Grading, particularly by a reputable source is often used to gauge the value of a particular book, and grading by certain companies that authenticate and certify comics books for condition and quality may add to the market value of a particular comic. Many factors are taken into account when grading. Condition of staples, inks, whiteness of cover and pages, clarity and gloss of cover, writing/tape/other damage, staining, rips, water damage/soiling, and any other conceivable type of damage or wear are taken into account when grading is done.
A major drawback to comic book grading is that there is a fairly well-used convention that is highly misunderstood and misused by casual collectors (or non-collectors). This is generally due to simple ignorance or neglect rather than malicious intent, but remaining vigilant is always advisable especially when your hard-earned cash is at stake. Some common instances of misusing comic terminology include words such as "Good", "Fine", and "Very Good", each of which have very specific meanings and connotations to someone who is familiar to the comic book grading scale when used to describe the overall condition of a book. Conversely, words such as "Excellent" and "Great" carry very little meaning when describing an overall book, but may successfully be used to describe very specific aspects of a book. "Mint" is perhaps the worst term of all, being the most misused and misunderstood of all the concepts used in comic book grading (as well as the grading of a variety of other collectables). Understanding the grading scale will help one correctly describe the condition of their books, and to understand specifically what others mean when describing the conditions of their books or the overall grade of a particular book.
This guide is by no means intended to be the be-all end-all source for comic book grading information. Rather, it is intended to be a starting point for anyone who has little to no experience in comic book grading and as a point of reference for comic fans new and old. Anyone who is serious about learning the intricacies of the art of comic book grading is highly recommended to purchase a good book on the subject (For more information see "Overstreet"). Otherwise, your local comic book store is also a great starting point, and can usually be a great place for advice on all things comics.
While there is some small degree of variation on the following grading scheme within the community, the following is a representative of the general consensus on the comic book grading scale.
10.0 Gemstone/Mint GM
9.9 Mint MT
9.8 Near Mint/Mint NM/MT
9.6 Near Mint NM
9.4 Near Mint NM
9.2 Near Mint NM
9.0 Very Fine/Near Mint VF/NM
8.5 Very Fine VF
8.0 Very Fine VF
7.5 Very Fine VF
7.0 Fine/Very Fine FN/VF
6.5 Fine FN
6.0 Fine FN
5.5 Fine FN
5.0 Very Good/Fine VG/FN
4.5 Very Good VG
4.0 Very Good VG
3.5 Very Good VG
3.0 Good/Very Good GD/VG
2.5 Good GD
2.0 Good GD
1.8 Good GD
1.5 Fair/Good FR/GD
1.0 Fair FR
0.5 Poor PR
Gemstone Mint - Flawless in every way. Can be considered a "perfect" copy. Gem mint books occur very rarely, and are extremely rare to non-existent in older books. Gemstone Mint books are the highest grade possible. Some graders will never give a grade of a perfect 10 because they feel that there are no books which have absolutely no visible damage. In some grading schemes there is no Gem mint distinction, meaning that any book that is graded as 9.9-10.0 is Mint.
Mint - Book is virtually flawless. Cover and pages are supple and white without fading. No creases, folds, stains, etc are tolerated. Corners are sharp and edges are cut properly. Staples show no signs of wear and spine has no visible damage. In other words, a book that earns the grade "Mint" is virtually perfect in every way, but for some reason does not earn a perfect 10. This grade is one of the most heavily abused by those that don't understand comic book grading, and assume a book is flawless without any actual investigation.
Poor - The worst possible grade that can be given to a comic book. Damage/Wear to a Poor book is so excessive that the book holds little or no actual monetary value. A book with a Poor grade may have excessive writing, staining, fading, loose or missing pages, missing cover, excessive signs of amateur repair (such as tape damage), severely brittle pages or cover, excessive tearing, flecking, etc. Poor books with little damage (particularly important issues) may still be collectable for reading or for repair of other books.
Grading Terms and Concepts
When grading there are a number of things to look for, and several terms worth noting when understanding grading of comics and other periodicals.
Browning/Tanning - Covers and pages can become stained over years of miscare which can result in whites becoming tanned or browned typically by oxidation, smoke, or other soiling. Browning is worse than tanning.
Dent - Damage that occurs to a book when sharp pressure is exerted. Generally causes structural damage or damage to ink.
Dullness - Lack of light reflectivity of the cover of a book. This is detrimental to the grade of a book.
Chipping - Small pieces of a cover or page being removed, typically smaller than about a millimeter.
Clipping - Wear that occurs on the edge of a book when typically resulting in chipping or creasing.
Corner Rounding/Blunting - Rounded corners generally occur over time as the corner of a book is damaged. This can occur on any corner.
Crease/Creasing - Permanent folding, generally where color/structure is damaged resulting in a line.
Edge Wear - Damage to the sides of a comic book.
Fold/Folding - Permanent fold in pages or cover which doesn't result in color/structural damage.
Foxing - Small orange or brown discoloration on a cover or pages.
Gloss - Light reflectivity of the cover of a book. High reflectivity is prized, especially among older and higher grade books.
