When Does it Make Sense to Grade Your Comic Books?

by Jestin Davis

When-does-300x157 When Does it Make Sense to Grade Your Comic Books?If you could make double digits returns on your investment by grading a comic book, would you? In some cases, you might be able to do just that. So when exactly does it make sense to grade your comic books? In my previous article, I discussed the topic of getting your books graded vs. keeping them raw. In the end, I concluded that it really depends on your situation and your goals. Today, I’d like to dive into the numbers a little when it comes to grading your books and the potential increase in value that it could provide.

The Value a Grade BringsHulk-181-201x300 When Does it Make Sense to Grade Your Comic Books?

I took a look on eBay earlier today to see what a raw Hulk #181 could be picked up for, I was able to find a raw copy estimated grade at 3.0, which looked to be fairly accurate based on the picture provided. Of course, a part of the gamble with buying raw books online is the risk of getting a book in a lower grade than you expected. This book looked pretty solid and I would guess that it would be graded around a 3.0 (maybe higher). This particular raw copy sold for $1,600.

When you look to see what a graded Hulk #181 is selling for, there was a recent sale of a CGC 3.0 at $2,000 and a CGC 3.5 that sold for $2,300. So, in this case, the math is pretty simple. We just need to figure out roughly how much it would cost to purchase that book ($1,600) and how much it would cost to get that book graded. The other option we have is to have that 181 pressed by CGC (technically CCS Pressing) and shoot for a higher grade, potentially hitting that 3.5 grade.

How much does it Cost to get a Book Graded?

The big question to consider, as with anything, is how much does it cost? Taking a look at the CGC grading pricing, you can see that our example Hulk #181 could be graded Express for $100 plus shipping ($3,000 max value). If we want to take the extra step and have that same book pressed, it would fall into the Express category as well ($3,000 max value.) This would cost $85. So, we would be looking at $185 plus shipping (let’s say $30) to bring our total to $215 for a grade and press.

cgc-matt-nelson-grading-hulk-181-300x168 When Does it Make Sense to Grade Your Comic Books? What kind of ROI can you Expect?

I’m no mathematician, but I can work out a simple formula here. Follow along with me to figure a rough estimate of our return on investment for this hypothetical Hulk #181 scenario. Of course, your mileage may vary, based on the book you purchase, what kind of deal you can find, and what kind of grade you can achieve. The cost of the book was $1,600 plus the cost of pressing, grading, and shipping which equals $1,815 total. IF you can obtain a 3.5 grade you could likely sell it for $2,300. That is a little over a 26% return on your investment. If you received a 3.0 grade, your return would be around 10%. Both are solid returns and would probably warrant the grading! The caveat is if the book comes back lower than expected, you could be sitting on the book for a while before the price increased enough for you to break even. If you believe in holding long term, it’s not as big of a deal, however. If you grade your comic books, you’ll have them ready when the perfect time to sell appears.

Consider One Last Thing

There is one last thing to consider and that is TIME. If you look at the Express option for pressing it says there is a 10 working day turnaround. The Express grading is a 6 working day turnaround. You also have the time it takes to ship to and from CGC. Plus, any backlogged time they haven’t accounted for. Based on many conversations with collectors, it notoriously takes longer than expected to have a book fully pressed, graded, and returned. If you aren’t in a rush, believe you have some upside opportunity with the grade, or want to hold the book as a value investment over time, then grading is likely a great option for you!

Are you going to grade your comic books? Tell us all about it!

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14 comments

Sam March 7, 2021 - 4:26 pm

I have noticed and interesting pattern lately on some key books. Raw copies that appear well (NM) have been selling for more than recently graded 9.2s sell for. Sometimes significantly more. Most recently I noticed this on a Daredevil 168 and Marvel Spotlight 32. I was thinking this was result of the optionality that exist in a raw book that it might come back at 9.6/9.8 after a press. Maybe a reason to not grade those 9.2s.

