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Truths and Myths About Card Grading

Updated: Mar 14

The grading and encasing of trading cards by professional services has enormously impacted  the hobby over the past few decades. However, there are still many truths and myths that even  experienced collectors may not fully understand when it comes to the card grading process. 


The Major Grading Companies  

While there are numerous companies that offer grading, the main services collectors  turn to are PSA, BGS, SGC, and CGC. PSA and BGS have been regarded as the top  two authorities since the boom in the 1990s. SGC and CGC emerged more recently as  additional options and are gaining market share. All utilize numeric scales from 1-10 to assess a card’s condition, with 10 being the highest grade. 





TRUTH: Grading is More than Just Condition

Have you ever submitted a card for grading and to your surprise it graded higher or lower than you imagined? There is a legitimate reason as to why this may occur and hopefully this brief discussion will provide you an explanation.


A common theme is that grading only examines the condition and relative flaws of a card.  In reality, while condition is paramount, it is my opinion that another key factor may influence a card’s final grade. 

  • Eye Appeal - Does the card “pop” with a strong visual appeal? We could assume two cards with an equal number of flaws may receive the same grade, the reality is that “eye appeal,” could elevate one over the other in terms of their individual grades. Grading encompasses the condition of the card’s four main attributes; centering, corners, edges and surface condition into one final grade. The individual flaws of each card however, may exist in different locations on the card itself thus affecting how the card looks. In other words, is the flaw on the card although minor so distracting that it’s hard to move past?

  • For example, two of the same cards have a print line that is the exact same size and specs on the front of the card. However, one print line bisects the player’s face while the other print line exists on a section of the card that is less distracting… the latter could receive a higher grade based on the overall “eye appeal.”


MYTH: All 10s are Equal  

One can assume that a PSA 10, BGS 10 and SGC 10 are equal in condition and eye  appeal, however, that would be a false assumption. Each company has their own standards that define the grade of the card, in reality a 10 from one service may not net the same return of investment (ROI) as from another grader. This is why crossover grading is common - to potentially secure a higher grade from another company. The population of 10s also varies greatly between companies, indicating a range in criteria. Strangely enough, a 10 from one company may yield a lower ROI than the Mint-9 from another grading company. Since we are discussing 10s, we’ll stick to this for now and focus on breaking down the why?


  • Reputation -.Much like buying a car, customers tend to buy the brands they know and trust. One could say the same about choosing a grading company. Traditionally, certain brands have qualities that are attractive to consumers that influence decision making such as reliability, affordability, longevity etc.. For example, would you be more likely to buy a car with a 50 year reputation or 2 years?

  • Value - Consumers tend to follow the market trends that will yield the highest ROIs. This can vary in terms of rarity, vintage vs modern, and turnaround time. This can be a bit complex so let’s discuss this in further detail:

  • Rarity - if we were to evaluate the market at this moment, a PSA-10/Gem and a BGS 9.5/Gem have a large disparity in value. The PSA-10 is worth significantly more; however, a BGS 10 Black Label is worth far more than a PSA-10 due to its rarity. Essentially, its supply and demand at this point where the demand for a BGS Black Label far exceeds the supply in population therefore sellers can demand the highest premium.

  • Value - Deciding where you should send your cards for grading can also be a bit more complex than just going with the lowest bidder; however, there are often opportunities that can increase ROI that shouldn’t be dismissed. You may have taken an economics class in high school or college and heard the term “trade-off?” Consider a reputable company with a cheaper fee that yields a faster turnaround time to take advantage of a prospect that is trending highly in the market? Another great example would be to consider SGC vs PSA for vintage cards. SGC has a great ROI for vintage cards in addition to lower grading fees and faster turnaround times.

  • Image - In some cases consumers may pay more for a more aesthetically pleasing holder for eye appeal. Keep in mind however, that this is more applicable to cards that are graded with reputable companies. 

  • For example, there are many collector’s that would prefer the tuxedo look of the SGC holder more than PSA’s. This is an image based decision with a similar return on ROI. I happen to personally think that vintage cards look better in SGC holders vs others; however, this is totally subjective to an individual’s opinion.  

  


MYTH: Only mint condition cards should be graded  Truth: Cards across the condition spectrum can benefit from grading, even low-grade  vintage cards. Having an authoritative assessment of condition gives buyers  confidence. Heavy wear or creases may limit grading upside, but authentication and  assessing flaws is still helpful. Remember, not everyone grades a card for the ROI. Some folks are true collectors and others are opportunists…meaning there’s nothing wrong with safeguarding your cards for longevity and when the opportunity presents itself you can make a quick flip.


