More cards that appear to have been purchased, altered, graded and sold again continue to emerge through the research work of a small group of collectors in the Blowout Cards forum.
While there is much we don’t know, won’t know for a while or may never know, here are a few more notes and some thoughts about what’s happening.
Impacted Cards, Sets
While a wide variety of cards have been targeted by card doctors who aim to profit from covering up flaws, recent revelations show that vintage cards with a wide-bordered design appear to have been popular targets. The collectors working to discover potentially altered cards state that several 1948 Leaf Sammy Baugh cards appear to have trimmed edges. Seven 1953-54 Parkhurst Jean Beliveau rookie cards have been identified for having borders that were cut while numerous 1950s Berk Ross baseball cards also appear to have been targeted. The collectors provide evidence through front and back examinations that the cards being compared are indeed the same.
Several cards, including a 1948-49 Leaf Jackie Robinson rookie appear to have been “cleaned” of surface dirt or other issues. Using some sort of chemical on cards has never been accepted in the hobby as it can change the card’s natural color and sadly, some cards identified on the forum bear signs of having noticeably different hues. The end results, unfortunately, are better grades–and much higher selling prices.
Using non-abrasive cleaning methods has been generally accepted by the hobby for years, including soaking cards in distilled water to remove scrapbook glue or other things that aren’t supposed to be there.
Extent of the Issue
While a sizeable number of cards have been identified as showing signs of trimming, re-coloring or chemical altering, we simply don’t know how big the issue may be. Signs point to the potential for everything from high-grade, iconic modern cards to fairly pedestrian vintage issues having been altered and sold through PWCC’s online auctions. We have photographic evidence for some of them. Submissions that are known to include doctored cards could certainly contain more but without seeing before and after pictures of the other cards on those lists, it’s impossible to know at this point.
Keep in mind, though, that the number of cards that appear to have significant proof of altering is small compared to the total that are graded each year. Every collector, dealer and auction house should be concerned but some perspective is a good thing, too.
While a lot of collectors now know about the issues raised, many do not. A story in the New York Times was published last week. I recently did an interview with another major media outlet that plans to publish something soon. I suspect we’ll see more mainstream media stories in the weeks ahead.
It’s important to understand that cards are regularly submitted, cracked out of their holders and resubmitted in an attempt to attain a higher grade. Just because a card is graded one level higher than it was before doesn’t mean it’s been significantly altered. Sometimes it’s just a collector or dealer hoping a fresh set of eyes will look at a card more favorably. Other times, some natural cleaning has occurred or the owner will attempt to make an attempt to smooth fibers on a corner or edge without cutting or trimming anything. Some are skilled at removing small creases.
No matter your stance on that type of effort, it’s not a stretch to say if we start examining those types of cards or guessing an alteration was done, the list will never end and the issue will become clouded. There are undoubtedly tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of cards in holders that have had a corner or edge smoothed out, had glue removed or surface dirt wiped away. Most long-time collectors have never had a problem with that. There are enough trimmed and recolored cards to worry about and more certainly will be uncovered.
We likely won’t know much about law enforcement activities in connection with the case until charges are filed. Who are they talking to? What kind of evidence has been gathered? Those questions aren’t likely to be answered for a while. One of the members identifying the altered cards indicated recently that he had not yet been contacted by any law enforcement official. That doesn’t mean he won’t be.
It’s natural for those concerned about this to want a resolution. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting some sort of results instead of an ongoing revelation of possibly doctored cards. If past experience with these type of cases is any indication, though, it’s not something that’s going to happen quickly. It’s a case with a lot of moving parts. Legal issues, a potentially thorough examination by those directly impacted by the case and by law enforcement agencies could mean you’ll need plenty of patience. Previous unfortunate instances of hobby fraud have proven that to be one thing you can probably count on.