NostoNews, December 1, 2008
by Tommy Jasmin

Crooks among us

Yes, there are, I'm sad to say. How do the bad guys affect us in the world of collectibles? Let me count the ways...

Is it real or is it Memorex?

Whine all you want about the accuracy of the grades, the costs, and the turnaround times of the certification companies, but in many cases they are your best bet for buying something real. If preventing counterfeit U.S. currency has become such a difficult task, it will certainly be a lot easier to fake an old comic book or old coin.

The problem must be rampant on eBay, because the majority of cases I hear about are eBay purchases gone bad. In fact, when you list a coin for sale on eBay, on the final page you get a "Is this coin real?" warning notice - which seems a little odd the first time you see it. I have spoken to buyers who have purchased fake coins on eBay - they tell me most originate in Asian countries, and that they are getting harder to detect, as the counterfeiters continue to improve their skill. For example, they can counterfeit ancient coins in a way that artificially "ages" them, making detection by dating methods difficult. Clearly, someone is treating this as a serious business, as evidenced by the image below. You don't put something like this together in the average basement.

A counterfeit NGC holder, with an equally counterfeit coin!

The sleight of hand

I'm hearing of instances where slabs are carefully opened, and the item inside replaced with the same item in a slightly lower grade. The slab is then sealed back up to a level where casual inspection won't catch the tampering. I managed to contact one victim of this, and asked for details. They gave me an example of a CGC book they paid $1,300.00 for, and told me how the seller had somehow opened the case at the posts on the bottom, clean enough that there were no visible cracks or breaks. The inner well was then removed, slit open, a slightly worse book swapped in, and all sealed back up. In this case they were able to find and successfully charge the seller with fraud.

Now clearly, for a smart buyer this will be difficult to get away with, but you can't say you're surprised that crooks would at least attempt this. What the grading services need to do to thwart such efforts is make sure any attempt to tamper with the slab actually ruins the slab - similar to the effect of shattered laminated glass. I'm sure implementing something like this would be very costly though, and would drive already high grading costs prohibitively high.

The strong-arm

Do you think professional graders never hear bribes? Oh, you poor altruistic soul. Of course it happens, think of the incentive - on many items, an increase in one grade-notch could mean anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though I can't divulge the information, I am aware of actual instances of attempted bribery of professional graders. I am not aware of actual cases where the graders followed through, but we all know there is plenty of room for speculation here. There are countless documented cases of the same comic or coin getting different grades on subsequent submissions. And I don't mean from different grading services - we all know that's a crap-shoot. I ran a piece a few years back on how the coin grading services are all over the board. No, I mean when the same item is resubmitted to the same grading service. Now to be fair to the grading services, in many cases a) the difference is small enough you can argue it's just the subjective nature of grading. Hell, if you sit 20 comics or coins in front of me and make me grade them all now, and all again a week later, I guarantee there will be differences. And also, b) in many cases submitted items in question were "tweaked" slightly before resubmission, and the graders just didn't catch it. As I said earlier, it's getting harder and harder to detect restoration and fakes.

Always stretch the truth

I get so tired of hearing the word "guide" associated with pricing. It's only a guide. This word is so often used as both an excuse for inaccurate pricing, and a means to guide you away from your money. That's why we're all about actual sales here, and put a lot of effort into validating those sales. If you are a Nosto Premium Subscriber, and you drill down to Amazing Fantasy 15, you can be sure people really paid those prices for copies in those grades. Do you need more validation why this is important? I have seen strong evidence that many reported "sales", by certain large and well-known dealers, are in truth not sales, just artificial marketing hype - no items actually changed hands. I'll go you one further - I have seen references to comic books I have purchased myself, reported as actual sales by an Overstreet advisor, for much more than I paid for them. What kind of a taste does that leave in your mouth?

Burn me once, shame on you; Burn me twice, shame on me

I know at times I sound negative in general regarding professional grading services. Not the case - in fact, thank your deity of choice we have them, or our hobbies would be a real mess. I tell you... there's something to be said for provenance and original owner finds. And building trusting relationships over time. One thing about this month's subject that amazes me - how these buyers manage to get taken advantage of multiple times. I know when I go to conventions, I happily seek out the same handful of dealers, year after year. That peace of mind from knowing I am not getting screwed over is worth quite a bit these days.

Thanks, we'll see you all next month.

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