Strip Cards Receive Numerical Grades … But Is That Correct?
One of more interesting discussions when it comes to graded cards centers around strip issues. Strip cards, in general, are those cut from uncut strips or sheets. They’re generally more affordable than tobacco or caramel cards and the real benefit to them is they are without a doubt, legitimate early cards of early players.
Strip cards, particularly some of the ones not using real black and white pictures, often look ugly. That’s not even necessarily because of the pictures on them, either. Rather, strip cards were hand cut (or in many cases, torn) by vendors who would distribute them. Some might sold them inexpensively or others might have given them away with a purchase of some sort.
Whatever the case, they were often cut or torn with little care, leading to a number of them looking pretty bad with crooked edges and such. Now, I definitely think strip cards get kind of a bum rap and I personally like them. Some that are cut evenly and not depicting artwork that you would be likely to see in your local elementary school are quite nice. Prices on them have also gone up and they’re more collected party because of that.
But when it comes to grading strip issues, that’s where the debate comes in.
Grading companies, of course, do grade strip cards. Something like this Joe Gharrity W514 pictured here would almost certainly receive the lowest grade of Authentic. But other strip cards have been cut with a bit more care. The main grading companies, PSA, SGC, and Beckett have graded those nicer cards offering numerical grades on a scale of 1-10, just like they do for other cards.
The question here is, should TPGs give numerical grades to strip cards or not?
The Case for Grading Strips Numerically
I imagine that some merchants would have gotten requests to neatly cut the cards from some collectors who cared about their condition. However, the majority of cards that are in good condition today are likely ones that have been cut recently.
Does that matter? To me, not really.
I don’t personally see the difference in a card being hand cut 100 years ago or ten minutes ago. Now, disclaimer here. That doesn’t go for things that were machine cut, like 1933 Goudey uncut sheets. I do think that’s different because those were never intended to be hand cut by individuals. Those, in my opinion, should not receive numerical grades.
But strips were intended to be cut up by anybody and I don’t think the period of when that cutting matters too much.
Now, typically, if a machine cut card (i.e. a caramel card, for example) is trimmed/hand cut on one edge, it automatically would receive an Authentic grade. That’s despite whatever the rest of the card looks like. Most of the time, if you find a gorgeous card that is graded authentic, trimming is often the culprit.
So why aren’t hand cut strip cards graded as such? I haven’t spoken to any grading companies about it but the thinking is generally that the ones that receive a numerical grade have retained their original size dimensions. Trimmed cards, by contrast, are ones that have been shortened on one or more sides.
Now, that makes some degree of sense to me. I can see the logic behind it and as long as cards with shorter dimensions don’t receive numerical grades, I’ve really got no problem with how those companies have decided to grade these things.
If companies continue giving nice looking strip cards, I can at least understand the logic behind it even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.
The Case Against Grading Strip Cards Numerically
So, here’s the thing. Strip cards were designed to be hand cut instead of factory cut. And a hand cut, no matter how pure, is not going to be cut the same way as if a machine cut it. It will likely have some sort of waviness to it, be off center, etc. I suppose that’s true with machine cut cards, too, but the variances in hand cut cards are certainly much more.
Taking it a step further, given how many were torn by vendors instead of cut with scissors, one can even argue that they weren’t even 100% intended to be cut with scissors. Their intent, really, was to be separated in some manner and given to a patron.
For that reason, the cards were never designed to be cut perfectly. Sure, some ended up nicer than others. I mean, if Howard the storekeeper at your local soda shop was a nice guy, you might convince him to be extra careful cutting that Babe Ruth card for you. But the fact still remains that they are hand cut cards where 99.9% are going to have some sort of cutting issue.
Because of that, I’d probably be in the camp of all strip cards receiving only an Authentic grade. I get the other side of the argument that says as long as the appropriate dimensions remain intact, they can get a number. I just wouldn’t personally do it that way. The majority of high-grade strip cards out there are ones that were cut recently and when you think about it, those aren’t on the same playing field as ones that were cut/torn decades ago. I don’t have any issue at all with collectors cutting strips up to get nice looking cards. I just don’t personally think we should be dishing out high grades for cards that are cut better than most from that era were simply because they’re worth a lot of money now.
Again, I see both sides of the argument here. I just lie on the side that says we’re probably doing this all wrong.