An excerpt from a letter published in the October 1989 edition of Overstreet’s Price Update, which we’ve had a past blog on:
“…I feel some impartial office or ‘council on grading’ needs to be established. I know if I’m buying a $500 or $1000 or whatever book, I wouldn’t mind at all maybe spending another $25 to have the book ‘certified’ or ‘registered’ by the council as Near Mint or Very Fine or whatever. Tell me, who wouldn’t spend the money? Beside maybe cleaning up the industry a bit.”
Remember, that was 1989, and the letter writer was of course talkin’ about collecting / investing in Golden and Silver Age books, that were (or were becoming) legitimately scarce, especially in high grade.
Flash forward to 2000, when finally the Certified Guarantee Company (CGC) was founded, “the first independent, impartial, expert third-party comic book grading service.” And with it, a lot of debate of what premium value CGC grading / slabbing could and should add to a comic. The logical related question: What criteria warrants having a comic CGC’d, or buying a comic that’s already been CGC’d?
Personally, I’m all for CGCing Golden, Silver, and select key Bronze Age books, that are in the “Fine” condition on up. But as this blog is all about Copper Age Comics, my thoughts / tips on slabbing books from the 1984 – 1991 era…
1) If the Copper Age comic is anything less than say a 9.0, forget it.
By the time the ’80s rolled around, collectors (and certainly speculators) recognized comics as not just entertainment, but as collectibles. The importance of keeping comics in optimal condition was well understood, and catered to; collecting supplies were used by everybody, and it was common for copies to go right from the rack and into a bag and board.
With so many Copper Age comics being preserved, and so many titles having print runs into the hundreds of thousands, there is tons of just about everything from the era surviving today in very high grade; meaning, comics that’d easily earn a CGC 9.0 (Very Fine / Near Mint!).
So, anything in lesser condition really ain’t worth being slabbed, as there are almost definitely many better condition copies out there.
Quick example, The Punisher #1 (1987 regular series) shown was found on eBay. Sure, we’ve included this book on our list of Key Copper Age Comics, and unslabbed high grade (i.e. looks brand new) copies today go for $5 to $10. Copies in high grade are easily found all over the place..
…keeping in mind the charge for having a comic CGC graded / slabbed is roughly $30, why have it done on a Copper Age era book that has some wear? The 8.0 Punisher copy pictured probably will never sell for more than the $30, and it might not even sell for $10. If I was in the market to buy an already CGC’d copy of this book (which I ain’t, but anyway), I’d probably go no lower than a 9.6; I’d rather pay like $50 for a 9.6 than $10 for an 8.0. I’m not into buying a less that stellar condition Copper Age comic encased in plastic, with so many high grade copies of that same book out there.
Conversely, if you have an unslabbed Copper Age comic you’re considering getting CGC’d with the intent of then selling it for a premium, highly recommend you take a thorough look at it before you do. Will it earn a high enough CGC grade, to more than make up for the cost of having it graded?
2) If the Copper Age comic is truly rare in any condition, ignore number 1 above.
There are a handful of Key Copper Age Comics that I think would fall into this; what immediately comes to mind is the first print of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, from 1984. The known print run is 3000 copies, so that is genuinely rare…lesser grade copies (unless they’re really beat up) in my opinion are still worthy of being slabbed, given the pop-culture significance and scarcity of the book.
Oh, and while we’re talking scarcity, just wanna get this out: New Mutants #98 (first Deadpool) is NOT a rare book. It’s extremely common, and there’s probably dealers out there with long boxes full of them. I’m serious. Currently there may be an artificial shortage of them, as many people are sitting on copies to see where the book peaks…it’ll eventually come back down to earth, and I’d say unslabbed high grade copies will settle down to the $10 to $20 range, versus the $40 to $60 unslabbed copies go for now.
3) If it’s not a key Copper Age comic, forget it.
There was a mania in the early days of CGC — say 2001 through 2004 — where slabbed NON key books (meaning, insignificant “whatever” issues”) were fetching high prices, simply because they were slabbed in high grade. I’m talkin’ quarter box stuff, that was sent to CGC for whatever reason, came back as a 9.8, and then sold for $100.
