Crack and Flip

I was at a local shop last month wanting to buy an X-Men #120. The book was certified by CGC as a 9.0 but the slab was cracked and scuffed so I thought maybe I could negotiate a deep discount. But instead, the store owner (let’s call him John) was asking double the market value. John explained that he had just gotten the book and didn’t have the chance to break it out of the case yet so that he could price it as a 9.4.

“What…? But it’s a 9.0,” I replied, “in a cracked case…!”
“Not to me,” he stated, “I’m going to remove it and sell it as a 9.4”.
“But CGC is the standard…” I reminded John.
“I’ve been in the comic business a long time. I’ve got more experience than those guys at CGC… It’s a 9.4 because I say it’s 9.4!” John exclaimed.

Here’s an example of a badly cut book. The right edge is clearly chopped an an angle. Believe it or not, I’ve seen worse achieve a similar high grade. Interestingly, during the early days, CGC use to qualify these books. This particular book used to be a 9.0 with a “green” label.

Needless to say, the deal never happened and I had to laugh. It’s easy to shake our heads and label John as a scum bag… but this is very common practice. Not just among dealers but collectors as well. Buyers with a keen eye know how to spot a sharp certified book, break it out of its case and pass it off as a higher grade book. In my previous write up, I considered doing the same to a couple of books I received from CGC recently. Both my Adventure into Fear #19 and Hulk #141 presented very well for their assigned grade, but got hit due to a light water stain on the back cover, awarding both books a measly 4.5. I felt that these books were comparable to a 6.0 or even higher but evidently not by CGC or Overstreet standards.

Blah, blah
Unlike the Hulk #181 from my previous post, a small amount of distribution that spills on to the cover is acceptable.


Apparently, distribution ink that spills over can still achieve a 9.8.

It was difficult to be upset at John. After all, he is a business man, he has been dealing in comics a very long time and he is free to grade the books as he feels fit. Overstreet and CGC may have their guidelines but it’s not a perfect scale and no one says we have to follow their standards. As well, the results from Overstreet and CGC are often inconsistent, but how could it be otherwise? No one person can grade all the books in the world, and even if they could, mood and frame of mind affect us all. The counter argument, of course, is that John stands to benefit from grading his own book higher, so his judgement lacks objectivity and is extremely bias in favour of his book. And whether you agree with Overstreet or not, it is a bench mark that helps collectors to communicate, unifying the community, much like having rules in sports, so that we can all play the same game. Also, if and when the time comes to sell the book, it would be difficult for me to pass off the book as a 9.4 with the qualifier that “John” says it’s a 9.4. I mean… who the heck is John? Whether he is right or wrong about the grade, what weight does his opinion carry? Still, there is a large group of dealers who refuse to deal in CGC books because they simply don’t believe in it. Perhaps these dealers are stuck in the past but if you’ve been in the hobby long enough, I’m sure you can also understand their frustration with certification.

Blah, blah
A common flaw resulting from the paper accidentally folded over before being cut during production. Nothing that a sharp blade couldn’t fix.

The reverse can also be ethically confusing…

The other book that I discussed in my last post was Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1. In my write up, I state that my strategy in selling this book is to keep it slabbed as a CGC 7.5 so that a potential buyer could not look inside. The book itself is in fairly nice shape but suffers from an overspray of distribution ink. The covers don’t look too bad and but the inside is definitely a turn off. The quirk here is that for some reason, Overstreet and CGC tend to hammer books for having a water stain and yet are forgiving when it comes to distribution ink. I’m not clear why they do this, but I’d much rather have a light stain instead of dark ink. I suspect it may be a case of manufacturing versus handling. If a book is manufactured with flaws, then it is what it is. For example, many Silver Age books have off-set staples but that is simply the result of the technology at the time. However, if book has acquired flaws after having left the printer, then it’s been “damaged”. A condition that is not of the original state and something that could have been avoided. While there is a logic to this rationale I don’t agree with this line of thinking (if indeed this is the case). We all know what a perfect “10” should look like and so I personally think that the grade should be determine by how far removed a book is from that perfect “10”, regardless of how, why and where the book became flawed. In other words, it should be determined by the net result and not the process, even if the process is unavoidable. Other examples of this are miscut books, bad cover wraps and dog eared pages. In all these cases, the certification tends to work in your favour. If anyone disagrees with the grade, you can simply point out that the pros at CGC have certified it as such and no matter how severe the flaw, you can basically leverage CGC’s opinion to help sell the book.

