GPAnalysis' latest e-newsletter includes several articles on restoration, including one I authored, which is reproduced below. There is also an excellent article by our fellow forumite Jason Budnick entitled Pressing Matters, as well as an article by Matt Nelson on Quantifying a Quality of Restoration/
The next issue will feature responses by CGC, and hopefully Matt Nelson as well, particularly to the positions I articulate in my article. I encourage such responses and look forward to seeing them in print.
I especially commend GPAnalysis and George Pantela for taking on such an important debate. This is a very important contribution to our community.
I am also pleased to report that I was notified by Gemstone that Scoop will reproduce my article in tomorrow's edition. Given that a significant part of my article pertains to the controversy surrounding the now conceded error in the 36th edition of the Overstreet Guide regarding the definition of restoration I particularly applaud Gemstone's openness and willingness to encourage the discussion.
I welcome any substantive responses to anything I wrote. I hope we can continue an intellectual discussion on this topic here on the boards, and if anyone desires to communicate something to me in private there can e-mail me at [Email]EsquireComics@aol.com.[/Email]
On with the debate!
The Restoration of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide’s Definition of Restoration Link
by Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (“Overstreet”) has been the benchmark for the comic industry for both pricing and standards since its introduction by Robert M. Overstreet in 1970. Information found within the book often sets policy for the entire community. Each spring finds collector and dealer alike exploring the Guide to review modifications and changes.
Thus it was no surprise that last month the 36th edition of Overstreet was issued amidst the usual fanfare and delight. One particular modification to the term restoration caught my attention immediately. This change, though subtle, has serious connotations for the comic book community, which has been wrestling for years to understand the definition of restoration as well as experiencing even greater difficulty in accepting how to view restored comic books.
The Comic Community’s Difficulty In Grappling With The Concept Of Restoration
Restored comic books, which for many years were tolerated by the collecting community, are generally now stigmatized. The widespread acceptance of the Comics Guaranty Corporation (“CGC”) within the marketplace over the past five years, and the implementation of CGC’s grading system, contributed to the recent decrease in marketability. Many a collector/dealer received their originally purchased “unrestored” comics back from CGC color coded with a purple label (which has been interpreted as the dreaded “PLOD”, or “Purple Label of Death”) denoting a restored book.
My personal opinion, and one that is thankfully shared by many, is that the stature of restored books will, over time, be accepted again and regain their marketability. But that discussion is for another date, particularly because the extent to which a stigma exists with respect to restored comics is irrelevant to defining the term itself.
A Unexpected Definitional Change That Would Have Wide Community Ramifications
I was, quite frankly, shocked to see an unexpected modification to the definition of restoration in Overstreet’s 36th edition. It now defines restoration as “Treatments intended to return the comic book to a known or assumed state through the addition of non-original material. Examples of restoration include color touch, piece replacement, cleaning, reglossing.” While perhaps innocuous on its face, this definition fundamentally shifted the policy position of the community with respect to the controversial technique of pressing. In order to understand what almost transpired it is crucial to review the Overstreet transition of the definition of restoration.
In Overstreet’s 24th edition (1994) a front section entitled “Know the Buzz Words” appeared. It was essentially a glossary of commonly used terms. Restoration was vaguely defined as the “fine art of repairing a comic book to look as close as possible to its original condition.” For nine years that definition remained the same. But in the 33rd edition (2003) the definition of restoration, now in a Glossary section at the rear of the book, was significantly expanded by Overstreet to read as follows:
Any attempt, whether professional or amateur, to enhance the appearance of an aging or damaged comic book. These procedures may include all or any of the following techniques: recoloring, adding missing paper, stain, ink, dirt or tape removal, whitening, pressing out wrinkles, staple replacement, trimming, re-glossing, etc. Amateur work can lower the value of a book, and even professional restoration has now gained a certain negative aura in the modern marketplace from some quarters. In all cases, except for some simply cleaning procedures, a restored book can never be worth the same as an unrestored book in the same condition. (emphasis added)
Had my opinion been solicited by Overstreet I would have recommended the references to value be removed from this definition. In my opinion that language likely served to contribute to the unfortunate stigma that surrounds restoration. More specifically, the value of a comic book that has been restored has nothing to do with the definition of the term restoration. Whatever relationship restoration has to the value of a comic book is best left to discussion in the marketplace sections in Overstreet.
