comments and saw none…my guy Jeff finally had to talk me through finding the comments—-now clicking through on your rname and then on the “5 comments”. What is the deal? It was so much better the old way.

    We clearly have two schools here, and guys like Spider, Jeff and I, and Mel, we all want to read the book and generally we’re all talking about OLD books, say pre 1965. I don’t believe I’d buy a book for any dealer who didn’t let me look at it. Often, I NEED to look through it, not only to see if it’s graded properly, but how appealing is the work inside. On a Golden Age book, that’s how I buy them. Artists I like? Cool stories? Fun weird stuff? I need to flip through, especially on a high price book I’ve not seen before.

    I’m careful, take the tape off…etc. If they insist on showing me the book, I could live with that, but that just doesn’t happen in my world. Whether its a $25 book or a $1000 book, the dealers I see at San Diego or Emerald City or Torpedo Con, they’re all ok with me looking through the book.

    Unfortunately, there ARE some dealers who push the grade hard, and with those guys I especially will check it out. Sometimes if I’m jammed up, I might not open a book up if its minor, say $50 or $75 book, and I’m buying a stack of books from a dealer I know and trust. For instance, Steve Ritter, World Wide Comics, for example. I always make a bid stack with him and forgo looking through every single book, if I know I want them regardless of content or have seen them inside before.

    Other dealers who I work with through the mail, say MyComicShop and Jim Payette, I trust their grading so much I may get a bunch of books from them and not get around to opening them up for a while, so I can savor them. But I’m never worried about finding a problem, and if I did, even weeks later, I know they will take them back.

    I’ve had to return or get a price adjustment on a couple things recently from Heritage, raw Golden Age, missing a centerfold or a page torn partially out. Someone got very sloppy there, in one very recent case it was a small lot of 1940s-era Tip Tops but still, letting two centerfolds missing slip through, there is not much excuse for that from those guys. But 98% of the time, no problems from them. You expect that.

    No offense to Heritage, but I still believe they grade looser than CGC and CBCS, so I look hard at what I’m bidding on and figure it will come in under the grade once I look at it. Not much, but a little. That can make a marginal VG look disappointing when it seems more like VG- or GVG. Whereas MyComicShop and Payette grade harder, nearly every time, and I generally am more than pleased with the grade.

    Any self-respecting dealer should take a book back, even several weeks later, if a flaw is discovered. And should, for any reason, take it back in 7 days or so for any reason, when you are buying through the mail. That is the way the antiquarian book (rare book) world works, which I am a part of. As long as a customer returns a book promptly, we guarantee satisfaction or your money back. It’s the best way to sell items that customers cannot look over in advance. And the psychology is, once a customer handles the book, they are more likely to keep it, just from the mere fact of looking closer at it. Or sometimes form the pain of returning it!

    That’s why aggressive salesmen (who I don’t like, but understand) want you to pick up a book and take a look through it.

  8. Hi Bud, here’s the old site theme so you can compare; we used an icon for comments. For you, I moved the meta information (author, date, comments) from below the excerpt to above it, like the old site. And added back the Read More button.

    Comic Book Daily old theme

  9. Hey, thanks Scott! You know how us old guys hate change. Well, at least in technology. Thanks for your help and so quick too. You guys rock!

  10. Bud, great to have your input and I knew you were one of those old guards that liked to look through the books. I like your points about you looking through the book to check content, creators etc., well said.

  11. I was wondering how many valuable comics, besides Hulk 181, are subject to damage from the removal of Marvel Value stamps? Were there any other big dollar books that suffered?

  12. Timely article Walt, because… I was in your store this afternoon and asked to see some books in your showcase at the back: including an Aquaman #29 and Secret Six #1. I was surprised that when I asked staff whether I could inspect the back cover and interior pages of the books, as 1 in 10 guys will as you say, all three of your staff members said this wasn’t allowed. This surprised me since this was never an issue in the past. However, instead of walking away as you would have done, I still purchased the Secret Six (but would have felt better being aware of the foxing and small stain on the back cover before purchasing it instead of afterwards – but it’s all good. I like the book).

    However, because of this “policy” – whether you’re aware of it or not – I didn’t consider any of your other books in the case and just cashed out.

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