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Thursday, March 6, 2014

CGC Comics versus Unslabbed Comics


Ah, the controversial debate about CGC Comics versus unslabbed Comics. Which is better? Quite a few do like to argue that it's all subjective, but I'm going to challenge that notion.

First, a story. One of my local comic shops changed ownership a few years ago. Apparently, a previous customer bought an unslabbed Incredible Hulk #181 from the previous owner. I don't remember the grade, but I'm assuming it was around VF or VF/NM. 

Well, the customer submitted it to CGC, and the sucker came back restored. By this time, the previous owner who sold him the book was already gone, and the customer began harassing the new owner, saying the new owner was responsible regardless and blah, blah, blah.

You can probably guess the lesson of that story, so I won't go further into it. I'm not saying that happens all the time, but stories like that do happen enough for a multi million dollar company like CGC to even be created and be successful.

I am gonna say that in terms of comic investing there is no subjectivity. CGC comics outperforms unslabbed comics in almost every aspect. Almost every aspect.

The number one argument I hear or read constantly is that all grading is subjective. Uhmm...no, grading comics does have definite guidelines. 

For a VF comic, color break creases are not allowed. Creases are when a section of a page, cover, or back cover gets folded. Think of how some people fold pages of a book to mark where they're at. It's the same kind of crease in comics also.
Color break? Color break on a cover is when the fold in the paper is a hard crease that turns a different color. It's usually a white line. The picture to the left shows two  creases that breaks color.

VF comics do allow a quarter inch crease if it's barely visible and does not break color. These barely visible creases are very light and often cameras do not pick them up. They're more like slight bends. Got a comic in which a crease breaks color or has a barely visible crease (not to be confused with spine stress marks) larger than a quarter inch and your comic is lower than VF. Sorry, no subjectivity about that.

Things like that are definite. NM+ 9.6 comics and above must have the original staples. No swapping the staples out. If you replaced a vintage comic's rusty staples with newer vintage staples, the most the comic can be is VF or solid NM 9.4. Grades up to FN for golden, silver, or bronze age comics can have staples replaced with modern staples, but if you replace the comic's original vintage staples with modern staples on a golden, silver, or bronze age book, the most it can be is a FN. 

Once again, sorry, that's not subjective. And if we are talking about subjectivity, why do most unslabbed comics sell for less than their CGC counterparts?


It's because there is skepticism still. There's skepticism that the seller may have over-graded the book. There's skepticism that the seller may or may not know the book is restored.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have my comics sell for a couple hundred dollars more than a couple hundred dollars less. I want to get exactly what I'm paying for when I invest in the comic, and I want others to know exactly what they're paying for when I sell it.

Getting unslabbed comics is a gamble for the very reasons I mentioned earlier. Buy an unslabbed Hulk 181 at NM, only to submit it and have it come back restored? Talk about a huge loss. Pay for a NM+ 9.6 unslabbed Amazing Spider-Man #129 and have it come back from CGC a low VF and you overpaid a couple hundred bucks.

Am I saying you have to buy CGC comics? No, they are more expensive than unslabbed comics after all. One aspect that raw comics beat out CGC comics is that you can usually get them cheaper and for a better deal.

Trust me, I know how it is when you come across an unslabbed comic and the deal is too good to pass up. I've done it quite a few times, and I think most can remember the nerve racking posts I wrote while waiting for my ASM #6 and Giant Size X-Men #1 to come back from CGC.

I do admit the feeling of having an unslabbed comic come back from CGC better than you thought it was going to be is a lot more thrilling than a CGC comic purchased off eBay finally arriving at your doorstep. However, there is no nerve racking weeks of anticipation and dread in purchasing a key issue comic already CGC graded. But like I said, the thrill is no different than the same thrill you get when you gamble and win.
 
Unslabbed comics can be a painful gamble for older comics, and it can be rewarding as well. Gettin' an unslabbed key issue comic for $100 at FN and having it come back from CGC a VF or higher can add instant profit and return, depending on the market demand for that key. Fortune does favor the bold, but failure favors the bold as well. 

I still think getting an extremely valuable, unslabbed comic that ends up coming back from CGC a higher grade is a risk. Let's flip the script on my Giant Size X-Men #1 and say it came back with the dreaded purple label restored. I paid $700 for it, and the current market for a non-restored 9.4 CGC is around $1500. So 30% of that, which is the ideal value and does not mean I'd get that much, is around $350. Instead of making an instant $700 or so return on investment (I did pay to get it CGC'd after all) I lost an instant $350 and would have to wait how many years later for the value on that key issue to go up in value to break even on the investment. If that comic was $10,000 or more, I would've lost big time on that investment.