Just wondering if anyone else has noticed this. I
personally enjoy the process of finding a book that can be improved by having it pressed and then getting a higher than expected grade but it’s not worth paying a premium for that “chance”.

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Phil H. March 10, 2021 - 8:48 am

Sam: I think your observations make sense to me but it may only apply to books with a certain more limited market value (e.g. a more common modern age book under $100 graded 9.8). This would probably less likely apply to a harder to find silver or bronze age keys that are harder to find and sell for higher prices. Imagine an apparent 9.2 silver age ASM raw book. Just by the nature of getting it slabbed at 9.2 likely makes you a nice profit (hence what you might get this book slabbed before selling it). It is less reliant on a clean/press to make back the cost of grading, but perhaps this could send it even higher. An already graded book makes this less likely unless it was slabbed before the more common clean/press technique. The delta between a 9.6 and 9.8 is so huge (often 4-5 fold difference in price vs a 9.6), that makes this question we are discussing difficult in certain circumstances. It is not that hard to figure out and I could easily run the spread sheet model, but I have never submitted a book for grading and do not have the detailed specifics of actual costs (grading, s&h, clean/press, quick press, variables based on book market value, fast vs standard turn-around, volume submissions and available dealer submission discounts, etc.). And then you have to account for eBay selling fees, etc..

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Jestin Davis March 11, 2021 - 10:30 am

I agree, its fun to think you can get that bump but also you don’t want to overpay.

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Grzzlymntns March 7, 2021 - 7:08 pm

One thing that also enters my mind is the preservation of the comic. In general, I like raw comics because I like to reread them. But I have a couple old EC horror comics that I might get slabbed not because I’m particularly interested in reselling them, but because I just want to protect them for future generations. I kind of feel like I should be a good steward of the comics.

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Jestin Davis March 11, 2021 - 10:31 am

I agree 100% on preservation, a well loved book is always something you want to preserve for kids/grandkids and the value is secondary when it comes to that.

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John March 7, 2021 - 9:07 pm

I would like to hear your opinion on grading issues that are valued $75 and below. Also what about those issues that might be flash in the pan characters. Odds are 181 is going to hold its value. Those issues that are not “Top10” characters can go up and loose value as fast as Gamestop.

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Jestin Davis March 11, 2021 - 10:32 am

I would be careful on hot spec books, to your point by the time you get them back from the grader they may not be so hot…

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Chris March 8, 2021 - 5:39 pm

I love this article because it’s a question I’ve grappled with for quite a while.

I have kind of gone overboard in researching candidates for grading. I look at 5-6 different indicators and then ask myself a couple questions beyond that before taking the plunge. Here’s my admittedly overdrawn process:
1. Are graded copies selling? I look for more than 100 graded copies that have sold in the last six months.
2. Are non-graded copies selling? I guess I use this to gauge demand.
3. Is it a candidate for a future value increase or protection? This is where reading the articles here are invaluable.
4. Does the CGC census indicate few copies? I would be more likely to send a book with graded copies in the low hundreds versus the thousands.
5. Has the book risen in value over 2 years? Doubled in value in 5 years? Quadrupled in value over 10 years? These numbers are arbitrary, but it helps me avoid sending in new books that may be a flash in the pan.

I then think about the difference between the graded and ungraded copies and ask these questions:
Is the graded value worth at least twice the ungraded copy?
Is the raw value almost the same as the graded value? It may be overpriced and has reached a bubble.

Am I thinking too hard about this?

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Jestin Davis March 11, 2021 - 10:34 am

I think that is a very solid process and if you aren’t looking to essentially be a day trader of comic books (hard to do with turnaround times anyways) you do want to do your research like you have pointed out here!

