Grading Companies Not To Blame For Misuse

Know your business comic buyers….and you won’t get ripped off.

This article is not intended to identify or elaborate on all the evil that Comics Guaranty LLC (CGC) or Professional Grading Experts (PGX) have brought to the world of comics.

If it were, it would result in an entire series of columns picking over the fine details of price inflation, questionable grading practices, running a pressing business on the side, questionable business ethics and other activities that have been observed since “professional grading” of comics made the scene in 2000.

Nope, this one is about how dealers, independent collectors and “flippers” as well as others involved in the many aspects of comic peddling have manipulated the grading companies for their own nefarious schemes.

Before anyone mentions the obvious, I already know that anyone can ask any price on anything they want to sell. But if you want to be successful in selling an item, you had best list a reasonable price.

I planned this article after seeing ridiculous antics involving the buying and selling of graded comics online – particularly eBay.
One of the most notable abuses I’ve seen is expecting “professional grading” to result in making a book “worth more. ”

Presumably, “worth more” than its corresponding listing in the Overstreet Price Guide.

As you can see by some of the photo samples I’ve posted with this article, eBay sellers have sent off very low-grade books or books hot off the shelf to CGC and then have tried to hawk them online for far more than what the book is worth.

Reality Check: a book graded 2.5 – or any other grade for that matter – is not “worth more” just because it comes in a clear plastic case – other than the price of the grading.

This particular example also carried a $50 price tag. Near Mint minus for Captain America 148 is only $22; a 2.5 only goes for about $2. What makes the seller think a book is “worth more” only because it’s in a clear plastic case is beyond me.

Batwoman $50One guy wanted almost $40 for a 7.0 copy of “Batwoman No. 1.” I know where you can get one for $2 in near mint condition. Look in the dollar box at your local comic shop.

I love to watch these things go off unsold into eBay’s “Twilight Zone” and I see that very, very often. Apparently there are a lot of smart buyers out there that are saying “NO” to these shenanigans.

Sure, if there are some that do think a book is worth more just because it’s been “professionally graded,” go ahead and buy it. P.T. Barnum said there’s one born every second.

Another way in which I see the “professional grading” misused is sellers expecting the buyer to pay the entire cost of the grading. I think the buyer should only have to pay half of the cost of grading a book. That cost should be shared by both the seller and the buyer; unless the buyer is willing to pay it all.

Back to P.T. Barnum again.

When I buy a graded book online, either the seller pays half the cost of the grading or there is no sale and I encourage other buyers to demand the same conditions.

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Tom Berry
I’m a career journalist with the Mayfield Messenger newspaper in Mayfield, Ky. I’ve read and collected comics since I was nine years old. I have a collection of about 1,400 books ranging from the Golden Age to some of the latest on the shelves, but primarily Silver Age because that’s the period in which I was first exposed to comics following “The Green Hornet” TV show.
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25 Comments

  1. I have to agree wholeheartedly with paying more simply for a grade which an experience buyer and seller both know already. but i never bought into that racket. I like to look at my comics.

  2. Tom, I take offence to being called nefarious. I find your write up highly judgemental and patronizing. You provide no rationale and you fail to explain how one system is any better then the other. It’s not that I disagree with you regarding CGC but how are you choosing one evil over the next considering the same stuff happens with un-certified books.

    This is what I think: Like most collectors, I think you are living in the past. You are unable to shake old habits and unable to accept simple truths. We’ve discussed these truths before so I won’t reiterate the details. If you chose NOT to see them, then that’s your prerogative. But to rant about it while insulting aggressive sellers by suggesting they are evil, manipulative or having nefarious schemes is a big pile of steaming BS.

    Evil is not limited to CGC sellers. It permeates society and it’s a shared responsibility. I’ve never read the Mayfield Messenger but the most ridiculous aspect of your write up is… you are a JOURNALIST! Where is the objectivity, the support… or train of thought?

