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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Encased Forever?

Being a fan of people like actors, actresses, writers, singers... or things like baseball cards, coins, maps, movie memorabelia... can be expressed in some very strange ways. One thing they all have in common is the longing of the fan to have the most complete prestine collection of whatever touches his heart. In this age of instant gratification thanks to Ebay many fans have build over the years a vast collection of beloved items. So when one has some precious items in his collection the next question arises: how do I protect my most valuable objects from decay so that they keep or rise in value over the years and will give a premium price when necessity or greed forces me to sell these objects? Thanks to some clever business men, often ultimate fans in their hearts themselves, many quality preservation tools have been developed catering to every kind of collection protection. One of the collection fields that has some of best protection techniques often developed and tested over decades is comic book collecting. I, myself, have a vast comic book collection so the techniques to preserve these books are not strange to me and I know several different methodes to keep my comic book collection in prestine order for decades to come to enjoy. So you can imagine a few days ago my surprise when I stumbled on a site that caters to the ultimate fan by offering high end collector's products, not at all related to comic book collecting, but nevertheless using a high end comic book collection preservation technique called "slabbing" in conjunction with... Marisa Mell memorabelia.
"Slabbing" or "encasing" or "encapsulation" is a conservation technique that has been developed in early 2000 by a company called "Comics Guaranty LLC", also known as "CGC", based in Sarasota, Florida. The core business of the company is being a comic book grading service as an impartial third party. After it's launch it has since gone on to become an important yet controversial part of the comic book collecting community. The company has been described as "extremely important" to the comic book collection market by Robert Overstreet, author of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, the bible in the comic book collecting field for everything grading and pricing your comic books. The encapsulation can be done either through an authorized dealer, directly by the owner through CGC's Internet partners, by paying an annual membership fee or via representatives in attendance at several comic book conventions. Upon receipt, the comics are inspected by five experts in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. The graders look for damage and signs of alteration. The comic books are then graded on a scale from 0.5 to 10. These numbers correspond with more traditional descriptive grades such as "very fine", "near mint", and "mint", with the higher numbers indicating a better grade. In addition to the numeric grade, CGC also uses color-coded labels to categorize comics like Universal (blue) for a standard comic book; Restored (purple) for a book that has evidence of restoration, either amateur (A) or professional (P), combined with the descriptors slight (S), moderate (M), or extensive (E) and Qualified (green) for a book with a significant defect that needs specific description or one with an unauthenticated signature.After grading, the comics are placed in an inner well - a sealed sleeve of Barex, a highly gas-impermeable plastic polymer. Then, the comics are sonically sealed in a hard plastic, tamper-evident holder. This process is often referred in slang as "slabbing". A label with CGC hologram (1) is affixed at the top indicating the kind of collectable like "vintage photograph" (2), title like "Marisa Mell-Masquerade" (3), unique bar code (4) and grade like "Very Fine" (5).On first sight this kind of encapsulation looks like a great way to protect your comics. It gives them a sturdy case so that your comics will never be damaged. As a collector you are also sure that, thanks to the impartial expert grading to the highest grading standards in the field, you are buying or owning a comic book in the exact grade as mentioned and it has not been overgraded by a seller and sold to you for an inflated selling price. And last but not least thanks to the smart business techniques of the CGC in conjunction with Wizard Magazine, the dominant comic magazine in the field, a new comic book collecting market has emerged i.c. a speculator's market that specializes exclusively in (top) graded (vintage) comic books and thus willing to pay often many tenths of thousands of dollars above the normal collecting price for a near mint book but not encapsulated. Downside to this kind of encapsulation is that you will "never ever" going to read that comic book again in your life or any other life on the planet because once you open your sturdy case the value of comic book drops to the value of a normal graded uncapsulated comic book. Closing again by yourself as it was is not possible! So now this technique of encapsulation is spilling over to other fields of collectability like vintage photos of (important) movies or movie stars. Buying such a encased photo will set you back at the moment around 40 USD or more while buying this photo without a CGC grade will cost you around 9.99 USD on Ebay or at other vintage movie memorabelia internet stores. I have no problem when people are trying to earn money by slabbing photos or whatever collectability. Everybody decides how to spend their hard earned money! Where I do have problem with is the fact that using this technique on vintage movie photos as a preservation or grade guarantee is kind of useless for almost all of those movie photos perhaps with the exception of some historical important ones. Most of those pictures are available in great quantities in excellent quality which does not warrant slabbing or selling at a premium price. The only person that is getting better is the seller, certainly not the buyer in thinking having a unique collector's item. A collector's market of those pictures does not exist to the extent of the comic book collector's market for vintage important comic books like Action Comics 1 as first appearance of Superman. So why do it???

3 comments:

Holger Haase said...

Fascinating stuff. I only knew about slabbing comic books.... which I find daft beyond belief as I actually love "reading" those buggers rather than stare at the slabbed covers.
Slabbing those lobby cards/promotional photos may make a bit more sense as you still see the whole item but as you say: They aren't exactly rare.
I also suspect that this attracts investors more than collectors. Looking at the ultimate movie memorabilia collector, Forrest J Ackerman, I don't think he'd have had a single slabbed something anywhere. From what I understand some of his most precious items were just located loosely under stairs, lying on floors etc....

筱涵 said...

Quality is better than quantity.....................................................................

Mirko di Wallenberg said...

Hey Holger, yes, comics were made for "reading" and not for display in a plastic case for eternity! Sigh!