Comic Restoration: What You Should Know

by Ariel Lazo

Comic-Restoration-300x157 Comic Restoration: What You Should KnowNothing makes a collector’s heart drop like seeing the dreadful purple label. Picture this…the bell rings, signifying that the time has come. Your package has arrived. Your comics arrive from CGC, CBCS, PGX, or EGS. As you go through the beautiful stunning blue labels you notice something. One of these books isn’t like the others. This book has a … PURPLE LABEL!!! Many new to the hobby do not know about the curse of the Purple Label. If you want to know more about comic restoration and how it affects your books, you’ve come to the right place!

What is Restoration?

Restoration is the act of adding or replacing foreign material to a comic book using various techniques. The purpose of this is to return the book as close to its original state as possible. As a result, prior to the ’60s, collectors used to restore any and all books they could. Restoration had no effect on the value of books during this time causing many to be crudely restored. Some earlier methods involved tape, markers, pens, and glue.

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Quick History on Restoring Comics

In the 1970s, comic book conservation pioneer Bill Sarrill created the first set of professional techniques to restore comic books. Sarrill started to use water and various solvents as well as refined the piece fill and color touch process. Seeing books professionally restored started to actually add value to some books. At first, professional restoration was geared more towards lower-grade books that actually needed the work. Time has changed that as well as refined the restoration process as a whole.

Moreover, restorations were starting to increase, causing methods to become harder to detect. Many saw the nostalgia and benefit of keeping a book untouched. Soon collectors were not able to spot a restored comic from an untouched one. This led to wariness in the hobby. People that wanted a pristine Golden or Silver age book got duped with ones that have restorations.

Common Restorations

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COLOR TOUCH – This process replaces missing color or masks defects using materials such as acrylic paint, watercolors, pen, crayons, pastels, markers, or white-out. Color touch also refers to inpainting.

PIECE FILL – This is utilized to replace missing paper on a comic book using materials such as leaf casting, rice paper, donor parts from other comics, or copy paper. It is sometimes referred to as infilling.

TEAR SEALS – Seals are accomplished using an adhesive such as wheat paste and rice paper, or any type of glue, including white glue, wood glue, superglue, or paste.

SPINE SPLIT SEALS – These are essentially tear seals but occur along a comic book’s spine. Like tear seals, they also utilize adhesives and/or rice paper.

REINFORCEMENT – This process is used to support weak areas of a comic book, particularly the spine, staple areas, or a corner or edge. It can involve the use of rice paper or glue.

PIECE RE-ATTACHMENT – Re-attachment of loose pieces is like tear sealing, utilizing rice paper and/or various adhesives. You can find them on the outer edges of a comic book.

CLEANING – There are three basic types of cleaning; water, solvent and dry.

  • Dry cleaning is not a restoration.
  • Solvent cleaning involves soaking a cover or pages in a chemical bath to remove certain kinds of tanning or foreign substance.
  • Water cleaning involves a water bath that may contain chemicals that whiten or deacidify paper, or aids in the removal of stains, tanning, and creases.

restored-300x129 Comic Restoration: What You Should KnowSTAPLE REPLACEMENT OR CLEANING – This involves replacing one or both original staples of a comic book with new or vintage staples, usually done when the original staples have become rusty or broken. Sometimes the original staples are chemically cleaned to remove rust or discoloration.

RE-GLOSSING – A process that enhances the gloss of a comic cover using a fixative spray.

GLUE – This is considered an amateur repair using non-archival glue, utilized to seal tears and splits, reinforce weak areas or re-attach loose pieces or pages.

TRIMMING – A technique that involves cutting off the edges of a comic book’s cover or pages to remove defects and sharpen edges. Unlike the other restoration techniques, trimming results in an improved appearance through destruction (loss of paper).

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*Note: Conservation is a sub-category of restoration. The difference is that restoration brings the book to its original state while conservation protects just the structural integrity of the book. Conservation does not involve color touch or aesthetic fixes.*

Restoration Grading Scale

This is a Quality and Quantity Scale to determine the aesthetics of the restored book. The Quality/Quantity Scale is an alpha-numeric designation given to books depending on the type and quality of restoration.

