Grader’s Notes: Comic Book Grading and Restoration

Comic book grading

Comic book grading is one of the most important parts of speculating;  the grade of the book will determine the value of the book and this article will help you learn the process. Collectors get excited when they find that HOT book or one of their grails. Sometimes, collectors get so excited about the title of the book they overlook one of the most important aspects of speculating – the grade of the book or whether or not it's been restored.

This will be the first in a series of four articles that will focus on the following: how to spot restoration, and how to differentiate between high grade books (9.2-10.0), mid grade books (5-9.0), and low grade books (0.5-4.5).

This series is intended for the average collector who wants to know more about the grading process. This is meant to educate collectors on grading and restoration and is not to be used as a definitive guide.

Background

What Is Comic Book Grading?

Before a comic book’s value is determined, the comic book needs to have an accurate grade assigned to it. A grade represents the condition of a book in a way that collectors can understand. Theoretically, the higher the grade of the book, the more desirable the book will be. There are numerous variables that factor into the grade of a comic book. Some of the more important factors include but are not limited to: the book's overall gloss and color composition, the condition of the spine, the number of stains on the book, and how any creases or bends affect the overall appeal of the book and its bottom line value to collectors.

In the old days, collectors would assign a grade to their books by closely examining the book(s) sans any strict criteria. Over the years, the grading process has changed and evolved immensely. Books that were once considered near mint wouldn't be perceived as mid grade by today's standards. Unless the book had obvious flaws, collectors considered most books that were just bagged and boarded to be in near mint condition and well preserved.

Over the years, collectors have become more and more focused on the condition of their books and the grading has become more paramount and critical to the value of the book.

Early in the 2000’s, third party grading services began to emerge. Third party graders are organizations that are unbiased and do not have a vested interest in the value of the book – only giving it a grade based on predetermined criteria. They strive for impartiality, and the first two organizations collectors flocked to were CGC and PGX.

Over the last 16 years, both companies have done an excellent job assigning grades to books and creating a new market in the industry that did not exist for collectors and speculators 20 years ago.

Third Party Graders have established a standard numeric grading system that most of today’s collectors rely upon. The numeric grading system based on the book’s condition ranges from .5 to 10 with .5 being the poorest grade and 10 being a gem mint (a unicorn, if you will, in the industry).

Grading Scale

Below Is The Grading Scale From CGC

Number Grade
10.0 Gem Mint
9.9 Mint
9.8 Near Mint/Mint
9.6 Near Mint +
9.4 Near Mint
9.2 Near Mint –
9.0 Very Fine/Near Mint
8.5 Very Fine +
8.0 Very Fine
7.5 Very Fine –
7.0 Fine/Very Fine
6.5 Fine +
6.0 Fine
5.5 Fine –
5.0 Very Good/Fine
4.5 Very Good +
4.0 Very Good
3.5 Very Good –
3.0 Good/Very Good
2.5 Good +
2.0 Good
1.8 Good –
1.5 Fair/Good
1.0 Fair
.5 Poor

Once the books are graded, both CGC and PGX provide notes to explain how certain flaws affected the grade of the submitted books. Grader’s notes are usually provided for a small fee or every so often for free to the submitter – it really depends on what you ask for when you submit the books for grading.

Recently, a new grading company has emerged on the scene – CBCS (Comic Book Certification Service). What is really impressive about this new grading company is the access that it gives the public to the grader’s note. This helps collectors “peek” behind the curtain and see what flaws have affected the grade of the book(s). The fact that the notes are given for free really helps to educate collectors, speculators, or the average person just getting into the hobby.

This first in a series of articles is meant to educate the everyday collector on how to recognize the major parameters that could affect the grade of the book being submitted BEFORE they send it off to a third party grading company. This series will discuss books at the aforementioned listed grade points and try to explain the differences between high grades, low grades, and the dreaded mid grade books. This first article will also focus on comic book restoration and how to spot if restoration has occurred.

Tools

To Grade Books You Need The Right Tools!

ANYONE who collects comics needs to understand that there is actually a criteria to grading books and it goes far beyond just how great the front cover looks! Since the value of a book is directly based on the grade of the book, every collector needs to know how to accurately determine the grade of said book(s).

In order to grade a book accurately, you will need the following tools:

  1. Ruler
  2. Magnifying Glass
  3. A Well Lit Room
  4. Black Light
  5. An OWL card

Why Are These Tools Important?

