Grader’s Notes: High Grade Comic Books

In this part two of four in the Grader's Notes Article Series, we will explore High Grade Comic books and the grader's notes from CBCS for those books. Understandably, a high grade book is the most desirable book for any collector. When you are searching for a comic book, you need to know how to spot a High Grade book. Consequently, in order to spot a high grade, you need to know what flaws affect the grade, which flaws are allowed, and which flaws will adversely affect the grade.

Part 1 of this series focused on the restorations and the different types of restoration that can be done to a comic book, how to handle comics, and the tools needed to inspect your comic books. If you have not read the first part of the series, it is available at: http://comicbookinvest.com/2016/05/19/comic-book-grading-restoration/

Grading is subjective and this article will describe my grading strategies and guidelines. Remember that no one truly understands what happens behind the closed doors of a grading company. Every collector should also own and read a copy of Overstreet's Grading Guide. This is the standard of strict grading.

This article is NOT meant to be the definitive guide on grading. However, it is designed to help you estimate what grade your may receive from a grading company should you decide to submit. Remember, grading is subjective; how I grade may not be how other people grade.

High Grade Comic Books

I understand that different people have different definitions of what a high grade book is, so for the purposes of this article, high grades will mean grades between 9.2 and 10. Books in these conditions can demand a high premium and are some of the most desirable books for collectors to own.

Grading Scale For Higher Grade Books is as follows:

10.0 Gem Mint
9.9 Mint
9.8 Near Mint/Mint
9.6 Near Mint +
9.4 Near Mint
9.2 Near Mint –

Definitions

Before we go over grading a book, there are a few definitions that you will need to know as they are typically mentioned when describing the grading process. There are many more terms that relate to the grading process; however, these are the ones that are seen the most in different grader's notes reviewed for this article.

Abrasion: marks that are due to rubbing.

Bindery/Printing Defects: Various defects caused during the manufacturing of the comic.

Corner Crunch: Type of dent located on one of the corners of a book.

Crease/Creasing: Permanent folding, resulting in a visible line on the comic itself. Creases can appear on any part of the book.

Color Rub: An abrasion that has rubbed off part of the book's gloss and color.

Dent: Damage that occurs to a book when sharp pressure is exerted.

Fold/Folding:  Is a crease that does not break the color.

Foxing: An age-related process of deterioration that causes spots and browning on old paper. The spots look like a fox's tail.

Miswrap/Off-set/Off-center: This is a binding defect where the cover wraps around to the other side beyond the normal “spine line”. Part of the front cover may show on the back or vice versa.

Spine Roll: A condition where the left edge of the comic book curls toward the front or back.

Spine Split: A separation of the covers anywhere along the spine fold.

Spine Wear: Creasing or other damage on the spine (left side) of the comic usually from opening the comic.

Tick: A small color break usually located on the spine by the staples typically due from stress that is placed on the book when opening.

Inspecting Your Book

Part one of this series discussed how to handle your books when looking for restorations. Most of the instructions were pretty common knowledge to the veteran collector. The same techniques apply when you are inspecting your books for a grade. I suggest checking for restorations and grading the book simultaneously.

To grade your book, always go from the inside out, page by page, carefully examining each page. On each page, go from top to bottom and count the defects that appear and list them out on a piece of paper. If a page is folded, has a color breaking crease, a stain, spine wear, or any other defect, write it down.

Be sure to measure the defects as well. If a book has a color breaking crease, document how large the crease is and where it is located. If the book has stains somewhere on the book, measure the diameter of the stain, where it is located, and the total number of occurrences. Do this process for all the defects and flaws that you encounter.

Some defects are hard to see with the naked eye so be sure to use your tools: a magnifying glass, black light, and/or a light box. Make sure that you have ample light in the room that you are inspecting the book in – this will aid in detecting additional defects.

When you are finished inspecting the book and documenting all the flaws that you find, total up the number of defects. Use these as your grader's notes. The number of flaws and the size of the flaws will determine the grade of the book.