The first appearance of Adam Warlock (as Him) is a hot book these days but difficult to sell with a skewed cover, even at this high 9.4 certification. This example is relatively mild compared to others I’ve seen.

So what are we to make of all this? Well, philosophically speaking I would say that both actions or scenarios are wrong or dishonest since it misrepresents or conceals the truth… but who’s truth are we talking about? We can certainly delve deeper into a discussion of morals and ethics but this is a comic book forum so practically speaking, we all want an advantage. The practice is wide-spread and we also know that CGC often get things wrong themselves. So is it unethical to disagree or agree with them? I don’t think it is, but when we stand to gain from our own assessment it puts the authenticity of our belief into question. That is, are we being honest about what we think… or have we “convinced” ourselves to think a certain way due to a personal bias, or worse, are knowingly lying to ourselves for the sake of a pay day?

This was the subject of controversy on the CGC boards. Most collectors felt that it should have been assigned a 4.0 instead of an 8.0. Definitely a book that you wouldn’t want to crack open.
Upon closer examination, I tend to agree this this book is closer to a 4.0. Many blamed CGC for getting it wrong, while others suspected foul play by way of switched labels.

People are emotional creatures and science has determined that people will believe what they want to believe. In other words, we are deluded and flawed by nature. So, despite my failed attempt to pick up a cheap X-Men #120 from John, I don’t hold any ill feelings toward him. Yes, his judgement is questionable but I think we can simply chalk it up to salesmanship.

No book is 100% free from flaws so I think the solution is to become familiar with the various defects. Eventually, a personal preference will develop but at the same time, it’s important to keep in mind how Overstreet and CGC may assess the imperfections, especially if resale is on your mind. In the mean time… does anyone need a sharp looking Fear #19 or Hulk #141 that looks like a 6.0… or maybe even a 7.0?

Charlie Kim
Charlie Kim

Charlie Kim is a designer who is currently transitioning into teaching. While working for various companies, he helped develop many international brands such as the Hong Kong Airport identity, Lenovo’s sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympics and Lavasa, a new city being developed in India. Locally, he's also worked on the 1998 campaign for the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Innovations stamp for Canada Post and the terrible Grand & Toy re-brand (hey, they can't all be winners). Charlie’s love affair with art and design all began with comics.

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8 years ago

Thank you Charlie for another great article that brings about a great dialogue when it comes to investing in Comics.

Curious about a book that’s on Ebay at the moment that has 2 defects on the front cover (Showcase #37 CGC 8.0 white pages). I contacted the seller of the book, who in my opinion, happens to be awesome and a great communicator. I asked for the CGC notes and he replied that CGC did not have any notes that could justify the grade given. The reason I asked for the CGC notes was because on the front cover there’s a very visible scuff (as if tape touched the book) and a small tear atop of the cover title that really affects the overall eye-appeal. After discussing this with a friend of mine who was once a grader and discussing it a comic book store owner in my area we strongly believe that it should be graded between a 5.0-6.0. I really love the Metal Men and was offering to trade in a rare top graded Canadian dollar bill from 1935 that far exceeds the value of the book for that book and possibly others. Let me know what you think. I provided the link to the book below:

Bud Plant
Bud Plant
8 years ago

Nice work and a well-rounded. look. Though I would still call your dealer “greedy” rather than a good businessman, at least at first blush. Also think that there is supposed to be an innate trust between the buyer and the dealer, if the dealer is offering his expertise. So you are correct, it is conflict of interest for him to break the book open and upgrade it. The most fair way to deal with that is for him to disclose the CGC grade and explain his own grading, Or send it back to CGC for another go-around. The buyer should have full knowledge and make his decision based on who he trusts more, dealer or CGC. When grading gets into the tenths of a point in the 9.0 level, I think there are very few people who can really be counted on for an accurate grade. I don’t consider myself one, by any means.

