A drop of sweat trickles down the forehead of one hombre
and it slowly curls its way into an eye. The salt stings, forcing
him to make the first move.
Pow! That comic is a Fine grade.
Wham! No way, replies the other, it's a Very Good.
And that argument between those two grades is worth at least
a 10 per cent difference in the market price of a comic book.
Grading is the crux of the comic collectables markets. I
have been in enough discussions about grades and
what to charge that I have made enough enemies to roster a storyline
in a Bat-Man annual.
I remember almost exploding at a so-called dealer at a collectables
show who was trying to peddle a very good Golden Age comic for
the mint price, a difference of hundreds of dollars. I showed
him the price guide, but he only shrugged his shoulders. I left
wondering how many people he scammed over the years.
So, just how much is that comic book in the window?
Well, it depends on a lot of things, including overall condition
and supply and demand. Of course, the secret dream is that at
least one book a collector owns is worth a gazillion dollars.
Central to collecting any paper item like comics, stamps
or trading cards, is condition. And comic collectors are among
the most - how should we say this without being rude? - finicky
There is a broad range of grades for comic books. In an ascending
order, the list is Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine,
Near Mint, Mint, Gem Mint. There are also graduations to the
grades between Good and Mint, for example Good Minus or Good
Plus. A Good Plus means the book isn't quite a Good/Very Good,
which is lower than a Very Good Minus, but it's better than Good.
Confused? Don't worry, it takes time and practice to figure
it out, but it is imperative to know and understand grading so
you won't be ripped off when buying or selling a book. This outline
is meant as a starting point to understanding the difficult business
of grading comics, and expect to make a few enemies along the
way to true enlightenment.
The comics trade bible Overstreet was probably the first
to outline grade descriptions. As grading became more of a pseudo-science
than an opinion, grades were codified, with 10 being the highest.
If you are going to get into this hobby, being well versed
in grading is a must. Get an Overstreet price guide so that all
of the grade variances are at your fingertips. Remember, when
grading the overall condition of the book must be taken into
account, inside and out. Some account may be taken for older
books, but as Overstreet says, take care not to allow wishful
thinking to influence the choice of grade.
Let's take a brief look at some of the grades, starting from
A 10, or Gem Mint, is like the Holy Grail; maybe it's
out there, but it hasn't been found. There's always a fault to
Mint, or 9.9, books are almost perfect. There is no
wear, the cover is flat and the inks reflective, pages are white,
corners are sharp, the spine tight, the staples original and
the book is centred.
Near Mint-Mint. also described as 9.8, has only minor
imperfections to prevent it from being listed in the higher category.
Overstreet says only the slightest interior tears are allowed.
Near Mint Plus includes 9.6 and 9.7 and it allows
for a single corner to be almost imperceptibly blunted,
according to Overstreet. No bindery tears are allowed, although
older books from the Golden Age have been given a bye among some
At 9.4 and 9.5, or Near Mint, comics have minor bindery
defects. The older books can have some minor bindery tears, no
more than one-sixteenth of an inch in Silver Age books and no
more than one-quarter inch in a Golden Age book.
Near Mint Minus - 9.2 and 9.3 - is still almost perfect,
but has enough defects that keep out of the higher graduations.
It could include lightly penciled or stamped arrival dates placed
by distributors, which was common before the 1970s, as long as
they are in inconspicuous spots in the book. The spine is tight,
but there may be some discolouration in the staples. Paper is
off-white, maybe cream coloured. Dealers will ask for at least
100% of the guide price at this grade.
At 9.0, the grade is also known as Very Fine-Near
Mint. This grade allows for a nearly perfect book, where the
cover is almost flat with almost no wear. Very minor stress lines
in the paper are accepted. While corners are sharp, some subtle
blunting to the corners is permitted. Tiny tears around the staples
Let's skip a few graduations to Very Fine, or 8.0.
This grade has a number of minor bindery and printing flaws,
but is well preserved and flat. The corners aren't sharp, but
they are not rounded either.
At 6.0 is Fine, defined as having minor cover wear.
Minor staining and inks are losing their reflective luster. It's
at this grade where my pet peeve - loose centerfolds - may occur.
I hate loose centerfolds. A Fine is about 30% of the Near Mint
Minus (NM-) price.
Very Good is at 4.0. This is a well-loved, well-read
comic. There are blunted corners, name stamps, dealer stamps,
fading colours, foxing caused by sunlight, and some minor pieces
can be missing from the corner of a page. Can be a spine split
of no more than one inch. This is the grade where my other pet
peeve can occur: the centerfold detached at one staple. I hate
detached centerfolds. A Very Good is about 20% of the Near Mint
Good, or 2.0, is considered a reading copy and is
about 10% of the Near Mint Minus price. Very well worn, with
significant wear and the cover may even be detached. I hate detached
covers. Some dealers will allow tape repairs in this grade, others
don't. I don't. I hate tape repairs.
Fair is also known as 1.0. Covers detached or torn,
pages detached, creases, tears, dull-looking inks, soiling and
stains. But the book is complete and is worth about 6% of the
Poor at 0.5, is just that: poor. It has little or
no collector value. Pages and covers could be missing, brittle
paper and pieces of pages cut out.
From Rob's collection:
My copy of Fantastic Four 10, the third appearance of Dr.
Doom in the series, is what I would grade as Very Good. There's
a lot of stress, wear and some tears along the spine, but the
book is intact. When opened, the pages lay flat. Colours are
somewhat muted as the book has been well-read. In mint, the book
would sell for more than $3,600 U.S., while a Very Good should
be offered at around $280. Note there is a crease by the hand
of Dr. Doom, disguised as being Mr.Fantastic. There is also a
close-up of the spine.
My copy of Mystery in Space 37 is a very well read book and
I would grade as Good. This comic is graced with artwork by comic
greats Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane. The spine is well worn
and there is a tear along the spine between the bottom and the
lower spine, about 1 1/2 inches. There are also some creases.There
are moisture stains along the bottom on the front cover and some
on the back cover. There is a close-up of a water stain by the
alien's three-toed foot on the lower right of the cover. The
back cover by the lower spine also shows water stains and is
blunted. There is a tear along the crease from the bottom to
the lower spine. In Near Mint this book would sell for at least
$525 U.S., while in Good, $24.
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti,
who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents
an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in
the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while,
but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild-mannered
crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped
he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org