A Ruler is one of the most important tools to have, because the grade of a book is directly correlated to the size of the flaws on the book. A 1/2 inch color breaking crease can drop the grade of a book by one full point! So, it's best to know how big that crease is and what the threshold is for those flaws as it relates to grading the book.

A magnifying glass is equally important as many of the flaws on the book are hard to see. You need to be able to see if a crease breaks the color of a book, or if a stress mark is actually cutting into the paper. Many flaws are hard to see with the naked eye, so the magnifying glass will help you see them better.

A well lit room is essential to accurate grading. You can also use a light box at home to closely examine books. Obviously, you can't take a light box into a comic shop, so a close second to the light box is your phone. Yes, your phone! Use the flash light on your phone to shine light on the book while you exam it. The direct light really helps illuminate those hard to see flaws.

A black light is also a great tool to help you spot restoration and flaws. Many adhesives and cleaning agents will glow when a black light is present and color touches will jump off the page as soon as the ultraviolet light hits them. Other flaws such as color breaks and light creases are also highly visible under a black light.

An OWL card (Overstreet Whiteness Level) has several different page colors and is used when assessing the interior page color of a book. The card is simple to use: place it beside the interior page(s) and select the color of page(s) that is closest to the value on the card. The colors go from white to brittle (brown) and several shades in between. The card is actually an insert in the Overstreet Grading Guide, which itself is a MUST for any collector.

Utilizing these tools will also help you spot any restoration work as well.

Handling Your Comic

Handle with Care

In order to accurately grade a book or to examine it for restorations, collectors need to know how to properly handle comic books. While these guidelines may seem obvious to the veteran collectors, those new to the hobby need to learn these important lessons.

First: Be careful removing or inserting a comic book into or out of a bag. Many bags have tape on the cover flap and if you are not careful, the tape can catch the cover of the book. Make sure that if your bag has tape on the back of the bag that you hold the tape back and away from your comic.

Second: Always handle the comic with care and in the palm of your hand. If possible try to wash your hands before handling a comic as the oils from your hand can cause damage to the comic book. Another suggestion is to use gloves while you examine the book.You can also hold the bag and board in the palm of your hand and rest the book on the bag.

Be sure to turn the pages carefully, allowing each page to fall down gently on its own. Try to avoid placing any pressure on the comic book or on the spine of the book. Try not to open the book any more than is necessary to inspect it.

Third: To prevent spine stresses and/or tics you should never open the book up completely. The more you open a book, the more pressure that is placed on the spine, and too much pressure can cause ticks or wear on the spine by the staples or may create a spine roll. You need to inspect every book before you send it off to be graded, so handle it with EXTREME care while you check for the grading criteria.

Comic Book Restoration

What Is Considered A Restoration

There are several types of restoration that enthusiasts perform to make their books appear better than they are. A few common restorations include: color touches, added pieces, tear seals, trimming, and re-glossing. The most common amongst these are trimming and color touches. Both are actually pretty common and many times the average collector will miss them.

Books that have been restored get a special label from grading companies and most collectors prefer their comics to be 100% original. Taping to reinforce the spine of the book typically does not hurt the grade of the book or get it categorized as “restored.” For example, if the tape is to mend a spine split, the split itself will hurt the grade of the book depending on its size.

Color Touches

The easiest restoration to spot are color touches. A color touch is exactly what the name implies – a color has been touched up by a third party. Somewhere along the way, someone thought that the ink on their book needed to look better, so they touched up the color. Color touches are usually on the cover of a comic book, and rarely on the inside of a comic book.

Some people are better than others at touching up colors. Black color touches seem to be the most popular, because most people have access to a black marker and think that if they color in the worn black section of a comic book that no one will notice. Since older printing was done in only four colors, it’s not too hard to get a marker or paint set that matches the colors of the book. Other popular tools for color touches are acrylic and water color paints as they generally will not bleed through the paper like a marker could.
To spot a color touch, first hold the book at an angle in direct light and see if the gloss on the cover is broken in any places or has a different look or texture to the gloss. If you see something strange or a difference in the texture in the gloss or color, then there might have been an alteration made to the book. Sometimes the color will bleed through the paper and you will also be able to see the color bleed on the inside of the cover.

This is when a light box or a black light comes in real handy! Carefully place the book (opened) on a light box with the cover facing up. When the light passes though the cover you can almost instantly spot a color touch. A hand held Black light is also a good way to spot a color touch as you do not have to completely open the book. This helps to considerably reduce the stress placed on the spine.