Quality Scale:

A (Excellent)

Color match near perfect, no bleed-through

Piece fill seamless and correct thickness

Book feels natural

Near perfect staple alignment, or replaced exactly as they were

Cleaned staples or staples replaced with vintage staples

B (Fine)

Piece fill obvious upon close inspection, obvious to the touch

Color touch obvious upon close inspection or done with materials listed above

Cover cleaning resulting in slight color fading or excessively white

Interior cleaning resulting in slight puffiness, cockling, excessively white

Enlarged staple holes, obviously crooked staples, or backward staple insertion

Replaced staples not vintage

C (Poor)

Piece fill obvious at arm’s length

Bad color matching, use of pen or marker. Bleedthrough evident

Cover cleaning resulting in washed-out/speckled colors, moderate cockling, and/or ripples

New staple holes created upon reinsertion, or non-comic book staples used

Married cover/pages poorly attached with non-professional materials

Quantity Scale – (Determined primarily by extent of piece fill and color touch)

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.

2 (Slight/Moderate)

Piece fill up to the 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 fills over 2” x 2” and/or a color touch over 4” x 4”. Recreated interior pages or cover

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Value of Restored Books

Remember how I said in the 60’s comic restoration didn’t affect the value of the book? Well not anymore! Comparing two books, one golden age, and one silver age, one can see a tremendous difference. The golden age book was Batman #23 CGC graded 5.0. On 2/5/20 a restored book sold for $635 while a blue label sold for $1,201 on 7/12/20. The restoration to the book was slight, including small color touch, tear seal, and re-glossing.

The silver age book chosen graded by CGC in the 4.0 grade was Amazing Spider-Man #1. These two prices are more indicative of the market since the sales were only a day apart, for instance. On 8/31/20 a restored copy sold for $5,040 while, the day before, a blue label sold for $8,499. These changes represent an 89% and 68% change in value respectively.

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Bottom Line

In conclusion, this blog is to be informative, but also a warning. Check the books you buy thoroughly. Look up videos on how to inspect books for restoration. Moreover, comic restoration is reversible at times, it can negatively affect your value by thousands. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should never buy a purple label, nor that if you get one you should Frisbee toss that slab to the next town. If it involves a book that is your personal grail and it is the only way to obtain it, go for it! Well, as long as the price is right. Just keep in mind you never want to pay blue label prices on a purple label book.

Hope this helped many of you! If you have any questions or tidbits on comic restoration please leave me a comment below!

Till Next Time, Happy Hunting!

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6 comments

Alain Le March 22, 2021 - 1:31 am

Seriously? You compared a restored ASM1 that had Stan Lee’s autograph to a universal grade. Try comparing a restored without his signature and then you will get a more fair value comparison.

Reply
Ariel Lazo March 25, 2021 - 1:11 pm

Hi Alain!
You are correct! I looked up another purple label in a 4.5 grade which sold a month after. It sold for $2959 showing an even greater difference in value when compared to an unrestored book.

Thank you for keeping me on my toes!

Reply
Jay Pele March 22, 2021 - 12:07 pm

I think as the comic collecting market expands, restoration will matter less and less, and while unrestored comics will always be more valuable, the stigma associated with restoration will virtually disappear, as long as the prices are right. It’s been like that for a while in the Golden Age market, where some books are virtually non-existent as unrestored, and I’m starting to see the same with more scarce Silver Age keys. Hell, we recently sold a Purple-label CGC 9.4 B-1 ASM 300 for $650.

Reply
Ariel Lazo March 25, 2021 - 1:06 pm

Hi Jay!

Wow, an ASM 300 purple label for $650! I do agree with you to a point. Yes, the scarcer the issue the less restoration will matter. But with more and more people taking better care of their modern books, collectors will steer away from them again. Remember, during the Golden and Silver age slabbing and bagging your books wasn’t as predominant as it is now. Let’s see how the market changes in time!

Great Comment!

Reply
Steve March 22, 2021 - 3:42 pm

How does restoration affect value? Is a restored book worth less than an unrestored book (assuming they started in the same grade)?

Reply
Ariel Lazo March 25, 2021 - 1:02 pm

Hi Steve!
Great Question! This is a tough one. According to the census for sales, a restored copy normally has a lower FMV than an unrestored copy. For some collectors, it makes no difference but for others, it’s a huge difference. Something I have seen is collectors buying a restored book then paying to have the restoration removed. However, that will not work in all cases just ones with minor touches.

Hope this helps and great question!

Reply

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