Comic Book Grading Standards

by Chuck Rozanski
MINT
We do not offer to sell comics in "Mint" condition. Many of the comics we sell as "Near Mint/Mint" would qualify as "Mint," but we will not try to separate them as a category. Why? Because "Mint" is a standard that is too difficult to define. All comics have some flaws. They are produced in factories, by indifferent workers, in huge production runs. The odds of a "perfect mint" comic getting through that process are infinitesimally small. From our perspective, that makes trying to identify them and market them an impossible task. Collectors of "Mint" comics all have their own personal standards of what defines "Mint" and what reduces a comic to "Near Mint." An almost unnoticeable flaw will pass the standards of some "Mint" collectors and not others. It's just not commercially viable for us to try and second-guess people who go over their comics with a magnifying glass. So we do not even try to sell comics to that audience. If you desire "Mint" comics only, we strongly encourage you to seek out another source for your back issue needs.

NEAR MINT
All the comics we receive that are in exceptional condition fall into this category. For the most part, they are comics that are unread or were perhaps read once. This is a choice collectible and would meet the standard of the vast majority of collectors. Here are some other specifics:
Tears: Only a very minor (1/8th inch or less) tear might be acceptable.
Corner Bends: Only allowable if hardly noticeable.
Spine Stress Marks: Only allowable if very minor.
Staples: Must be nice and tight, including the centerfold.
Writing: Only small arrival dates are allowed.
Rubber Stamps: Not allowed in this grade.
Tape: No tape of any kind allowed in this grade.
Pieces Missing: In a rare instance, a very minor tip of a corner might have been nicked in the production process. But it must be very minor to qualify as Near Mint.
Fingerprints: When noticeable, they reduce a comic from Near Mint to Very Fine.
Waterstains: Not allowed in this grade.
Browning Paper: In either the interior or exterior, browning usually involves some measure of downgrading. But in a rare instance an otherwise sharp comic might have very light browning and still qualify as Near Mint. This is particularly important when grading old 12-cent comics which have had plenty of time to oxidize. We are pretty picky about browning, however, and only allow this grade when the browning almost undetectable.
Folds: No significant folds or fold lines are allowed in this grade. A very minor fold might pass if it was both very light and only in an outside corner.
Spine Rolling: Not allowed in this grade.
Off-Center Printing: Only allowed if hardly noticeable.
Cover Scuff Marks: Only allowed if hardly noticeable.
When grading for Near Mint, we look for any or all of the above flaws. If more than one of the above allowable flaws appears in the same comic, we almost automatically downgrade to Very Fine. It is our intent to screen comics in this grade to just the best we obtain.

Please note: for those of you who send older books in to CGC for professional grading, we only guarantee that our NM graded books will come back with CGC grades ranging anywhere from 8.5 (VF+) to 10.0 (Gem Mint). We actually believe that all our books in our NM category are at least 9.0 (Very Fine/Near Mint) by anyone's standards, but our experience has been that CGC grading can vary dramatically from day to day. If you were to receive a grade on a book you purchased from us, after January 1, 2003, that was graded as NM that came in below 8.5, return the book to us and we will refund you your cost, plus your cost of CGC grading.

