Definition of "Mint"

Last week, I promised you that this week I would venture into the perilous straits of comic book grading standards. I do this with a great deal of reluctance, as I know that there are as many different definitions of grading as there are comics fans, and comics dealers. Grading is a subjective endeavor, and we all have our particular flaws in a comic book that we accept with equanimity, and others that cause us to immediately downgrade the book significantly. Within that spectrum of personal deviance from the norm, however, there are certain overall generalities to which most people subscribe. The purpose of this column is to compare those generalities (as reflected in Bob Overstreet's 1992 Edition of THE OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK GRADING GUIDE) with what we're seeing today from Comics Guarantee LLC. I'll open this discussion with my definition of "Mint."

OK class, if you'll open your copy of Bob's grading guide to page #34, you'll see that the first criteria that Bob Overstreet puts on comics in "Mint" condition is "Near Perfect in Every Way." This is a critical definition, as it specifically utilizes the adjective "Near", and does not require comics in Mint to be absolutely perfect, which is the standard that CGC has chosen to apply to books in the 10.0 category.

My opinion on the subject of "Mint" is quite simple. I learned about grading from Phil Seuling, one of the pioneers of comic book retailing, whom passed away during the early 1980's. Phil had a wonderful saying about grading comics which I still live by: ""Mint" refers to a flavor of chewing gum or candy, and has no application in the world of comics. There has never been a "Mint" comic book." If there were one, however, I'll bet it sure would be tasty...

Flipping to the other side of this question, I had a nasty battle with Carol Kalish and Peter David during the mid-1980's (when Peter was then still Carol's assistant in Marvel's Direct Sales Department) about the fact that Marvel wouldn't give us replacements for the damaged issues they were sending us from the Spartan Printing Company. In this case, we were receiving bundles of comics that had been counted out into fifties, and then wrapped with string. Because the middle-aged women who ran the string tying machine in the plant couldn't give a whit about comics (I went to the plant and watched them work...), they frequently had the binding machine bundling too tight. As a result, the top copy, and the bottom copy, had deep string creases. When the bundling was especially tight, these creases sometimes went even into the second and third issues in a bundle. I insisted that Marvel replace these issues as damages because they were not "like new," which Carol initially flatly refused to do.

We eventually worked this problem out, but I think it illustrates my position on "Mint" rather well. Given that comics are mass produced by factory workers who have no interest (or incentive) to produce a quality product, we have to accept the fact that minor flaws in otherwise brand new comics are almost inevitable. Even the famous books of the Mile High/Edgar Church collection all had minor flaws (especially small corner tears from the metal "grabbers" that used to pull the comics off the line). As far as I'm concerned, Bob Overstreet's 1992 definition that Mint comics are "Near" perfect works just fine for me. Once you get to the point where you have to look through a jeweler's loop to find the flaws in a comic book, I think you've descended into an area of anal madness. Comic books are mass-produced consumer goods. To my way of thinking, any comic that looks as good as it originally came from the plant is Near Mint/Mint , as long as it doesn't have a significant production flaw.

The problem I have with CGC's self-imposed higher grading standards for comics in the 9.2-10.0 area is that they're trying to apply coin collecting standards to comic books. While they may have learned from their experiences in the coin collecting hobby (their original area of endeavor...) that microscopic flaws may have a significant impact on the value of a coin, manufacturing coins is a far more precise business than printing comics. In fact, many countries (including the USA) have for decades manufactured "proof" coins which are reputed to be the highest quality examples possible. Clearly, no one (yet) is trying to foist "proof" comics on our hobby, but CGC is trying to apply that standard within a hobby that with quite happy with "Near Perfect" before they came along.

As I mentioned last week, what makes this significant to all collectors and dealers of comics is that once the bar has been raised on the highest grades, there is an inevitable upward drift in all the grading standards. If you shelled out big bucks for a key book in NM, and you send it in to CGC to be graded and they send it back to you graded as a VF, how would that make you feel? If it happens to you, don't be surprised, as I've seen some very sad cases of collectors who have had massive reductions in the average grades of their collections as a result of CGC grading. You read lot of news articles about the lucky folks who have been "winners" in this crazy grading lottery (I've been one...), but you seldom hear about the folks who had their books nitpicked to death.

Please understand that in some instances, I believe that CGC is completely correct in downgrading books. But I also believe that in the higher grades (9.2-10.0) that they are applying standards that are completely new to the field of comics. Given that the Overstreet team in now in "negotiations" to "revise" their grading standards to be closer to CGC's, individual comics collectors may be about to take the worst beating since Ron Perelman took over the reins at Marvel. Wake up to the danger of these "negotiations" on grading, or you could easily end up being a victim.

Next week, I'll explore Bob's 1992 criteria for Near Mint.

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