The vast majority of my Bronze Age comics are newsstand books, purchased off the spinner racks at our neighborhood pharmacy and some local convenience stores, all of which are long gone. The covers of many of the books picked up from the pharmacy were date stamped. Even as a young comics reader/collector I cared about the condition of the books I bought, and found date stamps a bit detestable. Forty years later not only have my views on date stamps softened, but I find some nostalgia in those stamped books that I am the original owner of.
For those who aren’t familiar with date stamps, these stamps or hand written dates on the comic covers, were used by retailers to track when books arrived, and therefore when they should be pulled off the shelves/spinner racks. In those days, retailers of newsstand books could return unsold copies to the publisher for credit, so tracking the dates of the books was an important part of this distribution model. In contrast, today’s Direct Distribution model overwhelming used by the comics industry involves Local Comics Shops making non-returnable purchases of books which they in turn sell to consumers.
So know that we have an idea of what date stamps are, and their purpose, let’s check out a few examples found on books in my collection.
In my experience, handwritten date marks are more likely to be found on Silver Age books, such as my copy of Tales of Suspense 71 pictured below, than those published later.
While handwritten marks are common on Silver Age books, rubber date stamps were also used on books of that era, as evidenced by my copy of Fantastic Four 46 “From the Collection of Doug Moench” picked up from Rich Henn Comics.
Some notable comics with stamped dates that I purchased off spinner racks in my youth that come to mind include Star Wars 42, featuring the first appearance of Boba Fett, House of Mystery 290 – the first I, Vampire story, and Avengers 200 which of course is the infamous Carol Danvers pregnancy story. Interestingly, each of these books was published in 1980, so date stamping was in full-effect at the pharmacy that year, while I have books purchased there in earlier and later years without stamps.
Collectors often have strong, and polarizing opinions about date stamps. Some collectors feel that they add authenticity and a sense of history, and may even seek out books stamped with their date of birth, or other meaningful date. Others feel date stamps are a detractor and actively avoid collecting stamped books. Like many other aspects of this hobby, individual collectors will develop their own sense of how and what they collect, and what is acceptable to them – date stamps included.
Impact on Grade
Naturally, collectors will wonder how a date stamp will affect the grade of a comic, so we’ll take a look at how they’re handled by CGC and CBCS – the two most prominent third party grading companies.
In their definition for NEAR MINT+9.6, CBCS offers, “Unobtrusive date stamps or arrival dates in pencil or ink are acceptable.”
While CGC’s grading standards makes no specific reference to date stamps, 9.8’s are possible as illustrated by my copy of Moon Knight 1, which achieved that grade from CGC following signature by Bill Sienkiewicz.
In contrast to the clean and legible stamp on Moon Knight, I can’t help but wonder if the smudged stamp on my copy of X-Men 141 is what kept that book at 9.6?
Weighing the Options
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I maintain memberships with both CGC and CBCS, and my decision on which company I submit a given comic to is dependent on the relevant opportunities and circumstances. When considering getting date stamped books graded, I generally will submit to CGC with the knowledge that a 9.8 is at least a possibility.
Any date stamped books that I send to CBCS will most likely be those signed by a creator in the presence of a CBCS Authorized Witness. In fact, had the Albany Comic and Toy Show scheduled for March not been canceled due to COVID-19, that event would have been the first where I had been approved as a CBCS Personal Authorized Witness. There were definitely date stamped books among the stack that I had prepped and ready for signing. When the shows get rolling again at some point in the future, I’ll again apply to serve as a Personal Authorized Witness, so be sure to stop back to see how that goes. Happy Collecting!!