It is a matter of numbers. Sooner or later, you could be hit. I've been hit plenty buying unslabbed comics on eBay and having them be grades way lower than advertised. I've yet to be hit with a restored copy yet, but I'm definitely not one of those, Oh, that won't happen to me, kind of people. Not saying I won't be pissed when that happens. Just saying I won't be too surprised, and the only person I do have to blame is myself for taking that risk.

Yes, there is risk in comics as an investment, just like there is risk in any kind of investment. It all depends on your preference and how much you want to risk when investing in a comic. Getting CGC = safer risk! Unslabbed = more risk!

But what boggles me are those who do invest in comics, yet get unslabbed, valuable key comics and refuse to slab them. They have a major dislike for CGC graded books. Why? What's the reason for keeping it unslabbed? I don't get it, especially for really valuable comics. To read them? You don't read really valuable comics unless you want to degrade them further. 

Another drawback to that mentality is: The exact same reasons mentioned in this article about unslabbed comics are the same exact reasons that will hamper you when it's your turn to sell your raw comic. You'll have a higher percentage of that book underselling its CGC counterpart due to skepticism.   

When it comes to investing in comics, there's very little excuse to hate CGC comics or getting them graded. Selling your investment comics is a factor to keep in mind when investing in comics, and getting the most return from an investment should be an important concern too. So far, CGC comics trumps unslabbed comics when it comes to that, among other things as well, but don't take my word for it. Let's see some examples:

Amazing Spider-Man #129 9.6
  • 2/6/2014 - (Raw) $1057
  • 1/19/2014 - (CGC) $1750
  • 12/19/2013 -  (Raw) $968.88
  • 12/12/2013 - (CGC) $1699

Incredible Hulk #181 9.4
  •  2/18/2014 - (Raw) $2000.85
  • 2/26/2014 (CGC) 3111.26
  • 2/6/2014 (Raw) $2300
  • 1/26/2014 (CGC) $2800

Of course, I could go on and on. The gaps between unslabbed comics and CGC comics aren't just off by a few dollars for high grade, in-demand keys. If that were so, it wouldn't be a big deal and I wouldn't even be talking about it. However, they're off by a few hundred dollars. So, I don't get the major I hate CGC comic logic out there.

Once again, I'm talking in terms of comic investing, not comic collecting, and definitely not comic speculating (pure gambling). If you're just straight comic collecting, it doesn't matter. Just keep buying what you like without much thought. If you're comic speculating, keep playing the comic book lottery without much thought as well.

However, if you truly are investing in comics, the factors I brought up in this article are things to keep in mind. Like all advice, you can take it or leave it.

31 comments:

  1. Very good point. Anybody that is looking to invest should buy cgc just because it makes it the least risk free aproach in many ways. You haven't got to worry about handling them with your hands and possibly damaging them and of course people are gonna take a bigger risk in investing in them when you sell them.

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    1. ^^^
      I meant most Risk free lmfao.

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    2. Hey there and thanks for the comment. I just want to bring awareness of what can happen with unslabbed comics and some of the risks. Some will still prefer unslabbed comics, and that's fine as well. Some can't afford to buy CGC comics, but can buy unslabbed comics cheaper and CGC them later. That's not a bad strategy. I've done it, and I'll still do it from time to time with key comics that are less in demand.

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    3. Don't get me wrong. I ave bought a lot unslabbed comics but i wouldn't go over the £20 mark.When your spending money on high grade comics in the excess £100. You've go to make sure if you know what i mean.

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    4. I know exactly what you mean and totally agree. Gerry and I were talking about that on the way back from Wizard World Sacramento. It looks like I'll be worrying a bit about my unslabbed comics I just submitted to CGC, but it'll be more about the grade than being restored. Thanks for chiming in on the discussion. Always appreciated. So how goes it across the pond?

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  2. can you comment on your belief in the differences between the CGC and PGX services?

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    1. I personally have nothing against PGX, but most in the market do. CGC is obviously more trusted. A lot of PGX copies sell for less than their CGC counterparts as well on eBay, and that's the main factor that I attribute to most are skeptical of PGX. If they're weren't, those copies would be selling on par with CGC copies. That's really the only aspect I do not like, so I don't bother with PGX most of the time.