Heavy Crease/Heavy Creasing - Long creases, typically longer than 2 inches.
Investment Copy - Investment copy typically does not denote a specific grade of book, but is used to generalize books whose quality is good enough to expect some future gain in value.
Joined Pages - Pages that are not cut apart, resulting from a trimming error.
Light Crease/Light Creasing - Creases smaller than 2 inches.
Migration - Staining that occurs when rust damage on staples moves onto the cover and/or pages.
Mildew/Mold - Fungal damage caused by exposure to excess moisture.
Missing Pieces - May occur when pieces are ripped or torn from age and normal wear. Also includes ads or other pieces literally being cut out, can be as large as entire pages or cover missing.
Fading - Fading and other discoloration can occur when a book is exposed to outside factors such as sunlight.
Fanning/Fanned Pages - Generally caused by spine-roll when pages of comic are fanned out as to be uneven.
Filed Staples - Filing staples is a restoration technique where rust and discoloration is filed off of the staple, making the staples appear to be in better condition than they are. This can be detected under magnification.
Fleck/Flecking/Color Fleck - A fleck is a small piece of color that has been flaked off a cover, typically smaller than about a millimeter.
Pedigree - Sometimes a collection will surface (of a variety of sizes) where books are all in exceptional condition and worthy of particularly high grades that are worthy of being recognized for the collection they came from. Some grading services will recognize pedigree books in the grading. Few collections are recognized as pedigree, but are generally large, are comprised of vintage books, and were purchased by the original owner.
Pressing - Perhaps the most common type of comic book repair/restoration, pressing is the act of applying pressure (and sometimes heat) to a book to flatten it out and improve its appearance. Pressing often occurs in the home, but professional services do exist with specialized machinery to press comics.
Printing Errors - Where some other forms of printing (such as postage stamps which are controlled more carefully) may yield valuable or collectable pieces when printing errors occur, errors in printing comic books generally are not collectable. This may include off-center stapling, staples not going through all pages, folding errors, misprinted pages, covers or pages being stapled upside-down, cutting errors where cover or pages are not even, and other similar factory errors. Such errors will also yield a lower grade.
Reading Copy - Reading copy typically does not denote a specific grade of book, but is used to generalize lower quality (and lower value books). Reading Copy books are worn/damaged enough that they do not make good investments but are still good enough to read.
Repair/Restoration - Ranges from amateur to professional, books may be "repaired" with tape, replacement pages/staples, fixing damages in colors/tears, replacing missing chunks, etc. Sometimes Repair is used to describe improper or amateur work, while Restoration is used to describe more professional work.
Retouch/Color Touch/Color Touch-Up - Repair done to color flecks by using a replacement ink in the damaged area.
Rusted Staples - Staples (particularly in older comics) are prone to rust when exposed to too much moisture or humidity. This may also cause rust staining of the cover and pages around the staples.
Scraped Staple - Repair to rusted or discolored staples by scraping off oxidized or damaged exterior layer.
Shadow - When a portion of a book is covered by other books or other items an exposed portion may become faded or discolored from being exposed to moisture, sun, etc. that the rest of the book is not exposed to.
Smoke Damage - Tanning/Browning caused by exposure to cigarette smoke.
Smudge/Smudging - Finger oil or other soiling generally caused by rubbing with fingers.
Soiling/Staining - Staining damage to a comic by dirt, dust, or other contaminants.
Spine - Edge of a comic book created when book is stapled and folded.
Spine Roll - Caused by improper storage, comics will begin to roll up so that the staples face upward when the book is on a flat surface. In extreme cases the spine will curl over.
Spine Wear - Creasing and other damage occurring on the spine of the comic.
Stamps/Ink/Pencil Damage - Older books (particularly those sold at newsstands) may have been stamped with a date or logo that was not a part of the original publication. Also includes damage from writing by pens or pencils.
Staple Wear/Pull - Staples may cause damage in older books wear the paper or cover around the staple is creased or torn, and in extreme cases the staple is pulled through part of the book (cover and possibly pages).
Stress Lines - Damage to the spine, particularly around the staples caused by stress to the cover.
Subscription Fold/Subscription Crease - Fold or crease down the center of a book commonly caused by folding during postal delivery of a book. Because of the damage to the color a subscription crease is worse than a subscription fold.
Tape - Considered by many to be an amateur restoration, older books may have tears or loose pages repaired by scotch tape. Removal of tape can cause tape stain or residue.
Trimming - Uneven edges of a book being cut to even up uneven pages/cover or repairing damage to the edge.
Water Damage/Oil Staining - The paper used in comic books (particularly older comics) is prone to staining contact with liquids. This may be caused by exposure to water (or other liquids), oils, any of which can stain the page by altering its color and doing structural damage to the paper. Bad oil stains may cause paper to become translucent.
Whiteness - Used to gauge the opposite of Tanning/Browning. The amount of whiteness of cover and pages.
Several companies exist that will offer comic grading services. Some of those also store comics in archival-quality storage cases to prevent deterioration of or damage to books.
