$3.99 Newsstand Editions, 35 Cent Variants, Australian Newsstand Edition, Canadian Newsstand Edition

6 Epic CGC Labeling Blunders Of Price Variant Comics, And What We Can Learn From Them

By Benjamin Nobel, September 26, 2018

Off the bat, the very first thing I would like to state is that I am a fan of CGC, a customer of CGC, and I would not hesitate to recommend CGC to others. And, I believe that everybody makes mistakes — we are all only human, after all! Labeling mistakes are bound to happen. And mistakes will happen at any grading company. Even epic ones, like mis-labeling a Star Wars #1 reprint as the rare 35¢ cover price variant (yep, that will be one of the six examples; read on…).

Ever since CGC introduced the online form method of order entry by customers, it feels to me like I’ve been seeing more and more labeling blunders. Have you noticed this too? And to my way of thinking, an increase in labeling errors makes a whole lot of sense to me under this new system. Because with the old way, when submissions came in on paper, how did those books get entered into the computers at CGC? Well, while I have no first-hand knowledge of the detailed inner workings at CGC, I have to imagine that in those days of only paper submissions, a person at CGC needed to themselves enter each book into the computer, as the order was verified, book by book. How else would those books have gotten off the paper and into the computers?

Picture yourself doing the following task: you are going through a stack of raw books one at a time, with the information for each book listed out on a paper next to you, and you are typing each one of those books into a computer spreadsheet as you go through the stack — and one of the columns in the spreadsheet is the variant designation for the book. Because you are doing that data entry, you are probably more inclined to be checking for correctness as you type the books in, ensuring that if a variant is mentioned on the paper, that it matches up to the book before your fingers type it in…

But times have changed with the advent of the online submission system: now, the customer enters everything into the computer… So by the time the submission arrives at CGC, the computer already has all the information for each book as CGC’s staff is unpacking the order… that is, the computer has the information that the customer entered. And while I have no first-hand knowledge of the inner workings and steps of the internal process at CGC, I imagine that this new method is an absolutely huge time-saver, allowing for a much more efficient order acceptance process where instead of entering everything, they now only need to check everything that the customer already entered themselves.

Greater efficiency in the CGC submission process brings good for all of us — CGC presumably saves many man-hours and therefore costs, and in theory those incremental savings can be passed along to customers in the form of better rates, better speed, or both. But is some amount of accuracy lost in the trade-off?

In the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the authors show just how powerful the concept of the “default option” really is — presented with a default, i.e. something that happens if we take no action, we humans are very likely to just go with that default. Thinking about this concept as applied to CGC’s new online entry system, what I believe we’re witnessing as collectors, is that when a customer enters their comic as a variant in error, it is now much more likely that it will remain in the computers there at CGC as that variant, in error, all the way through to arriving at your doorstep: because once the customer has entered the variant information, it appears that what the customer entered is now the default option — i.e. for an error to be corrected later, CGC staff would have to catch the mistake and fix it sometime during the rest of the process.

Suppose for sake of illustrative example, that someone owns one of these:
Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

As the customer, how would we enter that comic into the online form? First, we’d type in the Title: Star Wars. Next, we’d select the Publisher: Marvel Comics. For the Issue #, we’d type 1. Then the Issue Date: 7/77. Now comes the crux of what this post is about: the Variant field. A drop-down appears, and the customer may optionally select a choice from a drop-down list. As the mouse hovers up and down, the choice selected is highlighted in gray. Below is a screenshot of what this looks like:

cgc-comic-entry-form-online

It is extremely easy to select the wrong choice by mistake. Hover your mouse ever so slightly in the wrong direction, and you can select the wrong variant.

cgc-entry-form-star-wars-1

Erroneous selections by customers can in turn lead to labeling blunders where the book leaves CGC with the label erroneously identifying the comic as the wrong variant. In this post I will review six such observed mistakes as applied to various cover price variants, and I will discuss what we can all learn from these mistakes.

What Can We Learn From These Mistakes?

Before I present the six example CGC labeling blunders, I want to quickly address the “what can we learn from this” question — because observing the blunders is one thing, learning something from observing them is much better. First off, I want to share with you that in the process of researching this post, I learned something important when I contacted CGC: I learned about CGC’s policy regarding correcting labeling mistakes. I hadn’t really thought about their error correction “policy” very much before this. I sent them pictures and eBay links of some of the books you’ll see later, and what I learned in the process is that CGC will not correct this type of mistake if a third party (like you or me) sends them an eBay link.

Even if those eBay photos clearly show the certification numbers and clearly show the features of the comics that prove they are not in fact the variants listed on the labels, their current policy (as of this date) is to change the books only after being in contact with the rightful owners. At first, the CGC representative I corresponded with thought perhaps I was the owner of the initial book I had mentioned, and asked me for a photograph of the book along with something showing today’s date — like a newspaper — in the photograph. Clearly, their stance is that they need to be able to trust the photo before they take any action; and there are understandable reasons for this stance.

So one thing I learned, is that — as of today — CGC’s error correction policy makes it highly likely that erroneously labeled books will stay erroneously labeled. They will apparently only make a correction at the request of the owner of the book, whereas a third party like you or me pointing out an error does not seem to trigger any kind of “recall” process nor review of any internal photographs stored at the time of grading (which tells me that perhaps they do not currently take such photographs internally).

And so one thing CGC may want to learn from this, and may want to consider doing differently to “react” to error reports and be able to correct them, is to implement a process where they do snap a picture of each slab and store that picture internally for future reference. Then, if a third party like you or me points out a mistake on a given certification number seen on the marketplace, CGC would be able to reference their own internal photograph and examine that reference photo to verify the mistake. Adding such a reference-photo-step to their internal processes would mean they would not need to rely on the accuracy of third party photos uploaded to eBay by sellers; the “hurdle” to correcting an error would therefore be dramatically lowered, making it more likely that errors such as the ones you’ll see later actually get corrected. Leaving errors uncorrected can produce nasty marketplace results — just wait until you see what the mis-labeled Star Wars #1 sold for at auction… I’ll show you that in a moment.

