My Dinner with RJ   
( well... more like an ''e-chat'' )     by Bronzebruce13

Hey RJ,
I thought I might ask you a few questions that may give us all a better understanding of the man behind the high grade empire.
Let's get to it...

1.  BB13... It's clear you know your clientele and follow the online market. I was under the impression that you formulated and adjusted your pricing primarily on Ebay sales... Set the record straight, how exactly do you establish fair market value for your CGC offerings and what factors do you consider when coming up with your prices?

RJ... Prices now based upon a large variety of factors and sales at eBay play smaller and smaller part as time passes.

BB13... Please give us an idea what you do when a new book you never had graded before comes in and you are at the point that you need to establish a list price. Let's say you get in (3) CGC 9.8 Nova #1's? What would you do?

RJ... I'd 1st check the Overstreet NM price and apply calculations to it to find 1st market price. I'd then check to see if anything on eBay had sold recently and use that to assist in the final evaluation. I'd check Wizard/CGC listings and my own price list posted at this website. With this info I'd set a price.  

2.  BB13... Although I've bought many quality books from you that I'm quite happy with (product, service and price), I often find many other issues you offer online for less (with a little time and some patience). How do you compete with eBay in that respect? and... What advantages do you feel your customers benefit from in comparison?

RJ... Deals can be found daily at eBay, and it's nice to see you taking advantage of that... Bruce, you shop and collect differently than most others. You are very unique. Most customers shop here because they know they'll never be cheated. They know that they could fool around at eBay, however it is actually time consuming and often frustrating with the bidding process, huckstering, non delivery etc. It's a hassle compared to simply being offered fresh items weekly in your email and knowing that if you decide to make a purchase, it will be a no hassle purchase. On the other hand, you enjoy seeking out bargains and don't mind the frustration that goes with it.

BB13... I actually find it more rewarding and thrilling than frustrating, but then again ask me on a week that I lose every key I wanted. It's fun for me though, but admittedly time consuming. I guess it comes down to if its fun or work for the individual. I'm a bit hooked now, I'm sorry to say.

RJ... I understand what you are saying and it truly is fun to be involved like that. It's similar to the thrill individuals get while gambling in a casino. I shop for items from time to time and have had the same feeling. It's very pleasant shopping at eBay and this is probably why it is so successful. I understand this well and set up my auctions to be fun for the shoppers. I often use the word ''FUN'' in my headers.

3. BB13... Is there any real merit and/or possibility that your collection may ever be given a pedigree designation? Have you taken any steps to investigate the possibility? If so, can you describe the necessary criteria/qualifications for consideration and who ultimately decides??   

RJ... I saw a 4 criteria article on this just the other day and apparently there is a set of rules that someone made up. I don't plan to pursue this. As far as I'm concerned, I'm the only collector ever to actually have a collection like this and follow through by selling it as a retirement program. In other instances, a dealer purchased a collection from the collector (most often dead). The Mile High Collection came out of a musty basement for example. I think there is a big difference between a dealer selling rummage from a basement or attic, no matter how great it is touted to be, and a collection that had careful handling from day one.

BB13... Could you elaborate as to the 4 criteria or post the article? I'm sure many would find it interesting. I tend to agree that the well taken care of collection deserves recognition. Why do you think the ''amazing discoveries'' get more attention? If you were to fake your death (and hang out with Andy Kaufman), plant your collection somewhere so it will be eventually discovered, and then someone buys it for $500, will it then be a Pedigree officially? :c)

RJ... Bruce, you are the funniest comic collector alive on the planet... I suppose it would. I note that the buyers of these fab collections never bother to mention how little they paid for it.

4.  BB13... I applaud the idea one of your customers had that you in turn implemented... The ''Certificate of Origin'' COO. It's a great idea to give some recognition to your collection, but I'm not crazy about what you've come up with. The COO is too big (can't stay with the slab easily without being damaged) and the hand-written look is not attractive in my opinion. I mentioned this before and you hinted at some upcoming changes. What is your plan?