The Significance Of Overstreet’s Modification To The Definition Of Restoration
The importance of Overstreet’s definition of restoration goes to the heart of a current and controversial debate regarding pressing which, for the first time in 36 years, is now separately defined in the Glossary as “the removal or reduction of creases, bends, spine roll, or other surface imperfections.”(1) Overstreet’s new 2006 definition, while commendable in that it omitted the previous value references, clearly appeared to be specifically written for the purpose of excluding pressing. Rather than restoration requiring an attempt to “enhance” the book's appearance through numerous techniques that have been utilized for years, now an “addition of non-original material” is required to meet the definition. This “addition” requirement is inconsistent with how restoration is defined throughout the archival paper community. By all known professional definitions of the term restoration the concept of pressing fits squarely within, albeit in its most minimalist form.
As part of the debate on pressing many informed individuals would often refer to Overstreet’s definition as proof positive that pressing was a type of restoration. For one thing I cannot imagine that those policy experts who participated in the drafting of the 2003 Overstreet definition were not aware of the significance of what they wrote when they clearly articulated that restoration includes “pressing out wrinkles”. Yet this view, as many know, is in direct conflict with the position held by some, most notably CGC, that pressing is not restoration (though CGC’s own stated definitional terms in its glossary appear to state otherwise as discussed further below).(2)
Those who support the notion that pressing is not restoration typically argue that the technique fails to “add” anything to the book. It is also typically argued that the process has been around for decades, and that its subtle, if not covert use, was widely known to the “leaders” and “experts” of the community. Another argument, especially articulated by CGC, is that pressing cannot be detected with any degree of regularity or certainty. Many of these arguments are irrelevant to the actual definition of the technique of pressing.
Yet Overstreet’s revised 2006 definition, crafted a mere three years since the last modification, could now clearly be used by CGC and others to support the argument that pressing is not restoration. Intriguingly, for the first time Overstreet also included a new term of conservation. This included: "archival reinforcement, tear and spine split seals, piece reattachment and deacidification." There was no reference to pressing (although the revised definition of cleaning now mentions pressing). The distinction between conversation and restoration, and the impact this will have on the comic book community, necessitates its own separate article.
Regardless of the debate as to whether pressing is restoration or not, what concerned me most when I discovered Overstreet’s definitional change, however, was the 180 degree shift of policy from 2003 to 2006. What, or even who, prompted the modification of the definition? This was no subtle substantive change, nor candidly did I presume it could have been accidental in light of the high caliber of people who work with Overstreet. What steps had Overstreet taken through discussions or solicitations of views to arrive at this radically new definition? I was certainly not aware of either private or public requests for advice, nor were any of the “players” within the community I queried.
Overstreet Guide’s 2006 Definition Now Conceded To Be A Mistake
Two weeks after I questioned those responsible for Overstreet over the appropriateness of and justification for the definitional change, Gemstone Publishing, which publishes Overstreet , issued a public retraction through its online industry e-newsletter Scoop. On April 21, 2006, under the headline “Overstreet Correction”, Scoop stated:
As some of our perceptive readers have noticed, there was a mistake in the glossary section of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #36.
The entry regarding the definition of restoration was in error and is an unedited draft version. This error has been corrected in our files and the correct definition found in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #35 will be printed in The Big Big Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #36, which is due out in late May.
Since the book's inception, Bob Overstreet and the Guide staff have encouraged advisor and reader input in each and every edition of the book. This has included running full-page editorials asking for feedback, and of course reaching out via Scoop, just as was done with the comic book ages changes made following the articles in CBPG #33 and CBPG #34.(3)
While perhaps gratifying in the sense of restoring the status quo, this public statement did little to explain exactly what had transpired. Indeed, it seems apparent from even this correction that something was afoot. An “unedited draft version”? Several questions immediately jump to mind.
How had Gemstone allowed the "mistake" to occur? Is there not a lengthy editing process for all Overstreet sections over a period of months?
Who at Gemstone/Overstreet was working on these new definitions?
Why was someone at Gemstone/Overstreet working on these new definitions?
What was the basis for the draft language change for the definitions of "restoration" and "pressing"?
Who, if anyone, was being consulted from outside Gemstone/Overstreet for the language of these new definitions?
Did anyone or any entity, for their own personal reasons, influence Gemstone/Overstreet to modify the definition of restoration to specifically exclude pressing?
What other definitions, if any, were or are being considered for modification?
