- 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.
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 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.