Another thing CGC may want to consider doing differently, which could prevent this type of labeling error from occurring to begin with, is to change the internal process followed when the customer has entered a variant designation into the online form. For example, one possibility is to distrust the customer by default and literally prompt CGC grading staff to perform manual entry of the variant designation — I picture the computer system used internally by CGC staff refusing to “continue” until each book that was denoted by the customer as a variant is reviewed and manually categorized by CGC grading staff; and to ensure this review by the graders is not biased to any default, the staff member could be prompted to make their own choice without seeing what the customer entered in advance (knowing only that the customer denoted it as “a” variant but not knowing which variant — leaving it up to the CGC grading staff to review the book and choose the proper variant designation, and then once they have made their choice they could next be shown whether that choice matched what the customer entered).

What can we learn as collectors (and as participants in the online marketplaces)?

For one, if we spot a book we believe might be mis-labeled as a variant, and we enter that book’s certification number into CGC’s website, then unless the owner has contacted CGC to have it corrected, we can expect the bogus variant designation will show up online too — meaning CGC’s website will appear to “corroborate” the erroneous variant designation, to any market participant researching the book they are considering.

Let me pause on this point for a moment, because it is important. CGC is trusted as an “authority” and if the label says a comic is a variant — and the online lookup “corroborates” that it is a variant — but a collector’s own background knowledge tells them the book inside the slab is not that variant, then a collector who suspects a labeling error is going to be faced with an internal question: do I believe myself and my own background knowledge, or, does CGC know something I don’t?

“Might CGC know something I don’t?”

That’s a critical question… And our certainty of the answer depends on the situation. For example, let’s think through Type 1A Canadian Price Variants of the 1980’s and Type 1A Australian Price Variants of the 1990’s. Whether we are looking at a direct edition copy of a given issue, a regular newsstand copy of that same issue, or a Type 1A price variant newsstand copy of that same issue, we know in advance that by definition, all three of those types are identical on the inside. Said differently, the only information that tells the types apart is already on the outside. We need not crack a slab to know what we are looking at! We need only look at the outside of the comic!

With these thoughts in mind, let’s proceed to look at the “most epic” of the six blunders I will share with you…

Blunder #1: Star Wars #1 35¢ Variant

In the beginning of this post, we considered the hypothetical question of what we’d enter into CGC’s online submission form if we were submitting one of these:
Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

So first and foremost: What are these? One go-to resource we can reference is the Overstreet guide. Overstreet lists Star Wars #1 as follows:

star-wars-1-overstreet-info

As you can see above, there is the regular 30¢ cover price type (valued at $215 in 9.2), the 35¢ cover price type (the Type 1 price variant; valued at $11,000 in 9.2), and then the various reprint types each valued at just $70 in 9.2.

To help us identify the types, Overtreet notes that the 35¢ variant has “Price in square w/UPC code” and further goes on to say: “NOTE: the rare 35¢ edition has the cover price in a square box, and the UPC box in the lower left hand corner has the UPC code lines running through it.”

Why would Overstreet need to “spell out” that the UPC code has lines running through it? Shouldn’t that be obvious? Well, as it turns out, there also exists a 35¢ cover priced REPRINT where the UPC code box is “blank”/empty (just a white rectangle; no lines running through it). Overstreet is “spelling it out” to help collectors avoid a big blunder: buying a reprint by accident, thinking it is a first print copy.

And then for the Reprint entry, Overstreet says, “has “reprint” in upper lefthand corner of cover or on inside or price and number inside a diamond with no date or UPC on cover; 30¢ and 35¢ issues published.”

So by the above, a reprint copy can say REPRINT in the upper left-hand corner of the cover, or in the indicia inside. And clearly, from the above descriptions, Overstreet is teaching us that if there is a 35¢ price but that price is inside a diamond shape, the book we’re looking at is a reprint. Another resource, MyComicShop, catalogs/lists the various types out there for Star Wars #1 like so:

star-wars-1-mycomicshop-ver

So at MyComicShop, per the above, they have cataloged four different types: two first print types (30¢ and 35¢ cover prices) and two reprint types (“diamond” reprint with blank UPC and newsstand type with UPC). Note that the description on the diamond entry says “cover or indicia” indicating that the REPRINT designation is either shown on the cover itself for some copies, or, in the indicia for others.

In the marketplace, we sometimes see CGC-graded copies of the “diamond” reprints, where CGC denotes them as “REPRINT” on the label:

Note how the above example copy says Reprint at the upper left of the cover. And indeed, if we look inside other diamond copies for a Reprint indication in the indicia page, we’d see the indicia says this:

But once encapsulated, the example indicia page above would be out of view — one would have to crack the slab to see it. Suppose CGC were to encapsulate one of these reprints and label it — in error — as “35¢ Price Variant”? Would market participants “trust” their own background knowledge and conclude they are looking at a mis-labeled reprint copy? Or, would they place some odds — some non-zero chance — that CGC knows something we don’t, and the book inside is a actually special case first printing that nobody has yet discovered/documented?

We actually got to find out the answer to that “trust” question… because this (below) recently came onto the market (on eBay):

Image of CGC slab 1269363002

If you are reading this post around the time I wrote it (in September of 2018) then you can still access the eBay listing at the following hyperlink (note: you may see a message like the below — clicking the “View Original Listing” will take you to the original item): https://www.ebay.com/itm/283037236937

view-original-item

And this is the price it fetched at auction:
false-star-wars-variant-sal

Wow: as you can see, the book fetched multiples of what a CGC 9.6 first print 30¢ copy would normally go for — below are a couple of recent example sales of 30¢ copies:

star-wars-1-cgc-9.6-sales

Let’s examine the listing description of the “35¢ variant” copy that went for $1,075 at auction:

The description states: “Up for auction is a super rare 35 cent variant of the first Star Wars comic ever made!! As you can see, it has been graded by CGC at a 9.6!! HUGE VALUE!! I collect sports cards, and not comics, so I do not know much about these but I was told this particular version in this condition is worth anywhere from $6500 – $12000!! I am starting the auction at 99 cents and will let it ride. I was also told that this was an original as CGC always prints “REPRINT” on their grading page but I was also told to sell it as “I don’t know” to be safe. Again, I do not know much about these so am only going by what I was told. Serious bidders only please as I do not accept returns for graded items. They are the experts, not me, so I must go with what they say 🙂 Thank you for looking and good luck!! “