Though I posed these questions to Gemstone editors, including through repeated postings on the CGC Message Boards where this “mistake” was first brought to light and where Gemstone initially announced its correction, no response has been forthcoming.(4)
Gemstone Publishing Announced Solicitation Of Opinions On Definition Of Restoration
In the same issue of Scoop, Gemstone Publishing announced it was soliciting input on several questions surrounding the definition of restoration. These questions were also distributed to new comics retailers who get Diamond Daily, and via email to the Overstreet Advisors.
So, you think you know comic book grading? We'd like to hear from you!
We're hard at work on this summer's new edition of The Official Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide. We've had a lot of feedback since the last edition was published more than three years ago, but we're eager for your thoughts.
This week's question:
How would you define "Restoration" in comics?
What would you include and not include?
Would you delineate between professional restoration and amateur restoration? And if so, what would be the determining factors?
What, if any, forms of restoration are acceptable to you?
And under what circumstances?
We're eager for as many opinions as possible! Let us know what you think! [Email]firstname.lastname@example.org.(5)[/Email]
While both the number and consensus of the responses Gemstone received is unknown, the last two issues of Scoop (“Responses to Making The Grade - Part 1”, In the Limelight, Scoop, Friday, April 28, 2006,(6) and “More Responses to Making The Grade - Part 1”, In the Limelight, Scoop, Friday, May 05, 2006(7)) included a very small select sampling of opinions for the consumption of its readers.
The Comic Community’s Interim Response To The Solicitation
While both sides of the pressing debate were commendably represented in the Scoop articles, the specific arguments of those who claimed pressing is not restoration were not unexpected. It was the same basic argument that contradicts the professional definitions of the term restoration.
One retailer defined restoration as generally “any work done to repair or enhance the condition and grade of a book above its original condition.” Although on its face this definition seemingly encompasses pressing (i.e., “enhance the condition”), the dealer explicitly claimed “flattening” (which I presume is his term for pressing) should not be included in the definition (although confusingly his answer to another question would imply he includes pressing as restoration). The basis for his opinion: “nothing was changed as far as the actual book itself. A book can be spine rolled from being poorly stored. Or it can be flattened by being at the bottom of the stack.”
Still another retailer wrote “I do not consider pressing restoration since it's not reversing anything it's just bringing the book to it's full potential. It's enhancing the book by not adding anything to it.” (emphasis original). Yet another frequently stated justification was because “it's too hard to detect.”
Scoop also published a lengthy response from Matt Nelson of Classics Incorporated, who serves as an Overstreet Advisor. Not surprisingly Mr. Nelson rejected the notion that pressing was restoration. I single Mr. Nelson out by name because unfortunately Scoop did not see fit to note that Mr. Nelson’s expertise is to restore comics and his commercial enterprise significantly includes the pressing of comic books. At the very least a serious appearance of, if not actual, conflict of interest exists in assessing Mr. Nelson’s definitional view of restoration. Mr. Nelson’s response:
The dictionary's definition of restoration is to bring something back to its original condition. Some people may use this definition to make the argument that pressing should be considered restoration, but it's not that simple. Even though pressing does remove very small defects in a book, such as non-color breaking dents in a cover, or a slight spine roll, the same effect can be achieved by placing a book under heavy objects. Edgar Church's simple storing technique of stacking his famous comic collection in six foot high piles gave the same result as a professional would if he pressed a comic today. But the Church books are of course not considered "restored."
Mr. Nelson also believes that “restoration includes anything that is traceable” or thereby further promoting the concept of what we don’t know can’t hurt us.(8) Sadly, particularly given Mr. Nelson’s expertise in the restoration field, this explanation does very little to contribute to the definition of either restoration or pressing. Instead I find it intentionally misleading in light of the true mechanics of the modern professional technique of pressing and purposefully designed to separate the two from one other. More disturbingly, it could be interpreted as a blatant attempt to instill fear in the comic community that there could ever be the prospect of characterizing comics from the renowned Church pedigree, which is the ultimate collection of comic books our hobby has ever seen, as being restored on the basis of an adopted definition of pressing as a form of restoration (or more generally that the manner in which a collector stores his comics could lead to them being considered restored).
Of all people Mr. Nelson should know better given his restoration expertise and especially his knowledge of the history of this particular pedigree Anyone characterizing the Church books as being “pressed” is making a mistake. The Church books were compressed (to varying degrees) by virtue of sitting in stacks (the bottom books bearing more weight; the top books bearing less weight) for many years. This is something quite different than subjecting a book to the artificial and deliberate professional techniques used by Mr. Nelson for a fee. The Church books’ condition never degraded due to their near anaerobic storage method, as well as being handled carefully and slightly (which were key factors in ensuring the absence of small defects and non-color breaking creases in this collection).
