BY MATT TUCK
CBCS offers a one-of-a-kind service in the land of the comic grading companies: the verified signature program. I decided to give it a try.
This past weekend, I finally got to attend a convention. Granted it was a horror convention and not a comic convention, but at this point, who cares? At least it was a con, and I did buy some comics. Thanks to the pandemic, like most other fans, I had not been to a convention since 2019. For someone who attends multiple cons a year, I was experiencing withdrawal. Thank the Lord for Days of the Dead Atlanta.
Besides the experience of a con, I was looking for autographs, specifically two: Michael Biehn and Carrie Henn. I am a huge Aliens fan, and I have wanted to meet the cast for years now. I also am an autograph collector, and I love my yellow-labeled slabs. When I bought my Aliens #1 (first print, no less) last year, the idea was to get some signatures on it. Alas, Days of the Dead did not have any CGC witnesses on hand. What was I to do? It seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out CBCS’ verified signature program.
WHAT IS IT?
The verified signature program is nothing particularly new at CBCS. The way the service works, you can submit an unwitnessed, signed comic, and CBCS’ parent company, Beckett Media, will authenticate the signature.
I had never used the service before, and I did not personally know anyone who had, so this is a bit of a mystery. Between witnessed and verified signatures, obviously witnessed autographs would sell for higher prices. Since I am not looking to sell my comic, this made a great time to conduct an experiment and report my findings to the masses.
As I receive news from CBCS, I will update with new posts and walk you through my adventure to the finish.
CGC OR CBCS
Traditionally, CGC rules the world of comic grading. They have set the standard for grading and encapsulating, and the result is overall higher values for CGC-graded comics versus CBCS and, to a much lesser extent, PGX. While I do not have solid numbers to present to you on the matter, most comic dealers have told me that they have an easier time selling CGC slabs versus any other company.
Since CBCS was scooped up by Beckett, the company has been undergoing a series of changes to help them compete with CGC. One of those was upgrading its slabs. Starting last year, CBCS offered a nicer case with a clearer window that rivals CGC. The CGC slabs presented much better than the cloudy, flimsy CBCS slabs of old.
VERIFIED VS. WITNESSED SIGNATURES
For the most part, the two companies offer the same services. You can have your comics graded for quality and sealed in an acrylic case to ensure its preservation.
One of the real game-changers for comic conventions came when CGC introduced its Signature Series.
Gone are the days of certificates, which can easily be duplicated and forged. For an added fee, collectors can have an authorized CGC representative personally witness the comic being signed by the creator or celebrity. The comic then gets graded and slapped with a yellow Signature Series label containing all the pertinent details of the autograph. While no system is 100% foolproof, it gives buyers an added level of comfort when purchasing a signed comic.
CBCS soon began offering the same witnessed-signature certification as well. The company followed the same process, having CBCS associates watch your comic being signed before grading and encasing it with a yellow label of its own.
Where the two businesses differ is the Verified Signature Program.
Without a CGC witness present during the signing, they will not authenticate the signature, and your comic gets the green “qualified” label. On the other hand, CBCS has offered for years to verify your unwitnessed signatures. They would then receive the red “verified” label, and it has been an overall turnoff for buyers. After all, how does a buyer know the signature is legitimate? The red label became an albatross for the collector, and most enthusiasts passed on the service.
Within the past year, CBCS has tried to remedy this. Gone is the red label, and now the verified signature gets the same yellow tag as the witnessed signature. The only difference is that the slab is noted as having a verified signature.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
According to the CBCS website, a comic submitted to the verified signature program undergoes a close inspection prior to grading. The comic is handed off to CBCS’ parent company and its Beckett Authentication Services. The site explains that BAS has a team of autograph experts who examine the signature and determine its authenticity. If the autograph is verified, it is graded and given a yellow label. If it cannot be verified, then it gets a qualified label similar to CGC.
I reached out to Beckett for details on the authentication process, but no one from the company has replied.
On top of the usual grading and shipping fees, CBCS charges $20 per signature to be verified.
Submitting the comics was simple. I filled out the online paperwork (comic information, shipping information, etc.), and there was an added feature for a verified signature option. All I had to do was add the name of the celebrity to request authentication. The only issue I had was with remarks by the signers. While Michael Biehn simply signed his name, Carrie Henn added her character’s name, Newt, underneath her signature. CGC generally notes remarks on their labels, so I hope CBCS does the same for verified signatures.
I opted for fast press and fast pass as well as FedEx ground shipping. The modern processing tier was $18, with $40 for the verified signatures, and fast press added another $18. Fast pass was an additional $10, and for $6, I decided to get the image. I chose the lowest level of shipping for $23, so my grand total was $115. CBCS did have a checkbox to encapsulate even if the authentication failed, but I decided to waive that. After all, I know the signatures are legitimate because I watched the two actors put pen to paper.
On a side note, both Biehn and Henn were personable and gracious, giving each fan several minutes to chat and ask questions. If you are an Aliens fan, I highly recommend meeting either of them should the opportunity arise.
On the afternoon of Monday, March 1, I sent it priority mail through the USPS, which was another $8.50. Not including the signature fees ($60 for Biehn; $35 for Henn), that bumps my grand total to $123.50. We will see if it is worth that.
COMPARED TO CGC SIGNATURE SERIES
Financially, how does this compare to the costs of witnessed signatures?
Obviously you don’t have to pay for shipping when either CGC or CBCS has a booth at the con, but that is practically a nonfactor in the grand scheme. Typically, CGC charges about $30 to witness and grade a signed modern comic, a $5 handling fee, $10 for fast pass, $18 for fast press, $5 for imaging, and $22 for UPS shipping. That ends up being about $80/comic to have CGC witness, grade, as well as fast track for grading and pressing and then shipping your comic.
Minus the signature verification fees, which is understandable considering this is a service that takes time, effort, and expertise, the overall expenses between CBCS and CGC are virtually equal. In the coming months, I will find out if the extra $40 for the verification is worth the tradeoff of standing in long lines and the headache of coordinating with a Signature Series witness.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.