Notice how the seller points the finger of responsibility at CGC and basically says “they are the experts, not me.” Would they not have placed REPRINT on the label if it was a reprint, the seller asks? And by suggesting that, a small sliver if doubt is placed… because we don’t know what we can’t see and we can’t see the indicia page of a slabbed book… so is it possible this copy doesn’t say reprint inside? Is it possible CGC knows something we don’t? After all, their certification lookup tool “corroborates” the variant designation (shown below). [And that small doubt is likely what caused the copy to be bid to an insane price level.]

cgc-1269363002

It would obviously be better if CGC corrected the lookup above so that any future lookup did not falsely corroborate the book as being the 35¢ variant. I asked them to correct it, but alas, by CGC’s current policy, they will not correct the above unless the winner of the book contacts them. If the winner does contact them, they assured me they will be more than happy to make the correction. Hopefully any future bidder/buyer (should the book be listed for sale in the future) will google the certification number — #1269363002 — and find this post as a “cautionary tale.”

I dug deeper into eBay’s sold listings and discovered that this is not the first time this particular book has been sold! Does the below picture taken from an earlier listing look familiar? It is indeed the identical serial number atop the slab, previously listed by a different seller:
star-wars-1-blunder-cgc

And instead of pointing to CGC as the “authority” and suggesting the label must be accurate, this seller wrote as follows, in their listing description:

star-wars-1-false-35c-desc1

The description says: “We believe this copy is a reprint, thought it does not say REPRINT on the cover and it was graded and marked on the label by CGC as “35 Cent Price Variant” and not a “Reprint.””

So the prior seller of the book came right out and said “we believe this copy is a reprint…” And here’s how that prior seller had priced the book on a buy-it-now:

star-wars-1-false-35c-sale-

It is clear to me that what we have here is an epic CGC labeling blunder involving the #1 most highly valued bronze age comic book, inflating the census count of 35¢ variants on record in 9.6, and causing major market confusion as evidenced by the auction bidding taking the book to $1,075. Because the indicia page is buried inside the slab, it is likely that some market participants assigned non-zero odds to the notion that this particular copy was, in a ground-breaking discovery, not actually a reprint; but in reality this was a labeling mistake, pure and simple. A blunder… and quite possibly a blunder that originated with the submitter selecting the wrong variant from the drop-down list by accident.

The blunder draws attention to how the new online submission system may have made a major change to the “default” — i.e. the variant information associated with any books that are submitted through the online system now originates with the customer. The default action of “doing nothing” (leaving the designation alone) can now result in “false positives” where books are leaving CGC labeled erroneously as variants that they are not. The Star Wars blunder highlights how there is room for improvement in how the customer-entered online submission information is later error-checked at CGC before the book leaves the building. The blunder also highlights how the current policy of requiring the book owner be involved in the error correction makes any error correction “after the fact” extremely difficult; surely there is room for improvement in how CGC reacts to reports of such labeling errors in the future, perhaps by adding a step in the internal process to photo-document each slab before it leaves the building, thus allowing for later internal photo lookup by certification number and examination of that trusted internal photo to check for labeling errors at a later date.

Blunder #2: Amazing Spider-Man #654, “Sensational Spider-Man” Newsstand Edition

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #654 — a key issue where Flash Thompson becomes Venom — have a really cool “variant-worthy quirk” (i.e. a feature which is remarkable enough in CGC’s eyes that it causes CGC to “break out” the newsstand copies as their own census variant, something they do not normally do [normally direct edition and newsstand copies are “lumped together”]): They were distributed as “Sensational Spider-Man”:

Note in the picture above how the word “Newsstand” appears to the left of the UPC code, and the words “Sensational Spider-Man” appear to the right: this tells us we are looking at a newsstand copy of issue #654. If we were looking at one of the prevalent direct editions instead, then we’d see the words “Direct Edition” aside the UPC code instead, like this:
asm-654-direct-close-up

Anybody can tell a newsstand copy apart from a direct edition in this manner; no examination of the interior of issue #654 is necessary.

The Blunder:

While ASM #654 newsstand copies are “variant-worthy” due to the UPC codes that mis-identify the comic as a different title than it actually is, another “variant-worthy” attribute that we sometimes see with newsstand comics, one which also causes CGC to “break out” newsstand comics distinctly from their direct edition counter-parts, is when the newsstand edition is a cover price variant of the issue number — and many Amazing Spider-Man newsstand comics in the 500’s and 600’s carry a $1.00 higher cover cover price, such as $3.99 for the newsstand edition while their prevalent direct edition counter-parts carry a $2.99 cover price. [Read more about the dramatically-more-rare $3.99 cover price variants here; one example key $3.99 cover price variant is Amazing Spider-Man #607]

For issue #654, both the direct edition copies and the newsstand copies carry a $3.99 cover price. So issue #654 is not one of the newsstand comics that falls under that cover-price-variant category. But when CGC created the newsstand census entry for this issue they accidentally named it “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” instead of just “Newsstand Edition.” So by the census, a cover price variant record existed! This mistake may have led submitters of direct editions to first look at the price tag on their copy, see $3.99, and reach the false conclusion that their copy was a newsstand copy. Oops!

I’m happy to report that CGC has now corrected the census entry name itself for issue #654, even though they would not correct the individual examples I gave them (because by their current policy the owner of the books themselves would need to request the corrections).

