Changing the Rules of the Grading Game

How many of you own a copy of THE OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK GRADING GUIDE? Originally published in May of 1992, this small book explains in minute detail exactly the grading criteria under which the pricing in the OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE is supposed to be based. If you say you've never heard of this book, or that you bought one a long time ago, and you haven't looked at it in years, you're in the vast majority. In fact, when I asked dealers at the Motor City convention this past weekend if they had a copy, everyone I asked replied that they did not even own a copy.

Well, if you don't know what the rules are, how do you know if you're about to lose out because of a change in the criteria? I ask this provocative question because I think I see signs that Bob Overstreet is about to change the rules of the grading game. Has anyone besides me noticed that there will be a "New in 2002" grading guide being published later this year? If this new guide is simply an effort to make previous distinctions even more clear, then I have no problem with its being published. If, however, the goal of the new guide is to raise the grading criteria for each grade (especially the higher grades), then I think that everyone needs to know in advance that there is a possibility that their collections are about to be radically devalued in a single stroke.

If you believe me to be just paranoid, let me point out that it was at the 1999 Overstreet Advisor's Conference that I was introduced to the folks from Comics Guarantee Corporation (CGC). I had severe doubts about the propriety of "slabbing" books at that time, but as I detailed in TALES FROM THE DATABASE #2, I was swung around by the obvious benefits to fans of being able to transact on the Internet with confidence. What I've been seeing in the past four months, however, has led me to question that original premise. I still think that having a disinterested third party grading comics is a good idea, but I'm very much beginning to question whether CGC is the right company for the job.

What has made me question my original support for CGC is their clearly self-serving refusal to stand by the grading standards of the 1992 grading guide. Of their own accord, and with input from no one that I know of in the world of comics, they've decided to tighten up the standards under which comics are graded the conditions of Very Fine 8.5, through Mint 10.0. It's hard to tell exactly what they done, as they won't provide anyone with a set of specific standards under which they grade, but it is clear that they are not using the standards as set forth in Overstreet's grading guide. I even asked CGC lead grader Steve Borok (whom I like and respect very much) about this tightening of standards, and he readily admits that CGC's criteria is much tougher than any that the industry has previously experienced. While this change doesn't seem to bother him too much, it galls me to know this unilateral change in standards has caused a substantial quantity of comics that fans purchased in good faith as Near Mint during the past 40 years to fall to VF, or below. Whether you like it or not, there is a high degree of probability that CGC is reducing the value of your comics collection, or your comics inventory. Or, more specifically, that decline in value is true if your grades have not been "validated" by CGC...

If you doubt my assertion, just grab a copy of that 1992 Overstreet grading guide. The first three comics listed are represented as 10.0 "Mint," yet I can see no way that those books would be graded that high today, utilizing CGC's more stringent criteria. All those books are significantly older than 1966, which is the oldest date of any book thus graded as 10.0. So exactly what in the heck is going on? Who set these total newcomers to comics up as the grading gods of an entire industry? They did, and we did. They baited us in with the promise of riches from books that would sell for high multiples of Guide, and then they pulled the switch by making the higher grades so difficult to achieve that the entire process was perverted into simply creating "The CGC Collection," the uber collection of all provenance collections. In this case, however, they determine which books get into the collection, and only for a substantial fee.

Returning to my original point, since Bob Overstreet originally introduced me to the folks from CGC, am I wrong to feel paranoid when he suddenly decides to "update" his grading guide? Especially when I notice his prominent placement of three CGC-graded books on the cover of his upcoming new grading guide? Frankly, this is one instance in which I'd love to be told that I'm waaay off base. Come on Bob, write in to CBG and reassert that you grading standards are not about to change to those being used by CGC. This is one case in which I wouldn't mind at all being told that I am completely wrong to be worried.

Next week, let's talk about Bob's decision to introduce Very Fine (8.0) as one of the four major pricing criteria.

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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