Paper Color & Grades

Paper color will have a slight effect on most high grades. The lower the book is on the OWL color chart, the lower the grade will be. To determine the color of a book's pages, hold the OWL card beside the pages in question and simply select the color on the card that is the closest to the color of the book's interior pages. There are many collectors that believe that an OWL card is outdated and it does not contain all the possible colors. It is still a great tool to estimate the color of the pages.

It is not known the exact effect that the color of the paper has on a book's grade. Below is a table of abbreviated colors and the grades that have been observed on graded books.

White 10 to 0.5
Off-White to White 9.9 to 0.5
Off-White 9.8 to .05
Cream 9.6 to 0.5
Tan 8.0 to .05
Brittle 5.0 to 0.5

Note: The lower the paper grade is, the less flaws or other defects that the book can have to receive a grade on the higher end of the spectrum. For example: a book with Off-White pages may have two defects and may receive a 9.4; a book with White pages may have four to six defects and may receive the same grade.

Near Mint / Mint Characteristics

Books that are considered Near Mint to Mint (9.2 – 10) all have similar characteristics. The books will all lay flat, have sharp corners, and rich colors. Unless the book is a Gem Mint or Mint, they may have a few flaws. The flaws may be small spine ticks, tiny bends on the corner, or other signs of spine wear. Overall, the books will look like they are fresh off the presses.

The higher the grade, the less noticeable the defects are. Grading is subjective and what one grader notices, another grader may overlook. Some of the defects are so small that they are not even noticeable with the naked eye. But those defects can drop the grade from 10 to 9.9. It is almost impossible to tell a mint book from a gem mint book.

Comic books are fragile in nature and often when vendors place their books on the shelves, they will damage them. When purchasing books off the shelf, make sure to exam them for any potential flaws that may drop the grade of the book and purchase only the best copies that you can find.

Gem Mint (10)

The definition of a Gem Mint book is one that has absolutely no flaws. This is an impossible grade to get for older books and is rarely given out to modern books. This grade is rarely seen in real life. A gem mint book will look like it just came off of the press and has never been opened. Golden or Silver age books will generally not receive this grade.

The reason that this is impossible for older books is that comics were originally not intended to be collected. They were children's books that were meant to be read and then discarded. The printing presses at the time were crude, the paper was sub-par, and the binding machines were not accurate. These faults make it almost impossible for golden age and silver age books to receive a Gem Mint grade.

A Gem Mint book will have no stress marks, no creases, and no folds anywhere on the book. The colors will be rich and not have faded. Realistically, this is an impossible grade to get. However, there are examples of a few books receiving this grade. Simply inspecting a book by opening it should drop the grade of the book by at least .1 of a point. Gem Mint books are out there and do appear on the CGC census.

Mint (9.9)

This is another example of a grade that is rarely given for older books. A mint book will have perfect corners, the spine will be immaculate, and the edges will be sharp. A Mint book will have zero noticeable defects.

The differences between a Gem Mint and Mint are minuscule. A 9.9 may have some defect that is not noticeable to the naked eye and will only appear when magnified.  Both a Gem Mint and Mint book will lay flat, have a perfect spine, be correctly centered, and have razor sharp corners and edges.

Grading is subjective and as such, one grader may not notice a flaw that another grader does. It's possible that a book graded at 9.9 from one grader would come back as a 10 from another grader. It is also possible that the 9.9 book could come back as a lower grade if resubmitted.

Near Mint / Mint To Near Mint – Characteristics

Near Mint / Mint (9.8)

CGC 9.8

CGC 9.8

A Near Mint / Mint book is an almost perfect book. It may have a few small defects that keep it from being a Mint book. A Near Mint / Mint book will always lay flat, not have a spine roll, and the pages are typically white. To the uneducated grader, this book will look mint and the defects will be small and may require a magnifying glass to see.