Here are two mis-labeled examples I’ve come across to date; as you can see, the CGC slabs read “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” but inside the slab is just a plain old prevalent direct edition! And we do not need to see the interior of the comic to know for certain that we’re looking at a direct edition, because the interior of newsstand copies is 100% identical to the interior of direct edition copies; thus, from the outside of the slab we can see the defining feature, that UPC code box, which tells us when we’re looking at a real newsstand copy. In this way, we know for certain that the following copies of issue #654 have been mis-labeled:

Certification #0341630004 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/401558181947):

image-0341630004image2-0341630004

A certification look-up still erroneously lists the above copy as the variant, although as you can see, CGC has changed the variant name from “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” to “Newsstand Edition” (the “$3.99” part was removed) and the entry now includes a note about the Spectacular Spider-Man quirk in the Key Comments:

cgc-0341630004

Certification #1993043003 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/123381315710) is another example of a plain old direct edition labeled as “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” and still comes up in a certification lookup as a newsstand copy, in error:

image-1993043003image2-1993043003cgc-1993043003

Blunder #3: Transformers #1

Transformers #1 is one of the “mega-keys” that fell within Marvel’s 1980’s cover price variant window on the newsstand (ranking #6 in the 2018 guide) — during the window, instead of one batch of newsstand copies carrying both US and Canadian prices, Marvel printed two distinct newsstand batches each with their own cover price. All three types — the two newsstand types plus the prevalent direct edition type — were published in the USA on the same equipment and at the same time (so all are 1st print copies) and all types are fully 100% identical on the inside. The higher cover price batch is “broken out” by CGC as its own census variant.

Arguably, the name CGC chose when breaking out these Type 1A cover price variants is itself a blunder… There is no special name ascribed by the publisher, so CGC needed to come up with one; at their own choosing, CGC picked the name “Canadian Edition” which is arguably a blunder because it conflates these Type 1A price variants published in the USA, with the actual Canadian Editions of the 1940’s/1950’s. Read more on the topic of “what should we call these 1980’s newsstand-exclusive price variants” in this separate post.

But the census name itself is not the blunder in question with this example. The blunder in this example has to do with the cover price of the variant. Imagine if a 30¢ first print copy of Star Wars #1 was given a “35¢ price variant” label — that’s essentially what happened here, with this Transformers #1 example.

An easy mistake to make with these Canadian Price Variant comics, is to assume that newsstand comics with a 75¢ cover price are the variants… after all, “75¢ variant” is a highly common phrase you’ll hear with this class of variants. But the cover price actually varies from issue to issue and for Transformers #1, the 75¢ copies are actually the “regular” cover price copies, while the $1.00 copies are the variants. Here is an example variant below:

transformers-1-variant

Having seen the variant above, with its $1.00 cover price, you will recognize that the 75¢ cover price copy within the slab pictured below is not the variant… it is just a regular newsstand copy.

Certification #1276709017 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/352452127491):

image-1276709017

cgc-1276709017

Blunder #4: Amazing Spider-Man #276

You might notice that the Transformers #1 slab from the prior example has no indication anywhere on the CGC label of what the variant cover price is supposed to be… The slab says “Canadian Edition” but doesn’t give any inkling of a definition for what that means to a collector. But if you look at the very bottom of the certification lookup picture above, you’ll see that it says “$1.00 Cover Price.” This last line is now there because a good incremental improvement to CGC’s labeling was made recently, whereby CGC now places the variant cover price on the right-hand side of the label.

For comics where the variant cover price is not 75¢, this new labeling improvement should in theory help with identification (and error-catching) — because if a CGC staff member is looking at a slab and sees, say, 95¢ Cover Price on the label note, but the book inside the slab carries a 75¢ cover price, they will be more likely to realize that something is amiss. But unfortunately the below copy slipped through the cracks anyway!

Certification #1272465008 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/223135444963):

image-1272465008cgc-1272465008

Blunder #5: Secret Wars #8

A mistake in which newsstand type you are looking at is one thing; but for a direct edition to pass as the newsstand price variant is a tough error to understand any CGC grader making “on their own.” Anyone should be able to tell a 1980’s direct edition comic from its newsstand brethren at a glance, even from a great distance (just spot that Spidey-head logo in place of the bar code and you know you’re looking at a direct edition). Yet somehow the below direct edition Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8 was labeled “Canadian Edition” which I can only imagine originated with erroneous customer-entered information and then “slipped through” CGC without being noticed.

Certification #1245151020 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/192664685427):
image-1245151020

Fortunately, the owner of the above copy appears to have contacted CGC, because the certification lookup tool itself no longer denotes the book as the variant.

Blunder #6: Amazing Spider-Man #361

There are newsstand-exclusive Type 1A variants from the 1990’s too! Marvel experimented with Australian newsstand distribution for a window of time, and just like the 1980’s newsstand price variants these Australian price variant copies are 100% identical on the inside to the rest of the print run. For Amazing Spider-Man #361, the variant carries a cover price of $1.80 AUS (read more about these and see pictures here). The cover month differs as well, and CGC catalogs the variants by the cover month instead of the indicia month.

Similar to the Secret Wars #8 example, you will find that the below “Australian Edition” labeled slab contains a plain old direct edition inside instead of the newsstand cover price variant! Can you picture a CGC grader making this error if they were the one choosing the variant designation, with no default option selected? I can’t imagine that; no way. I can only imagine this kind of error occurring because the customer entered it as “Australian Edition” and then the error went unnoticed as the book proceeded through the grading process at CGC all the way through to leaving the building.

Certification #1266443016 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/173265969239):

This one too may have been corrected — a certification lookup now fails, and, the eBay link indicates the original seller ended the item due to an error in the listing.

Circling Back: What We Can Learn

What can we learn (and what can CGC learn) from these example labeling blunders? Earlier, I described two suggestions for things CGC can consider as improvements to their internal process — one being an idea to counteract how customer-entered variant information changes the default versus the old paper method by forcing the grader to make their own selection; another idea being a way CGC could improve its “after-the-fact” error correction capability by snapping in-house reference photos which could be referred to in the event of error reports by a third party.

