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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Examples of Hit or Miss Unslabbed Comic Investing

I tell you it feels good to take a break from key issues lists. So, a while back I submitted some comics at the CGC booth at Wizard World Sacramento. There were four, mostly Copper Age with one from the late Bronze Age era. Don't know if you all remember or not.

Well, I got them back a few weeks ago. Was to busy with key issues lists to report how it went. Besides, it's not all that easy to find the motivation to write about disappointments, especially concerning comic investments.

Remember how I've always warned that buying investment comics unslabbed is always a gamble and you're gonna get hit with disappointments sometimes? Well, it seems I mostly got hit with this batch that I got back.

Let's start off with the most disappointing first. My G.I. Joe A Real American Hero #1, which is a late Bronze Age key issue, came back only a VF 8.0. Yes, it's still a high grade copy (lower rung high grade copy), but this is a key issue that's not exactly in super demand at this grade.

That pretty much means a VF CGC graded copy ain't selling all that great. In fact, this investment is a pure loss, and I not only got hit once, but twice in purchasing this copy. 

If you've read earlier posts, I bought this comic in a comic lot on eBay. The lot contained issues #1-4 in a complete run, and cost $40 bucks total. So, I got this copy and each within it for around $10 bucks.

The comic lot run was advertised as NM 9.4 for all the issues in the lot. Highly over-graded as you can tell. VF is not anywhere near a solid NM 9.4. Also, all the issues in the lot were advertised as 1st prints, and issue #2 in the lot ended up being a 2nd print! 

So, I was literally hit twice with this purchase. I would take a loss if trying to sell this copy now. The cost of grading it wouldn't even cover the price of what I could sell it for. So, this one is the most disappointing so far, and this is a prime example of why so many complain about eBay comic sellers and are wary of buying unslabbed copies there. To be honest though, the copy didn't look that low of a grade. I would've at least placed it between a 9.0 or 9.2.

This Copper Age is the 2nd most disappointing from the batch. It's a Copper Age comic and the origin of the Symbiote Venom costume. Right now, a 9.0 VF/NM isn't investment worthy and pretty much ain't selling much higher than the cost of getting it CGC'd. 

The last CGC copy at this grade sold on eBay for $55, but this wasn't an eBay find. I actually got this unslabbed at one of my locals. It was advertised as a NM 9.4, so it wasn't that over-graded like the G.I. Joe #1 I got on eBay. Still, I paid $25 for it and did not get what I paid for.

To be fair, Gerry did buy his unslabbed copy of Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #8 on eBay, and his copy did come back from CGC as advertised, which was a NM+ 9.6. Also, I got this at the same comic shop where I got my Amazing Spider-Man #6, and that key issue came back a 5.0. The ASM #6 was advertised as GD or GD+ when I bought it.

Now, most would consider this being the most disappointing out of the bunch, and there's a part of me that would agree. I was extremely surprised when I opened the box to see the Amazing Spider-Man #300 came back only a 6.5 FN+.

To be honest, the copy looks just as good as the Secret Wars #8. I must have missed something inside the book, or whoever was grading it didn't get any nookie the night prior. Who knows? Judging from this batch, it does look like I need to brush up on my grading skills myself.

Why isn't this the most disappointing out of the bunch? It's because it's the first appearance of Venom and a super key Copper Age book. I could still sell it for a really small profit, which is always better than a loss.

So I got this at the same comic shop I got my Amazing Spider-Man #6 and Secret Wars #8. Unlike the Secret Wars #8, this ASM #300 was really over-graded. It was advertised as a VF/NM 9.0 and cost $50. 

To be fair again, the New Mutants #98 that was sent to CGC in this batch was purchased at the same comic shop, and it came back higher than the grade I bought it for. So far, that's about even over all - two comics came back higher, two comics came back lower from that shop. That's 50%, and the last time I checked, a test score of 50% is a grade of an F pretty much anywhere and for anything.

So, as I've always warned before, be sure to take some hits if you're looking to play the unslabbed comic investing game. Sometimes when grading the books yourself, your own eyes can play tricks on you and over-grading or under-grading is a definite possibility. Also, nobody really knows CGC's grading standards as well.

Only one out of four of these submissions made it to my vault. Sometimes going the cheaper route doesn't pay off, but these are all early purchases before I realized that buying CGC graded copies lowers the risk of comic investing substantially, especially for the more expensive keys.