Thus, nothing was ever “restored” to the books (until some collectors/dealers shamelessly chose to intentionally press select Church books, which had survived 50+ years in pristine condition, to extract even the slightest increase in grade in order to sell the book for a higher price). To the contrary, the books Mr. Nelson commercially presses have had their condition deteriorate, even if just slightly, and require assistance to restore them to their earlier higher-grade form.
What Are The Accepted Definitions Of Restoration?
I’ve discussed above how Overstreet has historically viewed restoration to include pressing for years. But how is the term interpreted elsewhere? In the most straightforward of definitions, Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines restoration as “the act of restoring something or someone to a satisfactory state.” Another definition for the term states it as “the act of restoring or bringing back to a former place.”(9)
Perhaps most enlightening, the Society of American Archivists, which is a renowned organization that dedicates itself to the preservation of paper, defines restoration as “the process of rehabilitating an item to return it as nearly as possible to its original condition.”(10) Additionally, the International Institute of Conservation defines restoration as “any attempts to return an object to its original form and purpose, in the attempt to recreate an earlier known state or condition.”(11) Clearly each of these established definitions either would explicitly encompass pressing or can be reasonably interpreted as doing so.
Strangely enough, notwithstanding CGC’s very public posture on the notion of pressing not being restoration, its own online glossary definitions invites inconsistent interpretations.(12) There one can find restoration as being “the repairing of a comic book so it will appear as it did when it was in its original condition.” Presumably the CGC counter to this interpretation would be that pressing a comic book is not akin to “repairing”. Yet CGC also defines Comic Book Restoration as “any attempt, amateur or professional, to enhance the appearance of a comic book.” What is pressing if not the attempt to “enhance the appearance of a comic book”?
Where Does The Comic Book Community Go From Here?
The question that should be asked is whether the comic book community desires to create a different understanding for the term restoration, particularly setting itself apart from other paper industries, in order to accommodate a group of people who wish to minimize the existence and impact of pressing for whatever personal reasons.
To me logic must dictate the path our community will take. Changes to established policies should not be made lightly or quietly and certainly not in order to satisfy the rich or powerful from within a community. More importantly, definitions that impact our community should not be rewritten for the pure sake of protecting one’s financial investments. Nor should those engaged in the attempt at rewriting long established definitions do so by fear mongering. The definitions we ultimately adopt and apply to our industry must make sense. This will not be an easy task because literal definitions do impact practical applications, and pressing falls squarely within that category.
The existence of pressing is controversial on many levels. Is it restoration? Can it be harmful to the comic? Should it be disclosed even if not considered restoration? Is there, or should there be, a distinction between professional pressing and a collector simply placing a comic book under a heavy book overnight? What do we do about all the comics that have, in fact, been pressed in the past, even years ago, without our knowledge? Can we ever identify with certainty those comics that have been pressed? Other than the initial question, the answers to these other questions, though important to address and discuss in order to determine how the community wishes to view pressing, are not relevant to the definition of restoration. Nor should the answers to these questions, among others, necessarily impact one another. Each has its own separate nuances and associated debates.
Whether one believes pressing is a good or bad thing, or is restoration or not, there are clearly divided camps on the issue of pressing in general. Indeed some feel very strongly on both sides of the debate. Unfortunately the opinions of the community as a whole are generally unknown. No one, until recently, has attempted to collect opinions, and many collectors remain unaware of the debate. However, those who are typically viewed as setting policy for the community (such as Overstreet and more recently CGC) are well aware of the divisions that do exist among those engaged in the debate. Any attempt to advance a new policy position, particularly regarding as controversial a topic as pressing, should be done gradually and with caution, and should take into consideration the all intelligently articulated and supported views of the community to include dealers, collectors and restoration experts (not solely those of comics given some have a conflict of interest with the issue), rather than the beliefs of a few who may have their own interests in mind. Regardless of the final decision, there must be ample stated justification to support not only the definitional language but also the reasons for the modification in the first place.
This article will not resolve the controversy surrounding pressing or restoration, nor was it intended to achieve that result. Instead, I hope the contents above encourage readers to carefully consider their views on the topic and question those who set the community’s policies. They are, after all, the policies that will be used to govern collectors and dealers alike.