A Near Mint / Mint book is allowed a few flaws or defects. However, there should be no more than a total of 3 tiny defects on the book to qualify for this grade. Acceptable flaws include, but are not limited to: slight spine wear that barely breaks color, a tiny bend on a corner of the cover, tiny wear on the front cover, tiny wear on the top or bottom of the spine, tiny color breaks on the spine, some staple wear. None of the color breaks should be larger than 1/16 of an inch.

Many modern books will get a 9.8 grade. Once again though, older books have trouble getting this grade. Near Mint / Mint books are one of the most sought after books and can sell for a much higher price point than even a 9.6.

Below is a list of defects that were found in grader's notes of 16 books graded by CBCS as 9.8. All the graded books reviewed had white pages and no more than 3 defects.

9.8 Near Mint / Mint: Acceptable Defects – Average Number of Defects: 2
slight spine wear barely breaks color
tiny bend top right corner front cover
tiny wear top front cover on spine
tiny wear top & bottom spine
tiny spine wear breaks color
very minor tiny spine wear
tiny wear top and bottom spine
tiny spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear bottom corners
tiny spine stress breaks color front cover
few tiny spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear at staples
tiny spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear spine corners
tiny spine wear breaks color
indent top edge front cover does not break color
minor spine stress barely breaks color
light bend back cover spine
light spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear spine corners
small bend right edge middle front cover
1 tiny spine stress barely breaks color
very minor miswrap
light color rub by bottom staple
tiny wear top spine

Near Mint (9.2 – 9.6 range)

Common Defects Allowed In Near Mint Category

Some defects or flaws are allowed in the Near Mint category. All books graded in this category must have sharp corners, bright colors, and nice edges.

Below is a set of guidelines that you can use to help you judge the different grades based on the number and type of defects. These guidelines are meant to help you estimate the grade of your book but not guarantee a grade.

All the books that are 9.2 to 9.6 are allowed to have spine ticks. However, the ticks must be less than 1/8″ in size. A 9.6 should not have any ticks greater than 1/16″. If there is a ¼ of an inch tick on the spine, more likely than not, the book will not be in Near Mint condition. Remember, the number of ticks affects the overall grade.

If you have more than six defects, such as small ticks on the spine of the book, if the pages are folded, or if there are any large stains on the book, it will also more than likely not fit into the Near Mint category.

Below is a table of allowable defects or flaws in each grade. These are not written in stone but are sufficient guidelines to consider.

Number Of Defects

CBCS vs Overstreet

Grade Number Defects Allowed OSGG Defects Allowed Allowable Defects
9.6 3 3 Spine Ticks that measure 1/16 of an inch or less and small breaks in color, small corner wear, light rubbing, small stain, minor bends, or slight miswrap. No defect should be larger than 1/8th of an inch.
9.4 5 3 Spine Ticks that measure 1/8th of an inch or less and small breaks color, small corner wear, light rubbing, small stain, minor bends, or slight miswrap. One defect can be a Color Breaking Crease that is 1/2 inch or smaller or up to a 2 inch crease or fold that breaks color less than 1/2 inch, with 0 other flaws.
9.2 6 4 Spine ticks that measure 1/8th of an inch or less and breaks color and small breaks in color, small corner wear, light rubbing, small stain, minor bends, or slight miswrap.

***There are exceptions to every rule and these are guidelines you can use. Remember that the Size of the defects matter. The number of defects allowed are based on the total number of defects that were found in the different grader's notes from CBCS, these were not as strict as Over Street grading guide***

9.6 Near Mint +

Below is a list of defects that were found in grader’s notes of 20 books graded by CBCS as 9.6. All the graded books in the sample had white pages. Books in the 9.6 category will lay flat, have rich colors, and have sharp edges. Books in this grade level may have small spine wear, light bends, and tiny stains.