As for us as collectors, I think we have learned:

  • We cannot go by the labels alone; if we are in the market for a variant, we must be able to see the book in a photograph and verify for ourselves that it is indeed the variant we seek.
  • We cannot expect that a mis-labeled book will see a correction later to the online certification lookup tool; CGC’s policy today demands involvement by the owner of the book before such a correction is made. This means mis-labeled books may stay mislabeled indefinitely.
  • Census data therefore isn’t always going to be 100% accurate; these uncorrected books will linger there on census until/unless a future owner puts in for a correction; e.g. there are not three Star Wars #1 35¢ variants on record in the top 9.6 grade today… because the “false variant” pictured earlier is still counted toward that total.
  • We can be 100% certain in spotting newsstand versus direct edition labeling errors, since the interiors of each of the books are already known to be identical. But when a labeling error raises the question of what might be inside the apparently-mislabeled slabbed copy (like in the Star Wars example), a small sliver of doubt — the thought of “what might CGC know that I don’t know” — can cause bidders to pay absurd prices, inflicting real monetary damage on the unlucky winners.
  • Realization of absurd market prices may create an incentive for bad behavior — a bad actor could purposefully make an “error” on the online submission form and hope it slips through.
  • Because the online submission form has “changed the default”, we collectors should not be surprised if we see a continuation of labeling errors or even an uptick in labeling blunders.
  • Based on this expectation for continued errors or even an uptick in errors, CGC may want to consider taking one or more steps to “adapt” their process to the reality of what the customer-entered “new default” means for the likelihood of continued errors; I gave two suggestions earlier which I believe would help.
  • We are all only human. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so we should forgive CGC the occasional labeling blunder; but we should also expect their organization would strive to be the best it can be, which means reacting to the new online-submission-form-reality with improved processes for error checking and correction.
  • Advertisements
Standard
35 Cent Variants, Canadian Newsstand Edition

The 75¢ Price Puzzle: Parallels To 35¢ Variants

This 1998 publication, Comic Book Marketplace #55, was credited with increasing awareness among collectors about 30 and 35 cent variants.

This January 1998 publication, Comic Book Marketplace #55, is widely credited with increasing awareness among collectors about 30 and 35 cent variants.

Related:
A List of CGC Graded 30 Cent Price Variants of 1976
A List of CGC Graded 35 Cent Price Variants of 1977

By Benjamin Nobel, July 6, 2016

In a previous post, I had mentioned finding out that a January 1998 article by Jon McClure in issue #55 of Comic Book Marketplace magazine is widely credited by collectors as the “catalyst” for widespread awareness of 35¢ price variants.

I tracked down a hard copy of this magazine issue (published too early for the content to be online it seems, as I could not find it). As it turns out the article in that issue is actually “Part II”… It is entitled “The 30¢ Price Puzzle: Making sense of Bronze Age Marvel Price Variants.”  Part I is said to be in issue #51 of the same magazine (I have yet to acquire a hard copy of that one).

As a big fan of 75 cent variants for their relative value and incredibly low distribution numbers, this article was an interesting read for me on a few levels. For one, it has clearly gotten a whole lot easier for collectors to research comics since 1998!  The article mentions how over the years, in different Overstreet price guides, they started mentioning 30 or 35 cent variant copies of one particular specific issue or another (presumably as they were discovered/confirmed to exist, and/or as market values warranted Overstreet “breaking them out”). The article also highlights a long list of comics that “might” have price variants and then confirms ones that were actually verified. (That would have been so much easier to research in this day and age, by looking through eBay listings in order to verify variant existence).

And to further highlight the “technological state” of the comic collecting world in 1998: the page to the right of the article is an advertisement page, and the advertiser who bought the ad space lists a phone number… and under the phone number the ad says “Sorry, no answering machine!” Isn’t that a funny sign of the times? I’m trying to remember what speed dial-up modem I had back in 1998 in order to connect to America Online (remember all those CD-ROM disks we used to get in the mail?). Anyway, point is, we certainly are in a much different era sitting here today in 2016, one where information is far easier to research and also easier to share with other collectors!

A few notable passages from the article that I want to quote:

“Of the eight 35¢ variants and five 30¢ variants noted in Overstreet #27, four of them are Star Wars #1-4, three are X-Men #98-99, and #106, and the eighth is Iron Fist #15. That’s right, two out of three are popular, high visibility, high demand comics. Only four others have been noticed and referred to by Overstreet in the last 20 years!”

What a strong parallel to the Canadian price variants, of having been overlooked, wouldn’t you agree?! Interesting too that issue #100 wasn’t mentioned back then, that is one of the more highly valued 30 cent variants today, and apparently wasn’t even shown in the guide back then (unless the article has a typo and 106 is meant to be 100 — similarly, I have to wonder if Iron Fist #15 was meant to say #14 as the 1st appearance of Sabretooth — I honestly don’t know the history of what used to be considered “key” back then having only gotten drawn back into our hobby in 2003, so seeing these issue numbers surprised me). Another passage that shows a strong parallel to our 75 cent variants:

“It makes sense that variant comics have remained virtually unknown until now, when you consider that they are nearly impossible to notice or detect unless you know what to look for.”

Not many collectors today know how to spot the 75 cent and other Canadian price variants… and I think this statement is also applicable to newsstand comics broadly (the difference between newsstand vs. direct edition comics is not something the typical collector seems to even think about today let alone understand and look for).  And here’s yet another quote that I find particularly interesting because it actually mentions the existence of 75 cent variants, but only with one example comic where such a variant exists (showing the state of knowledge about these back in 1998):

“And we haven’t yet investigated the 75¢ price variants that are known to exist (see the Thor #338 variant listed in Overstreet). There’s obviously much more of the price variant puzzle left for collectors to explore.”

So at the time this article was written — the article widely credited by collectors as the catalyst for widespread awareness of 30/35¢ price variants — even the author of the article himself hadn’t yet begun to investigate just what these 75¢ variants even were, apparently knowing at the time only the fact that one existed and was mentioned in Overstreet.

The remark here by McClure about “75 cent variants” (as his chosen phrase) also helps explain why that exact term is often used to describe this “class” of Canadian price variants despite the fact that the variant price is different depending on the “regular” price of the given comic (X-Factor #6 at 95¢ and Secret Wars #8 at $1.00 being two examples where the variant price is not in fact 75¢). This also reflects how little must have been known about these at the time, because a more broadly encompassing term to cover those higher price examples would have been more appropriate to select.

And then one final passage from the article to show just where the state of the collector’s market for 30/35¢ variants was at the time  — that time being over two decades after original publication of those comic books:

“Although some may not agree, I personally feel variant comics are highly collectible. I also believe that the majority of variants will prove hard-to-find. Perhaps they are scarce and seemingly undervalued because few have been paying attention to them and even fewer have documented them. As the emphasis on Bronze Age continues to grow, I feel certain all that will change.”