The argument could be made that, “Well, according to the CGC census, this is the only certified 9.8 copy in existence, therefore it’s truly rare…” Which is technically true, but then I think both dealers and collectors sobered out of that mentality. I mean, do you really need to throw $100 at a slabbed 9.8 copy of Underworld #2, when you can get a sharp “like new” copy for your collection for under a buck?
4) If it’s a personal key Copper Age Comic, ignore number 3 above.
Unless of course that issue of Underworld is a personal favorite of yours! Let’s take a step back, to the (theoretical) purity of collecting; it should be about the stuff you love to look at, read, display, etc.
On our Spectacular Spider-Man #115 post, we pseudo-defined “personal” key issues: individual issues that aren’t significant in the collecting world, but are personally significant; perhaps it was the first issue of a title you picked up, or an issue that introduced you to a certain artist, etc.
So, if there’s certain “insignificant” Copper Age Comics that you’re personally sentimental / nostalgic about, who are we to tell you it ain’t worth getting a CGC copy of to proudly display? Especially fantastic cover art, that looks great framed in those CGC cases. (Though, yes, there are other and less expensive ways to display your comics in plastic; top loaders, frames, mill cases, etc.)
5) Should I slab my own copy, or buy another copy that’s already been slabbed?
Okay, say you’re a huge Elementals fan, and really want a copy of the first issue CGC graded as a 9.8, no less. You already own an unslabbed copy of #1, that looks to be in very sharp condition. Is it worth sending it off to CGC and paying the $30 to have it graded / slabbed, or paying say $50 for one on eBay already graded / slabbed as 9.8?
If you absolutely must have a 9.8, I’d say pay the $50 for the eBay copy; as whomever had it graded, already “took the risk” for you. You wouldn’t be thrilled to pay $30 for your own copy to come back from CGC as a 9.6 (for whatever reason), and would’ve been better off just paying more to eliminate the risk.
Of course, this is a case-by-case thing, and is up to you what the tilting point is in CGC grade / risk / cost, in making it worth slabbing your own vs. buying a comic already slabbed.
6) CGC comics I own…
Actually, I only own a couple, thus far:
Batman #400, CGC 9.6. Talked about it on this previous blog. This comic is actually very tough to find in ultra-high grade (9.8 plus), so I knew I’d be perfectly content with a 9.6. And I pretty much stole it off of eBay: snagged it for like $25! Love having this as part of my collection, with that Sienkiewicz cover art — front and back — framed in that CGC case.
Platinum Spider-Man #1, CGC 9.4. Considered one of the holy grails of the Copper Age, this is that retailer “gift” variant, with supposedly only 10,000 copies printed. So, that falls into our “genuinely rare in any grade” category. That being said, I wouldn’t have gone any lower than a 9.2. It’s also an example of me reacquiring a book; I owned a copy at one point (not slabbed, pre-CGC) and sold it in the mid-’90s. When my Copper Age Comic nostalgia hit, said to myself, “If I’m gonna buy the book for my collection again, might as well get one that’s been CGC’d.” I also knew that this comic’s cardstock cover was prone to chipping along the spine, so copies CGC graded 9.6 and up would be very pricey. I ended up getting the 9.4 off of eBay for like $110, which I thought was very reasonable. (Just FYI, at the height of McFarlane Spidey fever ’90 – ’91, Platinum Spidey #1 was going for $300 to $1000!)
Up next for me will probably be a copy of the Killing Joke (1st print) in a 9.8, no less. Because of the high quality paper / cover stock used for it, there are lots out there with pristinely sharp corners, microscopic dings. Killing Joke 9.8′s are frequently available on eBay for $50 to $75, so for me, it ain’t a question of if, but when.
Sure, I have my original copy from 1988 that may earn a 9.8, but again, would rather get one off of eBay than take the risk of having my own copy graded lower. Believe me, you can never have enough copies of the Killing Joke lying around…