9.6 Near Mint: Acceptable Defects – Average Number of Defects: 3
light color rubbing to front cover
tiny spine stress barely breaks color
tiny corner wear
light spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear spine corners
few tiny indents front cover
small stain in logo
few light spine stress barely breaks color
few tiny foxing front & back cover
minor bend top right corner front cover
few spine stress does not break color
tiny wear top & bottom spine
minor wear top edge front cover
slight cover miswrap
slight cover miswrap
tiny wear to corners
spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear to corners
few light spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear spine corners
tiny wear to spine corners
light wear bottom front cover edge
light bends right front cover edge
slight cover miswrap
light spine bend
tiny wear top & bottom spine
tiny edge crease right front cover barely breaks color
light color rubs right front cover
tiny spine stress barely breaks color
few color rubs to front cover
tiny spine stress breaks color
slight miswrap
tiny spine stress breaks color
tiny color rub spots back cover spine
spine stress barely breaks color
tiny tears back cover at bottom staple
light color rubbing to cover
1 spine stress middle spine breaks color
tiny corner wear
few light color rubs to cover

9.4 Near Mint

9-4Front

CBCS 9.4

Below is a list of defects that were found in grader’s notes of 20 books graded by CBCS as 9.4. All the graded books in the sample had white pages. Books in the (9.4) category will lay flat, have rich colors, and sharp edges. Books that grade as a (9.4) may have tiny stains, small spine wear, light bends, and small creases. The difference between a (9.6) book and a (9.4) is the number of flaws or defects that are allowed. The average number of defects on the (9.6) books reviewed was three, while the average number of defects on the (9.4) books reviewed was five. The size of the defects are also allowed to be larger on a (9.4) book. For example – it is acceptable to have a two inch crease on a (9.4) book that barely breaks color. However, this is not allowable on a (9.6).

9.4 Near Mint: Acceptable Defects – Average Number of Defects: 5
tiny bend through book top right with ¼” crease back cover
very light rubbing on staples front cover
very light sunshadow left edge back cover
tiny wear bottom right corner front cover
tiny spine wear & stress barely breaks color
light bend right edge front cover
tiny crease top left back cover does not break color
tiny tear top right corner back cover
very tiny crease bottom right corner barely breaks color
wear top and bottom spine
spine stress barely breaks color
slight sun shadow back cover
minor bend top right corner does not break color
spine stress breaks color
wear bottom edge front cover
tiny production chip top left corner back cover
tiny wear top and bottom spine
very slight sun shadow back cover
mis-cut
very tiny crease top right corner front cover breaks color
wear top and bottom spine
light bend bottom right corner front cover does not break color
rubbing on spine back cover
light tanning top corners interior front & back cover
tiny light creases bottom edge front cover does not break color
tiny wear top and bottom spine
light bend top edge front cover does not break color
tiny spine stress breaks color
light surface wear bottom right front cover
minor spine stress barely breaks color
very small crease top right corner front cover barely breaks color
wear top and bottom spine
tiny wear top and bottom spine
light bend top right corner front cover does not break color
minor wear bottom left corner front cover
small crease top edge front cover breaks color
tiny crease bottom right corner front cover
tiny wear top and bottom spine
tiny wear bottom right corner front cover
minor spine stress barely breaks color
light impact bend top spine back cover does not break color
tiny spine stress barely breaks color
wear top and bottom spine
tiny wear top edge back cover
tiny crease bottom right corner front cover
minor soiling back cover
minor wear top right corner front cover
tiny wear top edge back cover
tiny wear top edge back cover
tiny chip bottom left corner back cover
spine stress barely breaks color
wear top and bottom spine
tiny tear bottom edge back cover
tiny wear top and bottom spine
very tiny crease bottom left corner back cover
very tiny crease bottom edge back cover
very small crease top edge back cover
slight miswrap
2″ crease & tiny tears top edge back cover barely breaks color
tiny crease & wear top left corner back cover
light wear & bends top edge back cover barely breaks color
tiny wear bottom left corner back cover
tiny spine wear & stress barely breaks color
tiny spine wear & stress barely breaks color
tiny crease & wear bottom left corner back cover
light bends & tiny wear top edge back cover
tiny wear top edge front cover
very light rubbing on spine back cover
small scuffs & tiny bends left edge back cover
wear top & bottom spine
light wear top & right edge front cover
spine wear & stress barely breaks color
tiny scufff bottom right corner back cover
very light soiling back cover
tiny tear & wear right corner front cover
light rubbing & color transfer on spine back cover
spine wear & stress barely breaks color
tiny tears at top staple
tiny scuff left edge back cover
tiny wear bottom spine
light wear right corners front cover
few very light vertical roller marks back cover
small tear bottom spine
tiny tear top edge front cover
very small wear bottom right corner front cover barely breaks color
tiny wear top & bottom spine
few tiny spine stress barely breaks color
tiny wear top edge & top right corner front cover barely breaks color
tiny wear top & bottom spine
small light crease above CCA seal front cover barely breaks color
very light production wear above Spidey's arm front cover barely breaks color
few tiny spine stress barely breaks color
very tiny crease top right corner barely breaks color