It would've been a better investment comic purchase if I had bought a CGC 9.6 graded copy of Amazing Spider-Man #300 at the same time I bought the unslabbed copy. I remember the same comic shop did have one that was only $150 at the time. Now, they're selling for around $350 on eBay.

I'm just thankful that none of them came back restored, but I just recently used my CGC Premium Membership four free coupons and sent in another batch. Once again, all of the ones I just recently sent in are from that same comic shop, so that F can either go up, get worse, or stay the same when it comes to selling over-graded books.

Oh well, you win some and lose some.


  1. mayhem this is the biggest fear for me when im looking for a high grade comic at an unslabbed discount. I mean big difference betwenn a 9.2 and and 8.0 for investment value. I always buy graded comics if im spending over 500 dollars unless its an extremely rare comic say, ASM 1, TOS 39, X-men 1 and so on...really cant tell with the eye test what makes a 9.2, what do you think.

    1. Heya JW, it seems like this is most every collectors fear who deals with third party grading services. All part of the game. I agree on getting CGC for some bigger ticket and bigger keys, especially when more money is involved.

      There's some I would still take a gamble on and the problem with more rare comics like the one you mentioned isn't just getting an over-graded book. With ASM 1, TOS 39 and X-Men 1, the biggest fear of buying an unslabbed copy is getting a restored one and paying guide price for it.

      Those books are more likely to be restored, and quite a few restore raw copies and sell them at full guide price. Usually, most can't tell until they get it back from CGC.

      As for trying to gauge what CGC will grade a raw copy is a toss in the air. I've been trying to compare CGC comics with each other, but it really seems to be all over the place. It's extremely difficult to pinpoint their grading standards.

    2. Sounds more like "no nookie" for asm300. I have a theory when it comes to cgc/pgx.
      Every grader is different. I would almost take the gamble to re-submit to cgc elsewhere and I bet you get a different result. I will be pulling a few of my lower graded books out of shells to resend to cgc/pgx. I have an eye for grading and can tell (like you) when I got jipped. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go for it. On a high priced book, the $30 gamble could result in $$$$. And unless the comic was super garage sale cheap, I would always buy slabbed for ASM#1. (ex garage sale $100) lk

    3. Definitely no nookie for ASM #300. I have a good mind to crack it open and give it another good look over. I may send it into another grading company that Gerry just made me aware of. It's started by the ex President of CGC, whom was the primary grader at CGC for a long time.

      It's called CBCS. I may give the ASM #300 another whirl there. Good to hear from ya LK!

  2. It was really brave of you to share your experience. This story shows how tough it really is to judge quality. It takes CGC three people to review a coimc before making a final call. Imagine how hard it is, then, for any single person to do it.

    1. Thank you. Although I know most of us already worry about getting over-graded raw books, I feel it's important to show what can happen on both sides, not just the good but the bad also.

      Even with the good in the Vault Section of TCM, I feature those books not just to brag, but so other collectors can learn how I got them and why. I think it would be highly irresponsible of me to just feature only the comic investment purchases I made that panned out.

      Wow, I didn't know it takes 3 people to review a comic over at CGC. Maybe all three of them didn't get nookie the night before. Kidding. You win some and lose some playing the unslabbed game. Just how it is. No glory without some risk involved.

      Thanks for commenting, always appreciated and welcomed!

  3. Very interesting grades on those books. Especially #300. Would like to see the graders notes on that one. Maybe internal damage? Also, do you think pressing any of these books would have made a huge difference? I have been reading about CCS a sister company to CGC.

    1. I don't think pressing would've made that much of difference for the ASM #300. The cover doesn't have any light folds or crease breaks or anything like that or indents on the cover surface.

  4. Hi, greetings from Berlin again, I appreciate your courage just to show us your CGC-slabs, I really could understand your disappointment, but remember your better purchases like Giant Size X-Men #1, I´m sure your hunt will be successfully again very soon! So keep up your good mood and thanks for all that useful informations! -Sven-

    1. I would be mega pissed. So considering you've been stung will you change your "Investment strategy".

      I really think it's to risky buying unslabbed comics except if your the jedi knight of grading of course.