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    2. Howdy!

      On a similar note, I have been hearing quite a bit about CBCS. As far as I know, there is nothing against them like the (supposed) scandal with PGX grading. In fact, I have heard that CBCS is a tougher grade than CGC. I was speaking with a person at the last comic collectors show in Omaha and he was saying he liked CGC because they returned easier grades. NOT that CGC is bad or cheating or whatever, but in his experience CBCS holds extremely tightly to guide standards.

      Do you think there is a problem with going CBCS? I am looking to start submitting books. I own some CGC and I think 1 PGX, but those were purchased and not submitted. I think CBCS is less expensive, but if they do not carry the same market value then it does not really matter if I am saving $10-15 per book to grade when they will be selling for much less than their CGC counterparts. I believe I might have answered my own question, but being new to having books graded I figured I should ask.

      As usual, your articles and insights are wonderful and appreciated!

      - Craig Coffman

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    3. I don't know much about CBCS yet. Gerry likes them and used them a few times. I only sent in my first batch recently and have yet to receive them.

      CBCS is new and I predict that in a few years they will be on the same par as CGC. Gerry just recently told me that CBCS also has a brief guide of what they look for in certain grades on their site. CGC has nothing like that. CGC has lost my business since they increased the Premium Membership from $125 to $150 and took away the 4 Free Standard coupons an instead give you a $150 credit.

      It's great if you have a lot Modern Comics to send in, but sucks if you have Golden Age, Silver Age, and early Bronze Age pre 1975. Since I don't have a lot of Moderns, I'll be using CBCS because I don't want to wait no 75 business days using their Economy Service.

      But, you did answer your own question.

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    4. Thank you for your thoughts :) That sucks about the change is CGC policy. That was a very alluring factor when I started considering things last year.

      As a follow up to grading / protecting books, how do you store them? I live in Omaha, where it can get muggy during the summer. My house has AC and the books are in as cool / dry area as possible. I read about your vault and am wondering what that might be? Perhaps it is a term and not a real thing, but as my collection grows in value, I am considering storage / protection / preservation. I know about the special paper to use, bagged / boarded / away from light / etc., but other thoughts would be interesting.

      Thank you kindly for your time and insight :)

      - Craig Coffman

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  3. I like your posts about cgc books but would like to ask if you could post about the yellow labels. Are comics worth getting them signed.

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    1. I sure can do that, and thanks for the request. I'll get working on that asap.

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    2. Thank you TCM. I have several Signature Series and albeit my reasons for having them autographed is not for monetary value but the driving force behind the comics. Stan Lee may have been the face of Marvel but what about the unsung heroes who actually contributed to the comic whether artist, writer, inker..... These are people whom I believe have deserved very little credit for their contributions. I have heard Stan Lee this, Stan Lee that but what about the unsung heroes of the comic book world. Every Signature Series book I own has been autographed by one or two of these people. Nevertheless, I profoundly believe that these people deserve so much more credit that Stan Lee. Don't get me wrong Stan Lee might have started it but it was the little people who brought the characters to life. I understand that Stan Lee signature may increase the value of a book to a certain extent but what about the little guys. My reasons for collecting SS books is to honor the artists, writers, inkers... who have contributed so much.

      RG

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    3. I have one SS comic. I'm not all that big on the SS. I have nothing against them. The first comics I ever got graded were SS CGC with Geoff Johns signatures. You do have a point about some comic artists getting little credit or little love...Ron Lim comes to mind. Highly undervalued comic artist, even in the industry.

      Stan Lee signature comics are becoming way over-saturated in the market place anyhow right now. A Todd McFarlane SS comic is a lot more rarer. Oh, well, signature comics is pretty much preference anyhow.

      Thanks for your insights and comments RG...always appreciated.

