NostoNews, June 1, 2005
by Tommy Jasmin

Slab wars

This month I'm going to ramble awhile on professional grading, or "slabbing" services. Pros and cons, facts and opinions from myself. You know the idea - an unbiased, professional third-party examines, authenticates, grades, and encapsulates your collectible for a fee. The main advantage? When selling, especially for high dollar items and for Internet or mail order deals, the buyer has much higher assurance of the item's grade and authenticity.


For comic books, slabbing is relatively new in the collecting timeline. The major player is CGC (Comics Guaranty, LLC). The other two players are PGX (Professional Grading eXperts), and 3PG (Third-Party Grading). Four major concerns I have with slabbing comic books are:
  • Once you slab a comic book, most of it is hidden - you can only see the front and back cover.
  • Long-term storage - is the holder archival?
  • The accuracy of the grading.
  • Cost and turnaround time.
My first concern boils down to a matter of personal preference. If you don't care about actually holding the book and viewing the interior, it's no big deal. Personally, I don't like keeping slabbed books in my collection. It's just too costly for the majority of my books, and I have a preferred "system" for storage. I like to keep them all in similar boxes. For inexpensive items, a standard backing board and sleeve is fine. For more expensive items, I first put the book in a thin Mylar sleeve, or MyLite. I then place an oversized (for corner and edge protection) backing board under the book, outside the MyLite. Finally I put the whole thing in a thicker, flapped Mylar bag. For me, this assures archival storage - for my lifetime anyway.

My second concern is more complicated. Are the holders used by the grading services archival? I can't comment on 3PG, since they have never responded to my inquiries for information. I don't think the PGX holder is archival. As far as I know the inner sleeve is PVC (polyvinyl chloride), definitely not an archival material. CGC claims their holder is archival, but that's debatable. The material is Barex, made by Amoco. The chief technologist at Amoco says there are no long-term problems with Barex - that there are no additives, plasticizers or oils added. However, an independent lab who ran tests on various holders using FT-IR (Fourier Transform Infra-Red) scanning suggested that Barex is not very stable, breaking down over time. It seems to me both PGX and CGC could alleviate the archival concern by using a Mylar inner sleeve, with an acid-neutralizing sheet inserted into the middle of the book. However, I'm not an expert in this area so that's just an educated guess on my part.

As for my remaining concerns, in my opinion CGC has the advantage for authentication. The main issue here is restoration detection, and I believe the folks at CGC have excellent skills in this area. For grading accuracy, I've found both PGX and CGC to be extremely good graders. Cost and turnaround time favors PGX - it can take months to get your books back from CGC by the standard service. I'll summarize as follows: for lower value and modern books, where restoration is not much of a concern, go with PGX (much cheaper and faster turnaround), and for high value older books, go with CGC where you get a higher degree of assurance the books have not been tampered with or restored.


Storage and viewing are not an issue with coin slabbing. The holders are small, and you can see the entire coin clearly. The major concerns for coins are grading accuracy and authentication. Coin grading services have been around a long time, and there are many of them - PGGS, NGC, ANACS, ICG, PCI, ACG, and NTC to name a few. In a previous article, I noted the results for grading the exact same coin submitted to the various services will vary an almost disturbing amount. As Dean Albanese touches on in this month's coin news, the concensus in the collecting community seems to be that PCGS and NGC are the most trusted. They are the tightest graders and the best at detecting restoration. My view is that for high dollar, rare coins, they are your best bet. But for more common, newer coins like Statehood Quarters and modern bullion coins, why not go with a cheaper service like ANACS or PCI? PCI has a very attractive standard service at $10.00 per coin and an amazing five day turnaround time. Sure, you may end up with a notch or two of variance on the final grade, but not enough to justify the extra cost. I have a gripe with ICG though - they seem to give out MS-70 and PF-70 grades (a perfect score) way too freely. But grading is not a perfect science, so let the slab wars continue.


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Thanks, we'll see you all next month.

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