I encourage everyone to submit detailed views, whatever they might be, to Gemstone Publishing at email@example.com so that Overstreet can derive an articulated and justified position on restoration and pressing, if even any change to these terms is merited (and I have yet to see an explanation as to why it is). This is an opportunity for everyone to play a role in shaping an important aspect of the landscape of our hobby.
Mark S. Zaid, a full-time attorney and part-time comic book dealer, owns and operates www.EsquireComics.com. It was his passion for details and debate that led to his noticing the obscure definitional changes. He has been an advertiser in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide since the 35th edition (2005) and a collector of comics since the early 1970s. Although he very likely owns expensive high-grade comics that were unbeknownst to him pressed years ago, he is not influenced by that fact in expressing his views as to whether pressing is a form of restoration.
1. To many people, including this writer, the pressing of a book to remove creases and other small defects is nowadays undertaken for the primary purpose of achieving a grade increase in order to attain a higher price upon resale. It is rarely performed, particularly by dealers, in order to enhance a book’s appearance for personal collecting.
2. As stated by CGC’s president and primary grader, Steve Borock, on the CGC Message Board, “CGC's position on this ‘matter’ has always been the same, we do not consider pressing restoration….” link. It should be noted that until very recently, CGC’s parent corporation, the Certified Collectibles Group, was operating the Paper Collectibles Service (“PCS”), which specialized in pressing books for a fee (hence a very significant self-serving economic motivation for CGC’s official policy that pressing is not restoration). The creation of CGC instituted a craze for grade multiples that witnessed significant spikes in prices for higher grade books above VF/NM 9.0. The pressing of a book even just one grade notch, which is rarely ever disclosed to the detriment of the uninformed buyer, could lead to a cost increase of thousands of dollars. In large part due to the perceived, if not actual, conflict of interest raised by the work of PCS, which was headquartered under the same roof as CGC, PCS’s enterprise was closed just days before the latest Overstreet edition was issued (but long after the edition had gone to print).
8. Mr. Nelson also added that the “line between what is considered restoration and what is not is simply what can be detected.” Readers should challenge Mr. Nelson to provide one example from a restoration professional or organization that adopts this type of logic in determining what constitutes restoration.
11. This definition can be found cited in Tracey Heft’s Patent Application for a “System and Method for Classifying Restoration of Paper Collectibles” at: link. Heft, who runs Eclipse Paper Conservation, also provides a pressing service. However, unlike Mr. Nelson, Mr. Heft views pressing, which he defines as “the use of pressure (usually in combination with other processes) to flatten and return an item to its original state”, as restoration, albeit the most minimalist form (“little or no discernable alteration”), as well as possibly sometimes conservation.
Quote: Great article ..... hope I can post before the haters show up.
Sigh, I know. Likely inevitable, and no doubt I can even predict who some of the detractors will be.
I have no problems with anyone disagreeing with my position. Bring on the dissenters, but let's see them respond with logic and facts, not petty retorts about how "lame" the debate is or how "tired" they are of seeing another pressing thread. If you don't have a substantive response to make or don't care about this topic, that's fine, go read something else.
#1200450 - 05/11/0611:45 PMRe: The Debate On The Definition Of Restoration by EsquireComics
Red HookRed Hook
Loc: Paddling up Goon River
Quote: Too many words.
Emperor Joseph II: Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. But there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.
Mozart: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?
The Manufactured Gold Thread still LIVES!....HERE!
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Quote: I felt like I was reading something that a lawyer wrote....
Nothing new for those who've seen it all on the boards, but a great article to help get the interest of other collectors out there.
Hopefully, the article can continue the discussion/debate within the greater comic community...who WILL ultimately decide the definition of restoration.
Thanks Blutobc. You understood my objective immediately. This article was not written for those of us on the boards. Geez, we have heard this all already. Most of us on the boards, who have publicly commented, have made up their minds on one side or the other.
However, it is my strong belief that many in our community have very little knowledge of this debate. GPAnalysis' newsletter goes to over 6,000 people and Scoop is disseminated, I believe, to over 100,000 people. Education is key, and an open intellectual discussion is necessary.
Mark, I am in awe. You covered all the bases and drew the right conclusions. In doing so, blazexd a path that, when read from start to finish made the most convincing argument yet on the entire subject. At the risk of fawning, I for one am very glad you are spending so much time on this effort. IMO, there can be no question by any impartial parties to this debate.