9.2 Near Mint –

9-2Front

CGC 9.2

Below is a list of defects that were found in grader’s notes of 20 books graded by CBCS as 9.2. Almost all the graded books that we reviewed had white pages. The books that did not have white pages had “Off White / White” pages. However, they had fewer defects than books with White Pages, indicating that Off White pages are acceptable as long as they have fewer defects.

9.2 books will lay flat, have rich colors, and have sharp edges. Books that grade as a 9.2 may have tiny stains, small spine wear, light bends, small chips, some page tears, small amounts of foxing, and small creases. The difference between a 9.4 book and a 9.2 is the number of flaws or defects allowed.

The average number of defects on a 9.4 book is five, while the average number of defects on a 9.2 book is six. The sizes of acceptable defects are also greater on 9.2 books. For example, it is acceptable to have small tears or chips on a 9.2 books, but not on a 9.4.

9.2 Near Mint – : Acceptable Defects – Average Number of Defects: 6
bend / crease top spine back cover
1″ bend on Storm does not break color
tiny wear right front cover edges
spine stress, some barely breaks color
few tiny production tears top & bottom front cover
small production tear top right corner front cover
few tiny production tears top front cover
tiny production chip top right corner front cover
tiny production tear top left & bottom left corners back cover
tiny production chip top right corner front cover
tiny production tears top & bottom front cover
very tiny production tear top left back cover
tiny production chip top right & bottom right corners front cover
tiny production tears top front cover
tiny production chip top right corner front cover
few tiny production tears top front cover
very tiny production tear top left corner back cover
very tiny thin bend top edge back cover
tiny production tears top front cover
tiny production tear top left corner back cover
very tiny production chip bottom right corner front cover
tiny production tear top right corner front cover
very tiny production tear top left & bottom left corner back cover
tiny production chip top left corner front cover
tiny production tears top front cover
tiny production tear top left & bottom left corner back cover
tiny production tears top & bottom front cover
tiny production chip top right corner front cover
light tiny production tears top & bottom front
very tiny production tear top left & bottom left corners back cover
tiny production chip top right corner front cover
light 2/3″ corner crease top left back cover does not break color
tiny edge & corner wear
Off white / White pages
small amount of color lift front cover
small amount of foxing along spine
spine stress breaks color 1st cover.
light edge crease top back cover does not break color
tiny edge & corner wear
spine stress breaks color
light crease top right back cover, does not break color
distro ink along top of book
few small foxing spots to interior cover & bottom front cover
light staple indent to back cover spine
small creases top left front cover, breaks color
light corner wear
light spine stress barely breaks color
Off-White / white pages
small crease middle right front cover, breaks color
small stain & tiny wear bottom left front cover,
light spine edge & corner wear, breaks color
tiny wear at staples front cover
tiny spine stress breaks color
few bends & tiny indents front & back cover, does not break color
small stain left back cover edge
tiny wear top & bottom spine
small bend top edge back cover
long light bend bottom left edge back cover

Remember

Books that are considered Near Mint to Mint (9.2 – 10) all have similar characteristics. The books will all lay flat, have sharp corners, and rich colors. Unless the book is a Gem Mint or Mint, they may have a few flaws. The flaws may be small spine ticks, tiny bends on the corner, or other signs of spine wear.