Looking at where 35 cent variant comics are valued today, such as the Star Wars variants, it is hard to believe that back in 1998 the author of that article would begin that above statement with the qualifier “although some may not agree.”  I personally feel this exact same sentiment that Jon McClure expressed about 30/35¢ variants being highly collectible, about the 75¢ variant (and other Canadian price variant) “class” of comics. (And I feel the same way about late modern $3.99 Newsstand Edition and other “broken out”/CGC-recognized newsstand variants).

More of my posts on the subject of 75 cent variants:

Happy Collecting! 🙂

Standard
35 Cent Variants

What Caused 35 Cent Variants To Take Off?

This 1998 publication, Comic Book Marketplace #55, was credited with increasing awareness among collectors about 30 and 35 cent variants.

An article by Jon McClure in this 1998 publication, Comic Book Marketplace #55, was credited with increasing awareness among collectors about 30 and 35 cent variants.

By Benjamin Nobel, June 22, 2016

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of 75 cent variants for their relative value and incredibly low distribution numbers.  As a “class” of comics, I consider their main comps to be the 30 and 35 cent variants.  (And then much later, the 3.99 newsstand edition price variants, but those really are much later, occurring in 2008-2010).

The 35 cent variants really are the best comps — the closest “peer group” if you will — existing closest in time chronologically, coming into existence 5 years before the 75 cent variants began.  So, understanding how 35 cent variants “took off” is an important consideration for our 75 cent variants.

Why Are 35 Cent Variants So Highly Valued While 75 Cent Variants Are Still “Under The Radar”?

I have only two possible answers to this question:

  1. Either collectors don’t know the facts about 75 cent variants, or,
  2. Collectors don’t care about the facts about 75 cent variants.

My experience has been that collectors absolutely do care about these 75 cent variants once they know about them and understand the facts.   So the answer in my view must be #1… that, widely, collectors simply don’t know the facts about them as a “class” of comics.  But 35 cent variants took off after initially being under-the-radar themselves, so this raises the obvious question:

What Caused 35 Cent Variants To Take Off?

One very important factor to notice is that Overstreet specifically breaks out 35 cent variants in the price guide… while 75 cent variants are not listed. So anybody looking up the value of a comic published during the 75 cent variant window would have no ‘cue’ from the guide to make them realize that copies even exist with a higher cover price (let alone that they are more rare).

Was Overstreet proactive in adding 35 cent variants to the guide as a separate entry, or reactive?  From the comments I have seen, reactive.  It might very well take a notable market price difference between 75 cent variants and their regularly priced counterparts, before Overstreet decides the situation warrants breaking them out. But if they do not break them out, how will collectors discover them and notice they are rare, in the first place?

A blog post I found from a google search — I wanted to know where the test markets were while researching information for my post about Star Wars 35 cent variants — had this interesting quote:

Except for Iron Fist 14 and Star Wars 1, for twenty years no one noticed the price variants until Jon McClure published an article about them in Comic Book Marketplace #55. — Found in this blog post

Wow, two decades before those variants got noticed…  I looked for Comic Book Marketplace #55 and found it was published in 1998. Other collectors also credit that one article for the awareness among collectors about these price variants of the 1970s:


“CBM 55 with Jon McClure’s article on 30 cent variants is pretty much Ground Zero for 30 cent variant nuttiness.” — Found in this message board thread

So this one 1998 article was the catalyst for 30 and 35 cent variants getting discovered by the masses.  I’m trying to remember what speed dial-up modem I was using in 1998?  My point is:  We live in a different era now — this is the Internet era of instant communication, and it should be much easier for collectors to share and spread important information.  So, waiting for a prominent article in a prominent publication might not be necessary… perhaps all it will take for 75 cent variants to “get noticed” the way 35 cent variants have, is for collectors to share knowledge about them. If you find these price variants as interesting as I do (and $3.99 price variants of 2008-2010 too), then collect some yourself but also tell other collectors!  Because I simply have to believe: once they know, they will care.

Posts about 75 cent variants to read and share:

75 Cent Variants (Canadian Newsstand Editions)

Canadian Price Variants — How To Spot Them

• Rare 1980’s Price Variants To Collect

D.C. Comics Canadian Editions — 2-7%

Star Wars #1-4 35¢ Cover — Also, Other Price Variants You DIDN’T Know Existed!

Posts about newsstand editions to read and share:

Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference

Newsstand vs. Direct Edition Comics

$3.99 Newsstand Editions

Other posts about Rare Comics

Standard
35 Cent Variants, Canadian Newsstand Edition

Star Wars #1-4 35¢ Cover — Also, Other Price Variants You DIDN’T Know Existed!

By Benjamin Nobel, June 22, 2016  |  Related slideshow: 10 Overlooked Star Wars Comics To Rival 35 Cent Variants

Everyone, and I mean everyone who collects comics seems to be keenly aware of the 35¢ cover price variants of Star Wars #1-4. Overstreet makes special note of their existence in the price guide, and market prices are through the roof with collectors bidding up these rarities at auction. This post is about not just these 35¢ Star Wars variants that you do know about, it also covers six Star Wars price variants that Overstreet overlooks and you probably have never heard of either and yet, as I will show you, they are just as rare (if not more so) because of the distribution circumstances that led to their existence!  Lucky you: the vast majority of collectors out there seem to have no clue these other variants even exist, but by stumbling upon my post, now you will know, giving you a collecting edge!

Star Wars #1-4 35¢ Cover Price Variants

These are the widely known cover price variants, from a 1977 “test market” price increase — Marvel wanted to see how sales would do if they raised prices on comics by a nickel, up from the 30¢ price charged at the time. Because only a small batch of total copies produced had this 35¢ cover price (obtainable only if you were in the chosen test markets within the larger North American market for comic books broadly), they are drastically more rare as a percentage of the total copies sold. For issue #1 in particular, a lower percentage of 35¢ copies show up on the CGC census as compared with the percentage of 35 cent copies that show up on census for issues #2-4. Overstreet suggests that the distribution for issue #1 may have only been 1,500 copies (although they qualify that with a question mark):

star-wars-35-cent-values

Overstreet’s Star Wars page gives the 35¢ price variant of issue #1 a full 24x the value compared to regular 30¢ copies, and suggests there may have only been 1,500 copies distributed. For issues #2-4, Overstreet gives the 35¢ variants 3.33x the value of regular 30¢ copies.

