“That’s at least a 9.0.” “This comic is in very good/fine condition.” If you’re a beginning collector, that means very little and can be intimidating to hear at a comic convention. But fear not, for I am here to help you make sense of the grading jargon.
If you’re serious about your comics, then you better know your grades. Both CBCS and CGC basically use the same grading scale, which you’ll see in the picture to the left. Professional graders give a comic a number grade to let collectors know the comic’s quality. It ranges from as low as a 0.5 for CGC (CBCS will go all the way down to a 0.1) to as a high as a perfect 10.0.
Overall, you’ll find that the 9.9s and 10.0s are fairly rare, and for good reason. If CBCS or CGC gives a comic a 10.0 grade, then it has only minimal, hardly-noticeable blemishes, including fingerprints. It is as if it were taken straight off the printing press with kit gloves and handed to a grader. It doesn’t matter what comic it is, even if it’s not a key, anything that is labeled a 10.0 is valuable.
The 9.9 is very close to that, but may have a minute blemish that is more or less unnoticeable to the untrained eye. Like a 10.0, any comic that’s slabbed as a 9.9 has value.
Most comics peak at a 9.8, which is still very close to perfect. This grade says that a comic is like new with bright colors, white pages, and virtually no handling defects. The older the comic, the harder it is to find a 9.8, which is why any of your golden or silver age comics at this grade are so pricey; they’re rare. The newer the comic, the more common the 9.8s will be, thus lowering the value for collectors.
For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to describe each and every criteria for the grades, but I will advise you to visit the CBCS site where there’s a very informative grading guidelines page that details all the grades down to the 0.1. Here’s an overview for quick reference.
Near mint is anything from a 9.0 (which is actually considered a grey area between very fine and near mint) to a 9.8. Anything above that is considered mint. To rank as near mint, a comic must be in great shape with only minor defects. These will generally look close to new.
Very fine covers the books that have more noticeable wear, but are still solid copies that present well. CBCS calls it “above average,” but it shows signs of having been handled and/or age. For older keys, comics in this range can be highly collectible. When a comic dips into the fine category, that means it’s still a nice, complete copy, but it could have several defects including very small amounts of tape or even a tear.
Very good means a comic is readable and complete, but it’s seen it’s better days. The pages could be brittle, and some pages may be missing small pieces. Good indicates that it’s got plenty of wear and tear, the story is complete, the cover is attached, but it’s clearly in fragile condition.
Fair is a nice way of putting it. In reality, anything labeled fair is in very rough shape. These are truly low-grade books with tears, discolored pages, brittleness, heavy amounts of tape, etc., but they are complete copies. Typically these aren’t all that valuable unless you’ve got a major key comic, but they do present a much cheaper alternative if you simply want to boast that you have a copy.