VERY FINE
Very Fine is a category we have recently added to take into account the close scrutiny that higher grade books have been receiving in today's comics market. Under the standards of pre-2000, almost all of these books would have been classified as NM. Since the advent of professional grading, however, there has been increasing attention paid to comics with even very minor flaws. That being the case, we have shifted our standards to be even more picky, and now shift comics with very minor, but noticable flaws into the Very Fine category. Here are specifics of Very Fine:
Tears: One up to 1/4".
Corner Bends : Only if barely noticable.
Spine Stress: A few very fine spine stress lines are allowable in this grade.
Staples: Only very minor wear or stress tears allowed.
Tape: No tape of any kind allowed in this grade.
Writing: Only arrival dates on front cover, or very small interior (or back cover) notes, such as a person's name, or price are allowed.
Water Damage: Only the very lightest of humidity yellowing (foxing) would be allowed in this grade. Absolutely no water stains.
Browning: Only very slight browning is allowed in this grade, but dust shadow lines (if small) are acceptable.
Rubber stamps: Neatly placed date stamps are allowed.
Missing Pieces: A very tiny front cover piece up to (1/16" square) or a slightly larger back cover piece (1/8" square) are allowed to be missing on an otherwise beautiful copy.
Folds: It is not unusual for comics in this grade to have some very small corner folds.
Fingerprints: Only one, or at most two, barely noticable fingerprints allowed. While this category allows for many minor flaws, it does not allow for them in combination. If, for example, a comic had a small tear and two very small (but noticable) corner folds, we would then probably lower the grade to "Fine."
Taking into account the capricious nature of CGC grading, comics in this grade can be expected to grade out with CGC at 6.5 (Fine+) - 9.4 (Near Mint). If you receive a CGC grade of under 6.5 on any book you purchase from us, after January 1, 2003, in Very Fine, return the book to us and we will refund your purchase price, plus the cost of the CGC grading.

FINE
Comics in "Fine" are priced significantly less than those in Very Fine and for good reason. They will all have some sort of slight flaw that, in a some way, detracts from their overall appearance. At the same time, however, it is generally recognized that comics in Fine are still considered by most collectors as "investment-grade" books. For collectors seeking very nice comics, without the extreme cost of Near Mint or Very Fine, Fine is an excellent alternative. Here are the specifics of Fine condition:
Tears: One tear up to 1/2"only.
Corner Bends: This is one of the most common flaws of otherwise Very Fine comics that drops them to Fine. This flaw is usually the result of a shipping box containing comics being dented on the corner while in transit. That's why we use specially designed shipping boxes that have reinforced corners. Corner bends are a noticeable flaw, but not a big deal.
Spine Stress: Many comics in this grade have spine stress marks. These are usually the result of comics having been in "spinner" racks. Those are the racks you see in grocery stores. Non-collectors often bend over comics to see what is behind them, thus causing stress lines on the cover that can be quite noticeable. If they are not too bad, the comic is still considered a Fine. If the entire comic has been bent in half, we drop it to "Very Good."
Staples: A comic in Fine can have a little wear around the staples, but no rust, no loose centerfold, no major tearing.
Writing: Only very neat, very small writing would be allowed. An example would be if someone penciled a small price on the inside first page of an otherwise excellent comic. That's not a big deal. But grease pencil or names on the cover are verboten.
Rubber Stamps: On the front cover only, a neatly placed international price stamp would be allowed. And this only if the comic were otherwise flawless. The only other stamp allowed on the front would be a small blue star. These were placed on comics by some newsstands to signify that a comic had been sold. Most comics sold in Stars & Stripes newsstands at military bases have this star. If either of these stamps were to appear on the back cover, that would also be allowable, but the standard for other potential flaws would not be as high. For example, a comic with a blue star neatly printed on the back could also have a small staple tear and still be a Fine.
Tape: No tape is allowed in the Fine condition category.
Pieces Missing: Only if less than 1/8" square.
Fingerprints: Only when very minor and not ugly. Comics with solid color covers, such as white or black, can be particularly effected by fingerprints. CEREBUS, for example, is a comic that often has fingerprint marks due to the heavy inks used in printing the covers. Too many noticeable fingerprints downgrade a comic to Very Good.
Waterstains: No waterstains are allowed. One slight flaw we've seen from comics stored in areas of high humidity, however, which we do let pass in Fine condition, is slight back cover corner discoloration. At first glance this marking looks like the the comic has been exposed to water at some point, and dried without any warping or wrinkling. But after years of seeing this same discoloration, we're convinced it's just a humidity flaw. It still drops the comic from Near Mint or Very Fine to Fine, but it isn't significant enough in our eyes to merit going all the way to Very Good.
Browning: Light browning is allowed both on the covers and the interior of the comic. But absolutely no brittleness must be present.
Folds: After corner bends, this is probably the most common flaw of the Fine category. A very pretty comic with a corner that was neatly folded over at some point is a Fine. But the comic itself cannot have been folded in its entirety.
Spine Rolling: Not allowed except if very minor.
Off-Center Printing: Slight printing deviance is allowable if otherwise very nice.
Cover Scuffing: A small amount of scuffing is allowed, and is rather common on comics with dark covers. But it cannot be excessive in the Fine category.
Those are the main points of Fine. We need to emphasize, however, that not more than two of the above mentioned flaws can appear in the same comic. When grading gets to Fine, you start operating on a point system. A couple of minor flaws might be allowable, but no more. And in some instances even a second flaw can drop a comic to Very Good. We recognize that this very subjective, as is all grading, but our standards have proven in the past to exceed approximately 70% of dealers operating in the business. About 30% have higher standards than us, and might disagree with certain comics under certain circumstances, but that is always a possibility in any collecting field. We work hard to not overgrade or undergrade. Given that only about 1 out of 1,000 comics we ship are returned to us we think we're coming pretty close to industry standards.

