The Plastic Case Debate: Who Should Grade and Slab Your Collectible Comic Books?

Certified Guaranty Company was the first third-party comic book grading service, which changed the way we comic book nerds looked at collecting.  This slabbed example of Amazing Adventures #16 earned a 9.6 grading.

Certified Guaranty Company was the first third-party comic book grading service, which changed the way we comic book nerds looked at collecting. This slabbed example of Amazing Adventures #16 earned a 9.6 grading.

While sealing a comic in plastic with a label displaying a professionally assigned grade might seem silly to some—after all, how can you read them if they’re entombed in a plastic slab—comic collectors have been doing it for quite some time now. High grades on professionally graded comics can sometimes translate to prices well above their guided value. But before you decide it’s time to get your comics graded, let’s take a look at the three largest grading services and what they offer collectors.

Back in 2000, CGC (Certified Guaranty Company) became the first third-party comic book grading service and changed the way we comic book nerds looked at collecting. The idea was simple, take the guesswork out of grading comics, which allowed the collector to buy and collect with confidence. Sounds slick, right? For a long time it was. Suddenly, some comics in high-grade condition were selling for twice their guided value. Some collectors celebrated, others scoffed. No one could argue the hobby would ever be the same again.

Certified Guaranty Company
CGC was the first, the biggest, and is widely considered the strictest grading services. Its services require a membership with levels that range from free to $299 a year. To have your comics graded, you submit them through a CGC-partner comic shop (which is just about any local comic shop these days). Then, based on your shop’s membership level, you send your comics off (insured, of course) and wait. There’s a fairly complex system of services, based on the age and value of the comic that decides how long it will take to return your graded comics. The faster the service chosen, the more expensive, with prices starting at $18 (for comics printed after 1975 with a $200 maximum value) that takes 20 to 55 business days to $95 for 5-day express service for comics worth up to $3,000. Submission can get pretty complicated so it’s best to work with a retailer that’s had some experience. CGC also offer a same-day Walk-Thru service for those who hoof it out to their Sarasota, Fla., headquarters.

When your graded comics arrive, they come in a blue-tinted, sealed plastic case with one of several different colored labels that explains the grade and anything else that would set the comic apart. Graded comics also include a certification number that allows collectors to look up the comic in the CGC Census for access to notes. CGC doesn’t authenticate signatures, but does attend several Comic-cons every year where it witnesses creators signing the books—the only way to have your comic graded as part of their Signature Series. Sorry Kirby, fans.

Professional Grading eXperts
PGX (Professional Grading eXperts) was the next competitor in the grading business, coming on the scene in 2003. They seemed to form out of collectors complaining about CGC’s complexity and have since become the second-largest comic grading service. PGX offers two different price tiers: $13 for modern (published after 1978); and $20 for standard (published pre 1978). It also offers some more expensive services for those in a hurry, but that’s really it. Also, anyone can send their comics with no middle man and no membership necessary.

Professional Grading eXperts (PGX) came on the scene in 2003. It has more affordable price points, starting at $13. This Amazing Spider-Man #129—feating the first appearances of Punisher and Jackal—graded at Near Mint/Mint 9.8.

Professional Grading eXperts (PGX) came on the scene in 2003. It has more affordable price points, starting at $13. This Amazing Spider-Man #129—feating the first appearances of Punisher and Jackal—graded at Near Mint/Mint 9.8.

Unlike CGC, PGX will authenticate signatures without witnessing them using its own database of verified signatures. When it can’t quite match a signature to its database, PGX sends the comic to a third-party handwriting analyst for verification, which is nice for collectors who have comics signed by deceased creators. But this can also be a risky business. Just like CGC, PGX encases graded comics in a blue-tinted plastic case with a color coded label based on age that has the grade and notes about grading and the issue. With services beginning at $13 and the fact that PGX doesn’t add a fee based on the final grade of the comic, makes it the most affordable grading option. This is something collectors should keep in mind when the difference between a 9.8 and a 9.4 grade can sometimes mean hundreds of dollars.

Comic Book Certification Service
Comic Book Certification Service (CBCS) out of St Petersburg, Fla., is the newest service, coming on the comics grading scene last July. CBCS was started by Steve Borock, who helped found CGC (along with Mark Haspiel) back in 1999. Like PGX, CBCS accepts online submissions without a membership and no middle-man. CBCS also attends several conventions where collectors can submit comics in person and have them signed in front of witnesses.

Comic Book Certification Service is the newest service, having been in business for a little more than a year. CBCS also authenticates unwitnessed signatures as part of its Verified Signature Program, such as this Mark Hamill-signed edition of Star Wars: Dark Empire II #1.

Comic Book Certification Service is the newest service, having been in business for a little more than a year. CBCS also authenticates unwitnessed signatures as part of its Verified Signature Program, such as this Mark Hamill-signed edition of Star Wars: Dark Empire II #1.

Unlike the other two graders, CBCS has designed a clear case and a label with a QR code on the back that allows the collector to access the graders notes for free. Pricing works similar to the others with a Modern Tier comic (published after 1975) beginning at $15 per issue and go up from there based on the age, grade/worth, and speed of return. CBCS also authenticates unwitnessed signatures, part of its Verified Signature Program, by sending scans of signatures to CSA Comics, LLC, which uses a 28-point digital mapping authentication system. On its website, CBCS boast a climate-controlled vault, cameras that record both clients and employees in the building and “armed professionals” to guard your prized comics.

While it’s true, there is some argument out there about the who grades better and which companies grade will get you a better return, it’s important to know that each of these companies insure you’re comics safe return and all uses the latest technology and know-how when it comes to grading your comics.


Matt Baum is Worthpoint’s comic book Worthologist and Co-Host of the Two-Headed Nerd Comic Book Podcast. If you have questions about these comics or any others feel free to post them in the comments section below or hit him up on Twitter, where he’s constantly yelling about stuff even nerdier than what you just read.

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