TRUTH: Grading is More Art Than Science  

Make no mistake, grading is a science with a particular emphasis on the four factors previously mentioned. However, there is a human component to how those factors are judged and ultimately graded. In my experience, cards with lower ceilings have graded higher than expected and vice versa. While companies have defined standards, there is subjectivity involved. One grader may assign a 9.5, while  another believes a card deserves a straight 10 grade. Large services minimize inconsistency by having multiple graders assess each card independently. There is natural grading variation even amongst professionals, so a grade is never absolute. That is why some collectors choose to resubmit a card they feel was harshly graded or send their cards to professionals for evaluation and preparation for submission. When in doubt, I always prefer to submit cards for grading because of this human factor involved in the process.


MYTH: Grading Services Grade Too Harshly  

Collectors often gripe that graders are too strict on grades. In reality, most aim to be  conservative in their assessments to maintain credibility and scarcity of high grades. If  grader standards slipped, condition census population reports would expand and  diminish collectability of top specimens. Market values are also tied to grading  standards, so maintaining consistency over decades is key. While exceptions occur,  most collectors agree grades are fair overall. There are a plethora of grading companies to choose from, so persistence can pay off if you are not satisfied with the first grade… use a crossover option or crack it and send it to another for grading! (I always recommend doing your research on how to properly crack a graded holder, or sending it to a professional).


TRUTH: Grading Increases Values  

It is certainly true that graded cards command higher market values versus raw copies  in similar conditions. Part of this stems from protection in the sonically-sealed slabs  versus raw (unencapsulated). Collectors are willing to pay exponential premiums for top  graded cards from key services like PSA and BGS since they inspire confidence in both  condition and authenticity. I think it’s also important to consider grading as a way to streamline a sale versus leaving it raw. Essentially, a graded card is worth a thousand words in many aspects. It provides an overall assessment of the card without having to ask or answer a lot of questions and cuts down on the back and forth between buyer and seller. There are also instances when leaving a card raw is more beneficial. 

  1. If the card's value falls below what it would cost to grade it.

  2. Sometimes a seller can get more for a card if the grade is left to the imagination. For instance, there are times when a card with flaws may sell for a higher return when the buyer has to use their imagination. This does not mean that the seller should refrain from describing those flaws, however, as previously discussed, grading is both an art and a science.



Myth: Cracked slabs get the same grade when re-submitted  Truth: There is no guarantee a card removed from its holder ("cracked") will receive the  identical grade if resubmitted, even if the condition remains unchanged. Grading has  minor subjectivity, so one evaluator may assign a slightly different grade than the  previous assessment. 


MYTH: Minor Grading Discrepancies Don't Matter  Small grading differences of say a half-point or one point may seem negligible, but can greatly swing value. A BGS 9.5 will outprice a BGS 9 and similarly an SGC 10 will yield a higher return than an SGC 9.5. Nitpicking minor grading points is certainly common collector behavior. While an 8 versus 8.5 may not show a major visible difference, markets clearly  reward higher grades even with slight increments between them. 


TRUTH: Grading Standards Have Tightened  

In the early days of grading, standards were less defined and criteria more lenient.  Many vintage cards were generously graded compared to today’s practices. Graders  have vastly tightened standards over the decades to better assess conditions as investor  money poured into the hobby. A card graded a 10 twenty years ago, could certainly receive a lower grade if crossed over to a service today. Nostalgic collectors  complain about tougher modern grading, but most agree it’s better for ensuring  accuracy given modern technology has been introduced into the grading industry.


MYTH: Grading Companies Practice Shady Business Tactics  A common myth is that grading companies intentionally manipulate the card population of high profile cards, and leverage shady business practices for profits. In reality, the  major services go to great lengths to avoid scandals that would damage their  reputations. While over-graded and altered cards do inevitably slip through, there is no hard evidence of systematic misconduct or preferential treatment. Grading remains highly reputable and collector trust continues to grow. 


TRUTH: Grading Involves Preparation  

Properly preparing a card before submitting for grading is essential and will increase your chances for achieving the best grade possible. Contrary to myths, basic preparation is perfectly acceptable and expected. Altering a card by trimming borders or painting over blemishes is prohibited and unethical. Responsible collectors understand how to properly improve condition without making deceptive changes prior to grading. 


Myth: Grading is a scam and not worth the cost  

The costs to professionally grade cards through reputable companies like PSA and BGS  do add up. However, most collectors find the increased market values and buyer  confidence in graded cards outweighs the fees. Grading adds tangible value by securely  encapsulating and designating conditions which proves enticing for collectors and investors. 


The Truth About Guarding Reputations  

For services like PSA and BGS, maintaining grading integrity and trust is paramount to  their business. Even one high-profile grading mistake or scandal can tarnish hard earned reputations. That is why they invest heavily in training expert graders, use robust  internal controls, and keep improving technology to sustain consistency and accuracy.  While grading has inherent subjectivity, collectors can feel confident understanding the  care taken to make the hobby fair and transparent. 


By separating facts from fiction, collectors can make better informed decisions in  building their graded card collections. Grading has revolutionized the hobby and  continues evolving. Experienced collectors recognize that while inconsistencies and  disagreements inevitably emerge, sports card grading remains a trusted process that  benefits the hobby as a whole.



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