VERY GOOD
This is the most common grade that we see comics in that are from the 1970's and early 1980's. These comics have been read. Often, quite a lot. They show considerable wear and have many flaws. But they are firm, tight comic books. They are not significantly damaged in any way and are still a nice collectible. Except for very rare material, however, they are not considered "investment-grade." But, then again, the prices for comics in Very Good are quite reasonable. For many collectors it's better to buy stacks of comics in this category rather than just a few pretty comics for the same money.
Tears: Several minor tears, or one major tear are allowed.
Corner Bends: Allowed.
Spine Stress: Usually evident, and always allowed, unless the entire comic has been bent in half.
Staples: Lots of wear is allowed, but not any actual tearing. Staples must be attached both at the outside and the centerfold or the comic becomes a "Good." A minor bit of rust is allowed, but not if it stains the cover or interior pages.
Writing: Small, neat writing is allowed on either cover or the interior. Scribbling, large grease pencil, magic marker, or any other significantly offensive writing is not allowed. Allowable writing includes a person's name, a small price, or in the case of old Gold Key or Dell Comics, the writing of the issue number on the cover. But it must be done very neatly or the grade drops to Good.
Rubber Stamps: International price stamps are allowed on a comic that would otherwise grade out as Fine. Star stamps are always allowed. Name stamps or store stamps are allowed only if on the back cover or in the interior and if small and neatly placed. Overinked, large, or crookedly placed store or name stamps are not allowed. Nor are any store or name stamps on the front cover.
Tape: This is an area of great controversy. Most dealers will allow a small tape repair in the Very Good category. We used to not allow any tape at all in the VG category, but upon reflection it really makes no sense to totally downgrade an otherwise VF/NM book to "Good," simply for having a very tiny amount of tape in one hidden spot. We are very, very reluctant to waive our prohibition of tape in this category, but once in a great while we do cross that line. But only when the book is otherwise quite beautiful, and the tape does not in any way mar the appearance of the book.
Pieces Missing: This is a fairly common trait in the Very Good category. A nice comic with a piece up to the size of a standard postage stamp torn from one corner. We allow this. But if a comic is very worn, and also has a piece missing, we drop it to Good. Slight edge damage is allowed.
Fingerprints: Allowed unless they include some external material. Fingerprints resulting from oil on someone's hands, for example, would be a Good.
Waterstains: A single small (very small!) droplet is allowable. Or a very minor stain at an edge or corner. But it's got to be hardly noticeable. If you can see a waterstain without having to look carefully, you've got a Good comic.
Browning: Almost all comics in this category that are more than ten years old will have some discoloration. But, as in Fine, there can be no brittleness.
Folds: Almost all the comics in this category will have some cover folds. What we do not allow are subscription creases (where the comic has been folded in half down the center for ease of shipment by the publisher) or folds that tear into the spine of the comic.
Spine Roll: Allowed if it's not excessive.
Off-Center Printing: Allowed.
Cover Scuffing: Allowed.
Again, bear in mind that this is now a point system. No comic can have too many of the various possible flaws listed above and still be a Very Good. Drawing the line as to how many to allow is hard, but we work hard to be fair and judge each comic on its merits.