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Phil H. March 9, 2021 - 12:15 am

Jestin: Thanks for this analysis and I agree with John’s question. When you are dealing with an expensive high demand book like Hulk 181, the math likely always works out based on your above examples as confidence in 3rd party grading is important in general for very high priced vintage books (including any incremental cost of pressing if it bumped the grade and got $500 more in value). I think the challenge that the everyday speculator, flipper or investor of modern day books may face is avoiding making an error and taking a bath on lower priced modern books. All you have to do is look for low graded books on ebay and you quickly see that some people have stupidly paid for CGC grading for a $10 low grade book from the 90’s. What wants a CGC 3.0 X-Force book from the 90’s? The sale price is less than the grading cost and nobody wants a 3.0 on a modern book. There is a break even number that can likely be calculated based on the end selling price of the book in raw vs graded condition. The CGC pre-screen service is designed for those who only want a book graded if it passes a certain grade level (e.g. 9.8) otherwise it is like flushing money down the drain. The margins get squeezed the lower the price of the book and the more you pay for grading and pressing.

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Jestin Davis March 11, 2021 - 10:36 am

Great points Phil, I tend to only buy 9.8s in 1980 and newer books to your points listed. Also, the prescreen process seems to be a must when dealing with modern books as you know, less than a 9.8 likely isn’t worth grading unless it holds a special place in your heart and collection.

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Phil H. March 9, 2021 - 10:28 pm

Here is a realistic scenario many a gocollect reader will one day be faced with. You buy and collect 3000 comic books over multiple years of visiting the local comic shop, buying on eBay or at a con. They were bagged and boarded and read only once. Mostly NM+ condition in your view but there is always a risk you will get a 9.6 and not a 9.8. You stop collecting because you lost interest or get caught up in other priorities such as career, raising a family, buying a house, etc.. 10 years later you realize that your collection has some pretty good value and even with $4 cover price per book, you already spent over $12K on cover price alone. At CGC 9.8, some of your books would now fetch $400, some $250, many $100 and a ton at $75. At a hypothetical $50 cost to have them graded, you could spend $150,000 on grading costs alone for the entire collection but you know that is not ideal but each graded book likely nets you more money if chosen carefully. So what is the right decision? I suspect there are a ton of collectors faced with the future scenario, perhaps with guys like Reggie with 50 thousand books.

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Mike March 30, 2021 - 1:16 pm

Your scenario doesn’t account for fees.

If you spend 1815 for the book and grading and sell for 2k you would be about negative -$115.00 after ebay fees and shipping. And if you are going to sell it local that up until high dollar prices, many buyers will ask for discount because they are not buying on ebay, and want you to pass the savings to them. A high dollar amounts you can get away with selling it at or near ebay with the value being that they can inspect it and purchase it in person.

If you got the bump from pressing and got 2300 that would be 1970 after fees and shipping. A gain for 155.00 or 11.7% gain which is risky, because you are hoping the press goes well for the bump. You also have to for any unseen inside damage, besides the stamp. has the book been married which is a lot more common on this book or have any other undocumented restoration.

Your message is solid though, because there are definitely raw books out there that with the right eye and knowledge of the market that you could turn a profit just by buying, grading, then flipping ebay books.

Also note is that popular keys are still on the rise for investments and growth if you are willing to hold, though like any product or stock the bottom can fall out. That said, back in 2018 a 3.5 181 was 850-900 and saw about a 250% increase over 3 years.

Even last year a 5.0 was worth around 1650 and is now pushing over 3.5k with listings trying to push for a 4k-5k bin price.

So for those reading this, time the market, see what characters are getting a movie or a series, what studio is doing it, who is directing it. Look at what happened to New Mutants 98, Iron Man 55. And is currently happening to Edge of Spiderverse #2. How will x-men and related character books react when introduced to the Marvel Cinematic universe.

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Jestin Davis March 31, 2021 - 8:17 pm

Really good points! I don’t sell on eBay so I didn’t account for those fees and I also buy to hold at least 5 years so I do think a little bit more long term like you mentioned.

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