Since we wrote of the card doctoring scandal a couple of weeks ago, dozens more altered cards have been uncovered by members of the Blowout Cards message board. From key modern era rookie cards to T206s, it’s clear that far more than just a few have entered the market through the destructive skills of some folks looking to rake a profit through fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting collectors.
While the earliest focus of the forum members who’ve been examining old auction records was centered on easily comparable serial-numbered modern cards, the attention in recent days has turned toward doctored vintage cards, many of them apparently emanating from a person who has purchased graded cards at auction, then resubmitted or resold the same cards—this time with non-disclosed alterations. Usually, they’re sold through the same auction company.
Look, it’s no secret that collectors and dealers have attempted to “improve” cards for decades. Some practices have generally been considered acceptable. For example, cleaning dirt from a surface or removing a wax or non-invasive stain (as long as chemicals aren’t used that could affect the look of the card now—or at a later date). In short, if nothing was added to a card that wasn’t there to begin with, eyebrows were seldom raised.
Trimming edges to eliminate wear, filling in holes, adding color to a surface, adding paper stock to rebuild a corner or utilizing chemicals to clean cards has never been considered acceptable, however. Thanks to the before and after pictures uncovered by forum members, it’s clear the latter methods are being used, though, and aren’t always being detected when those cards submitted for authentication and grading. It’s resulted in higher grades and in some cases, a handsome profit for whomever is benefitting from the submission/auction process. Since the card carries a grade and is in a holder, buyers of the altered cards are receiving merchandise that’s being misrepresented according to grading company standards. As more cards are brought to light, it’s clear buyers who purchased trimmed, colored or bleached cards without knowing it, may not be happy.
The most disturbing aspect is that the perpetrators have somehow been able to slip a growing number of trimmed cards into the population without those cards being kicked back by grading companies for minimum size requirements.
As I mentioned in the previous column, there are potential legal consequences for those involved–and considering the dollar amounts it would be somewhat surprising if federal law enforcement were not already involved on some level. For now, there is still much we don’t know:
- Who and how many card doctors have been or will be identified as contributing to the problem? If it’s narrow in scope and information can be gathered from the card doctors through a legal proceeding or paperwork filed in coordination with their submission, it’s possible a large chunk of those cards can be identified and a database set up to warn collectors.
- How extensive is the problem? For collectors, this is the key element. At first the issue seemed to focus on high-grade material. However, it’s now clear many cards were tainted despite not having a huge value. The Blowout detectives have found instances where vintage hockey and non-sports cards have had edges trimmed or even shaved to provide a more authentic “rough cut” yet the profit for the doctor turned out to be a relatively small amount. It’s concerning to average collectors who at first didn’t think the problem likely extended beyond high-end material. Issues like T206, where most of the available cards are of the low to mid-grade variety, have proven susceptible to the work of at least one doctor who was able to remove creases and add color without having the work rejected by a grader. Another had a pinhole that was somehow closed. A graded Jim Brown rookie appeared to have had significant color added to a scuffed area, was then resubmitted and received a higher grade.
- What methods are being used by the card doctors to make their work apparently invisible to someone who’s seeing a particular card for the first time and attempting to assign a grade? Adding color would seem to be easily detectable but are there new tools the card doctors are using?
Hopefully, we’ll get some answers to all three of those questions and many of the others that are being raised. There’s no doubt a lot of discussion is happening and that those involved in grading and selling these cards are well aware of the issues that have been raised. In cases of potential wrongdoing, sometimes wild conspiracy theories arise and it’s best if the truth begins to come out before those take on a life of their own.
We’ve reported on multiple cases of fraud inside the hobby over the last 13 years and if there’s one thing to keep in mind it’s that while the community usually demands answers and justice RIGHT NOW, that rarely happens. If there are potential legal issues that turn into action, time is often measured in months and years, not hours and days. The most important thing for anyone who has a stake in sports and non-sports trading cards on any level is that as many questions as possible are answered for collectors who remain the most important part of the whole story.