      I ave got about 40 cgc graded books now ranging from 8.5 to 9.8. and you can't really differentiate between 9.2/9.4/9.6/9.8. So i don't know how cgc can between 9.2/9.4/9.6/9.8/9.9/10.

    2. Heya Sven, long time, man! How you doing across the pond? I'm not all that distraught over it, and you're right. I've had a few lucky snags as well.

      In regards to the other comment, I'm not that mega pissed. These are all comics I got a while, while back before I started gunning mainly for CGC copies. My investment strategy has been tweaked since then, but I still play around with unslabbed copies ( very minimally). I hear ya, it's hard to differentiate between CGC graded copies in the 9.2 - 9.8s, and it is risky buying unslabbed copies even if you're the Jedi Knight of grading.

      Whole point of this post was to illustrate that there is risk involved. I learned from my mistakes with ASM #300 after the fact I bought this extra copy like 5-6 years ago.

    3. very true it's rather a risky business isn't.. I ave bought about 60 books last year when i 1st started collecting and i probaly paid way to much for some. but i can hold on to these babies for 40 years and sell them when i am 65 :).

      Only if found TCM straight away. I did by fluke gets some keys thou..

      I was meaning to ask you? where do you get your information for your key list's.

      Many thanks chris

    4. I did a post on it can find it here:

    5. People act like comic book grading is some kind of exact science. You are paying cgc/pgx for a third party opinion, an opinion only and nothing more. The market holds cgc is high regard but i've had some dodgy books slabbed from them on more than one occasion. I've had 9.8 slabs that were blatently vf- at best, and 9.4 silver/bronze age books that were so overgraded when in reality they were no more than a 8.5/9.0 at best; and i believe have a good eye for grading. These companies like to make people believe that you need to be some kind of expert, imo its a business like any other and is a lot of pretentious bull****. That being said, depending on the price of the book i would rather pay more to buy a slabbed book just to eliminate any chance of restoration for expensive/higher value keys.

    6. I would partially agree. There has to some kind of guidelines. Problem is with that theory is that there are Graders Notes they do take if you pay for the extra service. Problem is most don't pay for that extra service (including myself) and it details some reasons why a comic was down-graded.

      Yes, it is a business just like any other. The comic industry and back issue market is a business just like any other.

      That being said, I just gave my ASM #300 a look over on the cover and back cover and noticed two dings or dents on the very edge of the cover. They were not there before I submitted them. Damn, I should've took pictures of the book before I sent it into CGC.

    7. I agree with you up to a point, there have to be guidelines ofcourse. However, regarding the graders notes I have seen some mighty strange ones in the past that didn't even correlate to the book in hand properly. I remember having a slab with slight foxing on the bottom left corner, graders notes mentioned something about the bottom right corner having a crease when it was infact absolutely flawless, and the bottom left corner wasn't mentioned atall. Cgc have been guilty of shoddy business practice in the past but overall provide a solid, reliable 3rd party opinion, although their turn around times can be delayed. But, the more time i spend involved with comics, the more i find myself subscribing to the epigram "buy the book, not the grade". That being said, i now usually only buy slabbed books if i want a certified high grade of a book, (perhaps one that is hard to find in high grade due to the cover or print run) but first and foremost is to eliminate the possibility of restoration.

    8. That's really strange that you got those graders notes that didn't even pertain to the book in question, but I seriously wouldn't doubt it. In looking closely at the so called VF Incredible Hulk 181 CGC copy I purchased this year, I find it incredibly hard to call it a VF book...well, just from the front and back cover alone. It looks worse than the ASM #300 at 6.5 I just got back. I've mentioned this a few times to my buddy Gerry.

      And with the ex president of CGC starting his own third party grading system can lend more proof to your claim about shoddy business practices. Why leave if he was happy with how CGC was currently running? I do smell something amiss.

      As for restoration, CGC is pretty reliable when it comes that, or so it seems for now. I've converted to mostly slabbed comics with an occasional exception here and there. Restoration is a big problem with really older unslabbed comics. I was just hit with one and had a pretty good feeling it was restored but was curious. I'd hate to have a restored comic and sell it unknowingly to someone.

      Reputation is becoming increasingly important when it comes to comics, and thank God it's getting harder and harder for those who practice that crap to get away with it. I cannot fathom those who knowingly restore a comic and sell it for full guide price, short-sighted sellers looking for a quick fix but screwing up any chance of repeat business. Pisses me off to the Nth degree.

