Welcome back to Hammer Drops! This weekly column raids the brains of Back to the Past’s staff every Wednesday and shares their voluminous collectibles knowledge with you, the enterprising do-it-yourselfer. This week continues out recent series on industry terms of art with “Offset Binding”. More broadly, we’ll tackle the topic of how manufacturer errors can affect collectible value.
So What is Offset Binding?
In comic book terms, offset binding is when the staples don’t hit quite right. Usually this means the cover is a little too far to the left or right, leading to a less than clean line between front and back cover. This usually results in the interior pages not being completely covered by the outer cover. In extreme cases, it can affect the whole book and make the pages a bit awkwardly spaced on the interior edges.
In all, this is a fairly minor defect. But it is a defect, and it can be a knock against the grade. In practical terms, it increases the chances that interior pages will have chipped or torn. In aesthetic terms, it just doesn’t look as nice. Take this copy of Detective Comics #245 with offset binding. There is a gradually increasing white border on the left hand side of the cover. The ad on the back tilts at the same angle. It’s still in the NM range, but it just doesn’t look as pretty. And the more a person is spending to acquire it, the more that’s gonna matter to them.
An example of manufacturer errors adding value is coins. There a ton of ways that minting a coin can go wrong. The least severe ones, with slightly blurred or double designs on coins, don’t do much to the value. The major errors, on the other hand, can be worth beaucoup bucks. These include Double Denominations (where a penny is re-struck with a dime design, etc), Off-Centers, and Die Caps – a coin that stuck to the hammer of the die, was struck multiple times against other coins, and eventually dislodged in a bottle cap shape.
We’ve seen some errors like these come through our coin auctions. They are a favorite of collectors for their relative uniqueness. Coins are, by their nature, made en masse. Anything that sets a specimen apart can therefore become a value add. So manufacturer errors in comics reduce value, errors in toy making are largely neutral, and errors in coin minting are positive. That doesn’t seem fair.
It All Comes Down To What You’re Buying
Packaging errors in action figures largely don’t matter because the package is the vessel for the thing people actually buy. Look at the terminology used to describe toys: “Mint in package”. While a pristine box or cardback does hold value of its own, what is really being purchased in most cases is the toy inside. An intact or pristine package simply guarantees that what’s inside will be untouched and complete. If you’ve got a Teela whose plastic bubble has the label for Beat Man in it, who cares? it’s still a mint-in-package Teela!
As we said above, with coins it comes down to uniqueness. Even the rarest specimens you’re likely to encounter in the wild were likely minted by the thousands. Outside of coins minted from pure precious metals, the best way to increase a specimen’s value is for it to be unique in some way without changing its nature. An incorrectly struck dime is still a dime, but it’s a dime that doesn’t look like every other dime out there. That adds value, rather than subtracting.
Comics are simultaneously more literal and more abstract in what you’re buying. In the literal sense, you’re buying the paper. As such, buyers want that paper to be perfect and pristine. Any errors damage the way it is supposed to look and feel, so few and far between are the errors that don’t hurt the value. At the end of the day, manufacturer errors are little different from damage by the end user when it comes to value. In the abstract sense, you’re buying the story. Why is a 10/10 pristine Incredible Hulk #178 worth considerably less than a coverless copy of Incredible Hulk #181? Because #178 isn’t the first appearance of Wolverine. That’s what people pay for with Incredible Hulk #181 – condition impacts how much they pay, but it will always be a valuable key issue.
It takes a lot of experience to know what errors are good and what errors are bad. It takes even more to know those ins and outs across the breadth of all things collectible. And we’ve got a combined century and change of experience here at Back to the Past, meaning there are damned few things we haven’t seen before. If you’re looking to bring your collection to market and need help with it, we’re the folks to call. If you’re determined to go it alone, Hammer Drops shares that century with you one Wednesday at a time.