Current market prices for these widely-known 35 cent variants — especially CGC graded copies — are eye-popping.  Here is a screencapture of this particular moment in time, showing the numbers we’re talking about…  Notice that last one, a CGC 3.0 price variant copy of Star Wars #3 auctioned for over $300!  I say hold onto your three hundred dollars, fellow collectors, because everybody in the collecting world seems to be your bidding competition on these…  But as I’m about to show you, there’s a whole other world of undiscovered Star Wars price variants out there that are just as rare and give you a much better value for your money (ones Overstreet does not even list in the guide!) and I’ll point out six specific Star Wars price variants in particular that you probably have never heard of!

Recent sales of 35 cent variants:

star-wars-35-cent-variant-s

Recent sales among Star Wars #1-4 price variants. Even a CGC 3.0 copy (of Star Wars #3) auctioned for over three hundred dollars!

What’s especially striking about that sale of the CGC 3.0 price variant copy of Star Wars #3 is that it surpassed the market price of 9.8 graded regularly priced copies, such as this recent example sale:

star-wars-3-regular-copy

Regular 30 cent cover price copy in 9.8 sold for a lower price than the 3.0 graded 35 cent variant!

Clearly, the collector’s market is hungry for low distribution Star Wars cover price variants… or is it only hungry for the ones it knows about?  Because an entire “class” of low-distribution cover price variants from just 5 years later are being almost entirely overlooked by collectors!

 

And now: Other Star Wars Price Variants You Probably Didn’t Know Existed!

The first overlooked Star Wars price variant I want to introduce you to is also “a #1″… it has the same cover artwork as the 1977 Star Wars #1… and there are three different types of cover price boxes you’ll find out there, one of which is drastically more rare than the other two:

star-wars-1-side-by-side

Three different versions of this Star Wars comic exist… And one of them (the one on the right) has a higher cover price and is drastically more rare!

I’ll reveal the title in a moment…  but first, I want to show you another “#1” issue, with this same exact phenomenon of three different versions in existence, with the higher cover price variant at the right being both overlooked and drastically more rare:

return-of-the-jedi-variant

Three different versions of this Star Wars comic exist too… And the one on the right has a higher cover price and is drastically more rare!

There is simply so much to tell you about these overlooked price variants, how rare they are on the CGC census, and how they came to exist, it is hard to know where to start!  I suppose a good starting point is to tell you the titles of these six other Star Wars price variant comics, and, show just how uncommon they are on the CGC census by looking up the actual numbers online using their census lookup tool.  I’ll do that below with a table of the cold hard CGC census numbers at the time of this writing…

Issue Census Count: Regular Copies Census Count: Price Variants Price Variant Percentage
Star Wars #1 5373 179 3.22%
Star Wars #2 764 71 8.50%
Star Wars #3 612 52 7.83%
Star Wars #4 511 55 9.72%
Return of the Jedi #1 229 3 1.29%
Return of the Jedi #2 98 1 1.01%
Return of the Jedi #3 99 2 1.98%
Return of the Jedi #4 105 3 2.78%
Marvel Movie Showcase #1 54 0 0.00%
Marvel Movie Showcase #2 20 0 0.00%

The first four rows are the Star Wars price variants collectors do widely know about (and are listed in Overstreet): the Star Wars #1-4 35 cent variants.  Note that the 35 cent price variant for issue #1 does indeed show up on the CGC census with a lower percentage of total copies, versus the percentage for issues #2-4, giving credibility to Overstreet’s note about 35 cent copies of issue #1 having had lower sales, possibly at 1,500 copies.   We can see that issue #1 has census rarity of 3.2%, while issues #2, 3, and 4, are in the higher range of 7.8% to 9.7%.  Next in the table are the six overlooked Star Wars Price Variants:

Return of the Jedi #1-4 (75¢ variants), and Marvel Movie Showcase #1-2 ($1.50 variants). Note for purposes of comparison that the Star Wars #4 35 cent price variant shows up on census with 9.7% rarity… please keep this number in your head, because I will show you in a moment how mathematically, based upon the distribution circumstances, the six other “overlooked” price variants I’ve listed here must be more rare than 9.7% of total copies!  And, although the census counts are small, you can see how these are already showing up in the census numbers with percentage rarity that rivals the 35 cent variants!!

Marvel Movie Showcase #1, $1.50 cover price variant.

Marvel Movie Showcase #1, $1.50 cover price variant.

Marvel Movie Showcase #2, $1.50 cover price variant.

Marvel Movie Showcase #2, $1.50 cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #1, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #1, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #2, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #2, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #3, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #3, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #4, 75 cent cover price variant.

Return of the Jedi #4, 75 cent cover price variant.

And part of what’s really exciting about collecting these is how under-the-radar they are flying… Overstreet for example makes no mention of them; here for example is their listing for Return of the Jedi:
overstreet-jedi-no-mention

Overstreet makes no mention of the existence of 75 cent cover price copies of the Return of the Jedi limited series!

Amazingly, despite specifically pointing out the 35 cent variants earlier in their other page for the Star Wars title, anybody looking at the guide page for Return of the Jedi sees absolutely no indication that 75 cent variant copies even exist, let alone how rare they are!

What Are These Other Variants — And Why Are They Rare Too?

Earlier I showed the price boxes for three copies side-by-side, with the “overlooked” higher cover price variant at the right…  Let me show these again so that you don’t have to scroll back up:

The copy at the left of each of those comparisons is what is known as a “direct edition” copy; these were the kind sold in specialty comic shops across North America (to both the United States and Canada).  If you go looking for a CGC graded copy of any of these issues, chances are you’ll find mostly this direct edition version, because it was the most well-preserved (handled with care by comic shop owners, and then bagged and boarded by collectors).  The kind in the middle is a newsstand copy but priced in U.S. dollars — while the higher priced copy at the right is a newsstand copy but priced in Canadian dollars.