There are so many factors in grading a book that I could not possibly fit them all into this article. This article is meant to help educate readers on what defects are acceptable at different high grades.

For more information on grading, I suggest that you read Overstreet's Grading Guide. It is the standard for estimating the grade of your book and goes into much more detail as to what's acceptable or not at different grade points. Grading is subjective.

If you have any tips or tricks for grading book in high grades or if you have some guidelines that you follow to spot a high grade book, please comment below. Thanks to the Forgotten 5 Comics for some sample pictures. Special thanks to Dr. Ricardo Lumbreras for editing and suggestions!

15 comments

  • Avatar

    Hey scott anyway I can email you some photots of a few comics i just got back from cgc some 9.8 some not wanted to get ur advice on what u think cause it ? Thanks

  • Ben Steiniger

    This is just good info.

    Good for buyers to realize that books 9.4-9.8 can and will have small defects. I’ve bought many books that were advertised as 9.4 when in reality they are more in the 9.6 and even 9.8 range.

    • Avatar

      If they were eBay buys I find a lot of better sellers will list them as say a 9.4 to avoid getting returns or item not as described cases. eBay 99% sides with the buyer, so it is best to shoot low on graded, then to call a 9.8 a 9.8 and have a buyer freak out.

  • Avatar

    Great article, well done sir! Such good info this site puts out!

  • Avatar

    pictures would be nice.

    • Khoi Cakes

      This article is meant to be a companion to the Overstreet Grading Guide – I would recommend getting one as it has many photos.

    • Scott Robertson
      Scott Robertson

      I am always open to suggestions, what pictures would you like to see? a color break crease? a fold ? an abrasion? Just a picture of a high grade books? I am just curious, what would you like to see pictures of?

      • Avatar

        Well i was asking scott its cool if i can get ur email to eemail u my cgc items that i just got. I cant figure out why one 7.5 and one 9.8 wanted to get ur opinion

        • Scott Robertson
          Scott Robertson

          Stameco, Sorry, if I started taking books to grade from one person I would have to take it from everyone, and I would have a ton of books to grade, There are a lot of reasons why your book came back low, but if its slabbed, to examine it you would need to break the case and go page by page. This would void the grade.

          I would suggest contacting the grader (if its CGC you can email them) and ask for the grader’s notes. They will tell you the defect that caused the book to drop to a 7.5. Most likely the issue is inside the book if both covers look great.

          • Avatar

            Ya the comic looks great, edges corners, fromt back all looks great just like the 9.8

            Maybe it doesint lay “As Flat” but thats about it. It was a combo pack book and it was sealed in the polybag with board and back. Someone was tellong me it could of caused the “the color to rub off the front” even though cover looks great. What u think?

  • Avatar

    Great Post that deserves to be bookmarked 🙂

  • merlin

    Something I have wondered about for a considerable amount of time are the pinholes from production often found at the bottom of the pages in older books, and tears (likely also from manufacturing) which result therefrom. What’s the verdict anyone?

    • Scott Robertson
      Scott Robertson

      Great question, I normally do not penalize for production defects or distribution marks, that’s just me…

      I can say that out of the 100 graders notes that I looked at and documented above both production tears and distribution marks were mentioned in the Grader’s note, however I can not say that the books were penalized or not for the production defects or if the defects were simply noted, but none of those things appeared in the 9.8 notes that I looked at…

  • mrnivek

    Very good post, learned a lot!

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