Nothing 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.
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.
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.
STAPLE 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).
*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.
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
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
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)
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.
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”
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”
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”
Any piece fills over 2” x 2” and/or a color touch over 4” x 4”. Recreated interior pages or cover
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.
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!