    Not worthy Tom **I’m wagging my finger at you here**

  3. I haven’t gotten into getting comics graded yet, but I know all about the eBay Twilight Zone.
    I usually check prices on comicspriceguide.com rather than Overstreet. I was interested to learn only recently that, for some of the lower graded comics (espeically the more recent ones), the price they give for the slabbed version is usually less than the raw. I think that is fair, don’t you?

  4. This is obviously an opinion piece and we should welcome everyone’s opinion whether we agree or not.

    I think manipulating any situation is natural, we look at the way things are set up and then try to figure out ways to make best use of these set ups for our own personal gain. Can’t really fault anyone for trying.

    That said there seems to be a line many of us think shouldn’t be crossed. Most of us “seasoned” collectors have a sense of what something “should” be worth and by “should” I mean the price that could be attained over and over again all things being equal. No harm in trying to squeeze out an extra 10 or 20 percent I guess so we “the old guard that morally police these sales in opinion only” have little issue with books selling for a bit above our comfort zone.

    Our response to this so called “Twilight Zone” I think reflects our personal beliefs that any person uneducated enough in the market to hit that “Buy it Now” at those what seem to us ridiculous prices will later suffer a financial loss and we kind of don’t want that to happen for reasons that include us see ourselves as nice guys and that we think these types of sales will hurt out market in the long run.

    As far as who pays for costs of grading? The grader will pay the costs of grading and try to get it back when he or she resells the comic. Sometimes the graders will succeed other times they won’t. Up to the buyer I guess whether he or she wants to also pay for the grading service.

  5. With only one selective example sited in this write up, absolutely this is opinion only. I think most people on this site welcome opinion. However, what I take exception to are the unwarranted insults and the judgement that seem hypocritical considering there are plenty of examples of Overstreet misuse as well.

  6. Me too Grendel. I have some CGC books, but the ones I don’t want to crack open I have lower grade copies of.

  7. Sorry Charlie. I see this stuff and I go %$#&&! Right now I think CGC is a necessary evil. They have been successful in cutting out some of the “nefarious” schemes by dealers trying to bilk their customers; particularly at the high end. I’m an idealist, I guess. I believe in honesty and it irks me when I see this sort of thing.

  8. I with you on that Walter. I’ll only pay half of the cost of grading. I think I’m also trying to show some that want to sell this type of material at a very high price that they are probably looking at a loss if they throw the cost of CGC grading in with a book that’s not worth half what it cost to grade it.

  9. Hey Charlie, I posted two and could have posted more. Probably should have. Both samples are examples of what I see the most. Low grade older comics being sold for far more than they are worth just because they are in a plastic case and new comics right off the shelf slabbed and put up for sale at ridiculous prices. This kind of activity may be avoided by those that know better, but to newcomers it could be a very negative experience that may lead them away from comics ie. the people that got bilked back during the 1990s crash. We need to point out these misuses for the good of the whole comics community.

  10. Hmmm. Slabbed comics costing less than the “raw?” If that’s true I’d buy it; if I only paid half the slabbing price. I also check comicspriceguide. I think it’s very reliable. For an “up to date” estimate of worth, you can also go to ebay’s “Completed listings.” That will show you what a certain book in a certain grade has sold for in the past. It’s not perfect either, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect when selling on ebay anyway. Of course, timing is very important when selling on ebay. Target evenings on the weekend for you sale to end. I’ve paid as little as $4 for a $100 book because the seller allowed his auction to end at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning. (Star Trek No. 4 Gold Key, VF)

  11. You make very reasonable points. I share your dismay at seeing inflated prices just because an item has been given a CGC grade, especially for low graded or common issues. On the other hand, I have learned quite a bit about what makes a comic a VF or an NM- by reviewing CGC’d comics at Cons or comic shops. I don’t buy CGC comics because, well, the ones I really want are just so far beyond my budget. So I’ll have to brave the waters and hope that my skills are good enough to spot a high grade comic. I like your posts, so do continue to share your thoughts. Now, if someone can tell me the difference between a 9.8 and a 9.6…I just can’t see it. Should there be a 9.75?