RJ.... No plans at the moment. The COO could be folded in half easily enough. I'm always upgrading things, so anything could happen. Other than yourself, everyone has had good words for the COO's including dealers. I often ask dealers if they want these and everyone has said, ''Yes.'' I imagine they pass 'em along to the ultimate customer. The COO's are a big success and I even saw an article about the program in CBG last week.

BB13... I think you may have misunderstood me. I like and applaud the idea and have pointed out the merits in my previous offering here. I think, if nothing else, it helps create an awareness, appreciation and desirability for your books over others of the same grade. However, I find your COO's to be less functional due to size primarily, and I never would want to fold a COO personally (maybe that's just me). I realize this is a non-issue to many. I'm in the design field though, and would have liked to see a RJ Semi-Pedigree Logo (like the Western Penn) and some custom designed and printed certificate that really sets it apart from others. I think the size and look of the pre-made certificate stock you use can be improved upon. I think going a bit smaller (between your current size and the Mile High 2 or DF certificates) would be ideal. It would be easier to keep with the slab. Adding lines to show ownership changes may be useful as well. I'm sure most readers are bored of this by now, so I'll stop there. I'll be happy to assist if you want to do some barter? :c)

RJ... I've never seen any of the COA's you mention. I guesss I'd like to see what is floating around out there, then blow'm away.  

5.  BB13... As CGC's biggest client (or among the biggest) and knowing that you rely on their services heavily, will you be courageous enough to offer some of your own criticisms with their service?

Please comment on...

a. The perceptions that there is possible preferential treatment given to some.
b. CGC's pre-screening service and the perception that this process is advantageous to the submitter as CGC wants
    to grade books, not reject them and make almost nothing.
c. Since you submit large amounts of books regularly, in your experience, have you ever noticed a particular
    time-period in which there was a noticeable change/shift in the grading standard?
d. If you ran the company, I know you'd change some things..what would they be?
e. Any other CGC topics you want to address?


a. I understand they produce around 50,000 slabs a year and I plan to do nearly 5,000 this year and could easily double it next year. Biggest hold up is the long waiting period they put me through. If they give preferential treatment to anyone, I'm not aware of it. I can tell you it certainly isn't my company that gets any special treatment. I'm on the phone all the time asking for my orders to be shipped. I send letters etc. with no significant result.  
b. CGC is honest all the way. No reason to grade a book to make more money. As far as I can tell they have more business than they can handle. Their entire business is built upon a foundation of integrity. Any sign of unscrupulous dealings and the whole business would go up in a puff of smoke.
c. Grading has varied, no question about it. I can't place a time period on anything however.
d. I wrote a book called How To Think Small Business For Big Profits that outlines everything I would do for any well managed business. Everything seems pretty well in place at CGC except the long waiting period, and the fact that they charge fees months before the service is actually rendered. Every business I've ever delt with has always charged for the product after delivery. They treat everyone as a retail customer while in fact, I'm a business. What works well for a comic fan with a half dozen comics doesn't work well for someone who submits  several hundred a month. Right now they are tying up around ten grand and 2,000 comics with a value of $20,000. My biggest concern is that they go bankrupt and I'd be out $50,000. Glenwood Distributing did this to me years ago! I lost a few hundred bucks when they went under.

BB13... I'm sure your book is very worthwhile since your business' success seems to validate whatever strategies you've applied. However, since realistically, I probably will never get around to reading it (like many other of your customers), I'm curious what innovative changes you could come up with? Maybe a separate evaluation of cover gloss and other factors on the label?... Maybe you’d want to list a realistic time period for the page quality to remain what it currently is under different storage conditions... Maybe your grading emphasis would treat certain defects of a book differently? You get the drift... What ideas have bounced around your head on those quite nights?

