There are great reasons to slab a comic (slabbing is slang for getting a comic professionally graded and encased in an un-openable hard plastic shell from CGC, PGX, or CBCS). Let's explore those reasons and examine some things to be careful about when slabbing comics.
If you’re purely interested in protecting your comics, mylar and acid free boards will protect the books just fine, have a look at the page about bags & boards for more info on this. If you want to go the extra mile, stick your mylar bag into a top loader. This will provide really sound protection for your comic for considerably less than you will pay to have it slabbed.
On the other hand, if you are buying an expensive comic over the internet and want a 3rd party graded copy to ensure you that you’re getting what you’re paying for, getting a slabbed book is a way to ensure that. Third party grading will alleviate any worries about misrepresented grades and restoration. However, you will often pay for that privilege. High-grade slabbed books will frequently sell for multiples of what an unslabbed (also called “raw”) book will sell for. In fact prices can vary quite a lot in the Near Mint to Mint Range. The Overstreet Price guide doesn’t assign price values to books over 9.2 stating that prices in these grades are “frequently considered extremely volatile”.
When buying over the internet, slabbed books are protection against the non-professional graders out there (even among dealers) who have a wide variety of skill on grading in the fine, very fine and near mint categories. Each grading point can sometimes amount to a non-trivial increase in price so a misgraded book can cost a buyer some money. Slabbing is a benefit in the internet age not only for the buyer since almost everyone can become a potential dealer; slabbed books are more ‘liquid’ and are generally easier to sell.
What about if you want a “perfect comic”? If you do you’d better get 3rd party verification. If you’re a stickler for 9.8 or higher, you NEED 3rd party verification. The differences in grade are so minor at the very top end of the grading scale that the slightest flaw can change the grade. Once you get a really high grade verified by a 3rd party, you never want to physically touch that book again. Any kind of handling could easily drop a grade to 9.6 or lower. That’s why slabbed books cannot be opened and slabbing will turn your comic into something that just can be displayed (or stored away). Opening the slab (also called ‘cracking the slab’) invalidates the grade and it will need to be re-submitted to get it re-slabbed.
So, lots of reasons to buy books that are slabbed. What about slabbing your own books? Slabbing your own books can be done for a variety of reasons:
Be very careful when deciding what to have slabbed. High grade books are great candidates, as are “keys” (e.g. a #1 comic, a 1st appearance, death, or other significant event). Slabbing a random non-key book is often not likely to pay off in increased value, nor will slabbing books under 6.0, after grading costs you may in fact lose money if ever attempting to resell lower grade non-keys. As with anything, slabbing lots of books make the “per each” cost less. A dealer that sends in a whole bunch of stuff is going to get a better price than a collector who slabs a couple of books every now and again.
Unless a comic is an extremely valuable "key" collectible, like Amazing Fantasy #15 or Showcase #4 (in which case, it can make sense to slab in any grade) our philosophy on slabbing below 6.0 is “Do it if that plastic case makes you feel happy, because it’s not necessarily going to make you $$$"
If it makes you happy to slab a book, that is an end in itself and no one can take that away from you.
Many people who buy slabbed books are primarily interested in buying/collecting higher grade books. Lower grade slabs seem to be a buyer’s market on many books. Bob knows from the personal experience of buying CGC’d 4.0, 4.5 and 5.0 books significantly BELOW guide prices (including keys like Amazing Spider-Man #1 and Showcase #22) that slabbing books that are not considered “investment grade” will often not pay off from a resale point of view. This is not to say that they are not worth money, or that you may not be able to find some buyer somewhere willing to pay full guide or even a bit more for that slabbed book in 4.5. In fact, depending on the age price and significance, some lower grade books may pay off for you if slabbed, it’s just not as much a sure thing as a slabbed high grade comic. Keep in mind that if you need to sell, those lower grade books may not be worth MORE if they are slabbed but will likely sell quicker since they buyer has an assurance as to the grade.
For recent books, the market is even more volatile if you don’t get that 9.8 (or the ever elusive 9.9 or 10.0). We’ve seen books from the past few years in 9.6, 9.4, and 9.2 selling for less than what a regular collector not getting bulk dealer pricing would pay to get them slabbed. This is where having some really strong advice on pre-grading books that are submitted could save you big bucks. Anything from the past 10 years that is not a “super-key” book should be as high a grade as possible if you are slabbing it as an investment.
To Slab or Not to Slab? The answer is “it depends”.
If you do it for the right reasons it can be fun and enhance your collecting and/or re-sale experience. Hopefully you’ll have enough knowledge going in to make the right choice.
Bringing books for on-site grading at a convention can seem to be a very convenient option as opposed to shipping them to the grading service, paying those shipping charges, and also waiting weeks or months to have them sent back.