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  4. I have to admit that I was very hesitant to buying CGC books when they first appeared in the market. I have been collecting comics since the 70's and old school at that. Like many of us from this generation, comics thrilled us with stories and introduced to a whole new world of imaginary superheroes. I've come to appreciate the art and stories of Steve Ditko, John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers and all the other wonderful artist and writers of the Silver/Bronze Age. Yet, the one thing that matters the most to me about comics is certainly not its monetary value but its preservation. I have many comic book boxes and starting to slowly get them graded especially my Silver/Bronze/Copper age for I have NO Modern Age. I have come to believe that although I'm not thrilled with having books graded but it does help with the preservation. I currently hold 160 CGC books mostly Silver Age and key issues which I am very proud of. This is one of the benefits of living through the 1970's. I am much older now but will continue to collect as long as there is breath in me.
    RG

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    1. Hmmm....you grew up during a great time of collecting comics, and that's awesome you've kept collecting over the years.

      i do have to say that there are comic holders out there that mimic the CGC holders if you don't really care about the grading aspect of it and are just concerned with preservation. They're much cheaper as well.

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  5. Thank you for the feedback. I just recently received a shipment of CGC books that I submitted during the Austin Comic Con 2013 and had all for comics signed by Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil. How I enjoyed talking to them. Sure brought memories.
    CGC 9.4 Batman 232
    CGC 7.5 Batman 234
    CGC 9.4 Green Lantern 86
    CGC 8.0 Green Lantern 87

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    1. Wow, you got a lot of goodies there. 9.4 Batman #232 and Green Lantern #86!!! That's an amazing haul, and double signed by Neal Adams and Dennis O'Neil! I need a bigger budget.

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  6. I have a question I hope can get answered. Im thinking of buying a CGC 9.8 Iron Man #282 for $135, although unslabbed 9.8s appear to be roughly $20. Im more of a long term invester as well as a collector, I like to display my investments and when I buy a comic I dont read it, I slab it and put it on my display shelf right away never to be touched again (I have no windows in my library so 0chance of sun exposure) Would the CGC #282 be a better choice for me? I have never purchased a CGC comic. Thanks in advance, love your blog :)

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    1. That all depends on whether you're sure you can get an unslabbed copy that will grade a 9.8 by CGC from where ever you've been buying comics. Iron Man 282 is a modern age comic, so you'll have less of a chance of getting a comic that's not high grade. Have you been getting unslabbed comics and having them come back 9.8s from CGC so far?

      If you can knowingly get the exact comic you want (including grade) for cheaper, I'd always say get it cheaper, but if you can't and you want the peace of mind of knowing exactly what you're paying for, then go CGC. There's always a gamble of getting a lower graded copy than advertised with unslabbed copies, especially online where most sellers lack on pictures.

      Personally, I would get a CGC copy, because I don't have a trusted source where I can get unslabbed copies that grade accurately, but that is just me.


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    2. I have never sent a comic to be CGC graded, I grade my own with what i believe to be strict standards, Until reading on here I never had much desire to pay someone what I do myself. I buy all my comics online since I live in a rural little lake town the nearest "local" shop is about 2hours away I try to get there when I can and I know 1 of the owners personally, but I make it there maybe 1 time every few months. The reason I wanted IronMan #282 as my first CGC graded comic is Ive been trying to snag as many 1st appearence/Key's as I can, and the cover is just sick lol. I have been thinking of planning a trip to ComicCon Ohio this year just for CGC lol. Ive only been collecting for about 6months but as everone here keeps saying it looks ive been at it for years, when I caught the comic bug I caught it BAD lol. Most people where im from dont understand why I would "waste" my money on comics and not buy a new pick up truck or garage tools lol.

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    3. Iron Man 282 is a hot book right now. It's a good one to snag at 9.8 because I fear it will just get more and more out of reach as the years pass. I had to ask because I wasn't sure whether you've been getting your books CGC'd or not, and whether (if you did) they were coming back 9.8s.

      Only 6 months? Damn, you're off to a great start. A lot better than my first couple of years collecting comics, and I hear ya about catching the bug bad. I start jonesing when my budget is gone. Don't worry, there are people here who think the same about "wasting" money on comics and blah blah blah. I hope you do make it to ComicCon. Conventions are fun and sometimes if you shop around, you can find great deals or haggle your way down to a decent deal.

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  7. Yea its too bad I didint get into it 2 years ago when I was in the military, I was at a base only about 45mins from Serasota,Fl. When I saw that the CGC HQ was in Serasota I got a lil sad/sick inside like reaallllyyyy??? Lol

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    1. Damn I'd feel a little bad too, especially since the price for shipping they charge ain't cheap.