Example of Color TouchExample of a Color Touch:

The image to the left is an example of a slight color touch. The color touch is hard to see in the picture unless you look very carefully at the book.


In this case, the touch is in the yellow portion of the cover around the Black Panther. To the naked eye this book looks great. The color touch is really difficult to see on first glance.

This image is actually from one of our CBSI members who purchased the book online as a un-restored book. Since color touches and restorations can be hard to see, many books with alterations are passed off as un-restored.

Close up of a Color Touch

Close up of a Color Touch

Color Touch w Light


Color Touch w Light

Upon closer inspection, you can clearly see the color touch! At some point a color rub on the yellow section of the cover was restored.

To cover the color rub, someone used a yellow acrylic paint to fill it in. The dead giveaway is the difference in color and texture of paint. The yellow acrylic paint is not glossy, so it stands out to the naked eye and is easily identifiable when the book is placed over a light. If you have access to a black light, the color touch will almost glow when inspected under it!

Trimming

Another form of restoration is trimming. Trimming is a restoration technique where someone will literally trim the side of the book to give it a better edge or sharper corner. This is done on silver age books more than any other, because of the wealth of characters and their first appearances (especially with all these superhero movies coming to the big screen!).

Marvel Chipping Marvel Chipping is a bindery (trimming/ cutting) defect that results in a series of chips and tears at the top, bottom, and right edges of the cover, caused when the cutting blade of an industrial paper trimmer becomes dull. It can be seen on a majority of Marvel Silver age books.

Example of Trimming a Book

Example of Trimming a Book

To “fix” this, some people will cut the edge of the book so that the flakes are less present or not present at all. Of course, trimming is done to lots of books that are not Marvel or silver age to fix small tears on the sides of books – just be aware of this when you inspect books for grading.

The easiest way to spot a trimmed book is by examining the actual sides of the book. If the trim is done by an amateur, then sometimes the cut will be at an angle and will be easy to spot. Amateur trimming can also be spotted if the edge is even with the edge of the interior pages. The edge of the cover would not be flat against the interior pages, as the pages are cut prior to stapling the book and then folded over. The folding of the pages should create a slight fan type edge (^) and should not be a flat edge (-). If the pages are straight and do not have an angle, then it might have been trimmed.

A fresh cut book will have a brighter/whiter edge when compared to the other edges of the book. However, some trimmers will trim the entire book so that the edges are consistent on all four sides. That is when your handy-dandy ruler comes into play! It’s important to know the size of books from different ages, not just to purchase the correct bags for storage, but to spot a book that has been trimmed. A silver age book should measure 7 1/8 inches on each cover for a total of 14 1/4 inches. Sometimes they are larger due to the bleed of the book's cover – rarely are they smaller. If it was a “micro-trim” – performed by a professional – the alteration can be almost impossible to detect as the trim will be within the bleed size.

Bleed is a printing term that is used to describe a document which has images or elements that touch the edge of the page, extending beyond the trim edge and leaving no white margin. When a document has bleed, it must be printed on a larger sheet of paper and then trimmed down.

Cleaning

Another form of restoration is known as cleaning a book. Just like its name implies, cleaning a book is when someone takes chemicals and physically attempts to clean the book.

Acetone

Acetone

A few common cleaning agents are: benzene, acetone, xylene, sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, chloramine-T, chlorine dioxide, or sodium borohydrate. The object of cleaning a book is to remove stains and other imperfections. This restoration CAN BE very hard to detect, but there are some things you can look for to help you out.

Cleaning a book will usually lighten the overall color of the book as the chemicals will strip away colors and gloss from the original printing. The best way to detect cleaning is to compare it to other copies of the same book. On a cleaned book, yellows will lack brightness and blacks will not be nearly as rich as you’d expect.

Another way to tell if a book has been cleaned is to examine the staples. The cleaning process requires the book to be taken apart. If the staples have been re-attached, there will be marks in the centerfold from the original placement of the staples. You may be able to detect multiple indentions from the book being unstapled and restapled. If the book is older, the staples have a tendency to oxidize and rust. If the staples have been removed, the original staples will stain the pages and the new staples will not line up with the stains on the paper.

Additionally, the gloss will have a layer removed and there will be holes in the gloss or the texture of the gloss will be inconsistent. Cleaned books that are later pressed and re-glossed can be nearly impossible to detect unless you know what to look for! This is when a black light will also come in handy, as many of the cleaning solutions will leave residue that shows up under the ultra-violet light.