RJ... I wouldn't begin adding a lot of detail. Most individuals simply want the number, although I know a lot of so-called experts are clamoring for all kinds of things. I like Bob Overstreet's definition of Mint that says the book is Mint if it doesn't have any noticeable defects when you look at it. The first thing the CGC grader does is hold it with the spine facing him and if he sees missing ink or the tiniest of fluff at the top and bottom, it is demoted to 9.4 without a second thought. This is something that can't be seen when looking at it in the normal manner. CGC uses a magnifying lens to hunt for defects. Give me break! So-called defects are just a normal part of the printing and distributing process.
I have an article at the internet store that describes a bagged spider-man ending up with a 9.2 grade. I didn't state the inference I was making and I suspect few got the point which is that a meticulously handled comic sealed in a bag, sealed in a box, stored under optimal  conditions are simply trashed, because of printing ''errors.'' CGC is blatantly saying that ''We are sorry , but your product is inferior.'' I note that a half billion comics published before 1967 will never produce a single ''MINT'' issue under the standards set.

e. I expect that CGC's product and service will improve as time goes by. It generally takes around two years to iron and refine kinks. The fact that they are changing many policies and services all the time shows they are working hard to do their best. I'll probably get a phone call one day and Harshen will tell me about a new way they have worked out to improve the time lag or billing. I understand that my concerns are a bit different than others.
My feeling is that CGC is a blessing for my retirement business. Imagine where we were in 1976 and where we are now. I hit retirement just as CGC opened its doors. This is a marriage make in heaven! I've got the high grade product and CGC is there to prove it. Add the internet and eBay to this and the system of selling my million or so comics has been solved. I felt for years that I'd be selling my comics for around a dollar or two and the fact that they were MINT was of little concern to most. Books that many told me were worthless and belonged in the quarter bin suddenly are highly prized.

6.  BB13... Like you, I was a very selective, ultra-high grade collector back in the day (25 yrs. ago) when there was not many of us quite that obsessed with perfection. Most collectors then did not recognize the seemingly subtle differences in books that we see today between CGC 9.4 and CGC 9.6/9.8. What was it that compelled you to be that picky and handle and store your books so ultra-carefully? I don't recall exactly when comic backer boards were introduced... did you use them when storing your stock? Mylars? How did you manage to produce so many 9.8, 9.9 and 10.0's? What specifically was/is your storage method and how can you explain the incredible percentage of ''White Page'' copies you produce?
RJ... I stored comics flat, not standing up. It is difficult to access the contents that way, however I was storing these comics and did not need quick access for 25 years. Dealers and every collector I ever met, stores comics standing up and all kinds of bad things happen. I read an article  in Overstreet in the 70's about storing comics in cold temperatures and decided to keep my comics frozen using Michigan's generally cold climate to my advantage. I used bags for some, however most were simply stored in wooden boxes. when we pull out the bags 25 years later, I see old withered and yellow bags, however the comics are always as fresh as the day I placed'm into storage. I was a wood shop teacher back then and anytime a student had nothing to do, I'd have him make a box. We'd put the boxes up for sale and I'd end up buying most of them. Much of the stock is bagged in 4 mil golden-age bags in ten packs and in the standard white cardboard boxes seen in comic stores. The important part of this simple system is that everything is protected from dust, heat, humidity, water, insects, and sunlight. Whenever I buy out store stock, everything is always dirty. Turn over store stock and look at the back cover and you'll see dirt every time.   
BB13... How did you buy your stock? Did you buy cases of un-circulated stock? Did you hand-pick 20-100 copies at the comic shop? Did Marvel just send you comics to put in wood boxes? Explain?  
RJ... I purchased in the same manner as a dealer. I ordered it from a distributor and simply stored it instead of selling it. In a few instances I called up the publishers and by-passed the middle man. Bear in mind I was purchasing as much or more than most dealers.

