A Beginner's "How To" Lesson on Grading

ASK BASIC QUESTIONS: and adopt consistent 'guidelines' for grading. Not all comics will be sent for 3rd party (CGC) certification or sealed permanently in plastic slabs. The conditions range from COVERLESS to Near Mint/Mint. Many valuable, highly collectible comics are graded every day merely by a careful and close examination by the collector or dealer.

INVEST SOME STUDY TIME: Start with reading the "Bible" the Overstreet Annual Price Guide; it has extensive, detailed written grading guidelines.

Get familar with commonly used Abbreviations.

The Overstreet Guide to Grading (1992; A new version is expected sometime in 2003) has pictured examples of books at various grades; Ed has provided some samples with his notes below. Experience will tell you how features or defects impose "plusses or minuses" on condition, and then on price. Finally, read Ed's Grading Methodology and his Grading/Price Chart.

LEARN & BE PATIENT: Estimating the condition & evaluating the impact that a defect or quality has on a book's overall grade and estimating its value is a skill that develops with practice, once a collector has developed consistency in the process.

GRADE THE ENTIRE BOOK: Not just the Front Cover! Here are sample grades with factors (including "plusses" & "minuses") identified which can influence the overall grade of a collectible comic.


Fair 1.0

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Gd 2.0

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GD+ 2.5

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VG- 3.5

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VG 4.0

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VG+ 4.5

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PLUSSES + (& Minuses -)

Ed assigns a value to each "plus" (or positive feature), worth about 5 % of the NM guide value; a "minus" is worth the same amount deducted. "Plusses" can help narrow the price estimates of a Gd, VG, Fine or FN/VF book, while not "jumping" to the next higher grade.

It is possible to count ++ double, or even +++ triple without jumping to the "next higher grade"

Use the book to the left as a sample: If a NM 9.4 is priced at $300, and a VG 4.0 would be $50; a VG+ should add about $15 (or 5% of $300 NM price!) and the book valued at about $65. Since F is about $70, this seems reasonable.

see Ed's Grading Chart for more information

"FINE" & DANDY: Of all grades, the widest range of opinions and values exist for the "Fine" category. FN comics can range from 20% of the OS NM prices, up to 60% or more, depending on various features to a particular book. Interchanged grades = grading laziness: such as grades "FN-" and "VG/F"; "FN+" and "FN/VF" or "FN/VF" and "VF-". The 10.0 point system of grading can capably compute the widely differing prices for books in the "Fine" range; this requires skill & precise criteria of "plusses or minuses" that are applied consistently.

FN+ 6.5 Silver Age Example

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 FN+ 6.5 Bronze Age Example

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FN/VF 7.0 -7.3 (Type 'A')

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 FN/VF 7.0 (Type 'B') Bronze Example

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FN/VF 7.0 (Type 'B') Silver Age example 

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FN/VF 'Type A & Type B'

The JLA 49 (above left) is an example of what Ed calls FN/VF Type 'A'; a book that appears overall as high grade, and has little wear and such nice eye appeal that it would otherwise qualify for a higher grade, if not for a specific defect, in this case-the staple pull. Other similar defects detracting from an otherwise higher grade, slightly miscut, has a small crease or name on cover (NOC).

Above & directly left are examples of what Ed calls FN/VF Type 'B'; a book that is overall nice, not far from a high grade VF territory, but general wear or excess specific wear or lower page quality keeps it from making the higher grade!

see Ed's Grading Chart for more information

Corners: are all 4 sharp, square? Soft, rounded, worn, creased? Torn or a chunk missing?
Back Cover: don't ignore it! White borders dirty? Coupons filled in? Nicked, creased, has a chip out?
Spine: check for visible - stress lines, dents, splits, or tape? are spine inks chipped or flaking?
If a "Giant" or Annual - is the (thicker) spine square or bent, squashed, torn?
Staples: shiny, worn, rusting? is a staple missing or "pulled" from cover? Off center, bent, replaced?
Is Cover firmly on? is it fragile though attached? or completely detached?
How are the centerfold pages? center pgs bound to staples-tight? loose, fragile?
Covers & all pgs there/Complete coupons, value stamps, posters? some other premium missing?* 
If an interior piece is missing: did it affect the story/artwork? or was it an ad, or letter page?**
Vividity: are inks/colors: bright and reflective? cover surface marks appear under bright light?
Interior Pages: are they W or O/W; supple or brittle? spotting or foxing? Yellowing or tanning or browning?
Printer-Distribution Defects, e.g.  store stamps, distributor spray can stains  arrival date or pencil notes/prices on FC or BC? 
Books from a store display: has sun  fade/drained colors; created dust shadows? Did back cover inks blend with ink from FC?
Cover defects: off center? coverless or a double cover? ragged edge 'Marvel chipping' on cover?
Check for price/print variant gold cover? "direct" or "newsstand" edition 1st print, 'famous origin series' or reprints?
Adulteration: (also see complete) writing, name on cover, color touch, trimming? a staple replaced or added, tape repair?

Restoration: Anything added to or removed from the original item? Is professional or amateur restoration detected?
Overall look of book: Ed calls it "Eye Appeal" Note: If 2 books grade close, the book with better "eye appeal" sells 1st!  

*Note: opinions differ on how polybagged comics are graded once opened.
**Note: this may determine if the book, although incomplete, can qualify for an acceptable "reading copy".

 Some advice: "polite rules" to examine a book:
1. always ask the owner or dealer for permission to "check out" the book. If they give the ok, ask them if they want to remove it from its Mylar sleeve or taped polybag.
Note: an OK to approach & look at books on a display shelf is not an open invitation to handle or remove them from the display! You may (by accident) drop or damage the book!

2. remove tape completely, before sliding the book out of the bag. No matter how skilled you think you are at this job, NO ONE is "faster than the tape."
Note: I have seen "experienced" people roll the tape back or out of the way, and somehow, still get a book caught. Take no chances-you can always add more tape!

3. SHOW CARE: Whenever possible, lay the book flat on a clean counter surface. Cautiously look at the spine, corners, front & back cover, inside 1st pg & FC, and centerfold.
Note: Examine each area carefully to avoid adding creases or surface dents. If you are nervous, ask the owner/dealer to show you these areas & all coupons.

4. Don't be shy about asking questions: such as "How do you grade this book?" or "Do you know of any work done to this book, of any kind?"
A seller should ethically offer up full information about the condition or restoration of a book, especially when asked directly!
Note: But they may not always be honest or knowledgable; if they act unsure or seem insulted at the question, be wary!

Return to GUIDES

More info on RESTORATION