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  8. This is a great article. I have an interesting (at least I think it is interesting) question for you - I bought a Silver Surfer #1 at a comic book store about 25 years ago for $30. Yahoo! I sent it in to get CGC'd. I was hoping for a 5 or a 6, maybe a 7? I was mortified and feel like a dummy. It came back today as a 2.5... restored! Yes... 2.5 is a kick in the nuts, and the purple seal is the icing on the cake. Now hey, I bought it for $30 and it was like $50 (including shipping) to get it CGC'd. So just wondering: if I was to sell it, would it be better to sell it as a 2.5 restored or just crack the case and sell it raw? (It looks nice in my opinion, but jeez what do I know!!!) - Wiebes

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    1. There is no point in cracking the case open unless you plan on suckering someone by selling it raw and not telling them it's restored and over-grading the comic at what you think it is. I would sell it restored, simply cause I don't want that bad karma and word does eventually come back to you if you're a douche like that and actively selling. I've never condoned asshats doing that, and unfortunately they do it often, which is why I'm still wary about buying raw copies. It's the price you pay if you want to take the risk in raw copies.

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  9. Yes I totally agree - I feel that it is dishonest as well. I guess that is the risk that people get when they buy unslabbed but knowing (as the seller) that it is restored and hiding it is not honest at all. I appreciate your take on it - keep it up! - Wiebes

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    1. Well, if you want to take your chances...you can crack it open and send it into another third grade party to get a second opinion like CBCS. But you have a high chance of them labeling it restored too. I'm sorry that happened to you and 25 years ago didn't have CGC, so basically collectors like us back then had a great chance of getting screwed over cause all there were were raw copies. You can see the need for third party grading parties.

      As much as I love comics and the back issue market, it is a dirty business. Lots of dishonest people doing all sorts of shady things....both on the seller and buying side.

      I heard of one guy who buys covers to old comics and then gets reprints. He then takes off the reprint cover and attaches the old comic to it and sells it as a first print for lots of dough. There's one guy who buys high grade raw copies of silver age comics, comics he has low grade copies to and then asks to return the item after receiving it, stating it was not described accurately in the listing. He then sends back his low grade copy and keeps the high grade copy he bought and the seller is forced to refund him also. So basically, the seller loses out big time. This all happened on eBay, and eBay protects the buyer more than the seller.

      There's a lot of ways to get screwed when dealing with RAW copies on eBay for both buying and selling valuable vintage comics. There's also quite a few with ethics and don't knowingly pull stuff like that or know they're selling a restored copy, but it's still pretty scary.

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  10. The major problem with a slabbed CGC book is that now a regular joe can't afford to buy the book because it's guild value may be say 250 dollars but it's slabbed counterpart is asking 5k. I guess you can say it's not CGCs fault that resellers are gouging the eyes out of most of the collector market. The hobby, like unfortunately everything else in the world today is going to the upper 1% of the wealthy and the rest are left with the crap. It does make sense on one hand to have a book graded and slabbed if it is a valuable book but on the other hand as a collector who likes to open his books gingerly with respect and understanding of how to preserve an unslabbed book there is a loss of that sensation of traveling back in time to when that actual book sat on a news stand and was bought all those years ago. When CGC first started I was all for it with regard to holding sellers accountable as to what they sold and protect the collector from the sellers who were not on the up and up. Unfortunately although it started out that way it has just turned into a way for sellers to now rip us off in a different way by saying hey dude check out this NM book that sells usually for 5 dollars but now it's 500 because you know you are getting what you really want. What I really want is my NM graded book for a proper premium. The market has been turned completely upside down for collectors. Speculators and resellers though are getting rich. Well I guess I will stop ranting before I become even more incoherent but my point to all of this is that the “hobby” of collecting comics to read and preserve them as some did in years past is gone forever and that is sad.

    Signed,
    Concerned Collector (Not a Speculator/Reseller)

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  11. I've been collecting comics for over 40 years, what is an unslabbed comic book mean?

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  12. Great article but I wish you would have covered the cost of slabbing into the equation, such as, is better buying a certain book (for example, FF #5 at 7.0) raw and then slabbing it yourself, or simply buying the same book/grade slabbed? What is more economical? People who don't slab much or at all could use this info, who aren't used to CGC's pricing.

    Plus, as far as ebay goes, buying raw books from a seller that offers RETURNS is essential. I am always skeptical of a seller who says things like "I am not a professional grader" and "what you see is what you get" with only a few pics. With a return, if the comic comes back a low grade than advertised, no problem. It's happened to me more than once, but the return policy covered me.

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