Like coins, stamps, trading cards, or any collectible comic books have graded conditions from Poor to Mint. A comic book’s “condition’ is one of the key factors in determining it’s value. There are other factors such as scarcity, character popularity and demand that also play a part but those will be covered in the next section. For this chapter our focus is on the condition of a comic.
There are eight basic grades for comics:
· Mint- (M) (10.0)
· Near Mint – (NM) (9.0)
· Very Fine- (VF) (8.0)
· Fine – (F) (6.0)
· Very Good – (VG) (4.0)
· Good - (G) (2.0)
· Fair – (Fa) (1.0)
· Poor – (P) (<1.0)
These grades break out further with mid grades. For instance a book graded between Fine and Very Fine is designated a F/VF. I personally a numbering system a 0-10 scale. Thus a F/VF might be a 6.5, 7.0, or a 7.5, which allows me to be more specific than using the F/VF designation. This is a method that I have developed over the course of 40+ years of collecting and it is similar, though not exactly like the Overstreet or CGC grading methods. (Overstreet publishes an annual Comic Book Price guide and CGC is a professional grading and preservation service).
Ok, that’s as hard as this gets. The good news is that grading comics is not all that difficult. It IS given to a wide interpretation however. Everyone grades a bit differently, but for the most part it goes like this:
· Mint – Just what the term says. This is a PERFECT book. No defects of any kind. A truly MINT book is extremely rare. (I have never actually seen a flawless book though there are many sold as flawless). Think about it. The second someone touches a comic, puts it on a shelf or thumbs through it, that book is no longer perfect. In fact the printing process is not perfect. There are ALWAYS some minor defects with any comic. However, a book can get MIGHTY close. To the naked eye a 9.2 and a 9.8 don’t look different at all. It takes an extremely close inspection to see a difference. For a book to be considered mint, there can be no discernable defects.
· NEAR Mint (9.0-9.9) - Books in this range can have only the most minor defects. Corners are sharp. Small crimps at the binding or tiny creases that do not break the color can exist. In short this looks like a book fresh off the shelf that has been read once VERY carefully and then bagged and boarded. Be very careful when you see a Silver Age or older book advertised in this condition. Older books were printed on news print and naturally discolor with age and become brittle. Older books DO exist in Near Mint condition but they are exceedingly rare.
· Very Fine (8.0-8.9) – Books in this range are also largely free of defects. There can be minor corner blunting and very small cover creases that do not break the color. There should be no spine roll and the book should lay flat. Minor foxing is allowed in this grade. Date Stamps or minor date notations are allowed at the lower end of this scale. This is generally the high end range for Silver/Golden Age books. These are books that look as if they have been read a few times and then carefully stored.
· Fine to F/VF – (6.0 – 7.9) – Books in this range can have some minor spine roll, small to medium creasing, corner blunting and very small tears (1/4 inch). No pieces can be missing from the cover and staples must be tight at both the cover and centerfold. At the lower end of this grade the book may have a single splits of less than 1 inch. Books in this grade are still very nice looking, appearing as if they have been read many times but are well cared for and preserved.
· Very Good to VG/F – (4.0-5.9) – This is the most common grade for older collectible comics. A very good book can have significant spine roll, moderate to heavy creasing, spine splits both on the top and bottom of the spine, small parts missing from the cover (1/2 inch). The cover and centerfold must be attached by at least one staple. Pages can be significantly discolored at the lower end of this grade. Only the most MINOR moisture damage may be present. Date stamps or writing may be present. Some minor tape repair can be present at the lower end of this grade. Cover colors may be faded. In short a VG book can have a lot of flaws, but must still be a solid, complete book that will not fall apart if you try to read it. This grade is VERY collectible for Silver and Golden Age books and can still increase in value.
· Good – G (2.0-3.9) – The short story is that comics in GOOD condition are not really IN good condition. A book in Good condition can have significant fading, moisture damage, spine role, rips, and missing cover pieces. The cover and centerfold can be detached and significant tape repair may be present. The comic should be complete but missing coupons are allowed as long as they do not interfere with a story. Comics in this condition are often referred to as READERS. For the collector of Golden or Silver Age comics, books in GOOD condition can be an affordable means of getting a rare or high priced issue to fill in a run.
· Fair – FA – (1-1.8) – Barely collectible. The cover may be missing. Water damage and severe ripping and creasing may be present. The book SHOULD be substantially complete but may be missing large chunks. Only the rarest of old books are even remotely collectible in this condition.
· Poor – P (0.0-.9) – Forget it unless it is a Superman #1 in Poor condition. A book in POOR condition is pretty much garbage. It may substantially Incomplete, ripped, brittle, water damaged. Name a flaw and a poor book has it.
There you have it. A quick, high level guide to grading. Just bear in mind that grading comics is highly subjective. Even collectors and dealers with years of experience may have different grades for the same book. However, once you have gotten the hang of grading your books, you will find that your grades are FAIRLY close to other collectors (within a half grade).
One last note on grading. There is a natural tendency to OVER grade what you are selling and to UNDER grade what you are buying. It takes time and effort to be completely unbiased in your grading. However it is very important that you ARE unbiased in your grading as you will find it much easier to buy and sell back issues if you have a reputation for being fair minded.