How To Grade Your Sports Cards
When it comes to value and sports cards, the biggest factor in value in condition. Many people think that their cards are mint condition but there is a lot more that goes into the grading than just visual inspection. Many factors are considered when grading cards, including centering of the front and back, corner wear, clarity, and registration, just to name a few. Grading usually costs at least $15 a card (plus shipping/insurance) and the price goes up with card value. Pricing for a single card can go up to $10,000! Raw cards typically sell for less than graded cards but there are less up front costs and gamble with grades.
There are generally 3 major grading companies recognized by collectors: PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator, SGC (Sportscard Guarantee Corporation), and Beckett. Each will be discussed briefly below. Links to each companies website are included.
PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator)
PSA is the largest of the 3 grading companies. Based in California, they are known for grading both vintage and modern. Cards in PSA slabs generally sell for more when compared to the others, but usually cost more to grade. Most collectors consider PSA the gold standard for grading.
SGC (Sportscard Guarantee Corporation
SGC is based in Florida and are known more as a vintage card grading company. Prices to grade are usually a little cheaper than PSA. Many collectors prefer SGC for tobacco cards.
Beckett is what most collectors think of for pricing sports cards, as it was a very popular monthly price guide magazine in the 90s. The company still grades cards, under BGS and BVG (vintage cards). It is generally more of an option for modern cards
Factors Considered For Grading
Corners are subject to wear, fraying, bends, and creases.
Check the surface for scratches, indents, scuffs, and wax/gum stains
Centering of the image on the front back is measured from side to side and top to bottom
Sometimes the colors on a card can be faded, dull, or missing completely. Bright vibrant colors make the card pop
Edges can show dents, wear, fraying, and imperfections in finish
Printing errors can lead to unclear registration or blurry images. Crisp images are desired
Centering plays a major part in grading. Measurements are taken of the space between the image and the border from to the left and right of the image and top to bottom. Collectors prefer cards which are 50/50 centered. Grading companies have centering parameters which must be met for cards to qualify for higher grades.
Corners also play a big part in the grading process. Corners can have wear, bends, fraying and creases from being handled and played with. Sharp edges typically equate to a higher grade. Rounded corners are a detractor and and usually knock the grade down to the 3 or 4 range.
Similar to wear on corners, edges can easily be damaged as well. Chipping, indents, and wear from rubber bands are commons, especially with older cards.
The surface of the card can easily show creases, wrinkles, indents, scuffs, and wax/gum stains. Any of these detractors can lower the grade.
Lets use the 1971 Topps Reggie Jackson to point out some condition issues. As you can see the centering is off right to left and top to bottom. There is more black border on the left compared to the right of the card and more black border on top compared to bottom. The corners have rounding and creases, and the edges have plenty of chipping. The surface has multiple creases and some areas of scuffing. This card would not grade higher than a 1 or 1.5
GEM-MT 10: Gem Mint
A Gem Mint 10 card is a virtually perfect card. Attributes include four perfectly sharp corners, sharp focus and full original gloss. A Gem Mint 10 card must be free of staining of any kind, but an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn’t impair the overall appeal of the card. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed approximately 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front, and 75/25 percent on the reverse.
MINT 9: Mint
A Mint 9 is a superb condition card that exhibits only one of the following minor flaws: a very slight wax stain on reverse, a minor printing imperfection or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 60/40 to 65/35 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.
NM-MT 8: Near Mint-Mint
A NM-MT 8 is a super high-end card that appears Mint 9 at first glance, but upon closer inspection, the card can exhibit the following: a very slight wax stain on reverse, slightest fraying at one or two corners, a minor printing imperfection, and/or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 65/35 to 70/30 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.
NM 7: Near Mint
A NM 7 is a card with just a slight surface wear visible upon close inspection. There may be slight fraying on some corners. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. A minor printing blemish is acceptable. Slight wax staining is acceptable on the back of the card only. Most of the original gloss is retained. Centering must be approximately 70/30 to 75/25 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the back.
EX-MT 6: Excellent-Mint
A EX-MT 6 card may have visible surface wear or a printing defect which does not detract from its overall appeal. A very light scratch may be detected only upon close inspection. Corners may have slightly graduated fraying. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. Card may show some loss of original gloss, may have minor wax stain on reverse, may exhibit very slight notching on edges and may also show some off-whiteness on borders. Centering must be 80/20 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.
EX 5: Excellent
Excellent On EX-5 cards, very minor rounding of the corners is becoming evident. Surface wear or printing defects are more visible. There may be minor chipping on edges. Loss of original gloss will be more apparent. Focus of picture may be slightly out-of-register. Several light scratches may be visible upon close inspection, but do not detract from the appeal of the card. Card may show some off-whiteness of borders. Centering must be 85/15 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the back.
VG-EX 4: Very Good-Excellent
A VG-EX 4 card’s corners may be slightly rounded. Surface wear is noticeable but modest. The card may have light scuffing or light scratches. Some original gloss will be retained. Borders may be slightly off-white. A light crease may be visible. Centering must be 85/15 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the back.
VG 3: Very Good
A VG 3 card reveals some rounding of the corners, though not extreme. Some surface wear will be apparent, along with possible light scuffing or light scratches. Focus may be somewhat off-register and edges may exhibit noticeable wear. Much, but not all, of the card’s original gloss will be lost. Borders may be somewhat yellowed and/or discolored. A crease may be visible. Printing defects are possible. Slight stain may show on obverse and wax staining on reverse may be more prominent. Centering must be 90/10 or better on the front and back.
GOOD 2: Good
A Good 2 card’s corners show accelerated rounding and surface wear is starting to become obvious. A good card may have scratching, scuffing, light staining, or chipping of enamel on obverse. There may be several creases. Original gloss may be completely absent. Card may show considerable discoloration. Centering must be 90/10 or better on the front and back.
FR 1.5: Fair
A Fair 1.5 card’s corners will show extreme wear, possibly affecting framing of the picture. The surface of the card will show advanced stages of wear, including scuffing, scratching, pitting, chipping and staining. The picture will possibly be quite out-of-register and the borders may have become brown and dirty. The card may have one or more heavy creases. In order to achieve a Fair grade, a card must be fully intact. Even though the card may be heavily worn, it cannot achieve this grade if it is missing solid pieces of the card as a result of a major tear, etc. This would include damage such as the removal of the back layer of the card or an entire corner. The centering must be approximately 90/10 or better on the front and back.
PR 1: Poor
A Poor 1 will exhibit many of the same qualities of a PSA Fair 1.5 but the defects may have advanced to such a serious stage that the eye-appeal of the card has nearly vanished in its entirety. A Poor card may be missing one or two small pieces, exhibit major creasing that nearly breaks through all the layers of cardboard or it may contain extreme discoloration or dirtiness throughout that may make it difficult to identify the issue or content of the card on either the front or back. A card of this nature may also show noticeable warping or another type of destructive defect.