  12. There is no one more critical of CGC than I. Despite recent events, I still feel that the CGC market is a bubble that hasn’t been deflated enough. However, if dealers and sellers chose to behave badly, this has little to do with CGC or the comic market. Bad behaviour is part upbringing, part choice and it’s symptomatic of the bigger societal issues.

  13. For every CGC example you post, I can match it with a non-CGC example, which is why I don’t believe your concern to be a CGC issue.

    Personally, if I have something that is special to me, then I’ll probably ask more for it cause that’s what it will take to pry it out of my hands. If I want to unload something, I’ll sell it cheap just to get rid of it. I think this is simple human nature and we all know how emotional collectors can be.

    Who’s to say what comics are worth anyways… it’s only ink on paper. Where books like Action#1 and Det#27 may have historical significance, 99% of comics is pretty much junk and not all that rare in relation to the market. I don’t worry about newcomers because I don’t believe there are any… not in significant numbers anyways. The back issue market is basically a ponzi scheme, passing around the same hot potato till the baby boomers start dropping in significant numbers. You’re not the only one who will be selling their books and despite the recent run up, I think dudes like Doug Schmell did the right thing by dumping half their collection.

    I would argue that the non-certified market is actually more risky, having to rely on the opinion of the seller whose natural bias is to over grade their book. While I appreciate your contribution to this site, I think you need to look deeper into the cause and effects. Also, human behaviour is not limited to comics. Looking at other collectible or investment markets (like sports cards, art, equities, stamps, cameras and coins) can be very revealing. While no one can predict the future, simple stats and observing trends can offer clues as to where the market is headed.

    If we know anything from human history it is that it’s all happened before… and it will all happen again because people are creature of habit.

  14. I agree entirely Alan. I have very few CGC books compared to what is called “raw,” which is a misnomer. The book is what it’s all about, not someone’s opinion about the grade and the plastic case. I’ve been grading for going on 40 years and I’m pretty good at it. That’s why I don’t necessarily have to have a “professional” do it for me. But, right now, that is part of the market we have to deal with. I’m just trying to temper it a bit by pointing out abuses in the market. As for the difference in a 9.6 and a 9.8?…..from what I can tell it’s any kind of small blemish ie. a dent almost too small to be seen with the naked eye or an slightly dog-eared corner.

  15. It’s definitely an issue involving CGC, but the point of the article is that CGC is not to blame for how sellers use the service to try to escalate the “worth” of comics they have to sell. The two examples I posted are the two I see most often….over and over again. Low grade, almost worthless, books peddled for 10 times or more for what they are worth just because they are in a plastic case, Charlie.
    I can understand you point on sentimental value. I have many comics I would not part with for anywhere near what they are worth, they are only worth a buck or two, because they are important to me. But on the market, sentiment doesn’t count for much unless you encounter someone that loves that particular book as much as you. But most won’t pay for sentimental value (I have a collection of Now Comics Green Hornet where the family relationship and passing of the mantle from one Hornet to a descendant is involved. No way I’d sell those for the $3 they are worth on the market)
    I think I pointed out in the article that I already know that anyone can ask any price for a book they want. But if you want to sell it, most likely you will need to list a somewhere near the market price.
    I’ll have to agree with you on the number of new comics collectors and buyer, there’s no ground-swell that is for sure, but in my area there are a lot of new customers, according to owners of Crash Comics and G’s Comics of Paducah and Murray, Ky. I give advice often on what to buy when it comes to collecting back issues. However most want to buy off the shelf.
    One thing I agree totally with you on is that the non-certified market is riskier than the certified market…..unless you know what you are doing. One positive with the grading companies is they have helped to cut out some of the “nefarious” dealings of comic dealers taking advantage of their customers. There is so much pressing, restoration and other things going on today to increase the value of comics (particularly at the high end) that you can really get ripped off if you didn’t have access to professional graders.
    What I’m primarily trying to do with the article is point out ways grading companies are misused by some sellers, whether dealers or not. They have the right to do what they are doing and both you and I have the right to question and criticize what they are doing. That’s the way the market works best.