  5. The founding of CBCS is good news in my opinion. CGC are seen as the benchmark and have no real competition as of yet so they can get away with sub par service as they monopolize the comic grading business as it stands. Lol you wouldn't believe it, i bought a walking dead 9.8 slab once and couldnt believe my eyes. Black thumb print on the back, colour loss to the cover, colour breaking creases and even a small chip missing from the spine... and 3 'McExperts' concurred with eachother that this book was indeed a NM+ -_-

    It really got me thinking about when my oldman used to say to me its WHO you know, not what you know. The problem when one company has the monopoly of something and no respected competitors it often leads me to ponder a 'who polices the police' kind of mind set.

    I'm with you on the restoration front, i don't mind buying raw low grade keys ranging from good to fine but when i see the bids on raw keys advertised as high grade, i am always suspicious. Surely if it was that high grade the seller would get the book graded to capitalise on max profit :) ..I know the bidders think they are getting a bargain, but i would not want to risk getting burnt that way.

    1. I think CBCS is a good thing as well, and I will be submitting to them in the near future for sure. Free Graders Notes, and I'd like to know and learn more about what these graders are looking for.

      Funny, I think I was the one who told my old man that line. My pops is definitely one of those fill your head with info kinda guy, study hard, blah blah blah.

      Some are just really against graded copies. They prefer raw no matter if it maximizes profit or not, and they'll sell raw as well. It's just a preference for some. Some are too lazy to submit it to CGC. After all, there are still people going to comic shops to sell their valuable comics.

      Makes absolutely no sense, but they still do it. Sometimes bargains do work out, and sometimes they don't. Just depends on preference, but I agree: I like to minimize risk as much as possible for most comics. Some I'll gamble if the risk is lower monetarily, or if I'm bored and want to have a little fun. These raw comics I got a while back. Now, I mostly gun for slabbed copies, unless I'm dabbling in speculating...which I'm admittedly not quite comfortable with yet.

  6. Always interested to read experiences like this. Like one of the previous posters I was wondering if you'd had the books pressed. A good knowledge of when this can be a useful tool in your comic investment kit is essential these days. Also, I'd recommend consigning these to a auction. I have no affiliation with them but I have watched many of their auctions and consigned a few dozen books and this type of stuff tends to do well there. You might get your money back, you might even make a bit, but you could then wash your hands of the experience and move on.

    1. Didn't have the books pressed. Might look into it a bit more. Thanks for the suggestions.

  7. I am really glad to see that I am not the only one who has been disappointed when opening up a box from CGC! It was like Christmas morning and then big disappointment. THANKS, this article is awesome because it shows BOTH sides of the investing game. It seems like people only brag about their awesome 9.8s and few people have the courage to admit when they were wrong (or surprised, or confused) regarding the grading. Thanks for the great article!

    1. Heya Wiebes...I know what it's like as well to get something you didn't pay for. I think we all have in this beast. I was too hit with a restored copy this year as well. for the bragging part. I don't see the point of doing much of that on here.

      I guess if it were a forum there'd be more bragging, but this site is purely a learning resource and I have no problem admitting my mistakes if others can learn from them in some small way. I'll always report the grades I get back from CGC for each of my submissions or snags in the vault section and what made me pull the trigger and why I got them at a certain time.

      I think most of the readers here also agree and much of their comments also have to do with informing, so I like that. You definitely can't win 'em all, but hopefully this site can help others to win a majority of the time.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Wiebes. Always appreciate it.

  8. Sorry, I apologize, I didn't mean bragging like it was a bad thing... I guess I mean more like "proudly showing off" or taking pride in owning a great high-end piece of comic book history. I guess I am saying that most of the time (like out with friends or at a comic book show) people will be very quick to announce that they found Deadpool #1 for 50 cents in a bargain bin but will never reveal that they got a CGC book back for way less than expected. I like the honesty!! Keep up the great work! - Wiebes

    1. Yeah, I notice that too, and no reason to apologize. I think a lot of collectors like to show off their latest findings with pride more than their mess ups. It's no big deal...just how collectors go. I appreciate both as long as their is something to learn from it.

      If not, it's just banter or small talk, and I'm always happy for those who get great snags or have comics come back higher grades than they expected.