I have to preface this by saying, I’m not a huge graded card guy. As a set collector, my cards are often of the lower-grade variety. And I’ve generally handled enough cards in my time to be able to see/feel when something isn’t right with a card in one of my sets. That’s nothing against graded cards and, as I’ve written recently, I’m actually acquiring more of them. But as a set collector, it’s just not as essential and would only complicate things, really.
As a result, graded cards are less of a necessity for me. I do have some in my collection but only for rare cases or in the cases of singles I’ve bought. If you missed it earlier, this has my rules for when I care to have cards graded.
Just because I don’t care as much about graded cards, though, I still consider the grading companies to be extremely important in the card-buying market these days for all sorts of reasons. Here are a few.
Online sales are the absolute top way to buy sports cards these days. That is particularly true of pre-war cards where you’re not heading to your local card shop or Target to buy unopened product. I probably buy 99% of my stuff online and I expect that other pre-war collectors are well over 90%, too. While you may get your stuff from different sources than I do, I’m willing to bet that, the majority of pre-war collectors are buying their stuff from online sources, including eBay, friends, dealers, etc.
Buying things online always involves a bit of risk. That’s not only true from an authenticity standpoint, but also because grading is so wildly subjective.Even the graders that have much more strict standards than your average Joe collector vary on how they grade certain flaws. And that’s not only from company to company. Graders working for the same company will just see things differently than others. That’s no knock on them – we just all see things differently.
If you’re like me and buying up Poor cards, it doesn’t really matter as much. But if you are expecting something better, it certainly does. Graded cards take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation when it comes to looking for cards in a specific condition. Imagine trying to buy a raw card online with a crappy picture or, worse, with no image at all. You’d be relying completely on the seller’s word for condition and, even if he/she wasn’t trying to deceive you, their opinion may just be vastly different than yours.
That doesn’t mean that buying graded cards is foolproof. As stated, grading is subjective. Graders have even missed thing such as trimming or other pretty important flaws. But in general, they provide a much better baseline than relying on a random dealer’s grading capabilities. When you’re buying online, it’s so important to have some sort of objective view and the grading companies help provide that.
Forging and altering cards has always been an issue since it was determined by someone that baseball cards should hold some monetary value.
And, as you might imagine, as time has gone on and cards have gotten more expensive, these types of ne’er do wells are making it harder and harder on collectors. Trimming is getting harder to detect and some methods are even believed to be able to remove things like wrinkles from cards.
Worse still, more sophisticated printing methods can help make fake cards look even more realistic and difficult to detect to even some experts. Add it all up and, without graders, you’d have the Wild West.
Again, are graders 100% perfect when it comes to detecting alterations and even fakes? Of course not. But they do offer much more expertise than most collectors out there can and with things such as the use of magnification tools, black lights, and more, they are often able to spot issues that your average collector would not.
They also help to provide an important check. Nowadays, when collectors want to buy an expensive card, they will often look for one that has been graded. Expensive cards that aren’t graded can often be suspicious. After all, if a five-figure card hasn’t been graded, often times there’s a good reason why.
The grading companies’ mere existence helps prevent the sale of some big-ticket forgeries that would have cost collectors a lot of money in the past before they were around.
Tracking of Sales
A third way in which graders help the hobby is through the tracking of sales. This goes far beyond simply providing an accounting of how many cards have been graded through things like population reports.
Graded cards give a card a fingerprint with a certification number that exists as long as the card remains slabbed. Using that number with PSA’s system, collectors can look online to see where it’s been sold and for how much. That gives us a much better idea of a card’s true value as well as an indication of how it has performed over time.
Is that an essential to collecting? Not really, I guess. But in this day and age, when many cards are worth so much more than they were 20 and 30 years ago, it’s important to have that kind of information at our fingertips because the stakes are higher.
Finally, another thing that comes to mind when thinking about grading companies are the increased values of trading cards since their inception.
Before grading companies, cards often would top out at the high book value. It wasn’t all that common (for modern cards, especially) to see things sell for many multiples of what their book value was. Even if a card was in great condition with no noticeable flaws, that, at most, usually meant a high book sale price.
That’s all changed with graded cards. Perfectly graded cards can take a $50 card and make it a $500 card overnight. Many collectors might bemoan that fact and think that others are paying too much for those cards – especially when grading is subjective. Heck, I think that. But the reality is that, the cards having a higher value is good for everybody and will help drive prices up on even the ungraded cards.
Some collectors, in search of a gold mine, will look for quality raw specimens and pay more for them. Whether like the fact that a PSA 10 sells for a lot of money or not, the reality is that you will benefit from it even if it’s not your card. The more cards selling for big money, the more people will become interested in the hobby. And the more people in the hobby means that prices for other cards will have a better chance of retaining their value.
Again, are these absolutely essential to the hobby? Not really. But they help make it much better.
Protection of Cards
A final value provided by card grading companies is a measure of protection. As I recently wrote, that’s not only to help preserve cards in great condition but to help save cards in terrible shape from even more damage.
The slabs afford a great deal of protection that’s important for pre-war collectors in particular where many cards are now more than 100 years old. The older these collectibles get, the more important it is to protect them. That’s not only to preserve them for your own value but to keep them safe for the next generation.
I could go on and on about other benefits the grading companies provide. Those are the five that most quickly came to mind. But while you may not be a big fan of graded cards, grading companies have undoubtedly made the hobby a better one.