Grading Standards Inflation

This will be my last column on the subject of grading, and the recent decision by the staff of Overstreet publications to "negotiate" a new set of grading standards with the staff of CGC. While I would like to rail out indefinitely against this backroom deal that threatens to devalue the collections of tens of thousands of collectors, I promised in my very first column that while I would often provoke you, I would work very hard to never bore you. In reading over my past few columns I think I can see where I've beaten this horse until it's just about dead, so it's almost time to move on to a new topic.

Before I move on, however, I want to take a moment to address the issue of grading standards inflation. In my last column I went to great lengths to point out all the flaws that were allowable in the Near Mint grade category in the 1992 edition of THE OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK GRADING GUIDE. While that list was pretty amazing, I think that the flaws allowed in Very Fine grade category are even more astonishing. Please bear in mind, that these defects are all in addition to the long list of defects allowed in Near Mint. Here is just a partial listing of what Overstreet says is allowable in Very Fine:

Writing on cover...Repaired corner tears...Missing top staple

Very light soiling on edges...Spine stress...Grease Pencil on cover

Light book-length dust shadow...Light crease line...Small staple tear

Back cover staining...Hole in cover and first 12 pages...Publisher address stamp

Glued price sticker...Cover detached at staple...Off center cover trimming

Edge tears...Small corner crease line...Light corner stain

Clearly this list indicates that comics in the Very Fine grade can have all manner of minor defects, as long as the sum of the defects leaves the book looking pretty darn nice. That's the standard that been in effect for the past 30 years, and I see no reason to change it now.

One issue that inevitably comes up in a public discussion like this one is about my personal grading standards. To give you an idea of how my grading stacked up in 1997, I participated in a grading test at the Overstreet Advisors Conference that year. Four comics were passed around, and all (35?) of the attending advisors were asked to grade the books. I don't remember the exact outcome, except that my grading of the four books was a full half a grade (.5) tighter than anyone else at the conference. If I remember correctly, the average was about 7.0, and I came in at about 5.8. My score on the books was so low, in fact, that it wasn't counted. To keep their numbers more valid, they threw out the highest and lowest grades when calculating the average. Since my grading was off the scale on the lower end, it was tossed.

What makes this story interesting is that it would not have the same outcome today. Defects that were acceptable in 1992, and were still allowed in 1997, are now being considered far more harshly. As I've already admitted, I was using a more stringent standard than the rest of the industry in 1997, but that's because I had to in order to stay in business. As a mail order dealer, I have to grade harshly, as the greatest cost in mail order is customer service. Better to err on the side of caution, then to take the chance of sending a customer an overgraded book.

Where the problem lies is that I see CGC leading a movement to make the standards for grading comics ridiculously harsh. I certainly haven't changed my standards since 1997, yet the books we send in to CGC in the higher grades seldom meet their (unspecified) standards. The same is true for other dealers, and as a result, the grading of comics for sale at conventions has become a nightmare. At the nine conventions I attended this Spring, I repeatedly saw consumers micro-analyzing individual comics in order to find even the tiniest of defects. Clearly, this exhausting exercise was being done to try and gain the highest value when submitting books to CGC.

The question I would pose is: when does this kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior become harmful to the back issue comics market? CGC has made its standards so tough that even folks who collect the highest grades of comics can't tell the difference in the grading. Do you remember that I sold a copy of WOLVERINE: THE ORIGIN #1 in 10.0 for $1,000 last year? The punch line to that story is that the buyer wanted to send the book back after buying it because "I can't see where it looks any better than my 9.8 copy of the same book." Well, of course it doesn't. Once you take standards to such ridiculous extremes, then it all becomes fantasy. Face it folks, CGC is making it up. I'll bet you could submit that 10.0 copy mixed in a stack of other high grade issues (9.8's) of the same book, and I'm very dubious if the CGC graders could pick it out of the stack a second time. What's wrong with this picture?

In case you're wondering, I didn't take back the WOLVERINE: THE ORIGIN #1. I pointed out to the buyer that his opinion on the grading of the comic was simply irrelevant. The fact that it had that 10.0 label is all that mattered. I promised a 10.0 book, and that's what I delivered. If he had any problems with the grading, he needed to take that up with CGC. What makes this sad is that CGC is, in effect, printing money. By artificially restricting the supply of high-grade books through ridiculous grading standards, they are creating a mania that ultimately benefits only themselves. The losers are all the fans who had books that previously would have qualified as high-grade, that are now worth less than what they paid. Could you be one of those fans?

If you want to object to Overstreet's staff negotiating with CGC about new grading standards, here is the address:

Overstreet Publishing
J.C. Vaughn, Executive Editor
1966 Greenspring Dr., Suite LLC
Timonium, MD 21093

If you wish to put your comments in an e-mail, send them to me at chuck@milehighcomics.com, and I will forward them for you. 'nuff said.

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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