If this seems like a lot to remember, that’s because it is! No one is expecting you to be an expert tomorrow, but the main things to look for are: glossy covers, consistent colors on the book, and comparing the front and back of the book for any inconsistencies. If each page has been cleaned, the book may appear wavy from being soaked in a cleaning solution. Some agents will also leave a distinct odor and you can tell by that smell that the book has been cleaned.

Taped Pages

Let’s face it, over time books become fragile from handling and often tear in certain places. When this happens, some people will try to “fix” the tear by “taping” it. Taping a book is considered to be conservation, as you are trying to extend the life of the book. If the person uses tape to conserve the book, it should be easily identifiable when the book is placed on a light box or simply with the naked eye.
If a book has tape on it, the paper around the tape will oxidize over time. Since the portion of the paper under the tape was not exposed to the elements, the paper will retain its color from the time before it was taped. Simply put, the rest of the page will be a different color than the taped area. Tape usually has a reflective property that should be easy to spot. It’s important to note, that taped tears or taped spines will not get you a restoration label; however, the size of the tear or split will affect the overall grade of the book.

Tear Seals & Missing Pieces

A tear seal is when an adhesive is placed minimally and only on the tear area – not around the tear. The two sides of the tear are then pressed together to create a seal. When done correctly, a tear seal is almost invisible! The giveaway for this type of restoration is that the tear may have some fibers that are not glued down and those fibers will, over time, begin to discolor. This discoloration will create strange looking lines. If the tear seal is made of two sides that are forced together due to some of the paper being absent or missing, then the marrying point of the two pieces will create a bubble or pyramid look.

Sometimes, the tear will be so large that a piece of the book is missing and people will replace the paper with rice paper or newspaper. These restorations are usually pretty easy to detect as the paper is not consistent and if it’s attempted on the cover, the gloss will be inconsistent.

Rice paper is commonly used for replacement paper and sometimes people will use a product called Wheat Glue as an adhesive to fix tears or missing pieces. To detect the glue, hold the page in question under a black light and the glue will appear luminous under the light.

There are times when a missing piece is so large that someone will use newspaper to re-create the missing piece. They may bleach the paper and if the piece is small, they will physically re-draw the parts that are missing. If the piece is large, some will print the missing pieces from a printer onto the newspaper. There are also cases when people make photo copies of the panel and mend the copies to the book. This can be spotted by changes in thickness and color related to the paper. The new paper will not have aged the same as the original and over time the replaced paper will appear brighter than its counterpart.

Finally, a savvy restorer will get a low grade copy of the same book and cut the missing piece from the low grade book and substitute it for the missing piece in the higher grade book. If this is done by an amateur there will usually be an overlap that is easy to spot. However, if the modification is performed by a professional, the only way to spot the change would be in the color of the paper; comic books do not age at the same rate, and strange lines are created from the two pieces being joined together.

Re-Glossing

The last type of restoration that this article will focus on is re-glossing. Re-glossing is a process by which a person actually re-glosses a comic book with a new gloss. This can be accomplished by several means. The most common is a spray gloss. Spray glosses can be bought at the local hardware store and a person will literally spray the book cover with new gloss. It’s important to remember that re-glossing is often done in conjunction with color touch ups.

Honestly, this is one of the most difficult restorations to spot. If it’s done right, the re-gloss will look original to the book. The process by which a book is re-glossed is pretty simple. Usually the person preforming the re-gloss will actually remove the cover from the rest of the book. Once that occurs the staples become the first clue. As a result of the cover being removed the staples have to be opened in order for the cover to be pulled off.

Remember that the staples are one of the most important parts of a comic as they hold the book together. Be sure that you examine the staples on your books and that they are time appropriate for the book. Silver age staples are wider than the modern staples utilized today. They also have a duller appearance than today’s modern staples. Make sure that there are not multiple staple holes and that the staples line up to the original holes, the rust stains, and the indentions.

When looking to see if a book has been re-glossed, look at the book at an angle and look to see if parts of the cover have a thicker gloss on different sections of the cover. Usually when a book is re-glossed the cover will be “thicker” than normal. It can be hard to get a spray gloss to be consistent over the entire cover, so look for changes in the thickness of the gloss. A few dead giveaways are: (1) an uneven look to the gloss on the cover; (2) if the book’s cover seems TOO heavy when you open it; (3) depending on the agent used the comic can look foggy or the colors will look dull –  similar to a book that has been cleaned.

