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Sports Card Collecting 101: To Grade or Not to Grade

by Rob Bertrand (10/30/12).

This 1954 Topps Hank Aaron rookie card, graded in Near Mint 7 condition by Professional Sports Authenticators, sold for $2,000 in July of 2012.

This 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card, graded by Professional Sports Authenticators at Gem Mint 10, garnered $11,800 in August of 2012.

The process of card grading entails submitting one’s cards to a third party authenticator, where the cards are examined by a specialist for various attributes and assigned a numerical value. The higher the number the better condition the card. Card grading lends credence to that collecting mantra that a card’s value is heavily dependent on three things; condition, condition, condition.

Obviously, grading is not the only thing, but it plays a very important factor. In addition to assigning a grade to the card, the process of encapsulation insures the protection of that card for years to come.

There are currently four accepted companies used by trading card collectors today: Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA); Beckett Grading Services (BGS); International Sports Authentication (ISA); and Sportscard Guaranty (SGC). While each company grades cards to similar standards, each uses their own numbering system and each has different guidelines and fee schedules for submitting cards. Collectors should become familiar with the fees and procedures for submission by visiting the company’s websites through the links provided above.

I am often asked the question, “What cards should I submit for grading?” The truth is, there is no criteria for what cards to have graded and what cards to not. That is very much an individual decision. However, because of the fees involved, it would be unrealistic and frivolous to submit every card in your collection for grading. The most commonly submitted cards are modern and vintage rookie cards. A player’s rookie card is often the one that carries the most value and specimens at the top of the grading chart—those in Pristine or Gem Mint condition—can see astronomical jumps in value. The reason being is that achieving those grades does not come easily. So when you combine condition and the resulting scarcity based on grading, you have the makings for a potentially valuable piece of cardboard.

When it comes to submitting vintage cards, there are some additional criteria that should be considered. A general rule of thumb is to only submit those cards displaying relatively sharp corners and clean edges. Even if the card is returned in a condition less than the top of the grading scale, those cards receiving grades of 6 or 7 from the vintage niche (typically from the 1940s thru the ’60s) still command a good dollar in collector’s quests to complete set and player collections.

The primary reason for grading has been and will always be an attempt to preserve a card’s condition for the speculative hope of increasing its value. Keeping that in mind when determining what cards to submit will help narrow the selection of cards in your collection for that purpose.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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2 Responses to “Sports Card Collecting 101: To Grade or Not to Grade”

  1. sports cards says:

    What is the best site to look for sport card prices?

  2. Rob Bertrand says:

    eBay is by far the most accurate gauge of where the current market is at regarding pricing. Do a search for your card, use the advanced option and check completed listings.

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