Because of the currency exchange rate at the time of publication, Marvel needed to charge a higher price when the buyer was paying with Canadian dollars, and during a window of time in the 80’s Marvel printed two newsstand batches — one for North of the border, one for South — instead of one batch with both prices listed which they started doing after 8/1986. Which brings me to the math that shows these higher priced copies have rarity well under 9.8%… and it all comes from this simple fact:  The United States had a vastly greater population!  Meaning that the market size for comic books in Canada was drastically smaller… just 9.8% of the North American market for comic books by population, when you look at the actual population numbers:

The population of Canada in 1982 represented 9.8% of the population of North America... because the United States simply had substantially more people living there.

The population of Canada in 1982 represented 9.8% of the population of North America… because the United States simply had substantially more people living there.

Next, here’s why the rarity of these “overlooked” price variants is actually under 9.8% (and not 9.8% on the nose):  Because all of the comic shops in Canada got the very same direct edition copies that were sold in the United States…  If you look back at that side-by-side comparison of the three types of copies you’ll see that the direct edition type had both prices listed on it (Canadian price smaller, underneath).   So the portion of the collector’s market in Canada being serviced by comic shops did not get the price variants!  They got direct edition copies instead!  Only the portion of the market for comic books being serviced by newsstands in Canada got the higher priced variant copies!  So it is only a portion of that 9.8% of the North American market for comic books that got the price variants!  Therefore these price variants, as a percentage of total copies out there, must by simple logic be some amount under 9.8% — and as a reference point remember you’re holding in your head that we saw that the 35 cent variant of Star Wars #4 shows up on the CGC census with 9.7% rarity.  So it is pretty clear that these other “overlooked” price variants are just as rare as a percentage of the total copies of each issue, if not more so, compared to the widely known 35 cent variants!

And we also need to consider that the typical buyer on newsstands wasn’t carefully preserving their copy… because that typical newsstand buyer was a reader.  The collectors, meanwhile, were mostly making their purchases in comic shops (and taking home the direct edition type, not the price variants).  Destruction rate for newsstand comics is notoriously high.  And that is one reason why these 75 cent price variant copies are actually showing up in my table from earlier with even lower percentages on the CGC census of graded copies of each issue, when comparing to the percentage rarity on census of the Star Wars 35 cent variants  especially comparing to the census rarity for issues #2-4!

75¢ Variants — You Won’t Believe The Bargains

With Overstreet overlooking these in their guide pages, and collectors widely unaware of their existence, the bargains out there are incredible for anyone who understands the true rarity. Even the collectors who are aware that these price variants exist, probably have not put very much thought into them. People look at Canada on the map and see a huge physical area, so it is probably the case that most collectors never really put thought into the population disparity between the two countries, even if they do know about the existence of these price variants.

Canada looks just as huge as the United States on the map of North America... but by population it is tiny, smaller by population size than the state of California!

Canada looks just as huge as the United States on the map of North America… but by population it is tiny, smaller by population size than the state of California!

And furthermore, most collectors to this day have such a myopic focus on grade/condition that they do not put much thought into the difference between direct edition and newsstand comic books, nor think about the distribution percentages between those two versions. But the fact is, all direct edition copies of these 1982-1986-era Star Wars comics — the type sold at comic shops across both the US and Canada — had both prices on them and made up a substantial portion of comic book sales…  So that divides up the already-small Canadian market for comic books, where the 75¢ price variants are only the portion of that market served by newsstands.  So it is absolutely crystal clear that 75¢ price variants were a small sliver of the total distribution, and therefore incredible rarities.

While you might think these overlooked price variant rarities would clearly “deserve” an enormous market premium, given where 35 cent variants are selling, you’ll be surprised to see just how overlooked they really are, when I show you the following screenshot of recent sales of some of these. And by the way, to anyone who was disappointed there were only six “overlooked” price variant examples, I have good news: it is way more than my six specific examples.  These price variants are an entire “class” of comic books… there are price variants for any Marvel comic published from 10/1982 to 8/1986 that had newsstand distribution… which means that any issues in the main Star Wars title during that period have price variants as well (here’s a full list of these variants within the main Star Wars title)! You’ll see some of those others in the screencapture:

Some recent sales of 75 cent variant Star Wars comics.

Some recent sales of 75 cent variant Star Wars comics.

Now I don’t know about you… but I think these 75¢ variants are an unbelievable bargain relative to their small distribution percentage, especially when you compare to the premiums given to the widely-known 35¢ variants of 1977.  I think there’s a term for this type of phenomenon and it is called relative value.  For the price of that one single CGC 3.0 copy of the 35 cent variant of Star Wars #3 from earlier, you could have every single 75 cent variant in the above screenshot!  If you agree that these under-the-radar price variants sound highly interesting, I’ve written some other posts about these variants that you may enjoy reading as well: 75 Cent Variants (Canadian Newsstand Editions) and also a practical guide on How To Spot Canadian Price Variants in the marketplace.  Finally, if the distinction between newsstand and direct edition comics is a new concept to you, you’ll want to read these too: Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference and this recent post about other “Special Situations” where CGC “breaks out” Newsstand Variants on census (which is actually an abnormal occurrence — for the vast majority of comic book issues CGC lumps together the direct edition and newsstand copies with no distinction).

Star Wars Price Variant Census Numbers

Throughout this post I’ve referred to the CGC census numbers. Below are screencaptures as of this writing, showing the data. CGC denotes the 35 cent variants with the census entry “35 Cent Price Variant” and denotes the 75 cent variants with the census entry “Canadian Edition” (note that for both Marvel Movie Showcase issues, CGC has yet to grade a Canadian Edition copy — none appear on the census for those two issues).

star-wars-1-censusstar-wars-2-censusstar-wars-3-censusstar-wars-4-censusreturn-of-the-jedi-1-censusreturn-of-the-jedi-2-censusreturn-of-the-jedi-3-censusreturn-of-the-jedi-4-censusmarvel-movie-showcase-1-cgcmarvel-movie-showcase-2-cgc

Thanks for reading, and Happy Collecting! 🙂

Standard