Restoration Grades

There are other types of restorations that are not listed on this page, however the restorations mentioned here are ones that graders usually consider when grading a book. Remember, before you buy a book, or decided to submit for grading check for the aforementioned restorations. While some collectors are ok with a Purple “restored” label, most are not. A CGC Purple Label will sell for up to 50% less than a CGC Blue Label. The label will also state if the restoration was done by a professional or an amateur.

CGC Restoration Scale

CGC has a scale for the different types of restorations and is listed below:

1 (Slight)

  • All conservation work, re-glossing, interior lightening, piece fill no more than the size of two bindery chips, light color touch in small areas like spine stress, corner crease or bindery chip fill. Married cover or interior pages/wraps (if other work is present)

2 (Slight/Moderate)

  • Piece fill up to ½” x ½” and/or color touch covering up to 1” x 1”. Interior piece fill up to 1” x 1”

3 (Moderate)

  • Piece fill up to the size of 1” x 1” and/or color touch covering up to 2” x 2”. Interior piece fill up to 2” x 2”

4 (Moderate/Extensive)

  • Piece fill up to the size of 2” x 2” and/or color touch covering up to 4” x 4”. Interior piece fill up to 4” x 4”

5 (Extensive)

  • Any piece fill over 2” x 2” and/or color touch over 4” x 4”. Recreated interior pages or cover

Conservation

Conservation is the process of removing flaws in a way that is not considered restoration. There are two options for collectors that have books and want to increase their grade without getting a restoration label: (1) Getting the book pressed; (2) Dry cleaning the book. Both of these options are not considered to be restorative in nature, but are considered good practices for conservation.

Pressing

Pressing is exactly what the name implies – placing a book on a dry mount press and heating the press up and using the heat and subtle force to make the book flat again. Pressing fixes a lot of minor defects in a book. If your book has a spine roll, indentions, non-color breaking creases, or does not lay flat, a good press person can fix these issues and REALLY bring up the grade of the book.

A press cannot fix a color breaking crease or spine tick. Pressing is an art unto itself. If you would like more information on getting your books pressed, please check out the following link for expert help:

http://marketplace.comicbookinvest.com/pressing.html

Dry Cleaning

Ever take your clothes to the cleaners? Well, you can take your comics too! Just don’t visit your local shop. This takes an expert as well! Dry cleaning a comic entails physically cleaning the book using an eraser or cleaning pad. Dry cleaning does not use any liquids and if done correctly will not remove any of the books colors or gloss. Dry cleaning will remove pencil marks, some stains, and any mold that may have accumulated on a book. Again, you need an expert, DON’T try this at home!

Conclusion

Over the years, grading has become the cornerstone of determining the value of comic books. To inspect and grade your comic books, you will need to make sure that you have the right tools and the right information. Using tools such as a ruler and a black light can help you determine if your book has been altered or if your book is in its original condition. Always handle your books with care while inspecting them and try not place any unnecessary pressure on the spine of your comics.

Before you send your comic books off to be graded be sure to inspect them for any of the restoration we discussed in this article. Recall that books that have been restored have a special label and grading scale. Restored books have a select market and fewer buyers than books that are in their original condition. Happy hunting, happy grading, and don’t forget the golden rule of collecting: If you don’t know, ask!

Helpful Links:

  1. Black lights are available here: http://www.amazon.com/TaoTronics-TT-FL001-Ultraviolet-Flashlight-Batteries/dp/B00RV8PREI/ref=zg_bs_6476726011_1
  2. Light boxes are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Artograph-LightTracer-Light-Box-10/dp/B000KNHRH6/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1463142007&sr=8-4&keywords=light+box
  3. Overstreet Grading Guide is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Overstreet-Guide-Grading-Comics-2015/dp/1603601678/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463142868&sr=8-1&keywords=overstreet+grading+guide
  4. OWL cards are available here: http://gemstonepub.com/owl-card
  5. A great article on Paper and how it ages is available here: Talking Pages and Paper (a must read for all collectors.)
  6. CGC: https://www.cgccomics.com/
  7. PGX: http://pgxcomics.com/
  8. CBCS: https://www.cbcscomics.com/

If you have any tips or tricks for spotting a restoration, be sure to comment below and help educate others. Special Thanks to Jon Z, Deno Pappas, Ben C, Justin Winchester, and Manole Saviolakis for their input, Sean Weingarten for the color touch pictures and Dr. Ricardo Lumbreras for editing.

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