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Should I Get My Sports Cards Graded?

Graded sports cards can be found by the thousands on eBay. It’s a little hard to believe how prevalent and accepted the concept has become considering the anti-grading uproar that ensued when it was first announced that PSA would enter the card grading business nearly two decades ago.  Now, it’s a question collectors ask themselves all the time:  Should I get my sports cards graded?
Many long-time dealers and collectors were adamantly opposed to the idea. Some still are, but those numbers faded quickly when many former opponents saw the astronomical prices collectors were willing to pay for certain cards. Graded cards are now a huge part of the sports collecting hobby.
The use of grading companies isn’t a license to print money, however. It’s just as easy to lose value by grading and authenticating cards for which the concept isn’t worth the price. So how do you know which cards to grade and which to keep out of a slab? As is the case with virtually any collectible, research is your buddy.
  • Study the grading standards PSA, SGC, Beckett and other companies on their websites and in their publications. It’s all there in black and white and even though the grading process is still somewhat subjective, you’ll know generally what to expect. Get to know each and every flaw that will result in the card being downgraded. Pay special attention to the centering requirements, which have been known to turn a ‘9’ into a ‘7’ faster than you can say “PSA”.
  • Go to a card show or shop and examine various cards that have already been graded. Find a patient dealer or shop owner and ask him to point out the small flaws that make a card an 8 instead of a 9; a 5 instead of an 8.
  • If you’re serious about sports card grading and authentication, invest in a good jeweler’s loupe or better yet, a table lamp/magnifier such as those used by people who sew. It’s the only way to see the subtle differences a grader will see when he’s examining your cards.
  • Testing. Submitting cards yourself is the best way to get a handle on grading standards. Make notes on what you think each card’s flaws are and grade it yourself. Then, when the cards come back, compare your notes with what the grader decided. Get together with some collecting friends and see if you can get enough cards together to send in under the ‘bulk rate’. The more cards you can examine, the better you’ll get.
  • Study eBay’s completed items. Before you decide which cards to send in for grading, study the selling prices of similar cards sold on eBay. If a PSA 9 or SGC 96 isn’t selling for much of a premium, there probably isn’t a great reason to send yours in unless you just want it in a slab for your collection.
Vintage Cards
There was a time when the value of old baseball cards that were graded was Cracker Jack Ty Cobb always higher than those that were not. The grading companies’ set registries inflated the value for many sports cards that didn’t get much respect before, but as more of those sets have been completed, the demand for many of the post-1950s material has decreased. It’s still a good market since new collectors are entering all the time while others begin new set completion projects. Just don’t expect everything you grade to turn to gold.

It will cost you more to grade pre-1950s material, but it’s hard to argue that you shouldn’t do it for any card that is EX or better. They’re somewhat scarce to begin with and many could be considered antiques.

You can certainly enjoy your 1935 T206 Honus Wagner BVG 1 Diamond Stars or 1909-1911 T206 cards without having them graded, but not only will the slab protect the increasingly fragile cards from damage, they’ll probably sell faster and for more money if you’ve already had them authenticated and labeled.

For insurance purposes, it’s also easier to keep track of the proper and documented value of your collection if your cards have been slabbed. Baseball card values for each grade are quite specific in the price guides, even if the printed guides haven’t always proven to be an accurate measure in every case.

Even 1950s and 60s cards, unless you’re talking top stars, are not always worth grading. Again, track the market. Join the collector clubs offered by the grading companies and study the population reports. Graded cards have been around long enough that the limited number of collectors putting together graded sets now outstrips the demand.
A super clean mid-to-late 1960s or 1970s Topps common in near mint condition barely sells for the grading fee unless it’s one of the tougher cards in the set. Yet the auction competition can be stiff for a rare, mint commons and a $2 card can sometimes sell for the price of an ungraded set!
It is a good idea to have virtually any early 1950s stars like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and others graded, unless they are creased, stained or otherwise defaced. The same holds true for high number or rare series cards, especially 1952 Topps and 1953 Topps. The demand is there, even for mid-grade stars and many collectors prefer the security of a grading company’s approval before spending a few hundred dollars.
Modern Era Cards

It’s hard to believe you can take a freshly-printed sports card out of a pack and ship it to a grading company. The only flaws they can grade in such cases reflect more on the quality of the printing process than if the card has been handled. Still, 1981 Topps Joe Montana the graded card market for high-demand cards of today’s players is solid when it comes to high dollar rookie cards, inserts, autographed cards and the like. 1 of 1 autographed insert cards can sell easier and for significant amounts if the assigned grade tops all others. It simply adds to the pedigree of the card to have it in a holder.
The modern era is more of a buyer’s market for sports cards. PSA or BVG 10s for icons like Derek Jeter and LeBron James do well now, but it’s likely that as time goes on, those cards will be in higher demand.
1980s and 90s material can be graded, of course, and if you’re lucky enough to latch onto the rare ‘gem mint’ label you might find enough interested parties to make a profit. For the most part, though, your Doc Gooden rookies aren’t going to put your kids through college, even if they’ve been graded. Rookie cards of guys like Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken, Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino are another story. Most collectors prefer those types of cards in a slab, in part because it’s safety valve for sellers concerned about counterfeits, which happen more frequently in modern material.
Babe Ruth Ty Cobb autographed insert card Picking and choosing your spots is really more difficult for modern era cards than for vintage. Most cards over the last twenty years have gone directly from packs to pages or tightly-packed monster boxes. It’s almost unusual to find a card that isn’t in mint condition. Knowing the market by researching sales and talking to dealers in tune with current products is vital.
The final decision of whether to get a card graded really belongs to you.

You can get 6 free grades when you sign up for PSA’s Collectors Club.

If you’re building a collection of graded cards without much of an eye on re-sale, you can grade virtually anything and not go wrong. It’s your collection. If turning a profit or submitting with the idea of re-selling is your motivation, making the call without knowing the process– or the market– is not a smart option.   If you’re looking to add graded cards to your collection, click here and you’ll see thousands up for sale/auction on eBay, many closing right now.

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