  16. Fair enough Tom, but I think the term “misused” is then misleading. Why should a certified book, which costs time, money and risk be priced similarly to it’s raw counter part. Weather the certified book should be worth double, triple or 10X the value of a raw one is up for debate but at the very least, it should be worth the cost of certification + book. If you want to pay only half the cost of certification, then I’d say go try getting your dollar bin book certified yourself. You’re more then welcome to take on the risk of getting an 8.5 for a book was probably mishandled by people thinking it’s a cheap book. As we all know, if a modern book isn’t a 9.8, it simply isn’t worth the plastic.

    By your logic, this would also mean that books influenced by movies are way over priced. Why should Hulk#271 sell for 100X it’s value just because Rocket Raccoon is going to be on the big screen. The book has not changed… it’s the same book that I picked out of the dollar bin!

    Or by extension, signed books and pedigree books would also have to be looked at. Who the heck is Don Rosa and why should I care that this guy owned my book once? What value do these things serve? You see… it’s all perception. Stan’s scribble does not make my book any better… if anything, it makes the book worse. But, as long as their are signature fans out there, as long as there are CGC fans… one’s mans turd is another man’s treasure.

    I would say your buddies at Crash Comics and G’s Comics have a vested interest in convincing people that the market is growing (sound familiar? *wink*), which is why I recommend sourcing your own info. When it comes to collecting, people lead with their hearts. But when it comes to finances, I always recommend that people use their heads instead.

  17. Don’t get me started on this pedigree nonsense Charlie. The only history I’m interested in is the history of the book. I would value a signed book by the writer or artist, but not a lot. I couldn’t care less who owned a book five minutes ago or 50 years ago. I see the activities I wrote about in the article as harmful and a continuation of unnecessary price inflation. Your last line is the best “When it comes to finances, I always recommend that people use their heads instead.” Good advice.

  18. By the way Charlie, I’ve made some progress on Silverwolf and I’m going to be writing an article for Comic Book Daily about it soon. Most of the progress is on the origin story; not so much the art, but I’ve definitely brought the character into the 21st century and I think I’ve got a great origin story to tell that involves Japanese history, mysticism and legend all in one package.

  19. First, its probably never a well crafted article to spend the first 100 words of your article explaining what the story is NOT about. Also Im still not sure if what you planned to write about (the ridiculous antics of buyers and sellers online) was what you actually wrote about. Your article seemed to be more about how CGC has negatively affected the market rather than how some in the market misuse CGC.

    When we were collecting comics in the 20th century, a service like CGC would have made far less sense because 95% of our purchasing was done face to face, and with book in hand. There was the small percentage of mail order purchases made, but by in large it was done with the book in hand where the buyer could make their own assessment of the books condition. During that era we had many occurrences of unmentioned restoration done by collectors and dealers in an effort to “sweeten” the condition of the book (how many black markers were used to touch up those black covers, or those margin lines?). You had to rely on your own eye with the book in hand. Now more and more books are being sold online either through a dealers own website, or (more likely) via ebay. Here there’s no chance to hold the book in hand, and look through each page noting any tears, discoloration, or restoration work that has not been disclosed. As a result CGC has found a market where (relatively) uniform grading, with slabbing (to ensure the grade listed is for the book in hand) and a restoration check allows a buyer to purchase from the wider market without having the book in hand. CGC has probably been the largest cause of successful ebay transactions, along with paypal and buyer protection policies. Most consider purchasing raw books on ebay to be a significant gamble, even when the seller shows a number of scans/photos. On a few message boards they typical expectation is only to actually get what you paid for about HALF the time! That means the other half of the transactions invlove dealing with returns, refunds, re-packaging, and trips to the Post Office. Not very appealing huh? But when you buy a certified comic, you get what you expected at a much greater success rate.

