1956 Topps Roberto Clemente PSA 6

To Grade or Not To Grade? A Baseball Card Collector’s Dilema

1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC PSA 8 - Pulled from a pack back in 1988 when I was a kid!
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC PSA 8 – Pulled from a pack back in 1988 when I was a kid!

As our hobby has matured over the years the card grading phenomenon has exploded. Within weeks of a new product being released you will find graded versions available on ebay for sale, with the higher grades commanding a respectable premium. There is a whole subset of collectors who monitor the various population reports pursuing the highest graded examples and adding an additional dimension of rarity. (*Of course in the new card market there could be identical examples of high grades waiting to be graded around the corner so tread carefully over-spending on modern high grade cards).

I see two very strong plays for endorsing purchasing graded cards and/or getting your key cards graded. As the hobby has evolved into a major business combined with the advances in technology (software & printing capabilities) there is an increasing risk around counterfeits. There has been an increase in very talented individuals offering to make “custom” cards for collectors. Think of a “1989 Upper Deck Babe Ruth RC” or a “1920 Tobacco Ken Griffey Jr RC” as cards that never were being produced. I have actually held some examples in my hand and they are very impressive – we will leave the whole copyright issue alone with this article….but to stay on point imagine that same individual creating a “1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC” that looks pristine to the naked eye in a magnetic one touch…only to find out years later you purchased a fake.

1955 Topps Roberto Clemente RC PSA 3 - Even  low grade key cards carry value as the buyer knows it is legit.
1955 Topps Roberto Clemente RC PSA 3 – Even low grade key cards carry value as the buyer knows it is legit.

The second major endorsement to leveraging graded cards is liquidity. Our hobby has long been advised as not to be an investment vehicle and the majority of us collect out of a connection to our pasts, but at the same time we recognize there is actual monetary value in some of our collection. Personally as a father of four and a wife who doesn’t collect I told her if something ever happened to me to just take a picture and write verbatim the heads on my graded cards and put them on eBay. Even if she started out auctions at $0.01 the fact the cards are 3rd party authenticated and graded will at least get them a “fair” market value in return and my family could use the money for something they need/want.

1980 Topps Larry Bird RC Magic Johnson RC - Tagged with a (ST) qualifier for Stain
1980 Topps Larry Bird RC Magic Johnson RC – Tagged with a (ST) qualifier for Stain

This of course leads us to “who” to use or purchase. You will find many opinions on this topic but my perspectives and rational are as follows:

Vintage – PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators) They have a very large following of PSA Set Builders that compete for the highest graded collection or set which makes their market in vintage pretty stable and very strong in cases of rare cards. I also like that you can look at their FREE Population Report and FREE Price Guide to get a feel for how rare your graded cards are and what they are worth.

Modern – Beckett Grading Services Which have a more aesthetically pleasing encapsulation including showcasing sub-grades and Autograph grades. Many of the collectors of modern cards (i.e. Bowman Prospect Rookies, etc…) tend to favor these holders and I find there is a slight premium on items sold here as well.

1959 Topps Bob Gibson RC PSA 5 - A middle grade card can still add great visual appeal in a collection, save money and hold value.
1959 Topps Bob Gibson RC PSA 5 – A middle grade card can still add great visual appeal in a collection, save money and hold value.

My last comment is to not get your hopes up on your grades. I know we all think we have Mint cards that are perfect….but nothing is more humbling than opening a box returned from professional grading and seeing a card you thought would be a 9 come back a 7…..or a vintage card you thought would be a 7 come back a 4. It happens to all of us as the professionals use magnification, black lights, etc and scour every possible angle of your cards. My advice to save money is to purchase some graded cards you like and use them to compare to what you are going to submit to get proper expectations.

Let me know your grading experiences or opinions.

Until Next Time…..Happy Collecting,

Ed

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