Prominent Authentication Services
CGC - Grades comic books and encapsulates them in a hard archival quality capsule. Labels are enclosed with the book to identify features and remarks on the condition of the book including the Volume name, issue number, publisher, important writers and artists, page color, numerical grade, and any other remarks about the issue. Special tag colors are available for restored books, signed books (when signed under the supervision of a CGC employee), or books with serious defects.
PGX - Offers grading and encapsulation in a hard archival quality capsule. Label is inclosed with the Volume name, issue number, page color, numerical and grade name, and any other remarks on book quality. Remarks are made on the tag about the location of creator signatures, but PGX does not verify signature authenticity.
Books sealed and authenticated by such companies often command a greater value on the market. There are many reasons for this which include the trustworthiness of the grade, any major defects or restorations being noted, and (least importantly) the inherent value of the grading service and the protective case itself.
There are mixed feelings in the comic book industry about the repair or restoration of comic books, and what it does to the value of the book. Generally only used on older books, repairs or restorations can range from rips in pages or covers taped back together, to professional quality restoration of paper, inks and colors, staples, and covers. Restorations may also include using pieces of multiple comic books of a similar era to piece back a book (such as the staples of one book) or to fix torn areas of books. Impact on the value of a book depends on many factors, but a book with significant damage that is old, rare, expensive, and highly sought after may fetch a higher value on the open market after quality, professional restoration than with damage present. Most professional authentication services will do very close and detailed inspection searching for signs of repair. While this may not effect the grade of a book significantly by such services, the remarks on the extent, quality, and area of repair are generally noted on the certification by the company.
While there is no industry consensus on Restoration of comic books, purchasing restored books is a matter of personal preference.
As with repair of older comics, there is no accepted standard of what signed books will value at rather than unsigned books. Books with little significance may be relatively unaffected by the existence of a signature. Value of a book with some significance, by a person of some significance may add to the value of a book. Signatures typically do not have much (if any) effect on comic book grades as long as the signature did not cause any damage to the book. Signatures and messages generally occur on the cover of a book, but occasionally occur within the book, particularly on the first page or the inside of the cover. Some creators will take great care to sign in an area that does not obscure a particular portion of the cover (such as the artwork or title), while some generally sign in those areas, and some will sign most anywhere on the cover. Most creators will otherwise still sign where requested by the collector.
Another common practice is to have one of the contributing artist of a book do a sketch (generally accompanying the signature) on the book. These also vary with respect to size and quality. Occasionally (although rarely), publishers will even put out variant covers of comic books with blank areas designed specifically for this sort of customization. Again, this typically will not effect grading of a comic book. Value of books with sketches vary in a similar manner as signed books, and value for either will depend on the creator's contribution to the book, the creator's contribution to the comic book industry (and to a large degree their popularity), location, and quality. There is a small number within the comic book community that sees either signatures or sketches on comic books by creators as a detriment, and will factor this into grade or value. The general consensus is that neither is bad in their own right.
The Overstreet (short for Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide) is one of the largest and most trusted names in comic book grading and appraisal. Gemstone Publishing releases periodically updated copies of their guides. The Price Guide, currently in its 37th release, features information on the ten point comic book grading scale, as well as approximate values of thousands of American comic books with different values for the different grades of each. The Grading Guide features a much more detailed guide to learning the 10 point grading scale with full color photograph examples of every major defect available, as well as information on grading books from different History of Comics, a suggested restoration scale, and a variety of other information. The Overstreet is available in softbound, hardbound, and ring-bound formats, and past issues of the Overstreet have gained some collectors value themselves (and values of previous editions are listed in the book).
Overstreet is certainly not the only guide available for comic pricing or grading, however it is one of the most prominent and well respected publications available on the subjects. For those serious in grading and appraisal, Overstreet is a great place to start.
More information can be found on Gemstone Publishing's website at: http://www.gemstonepub.com.
Other appraisal sources exist, including online sources such as ComicsPriceGuide.com, a website which has detailed values of a variety of comic books from various countries including values in various conditions with CGC certification. For anyone that does not want to sink the money into a copy of the Overstreet Comic Price Guide, ComicsPriceGuide.com can be a useful resource when trying to decide whether you should bid on that online auction, or approximately how much you should expect your own books to be worth.
More information can be found at: http://www.comicspriceguide.com/default.asp.
It is the hope of the author(s) of this page that since you have read over this material you will have a rudimentary but working knowledge of comic book grading and appraisal. Before investigating the topic further, precaution is still advisable when trying to describe books, particularly those you intend to sell. Likewise, just because you understand the basics of comic book grading does not mean that everyone else does (or intends to use them correctly). Also, while there is a fairly detailed standard of comic book grading that is commonly used, grading is difficult to do well and consistently. A NM from one grader or grading company may be only given a "VF" by another, a sizable difference in both approximate condition and value. When entering into a transaction remember to always supply detailed pictures so that along with your description a potential buyer can make their own judgement on specific flaws, damage, and strong features of a book. Likewise, when attempting to purchase a book (particularly in an online environment, and unless the source is trustworthy) you should obtain detailed pictures of any flaws or damage to form your own opinion before making a commitment.