GOOD
The "Good" category of comics is the broadest category that we sell. It's a catch-all category of comics that are complete, but always flawed significantly in one way or another. These comics are primarily for reading. Because of the low price, however, we have found this to be a very high demand category. When the "Good" price is quite near the "Near Mint" price on a given comic (X-Men, for example), that means that many collectors just want these comics for reading purposes or perhaps to hold on to until they can find a higher grade at a later date. But under no circumstances can these comics be considered "investment- grade."
Tears: Usually lots of small ones. Everything is allowed except the cover being torn completely in half horizontally. Some comics in Good also have small holes that go through the entire book. This damage usually results from someone poking the comic with a sharp object. But this cannot be a significant problem or the comic becomes a "Fair."
Spine Stress: Spine can actually be torn up to 1/4" into comic.
Staples: Cover and/or centerfold can be loose. Rust is allowed.
Writing: All writing is allowed except for excessive magic marker or writing on the story pages in such a way as to detract from the story.
Rubber Stamps: Allowed unless they are excessive in quantity.
Tape: This is again a tough issue. We allow lots of tape in the Good category as long as it's some sort of cellophane tape. A spine neatly taped with masking tape would even be allowed if the tape had not started to deteriorate. But no bookbinding tape, duct tape, or strapping (filament) tape. Comics with those types of tape, or excessive (that's lots and lots) of cellophane tape, are "Fair." Pieces Missing: We allow up to a 2" square piece to be missing from the front cover or a 3" square from the back. On the interiors we allow a 1" piece to be missing from a corner. Coupons can be clipped from the back cover, but not from interior pages. On older Marvels in this category, small pieces missing from the edges are usually evident. These are known as "Marvel Chips."
Fingerprints: Allowed.
Waterstains: We allow extensive water damage in the Good category. We draw the line at the point where the comic looks like it's been left out in the rain or read in the shower. Those comics are "Fair." But if a comic has been wet and has dried out nice and clean, we classify it as a Good. If it has mold stains, or the pages stuck together and were torn in pulling them apart, or is heavily warped or wrinkled, we downgrade to "Fair."
Browning: Usually evident. The comic may also be loosing some of its suppleness and trying to get slightly brittle. But it can't actually be flaking.
Folds: Lots of them. Including subscription folds.
Spine Rolls: Allowed.
Off-Center Printing: Allowed.
Cover Scuffing: Allowed.

FAIR
Comics in Fair have complete stories, but may be excessively taped, torn, water-damaged, brittle, have half the front cover or all the back cover missing, interior non-story pages missing, interior coupons clipped, excessive writing, or excessive rubber stamps. The one point in their favor is that their stories are complete. If you just want to own an old comic, and don't care that it's basically a rag, this is your category. And the prices are cheap. We sell comics in Fair for 1/2 of the Good prices listed in our catalog.


That's it for our discussion of our grading standards. We hope this has enlightened you as to what basic criteria we use and train our staff to use. Please bear in mind, however, that we are not infallible. While we don't particularly want to deal with collectors whose standards vary greatly from ours, we also recognize that we can make mistakes. We grade over 20,000 comics per week and some of our graders are more experienced than others. If you feel that we've made an error in grading a book, you can feel free to send it back to us. If we agree that you're right, we'll immediately send you a replacement copy. It's our desire to be fair at all times and to do our best to give good value to our customers. That emphasis is what allowed us to become the largest dealer of American comics in the first place. We wish to maintain that position for the foreseeable future and will do anything we can to be sure that you are happy with any transaction we engage in. Our only request is that you be fair with us, too.

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