Very Fine: The Fourth Primary Grading Condition

I'm sitting in my office on the afternoon of Memorial Day, and, boy howdy, am I ever peeved with Bob Overstreet. You see, thanks to the fundamental pricing change that Bob made in this year's price guide, I had to accelerate our program of adding Very Fine into our online database. As I feared, adding this new grading condition screwed up just about every program in our system. Our primary software engineer has been putting in patches all day, but we still can't generate picking tickets, or invoice orders. This had darn well better be fixed by tomorrow morning, or I'm going to be one very unhappy comic book dealer.

So, why did Bob Overstreet add Very Fine as the fourth primary grading condition in this year's guide? I haven't spoken with Bob on this subject, but on some levels it makes sense. Especially if you take a look at his grading guide. Originally published in 1992, OVERSTREET'S COMIC BOOK GRADING GUIDE puts numeric values on each grade in his price guide. If you follow the grading sequencing from past price guides of Good (2.0), Fine (6.0) and NM (9.4), it is clear that there are some large gaps. The values of comics that fall within these gaps have always been subject to interpretation, and Bob's reasoning for adding Very Fine (8.0) into the mix was supposedly to provide values for high-grade issues that do not quite make the 9.4 standard.

The only problem with this logic is that it frequently ignores reality. For comics from the past twenty years, adding Very Fine (8.0) makes all the sense in the world. There are so many comics that fall in the 8.0-10.0 ranges that having another higher grade priced by Overstreet is very handy. Prior to 1980, however, comics in 9.4 become scarce. From 1979-1951 they become increasingly hard to find. Prior to 1950 they are very, very rare. In fact, the 9.4 Overstreet pricing standard on Golden Age comics has been a joke amongst comics retailers for decades. There's no way that a professional comics dealer who located a Golden Age comic in a grade higher than 9.0 would ever retail it for what Bob Overstreet represents as the 9.4 value. If they did, they'd be leaving a whole bunch of money on the table. You see, pre-1960 comics in 9.0+ have been selling for multiples of Guide for years. The demand for those books far exceeds the supply, so they are most frequently sold at auction. The premiums those high-grade books bring are sometimes breath-taking, as multiples as high as 10X Overstreet are not uncommon.

If that's reality, why doesn't Bob change the pricing in his guide? That's a darn good question. Why, for example, did he only raise MARVEL COMICS #1 up to $250,000 in NM (9.4), when he documents in his market report that his associate right down the hall at Diamond Gallery (John Snyder) sold a copy in 9.0 for $350,000 late last year? Another example is his report of a sale of a DETECTIVE COMICS #27 in (8.0) for $278,000, while he then only raised the price in his guide to $165,000 for that same book, in exactly that same grade. Bob does mention that certain pedigree books sell for multiples of guide, but the DETECTIVE #27 in question had no provenance, except for being certified by CGC. So what is reality? Why is Bob seemingly intentionally undervaluing the prices in his guide?

Returning to the subject of Very Fine (8.0), I do agree that Bob needed that grade in place for Golden Age comics. In fact, I believe (as do many other dealers and Overstreet advisors with whom I've spoken), that Very Fine (8.0) should be the top grade priced in the guide prior to at least 1949, and perhaps even as high as 1956. Comics above Very Fine (8.0) from those years never sell for guide anyway, so what's the point of having misleading NM (9.4) prices in the book? To see how this would look in practice, see DETECTIVE COMICS #1-3 in this year's guide. In each instance Bob has omitted the NM (9.4) price, leaving Very Fine (8.0) is the top listed value.

Clearly, Bob already understands the benefit of leaving NM (9.4) out of his pricing structure. If you look at the prices from the wonderful new Victorian Age section at the front of this year's guide you'll see that Bob chose to list only Fair (1.0), Good (2.0), and Fine (6.0). To my way of thinking that's a pretty good methodology. I would have added Very Good (4.0) as a fourth price column, but maybe that's coming next year. The Platinum Age section lists comics in Good (2.0), Fine (6.0), and Very Fine (8.0). That's probably OK, but, once again, I would have added VG (4.0) for balance.

In fact, now that I notice the pattern, what does Bob Overstreet have against Very Good (4.0)? It is one of the most common grades sold in older books, yet he avoids it in every instance. I know from our experience with our online sales that Very Good (4.0) is a very common grade. Why is there no pricing in Bob's book for VG? My suggestion would be to drop the completely worthless and misleading NM (9.4) grade as regards books printed prior to 1956, and instead substitute a price structure for Very Good (4.0). That would be solving two problems with one bold stroke, thus making the guide far more usable for fans, and dealers alike. I would also add VG all the way up to 1979, but that is probably too much of a change to be implemented for a single year.

Before I end this column, I want to make clear that my suggestions on how to improve the functional viability of THE OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE should in no way deter you from considering Bob's guide anything less than a wondrous work of research. I've known Bob for nearly 30 years, and I've found him to be very hard working, and a man of honor. I utilize his guide as the basis for much of the pricing in our database, and in overall, I think he does a great job. With the advent of online sales, however, the market for back issue comics has grown beyond any previously conceivable measure. This is requiring adaptation on all of our parts, and my suggestions are designed to encourage Bob to make his book as useful as possible for all of comics fandom. That's why I agreed to become an Overstreet advisor in the first place.

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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