    Would you prefer to buy a used car with an independent certification (from a reputable provider) stating the condition of the car’s engine, or buy one with no certification? Now for some cars, it would not matter (a beater is a beater!) but if you were spending significant money wouldn’t you want it checked out? Maybe you know your way around a car, and thus don’t feel the need to pay a small markup for a certification, but if you don’t, and these certifiers were reputable, wouldn’t it be beneficial? That is what CGC is (in part) doing.

    Now to the matter of the eBay sellers trying to sell books for the cost of slabbing, when raw copies are plentiful. When I see a seller unloading CGC 9.4 modern slabs for the cost of slabbing (and typically seeing them not sell) I assume that they were trying to submit a NM/M copy for a 9.8 or higher grade. I think there are many amateur graders/slabbers who get the “wake up call” with their first submission and see that the “perfect” Batwoman #1 (or Captain America 148) that they sent in was graded a 7.0, and then try to dump it (typically at the cost of slabbing). The market generally walks right past that seller (just as we would walk past a seller at a con with long boxes full of overpriced comics). I don’t think any seller thinks that Batwoman 7.0 is worth $25, they just know that they are into it for $25 and are trying to get out of their mistake undamaged. Would this seller be a better person if they had listed their un-slabbed copy of Batwoman #1 as NM/M and sold it for $4? Both of your examples that led to your fist waving at the sky went unsold. So the market works. People buy what is valued (and valuable), and pass by on that which is not.

    We can create a non-CGC example that would be comparable to you Batwoman /Captain America scenario. Customer buys a Golden Age copy of Thing #17 for a VF price, say $300. She takes the book to the local shop and comic professional who looks over the book and gives the sad report that the book contains multiple color touches on the cover along with some glue and tear seals the buyer didnt notice. Dismayed, because she wanted an unrestored copy, she lists her copy for sale on ebay for $300 to recoup her losses, even though the book (which she discloses is restored) is now only valued in the market at $150. Is this overpricing any different than the Batwoman #1 example? Both sellers are trying to recoup their spend, both are asking more than the market will pay, and both will see their book go unsold. Both losses occur because the comic owner was not skilled at grading (if you consider restoration checks as part of grading, which I do).

    To say, as you do, “the book is what it is all about” is to ignore the decades of collecting in this hobby that has placed a premium on better condition copies over lesser copies. The book, and its condition is what it is all about, right? Otherwise Overstreet (and every other guide and dealer) would not bother to differentiate values by condition.
    But I think you meant that the book is more important than the condition, not the book alone is what is important.

    You don’t mention a few aspects that ARE beneficial from a professional grading service like CGC. First and foremost, professional restoration checks. As people look to profit more and more from their comics, it becomes more and more important to be able to know exactly what you are buying. A professional restoration check helps in that matter (and the slabbing of the book after that point further increases the accuracy of that check). Also for high grade books, I appreciate the increased piece of mind in books being slabbed. Customers looking at books cant accidentally tear a page when they are removing the book from its mylar (so they can do their own condition assessment). Its not JUST about the grading service.

    Rail on, but know that the behavior you are likely seeing is the act of a seller trying to recoup his submission fees after learning the hard truth that they are not a very good grader. And that is not a CGC issue (anymore than the guy trying to get $15k for his rusty Studebaker is a Ford issue), that’s a seller not understanding the economic principle of a “sunk cost.”

    Or are you proposing that CGC should be responsible for educating the sellers market on how to properly price books that have been CGCed?

