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Everything You Need to Know About Grading Vintage Baseball Cards

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.

Grading

MINT or MT (PSA 9 or SGC 96):

A MINT card will be a nearly perfect card that looks as clean and sharp as the day it was printed. There will be no surface flaws, bends, creases or stains on the front or the back. The picture will be centered within the borders with a ratio of 55/45 or better all-around and the corners and edges will be sharp and clean like a new business card.

Sharp corners and centered 55/45

Sharp corners and centered nearly 50/50

Sharp corners and centered nearly 50/50

Sharp corners and well centered



Near Mint to Mint or NM/MT (PSA 8 or SGC 88):

A NM/MT card will appear as a MINT card to the naked eye, but may have a little lesser centering and a light touch of wear that may be visible on a corner upon close examination. A NM/MT card should have no surface flaws, bends, creases or stains on the front or back. Centering must be no worse than 60/40 all around.

Centering and minor tilt

Very light corner tick and centering

Corner tick

Very light corner wear



Near Mint or NM (PSA 7 or SGC 80):

A NM card will look virtually new at first glance. However, upon closer examination, there may be slight fuzziness to the corners, minor color or print imperfections and the centering must still be 65/35 or better all around.

Light print transfer

Minor corner tick

Corner tick and centering

Minor corner wear

Light corner wear



Excellent to Mint or EX/MT (PSA 6 or SGC 70):

A more common “higher” grade for vintage cards, an EX/MT card may have slightly fuzzy corners, color or print imperfections, a slightly skewed cut or slightly out-of-focus image. Centering must be 70/30 or better all around.

Corner lift and light corner wear

Light corner wear

Light corner wear

Reverse corner crimp



Excellent or EX (PSA 5 or SGC 60):

This is a more common grade for vintage cards. The corners may exhibit the beginnings of rounding from light wear. Surface gloss may begin to be affected. Cards should still exhibit at least 75/25 or better centering.

Significantly off center

Corner wear and light crimp in corner

Corner wear

Light back wrinkle



Very Good to Excellent or VG/EX (PSA 4 or SGC 50):

Corners on a VG/EX card will show wear and may have light creasing near the edge. Centering must be 80/20 or better. A light wrinkle or minor crease may be evident on the reverse of the card. More serious print issues and cards with wax stains will also fall into the VG/EX grade.

Corner wear and loss of surface gloss

Even corner wear

Corner wear and minor foreign substance on surface

Corner wear and loss of surface gloss

Corner wear and light crimp



Very Good or VG (PSA 3 or SGC 40):

Very Good cards will exhibit moderate wear and the corners may be more rounded rather than square. Cards with a strong wrinkle or crease will usually grade VG regardless of their other characteristics. Likewise, this is typically the highest grade any card with a stain will receive.

Front wrinkle

Corner wear

Heavy corner wear

Back crease



Good or GD (PSA 2 or SGC 30):

A GD card will typically have very significant wear with rounded corners, multiple creases, very light tear at the edges or tape residue on the reverse. Any crease that cracks the surface (front or back) will generally not grade higher than GD.

Front crease

Front surface scratch

Heavy corner wear

Severe back crease



Poor or PR (PSA 1 or SGC 10):

A PR card will have significant problems, including ink or pencil marks, paper loss, creases, staining, heavy wear, pin or tack holes, tape or minor tears to the card. A card with tape or a pin or tack hole may present in any of the grades above, but the flaw will limit it to a grade of PR.

Heavy crease and wear

Heavy crease

Pinhole

Writing on reverse



Centering

Cards can be off center left to right or top to bottom or both.


Centered 50% left and 50% right

Centered 55% left and 45% right



Centered 60% left and 40% right

Centered 30% left and 70% right



Centered 80% left and 20% right

Centered 10% top and 90% bottom



Centered 0% left and 100% right

Miscut Top to Bottom




Half grades

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.



Qualifiers

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:

  • OC --- Off center (one or more borders significantly larger than the opposite border)
  • ST --- Staining (stains from wax, gum, water, or other substances)
  • PD --- Print defect (ink smears, random ink spots, "fish eyes" or other factory printing defects)
  • OF --- Out of focus (registration or color application causes image to be out of focus)
  • MK --- Marks --- (pen, pencil writing, or ink stamps)
  • MC --- Miscut (a portion of the card is missing or portion of another card appears on normal sized card)
  • TR --- Trimmed (card may be slightly or grossly cut or trimmed to make smaller or improve appearance)
  • AUTH --- Authentic (card is original but has been altered, repaired, or otherwise enhanced)



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.

Costs/membership information

Grading scale



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.

Costs/membership information

Grading scale



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.

Costs/membership information


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.