In calculating the value of sports cards, condition is crucial. Many people looking to sell their cards are not quite sure how to grade them, or more importantly, how others will grade them. Therefore, determining the condition, and in turn, value of your cards can be a daunting task.
Collectors often turn to third party graders or TPGs to make a condition judgment for them. But knowing how to judge condition for yourself is an important skill whether you’re selling or buying new material for your collection. While grading sports cards is subjective, there are widely established standards that most people in the industry follow.
Modern and vintage cards alike are treated equally when being evaluated or graded. Although a vintage card may be over 100 years old, it is still subjected to the same rigorous standards as a card manufactured today.
Below we’ve put together descriptions and examples of the characteristics of each grade from MINT to AUTHENTIC.
Along with the whole-number grades, there are half grades ranging between 1.5 and 9.5. Half grades typically suggest that the card has some characteristics required of the next grade higher, but not enough to be awarded the full grade.
Cards with substantial flaws may also receive a qualifier along with their numerical grade. The flaw typically results in the value being at least two grades lower. For example, a PSA 8 (OC) would have a similar value to a PSA 6 (or lower). The different types of qualifiers include:
Third Party Grading Costs:
If you choose to have your cards professionally graded, expect to pay at least $15 per card --- not including shipping and handling fees. If a card is particularly valuable get ready to spend between $50 and $300 per card. Over $10,000 in declared value and you’re looking at upwards of $700!
Grading with PSA
PSA is the biggest player in the sports card grading industry. Owned by Collectors Universe, and founded in the early 1990s, they are the first grading company in the hobby and have graded millions of cards since their inception.
In some cases, PSA graded cards command a premium over other TPGs.
Along with sports cards of all types, PSA will also grade tickets and unopened packs.
Grading with SGC
SGC like, PSA, also specializes in grading vintage and prewar cards. Some collectors prefer the aesthetics of the black backgrounds with the green and white inserts. Formerly based in New Jersey, they recently relocated to South Florida.
Grading with Beckett
Probably most famous for their card prices publications, Beckett has BGS (Beckett Grading Services) for modern cards (1981 to present) as well as a division called BVG (Beckett Vintage Grading). While they have substantially less market share than PSA and SGC, they have a solid reputation in the industry and are known for strict grading standards.
Note: NEVER use Beckett Collector’s Club Grading (BCCG). This service does not use the same tough standards as PSA, SGC, BGS or BVG and drastically over-grades card submissions.
Should you have your cards professionally graded?
This is a difficult question because it really depends on your collection and your goals. However, if you are looking to sell right away, it probably does not make sense to pay to have your collection graded unless it is of exceptionally high quality and it predates World War II. Be very careful, because novice collectors often run into serious issues related to professional grading.
The big three grading companies spend a lot of money marketing themselves as the only option for high-end cards. While they do bring value to the hobby by authenticating and providing uniform standards for grades, they certainly have drawbacks as well. Many collectors prefer "raw" cards that haven't been entombed in a plastic shell. Some have even been known to crack cards out of their graded case, and will not pay a premium for a graded version of a card.
Inexperienced collectors often overestimate the condition their own cards, submit them for professional grading, and are severely disappointed at the results. In many cases we’ve seen collectors pay more in grading fees than their collection is actually worth. Don't make this mistake. If you've recently inherited a collection or simply don't know your collection's value, and you've heard that you should get the cards graded, please contact professionals first. We now have an entire page dedicated to this question. Check out "Should I Get My Vintage Sports Cards Graded?"
Looking to sell?
If you're looking to sell a collection of sports cards that have not been professionally graded, you basically have two options.
Option one is to submit your collection for grading. In this case, you'll want to carefully select a grading service and decide which cards to grade. Selecting all of the cards in the collection will be expensive and might cause you to lose money. Maybe you'll send them all away for grading, or maybe you'll just send the superstars. Once you do this, you can sell through an auction house, to a dealer, or online yourself.
Option two is to just sell the collection raw. You might get slightly less for your cards when you do this, but you won't have any costs up front. For novice collectors looking to unload cards, we definitely recommend this option.
Grade a card with a pro for free
Here at Just Collect, we're always buying both graded and raw cards. Not sure if you should grade or not? Send us some scans of your cards and we'll let you know what we think. We'll even have one of our professional graders give you an estimated grade on a card of your choice.
We'll show you current market prices and even make you an offer in as little as 24 hours.