In fact, I don’t play the CGC game but I do have respect–up to a point–for dealers who do. I buy Golden Age mid-grade books for my own collection and if they happened to be slabbed, I break them open to read them and just keep the label.

I generally find CGC to be reasonable in their grading. I trust them more than I do Heritage, who I buy regularly from on the Sunday nite auctions. But I’m only buying books up to around 8.0, since we’re talking Golden Age. Much of my stuff is 4.0 to 6.0, and sometimes purple label. since I’m more than willing to buy restored books at the right price.

But I most appreciate your pointing out CGC’s myopic view of printing and distribution defects, such the miscut book and distribution inks. In fact, I got a CGC JLA #12 graded 8.0 that had what they must have considered to be an arrival date, but it wasn’t, it was some kid with a grease pencil putting a number in the middle of the cover. I was VERY disappointed (I didn’t look close enough at the scan online, obviously). I left the container intact, and sold the book at a big discount off guide to a CGC fan who was enamored with their grading more than with my complaint.

CGC SHOULD qualify ALL defects, as you say, because a book with such a defect cannot grade at the same level as a book without that issue. That’s bogus. I’d go so far as to at least mention arrival dates–and if they are significant, such as large pencilled dates, or huge “file copy” stamps, they should be qualified.

I think CGC has listened to too many dealers and is serving the dealer community more than the purchaser, in cases like this.

8 years ago

Long time reader, first time posting. I used to collect CGC, but stopped and sold all of my CGC books, with a couple of exceptions. Firstly, I sold the CGC copies because I wanted books that I could read should I want to. Not everything is available in trade, and I like actually reading my collection and take the proper precautions to do so without impacting condition. I think the people who made the books would be glad that they are still being read and enjoyed. Secondly, I started to feel the same way about CGC inconsistencies as a lot of people clearly have. My biggest issue being that CGC doesn’t seem to have nearly as much competition in the comic book grading business. Yes, I know that PGX and CBCS exist but there are just so many more CGC graded books out there that I rarely see books graded by other companies, and when I do they take a price hit for simply not being CGC. Lastly, I have never liked CGC’s pricing model. I’m not going to get into specifics but I think they massively over charge (they charge based on a percentage of fair market value but nobody there has ever been able to tell me how they arrive at the number they think the book is worth. Sketchy.) My only caveat is that I have several signature series slabbed books. I see no way to get around that. If a book is signed then a grading company needs to be involved to verify the signature. For that situation I think comic book grading is enormously valuable. For simply buying and selling books I prefer to hold it in my hand, actually be able to look inside and make my own call. I find CGC inconsistent at best, and at worst… well, the examples in this article speak for themselves (particularly that Amazing Spider-man #5.) This was a great article and thanks for writing it.

8 years ago
Reply to  Charlie

Hi Charlie,
I agree that for buying online it can be just as reassuring as it is for verifying signatures. It is a premium for peace of mind, to a degree. Do you only buy CGC online or are you okay with trusting a different grading companies when purchasing on ebay? I used to think ‘The devil I know’ but lately I’ve seen a couple of CBCS books that look fairly graded. What is your experience with other grading companies been like? I’ve been eyeing this DC Comics Presents #26 on FeeBay and it is a signature series 9.0 but by CBCS.

Mike Huddleston
8 years ago

Great post and very good comments all around.

You will search long and hard for a dealer or long time collector who doesn’t think they know as much or more than CGC and their grading. My own experience with CGC has been mixed. I figure if they land within .5 +- of the grade I expect, they have it right. In all of the CGC books I have purchased and cracked open and the few I have had personally sent in they have achieved about 70-75%. the balance have been over or under my expectations. I only seem to remember the one’s that were under!

Still laughing at that FF#67 you posted.

I might have a deal for you on the Hulk #141, e-mail me when you get a chance.