  20. What a miasma of mixed up thought Charles. I understand and agree with some of it, but don’t know what the point is in the rest. If you didn’t get the message I was trying to put out I’m sorry, but I think I made it quite clear. The point was that the seller has the right to do whatever they want to do and I have the right to question it. Is there something wrong in that arrangement? If the seller had used a little common sense in the books they submitted they would be forced to have to recoup their fees. Forewarned is forearmed.

  21. P.S. A pedigree does not always mean better condition. Of course, whether to pay more for a pedigree is up to the buyer. Personally, I won’t, but if someone else does that’s their business. I’m speaking out concerning elements in the market that are driving up prices unnecessarily. I have the right to do that and I’m doing it.

  22. Just in case there’s any confusion… I’m not Charles, although he makes some very good points.

    This is a moot discussion. People and corporations have been using promotional techniques for ages… why should the comic market be any different? What Tom refers to as “misuse” is a basic marketing tactic. If two pieces of plastic helps sell a product… then heck, why not?

    A quick browse through eBay can reveal many other marketing tactics from sellers:

    • The best 9.4 around!
    • Top page quality, White Pages!
    • Signed by Stan Lee!
    • Bright rich colours!
    • CVA certified!
    • Rare, not many around!
    • Highest graded!
    • Only 3 graded higher!
    • From the Rocky Mountain collection!
    • Below guide!
    • Free shipping!
    • Movie coming soon!
    • Investment opportunity!

    There is nothing nefarious about this, unless you want to make the argument that advertising in general is manipulative… in which case… YES IT IS! Either way, none of this should be a surprise to anyone and is overstating the obvious.

    ie; Just because something is NEW does not mean it’s really IMPROVED.

    In the words of Don Drapper… “New creates an itch…”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoKtk8L77-U

    I think what this article is really about is that, Tom values Overstreet numbers more than CGC. Tom grew up with Overstreet so he has a difficult time letting go. Understandable, I guess since change is difficult for most people. Personally, I never got on the Overstreet band wagon and prefer to use GPA only because it’s a record of actual sales. However, even GPA sales are relative. That is, all comic value is based on the opinions of a small group of aging old men that publish the annual guide. I chose GPA because it’s more reflective… a reflection cast by, yes… Overstreet.

    See what I mean? It’s a moot discussion.

  23. If an art print is framed is it worth more? Should the price of the frame be included in the overall price of the sale? Does that frame preserve that print against browning from acid damage?
    Modern comics, with shipping to cgc, cost about $22 to be graded. I don’t see why you shouldn’t ask for $30-40 for a modern graded non key book. You bought it, shipped it, paid for our cgc account, had it graded, listed it on eBay, and then shipped it again. Is it unreasonable to be paid for our effort? If you want to pay $2 for ungraded books, cool man! You can do that. Don’t cry on the Internet about what new collectors are doing or where this market is heading. It makes you sound old and amateurish.

  24. I don’t know what this guy is talking about, but it was about 10 years ago!
    Fact is graded books are here.
    Fact is whether or not YOU assess their value as not being higher, the buying public does!
    Fact is that when buying non-graded comics, buyers have been very disappointed at the condition it is received compared to the sellers’ estimate of grade, or after sending in for grading, find out it comes back with a much lower grade than advertised.
    If there were no nefarious raw comic sellers inflating their projection of grade, there would be a lot less people relying on graded books to make sure they recognize full value for the book.
    If you want to stay in the raw world, do so, but just because you don’t like the way the graded market developed, that doesn’t just make it wrong.
    Yes, there are nefarious dealers of raw and graded books.
    They are all doing the same thing, trying to earn a profit.
    Nothing wrong with that.

    P.S. If I can lose a few hundred dollars after professional grading knocks down the grade I was expecting, than I can make a few hundred dollars by selling an item for more than listed value.
    Btw, that is how a market works. If someone is willing to pay more, that is the new market value of the book.
    If someone is willing to pay less, than that is the new market value of the book.

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