Shawn attended the Wizard World Chicago show in 2014 and brought quite a few books to be graded since CGC was doing on-site grading. In this section, he will recap the highs, the lows, and provide a little insight and in some cases warnings, about getting your books 3rd Party graded, starting with the process itself.
When I arrived at the show Thursday night, the lines were pretty short since it was the beginning of the show. It was my first stop so there wasn’t much of a rush. I brought a total of 20 books to be graded that ranged from Silver Age to Modern (Modern is considered 1975 and later). Grading Modern and Bronze books cost $30 each at the show, while the pre-1975 books were $50 each (15 of the 20 I brought books fell into this category). So you can see there’s a decent cash investment you’ll have to make when grading your books that you will need to add to what you already invested when making the initial purchase. If you plan on using CGC frequently, their services are cheaper when you become a member. They have individual pricing and three different membership plans to choose from that range in price from $39 up to $275 per year. Plans include discounts off the normal price and the higher tiers give a coupon for 4 “free” submissions. You can also find a list of submission centers as well as the how to’s on their website. I was able to save some money by submitting directly at the show, but although CGC does take submissions at most major conventions, they only do on-site grading at just a handful of shows each year, so keep in mind you will have to pay shipping charges as well.
I dropped off my books off Thursday night and most of them were ready Saturday which was a day earlier than promised so kudos to CGC for the quicker than expected return. Their customer service at the show was friendly and attentive, and they even corrected a mistake within 30 minutes, more on that in a bit. For now, let’s get into some of the books themselves. Let’s start with the bad…
I purchased a first appearance of Luke Cage in Hero for Hire, and a first appearance of The Falcon in Captain America. I paid $150 for the Hero for Hire and $100 for the Cap #117 Falcon appearance, both of them at the 2013 Wizard World Chicago show. Unfortunately they both came back in grades less than expected, and the Hero for Hire not only came back in a grade less than I thought, but also came back as having been restored!
When looking at the label you can see that it had a small amount of color touch, as well as a tear seal to the cover. This was of course sold to me as unrestored, so after the cost of the book and the grading, trying to resell the book would result in a loss, and the purple label for a book of this age makes it less appealing to the eye. I recently purchased a graded 9.0 copy of this same book to have an unrestored and nicer book as part of my collection, not wanting to run the risk of purchasing a less than expected grade. I also know now to avoid the dealer who sold me the restored comic at future shows as he had multiple copies of this issue last year, and I purchased what I thought was the nicest copy he had. Did this dealer purposely sell me a restored copy? Assuming positive intent I’m sure he didn’t as he may not have known himself, but when purchasing comics at prices above the $100 price point, not being able to spot restoration is a risk you can avoid by purchasing slabbed books, or by becoming a better grader and learning how to spot restoration yourself.
With regards to the Captain America #117, I thought the book would grade somewhere between 7.0-8.0 and it regrettably came back as a 5.0. CGC doesn’t tell you why the book graded as it did, and if you want to see the notes on why, there is an extra cost for that. The last CGC 5.0 Captain America #117 sold on e-Bay for less than the asking price of $115, so you can see that I lost money on both of these books and it shows just how 3rd Party Grading could be a gamble where you actually lose money if you are buying "raw" ungraded books with an eye to slab them and make a profit unless you are really good at grading and spotting restoratioin. CGC does offer a pre-screening service where you can specify a minimum grade and they won’t slab anything below the specified grade. That said, it requires a minimum submission of 50 books, so is mostly useful for dealers trying to get a bunch of 9.8 books to re-sell.
Getting Cap #117 back at a 5.0 grade let me know that I’m not as skilled a grader as I thought I was. There’s plenty of resources out there to help you become a better grader (do an internet search on "help on grading comics"), and before submitting to CGC, I’d encourage you to use some of those resources and try to be as discerning as possible when purchasing un-slabbed books if your intent is to eventually have them graded as high grade “investment” books. Since I don’t do this full-time, I try to rely on knowledge gained over the years, and resources like the Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide or this 10 Point Grading Tutorial on the Heritage Auction site. Being able to accurately grade could help you avoid some of the situations I ran into, or help you in spotting the differences from one grade to another. But another thing to consider, given the subjectivity of grading, is whether CGC is the perfect “end all” authority on grading or not.
Let’s look at some more of the books that I got graded at the Wizard World Chicago Show as they illustrate some of the points made above. With the second Avengers movie coming out in 2015 (with the first screen appearance of Ultron), I decided to get my two copies of Avengers #55 graded (with the first full comic book appearance of Ultron-5). On these two I was much closer in my estimation of the grades, but I assumed one would come back a 7.0 and the other an 8.0, but they both came back as 7.5’s and both had Off White to White Pages.