7.  BB13... Since I'm sure you have quite a serious number of copies of some major keys, what responsibility do you feel you, or any dealer has to collectors in terms of how often you introduce copies to the marketplace?
RJ... I protect my customers: When you buy Spider-Woman #1 CGC 9.8 , you also purchase a commitment for price stability. You will not lose money on thinly traded items when purchased here. I remember you told me of various dealers who had large amounts of various comics and planned to dump them on the market. Prices plunge and every customer is left holding the bag.
BB13... Tell me about it... Primer #2 is a perfect example. A certain dealer was turning them out, one after another about a year ago. They were marketed as being a very rare book, yet after I pressed this reputable dealer as to why he sold a copy of this ''rare book'' almost every week, he admitted that he bought most of Comico's unsold stock back in the day and is sitting on an obscene number of un-circulated copies. He knowingly, or unknowingly did exactly what you're describing and saturated the market with no apparent regard as to the consequences. Primer #2 is irreparably damaged in my opinion unless the rest of the stock is burned.
RJ... Follow up... It's greed or desperation in action. Eventually the whole thing collapses. Unfortunately, this mistake is often repeated in all businesses and it's been going on since time began. Look what happed to ''Do You Want To Be Millionaire?'' Marvel does it with any thing that becomes popular and destroys virtually every product they have ever come up with. Punisher could be popular today if they had used a little restraint years ago.

8.  BB13... You mentioned to me that you supply dealers with CGC stock? Is there a way to get a better than 10% discount on one's purchases?
RJ... I supply major dealers with stock every week. Same prices to all. Dealers simply sell items for much more in their stores. Usually double or more. Star wars #2 9.8 sold here for $300 was resold in store for $700.

9.  BB13... Where do you see the high grade CGC market in 1, 5 10 years from now? Things can be so volatile. Do you feel a serious crash is inevitable, or do you think several smaller corrections might occur instead?  
RJ...There will never be a crash. Look at the history of comics. There has never been a crash. History tells us that comics were a success from day one and there is no end in sight. Big up and down fads will continue and history tells us that too.
BB13... Maybe there hasn't been a crash in the past, but there was no CGC then. With CGC's presence and multiples reaching 20-30X guide on high grade books, I would think the dynamic has changed. I don't have Gene's (DeLekkerste's) experience in this area, but doesn't this segment of the market seem to resemble and behave more like an investment and commodities market in many respects? With a multitude of superhero movies on the horizon (probably for the next decade) to act as a catalysts, we have already seen the ''highs'' at least, which normally means at some point a correction. Maybe that word is not entirely accurate, I'm trying to say a ''noticeable adjustment''.

I don't know very much about sports cards, but I've heard that market has had serious problems years after grading entered that collectible market.
RJ... I not an expert on this, and it sounds like you know more than I do. Its likely that these are supply and demand forces in action and anything that is over done will collapse on itself. I do have one thought on this. High grade comics have been under-valued for decades now. Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics realized this when back in the 70's  he stumbled upon a stash of high grades. When virtually everyone is grabbing your inventory by the handful, it means your price is too low. True high grade stuff has always been worth these prices. The problem has always been that the measuring stick for grading was never there with any degree of certainty.  Most of us were not experts and so the price was kept artificially low  out of fear. Over street may have been  afraid to place prices where they belonged for all kinds of reasons. He stated that comics better than NM might be worth 20% more than his listed price. We know now that these ultra high grades are rare and  market multiples of 3 , 20 and 50 are more in line with reality. All we had to do was apply the same measuring stick to every comic (CGC) and collectors were finally willing to ante up fair market values for the ultra grades.  

Will the prices drop? No,  because of a observation I made years ago. Wealthy individuals always want the best and they are always willing to pay for it. There will always be wealthy collectors and they will maintain the status   quo on all the upper tier collectibles.

Every time a revamping of price structures has taken place, the upper end items went up in price and the middle and lower range collectible moved downward. I'd expect that trend to continue  with certified comics. Those involved in the modern comic 8.5-9.4 grades are going to lose money while those in the 9.6 and up are going to make excellent capital gains.
10.  BB13... Do you think we've scratched the surface of the available high grade copies out there or are we seeing a good amount of the available high grade material in the last 2 years?
RJ... I think much of the older items have been dusted off that have merit for certification. Second tier stuff will be dragged out, third tier etc. I'd bet a big dent has been made at this point although it'll never be over. It'll take my collection 20 years to run out of steam.  

Thanks for taking the time to to do this interview as I know it was a lot of work for you. Your title seems familiar somehow. It seems like I vaguely recall a movie...

BB13... My pleasure... It's been fun. I have many more questions I could ask. Maybe Part 2 next year?