In the May 1974 issue of The Trader Speaks, long-time collector Gavin Riley wrote a column entitled A Standard Guide to Card Collecting. The approximately 700-word missive was meant to show collectors what the generally accepted guidelines were when it came to grading cards. With no grading company in place, it was up to sellers to state the condition of certain card, lot or set and hope the buyer agreed.
It’s interesting to compare his condition guide, the terms of which are still largely used today, with what is accepted today and also with the grading companies’ definitions. Grading today tends to mirror what coin grading became and with big money at stake, it’s not surprising that numbered grades—three times as many as the hobby once knew in some cases—are now used by third party graders.
Here’s the guide Riley typed up for publication some 39 years ago:
MINT (MT) – Cards are the same as they were when issued without regard for age. They have no surface scratches or creases, very sharp corners, clean and smooth edges, and have all tabs and coupons still attached. The term of “mint” is very special and should be used only for brand new cards or those that have been exceptionally well preserved. In short, mint means perfect and terms like “perfect int”, “super mint” or “gem mint” are superfluous.
EXCELLENT (EX) - This is a shade below mint with the major difference being some very limited wear. The edges and corners, although sharp, may show some minor fraying or separation. Cards have very slight surface scratches but no creases.
VERY GOOD (VG) – These cards show slight creasing or warping, noticeable surface scratching and wear, frayed edges, and corners that are slightly dog eared. Generally, then, a very good card has minor defects but is a welcome addition to any collection.
GOOD (G) – Cards show numerous minor creases or possibly a major one, possible warping, considerable surface scratching and wear resulting in white blotches, edges showing heavy wear, and corners that are noticeably dog-eared. Cards are beginning to take on a dirty look.
FAIR (F) – Cards that usually serve as fillers until replacements can be found. They have many minor and major creases or heavy warping, heavy surface scratching and wear causing severe blotching, badly worn edges and dog-earing that has resulted in rounded corners. Cards are noticeably dirty.
POOR (P) – These are cards that exhibit the characteristics for “fair” to an excessive degree. Cards classified as poor are losing their identity and would normally be given away rather than traded.
Riley went on to state that the above grades were primarily due to what he called “involuntary” factors because of time and storage.
“There are many other things that affect the condition of a card which cannot easily be categorized. These are the things collectors do on their own to cards like trimming, gluing the backs, taping, writing, etc., which I call ‘voluntary’ factors. “
Trimming is a dirty word today, often associated with devious methods of making a card look better than it is. Many trimmed cards may look mint but the ‘trimmed’ designation Yet in the early days, collectors did often trim their own cards for a variety of reasons, sometimes to make them fit in whatever storage was utilized. In the mid-1970s, trimming was worth a downgrade, but it wasn’t considered evil.
Riley indicated he used a code to note other types of wear associated with the grade he and other collectors would put on their cards, such as OCCut, which mean a card was cut off center or GluB-which mean there was a trace of glue on the back.
He also indicated that the use of combination grades like “VG-EX” was only used to describe a lot. Calling a stack “VG-EX” mean approximately half are very good and the other half excellent. “One card should not be classified this way,” he wrote.
He also stated that true hobbyists would use a lower grade if a card didn’t fit perfectly into a single designation, which likely made quite a few buyers happy.