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Comic Grading Tutorial

View grading tutorials for other collectible types

Comic book grading has evolved over the past several decades from a much looser interpretation of standards in the beginning to the very tight professional scrutiny in use by the market today. In recent years, grading criteria have become even tighter, especially in Silver and Bronze Age books, due to their higher survival rate.

Several events have impacted grading over the years. The first has to be the arrival of comic book conventions. Here, collectors could easily compare and discuss grading with dealers. The second major event was the discovery of the Mile High collection in 1977, which showed fandom true NM/MT Golden Age books.

Probably the most important event to date, however, was the arrival of comic book certification with Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC), which has transformed much of the industry and introduced many die-hard and casual collectors alike to the subtle distinctions involved in grading comic books. This year, the release of the all-new second edition of The Official Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide has reestablished Gemstone as the purveyors of a grading standard embraced by the vast majority of the comic book collecting community. The Overstreet standards, long relied upon by collectors from the professional to the casual level, describe a method for evaluating the condition of all comic books from the Victorian through the Modern Age.

However, there are a group of special books, known as "pedigrees," that have high cover gloss, brilliant cover inks and white, fresh, supple pages that place them far above other books that might receive the same technical grade. Books from these pedigree collections actually transcend their technical grade. Of these, many collectors and dealers agree that the most important collections are the Mile High (Edgar Church) collection, the San Francisco (Reilly) collection, and the Gaines file copies. They are the most sought after and generally the most well documented, making it easier to ascertain identity or provenance. Books from these collections all exhibit the extra qualities mentioned above.

This striking difference becomes apparent when comparing two comic books of the same grade, one pedigree and one generic. In most cases, the pedigree book will far outshine the generic one. This is the reason why Mile Highs, San Franciscos and Gaines file copies bring multiples of Guide. Many also agree that a book from one of these collections could very well be one of, if not the, best surviving copies.

To the beginner, it may seem odd that a 9.2 Mile High will bring a higher price than a non-pedigree 9.4, but to the seasoned collector with a good understanding of the hobby and its historical background, it makes perfect sense. The novice collector should understand these facts and acquire as much knowledge as possible about all the other pedigree collections and their place in the market before paying large multiples of Guide for books that are not of pedigree quality.

For much more information on grading and restoration, as well as photographs of many major defects and conditions, consult The Official Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide. Copies are available through all normal distribution channels or can be ordered direct from Gemstone by sending $24 plus $4 postage and handling. You can also call Gemstone toll free at 1-888-375-9800.

How To Grade

Before a comic book's true value can be assessed, its condition or state of preservation must be determined. In all cases, the better the condition of the comic, the more desirable and valuable the book will be. Comic books in Mint condition will bring several times the price of the same book in Poor condition. Therefore, it is very important to be able to properly grade your books. Comics should be graded from the exterior (the covers) to the interior (the pages) and thoroughly examined before assigning a final grade.

Carefully remove the comic from its plastic bag or Mylar sleeve (if it's stored in one), and lay the comic down on a flat, clean surface. Under normal incandescent lighting, examine the exterior of the comic from front to back, identifying any defects, loss of cover reflectivity or other significant attributes. Check the spine for rusted staples, stress lines, tears, and spine roll.

Check to make sure that the centerfold and all interior pages are still present. The whiteness level of the pages is of major importance in determining the final grade as well. Locate and identify interior defects such as chipping, flaking, possible brittleness, and other flaws.

After all the above steps have been taken, then the collector can begin to consider an overall grade for his or her book, which may range from absolutely perfect Gem Mint condition to Poor, where a comic is extremely worn, dirty and even falling apart.

Numerous variables influence the evaluation of a comic book's condition and all must be considered in the final determination of a grade. Although the grade of a comic book is based upon an accumulation of defects, some defects may be more extreme for a particular grade as long as other acceptable listed defects are absent or less severe. As grading is the most subjective aspect of determining a comic's value - more of an art than a science - it is very important for the grader to take care not to allow wishful thinking to influence the choice of grade. It is also very important to realize that older comics in Mint condition are extremely scarce and are rarely advertised for sale; most of the higher grade comics advertised range from Very Fine to Near Mint.

*Reprinted by permission from The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #34. ©2004 Gemstone Publishing, Inc. Overstreet ® is a Registered Trademark of Gemstone Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.