THREE CRITERIA FOR A PEDIGREED
COMIC BOOK COLLECTION
Comic book collections turn up every day; some are
large, some small, some are high grade, while others are not. Out of
thousands of accumulations, what exactly makes a collection so special that CGC
calls it a pedigree? There are three criteria that are expected for
such a designation; quality, origin and completeness.
A pedigreed collection must primarily consist of high
The most evident aspect of a pedigreed collection is the condition of its comic books, which should be exceptional. The majority of the Silver Age collections discovered are usually in average or low grade condition from handling and poor storage conditions. Golden Age collections are particularly scarce because so many comics were destroyed in paper drives or thrown out during that time period, making high grade copies even more extraordinary.
There is no set rule as to what the minimum grade average must be for a pedigree collection, but generally speaking, Silver Age collections are held to a higher standard because they are more plentiful, particularly after 1964. Typically Golden Age pedigrees average 8.0 or higher, while Silver Age pedigrees average 9.0 or higher for pre '65 books, and 9.4 or higher for books '65 to present.
It is important to note that not every copy in a pedigree collection may be in exceptional condition, which is especially true for very large accumulations like Mile High, Crippen and Bethlehem. Inevitably an occasional issue may have suffered structural damage from printing or mishandling. Even so, these lower grade copies should still share the same aesthetic qualities as their high grade counterparts, but be few in number.
Exceptional page quality, while a significant factor in grading and value, is not necessarily a determining factor in a pedigree collection. While most pedigree collections exhibit white or off-white to white pages, some are more off-white on average, or even cream to off-white. Any collections averaging lower than cream to off-white, or even brittle, would not be considered for pedigree status.
A pedigreed collection must have been accumulated
during the time the comics were released on the newsstand.
This is a critical
factor because a big part of a pedigree's appeal is their homogenous quality;
the books have aged together in the same environment, creating
a uniform "feel" that does not exist for collections assembled from various sources.
Most of these fantastic collections were traditionally assembled by an
adolescent who bought their comics for entertainment, and then inadvertently
saved them. In a handful of cases the collector was an adult, such as Edgar Church, and their reason
for collecting was more than entertainment. Even though these collectors likely
never envisioned comics as a long-term investment, their thoroughness and attention to detail
are traits inherent in today's comic
It is important to remember that once a collection is discovered, broken up and
sold, the homogenous aging process ceases. Even though optimum storage
techniques are advocated throughout the hobby, variances in humidity,
temperature, light and exposure to air over time can lead to visible
inconsistencies in pedigrees' uniformity. This is particularly true
for page quality, an important distinction of pedigree collections, and smell,
one way to identify certain pedigrees like Big Apple, Hawkeye and Mile High.
The oldest pedigrees like the Cosmic Aeroplane and Kansas City collections, which
have now been broken up longer than they were together, may possibly exhibit a
lower average page quality today than they would have upon discovery nearly 50 years ago.
A pedigreed collection must represent a significant portion of
a particular genre, company, period, classic character, or must contain a
substantial number of key or rare issues.
For Silver Age pedigree collections, completeness is easy to define. They usually contain full runs of Marvel or DC (or both) that should include a majority of the key issues. Because post-1964 comics are more common in high grade, the presence of these early issues in exceptional condition is a big factor in distinguishing Silver Age pedigrees from average collections.
The definition for completeness among Golden Age collections is more broad. Nearly 20,000 different comic books were published between 1933 and 1955, covering a vast number of characters, companies and genres. The Mile High collection contained the majority of these comics, and would clearly be considered the most complete of all Golden Age pedigrees. Crippen would be the second most complete, but most Golden Age pedigrees only cover select areas of this immense landscape.
Completeness may sometimes refer to a specific publisher or genre; the Gaines pedigree only contained EC comics, while the Crowley collection was mostly Fawcett published comics. The collector of the New Hampshires bought mainly westerns, and the Northford collector focused on horror and science fiction. Rarity can also be a factor, especially for '30s collections like Lost Valley and Billy Wright.
For the smallest collections, pedigree is achieved by the presence of key issues. The Allentown pedigree (135 issues) and the Denver pedigree (153 issues) both contained an amazing array of keys; the Allentown collection bore the best copies of Detective #27 and Captain America #1 in existence, two of the most important and valuable comics in the world.
Prior to the opening of CGC in 2000, market acceptance was the true test of a pedigree's mettle, especially during the pedigree boom of the '90s when the concept was used with increased frequency. Even though several great collections surfaced during that period, many did not deserve a pedigree status, and the name given them faded over time.
Since 2000, market acceptance has been supplanted by CGC's stamp of approval; today any newly discovered collection of vintage high grade comics is vetted by CGC to determine if it is worthy of a pedigree. If CGC decides it is, the majority of the collection is usually CGC graded and often sold at public auction. This has resulted in many collections having a concise record of their contents, average grade and page quality, scans of each book, and an established record of ownership. Collectors know much more about newer finds like Billy Wright, Twin Cities, Central Valley, Savannah and Lost Valley than the oldest pedigrees such as Kansas City, San Francisco, or Cosmic Aeroplane.