Trimmed High-Grade Card Discovery is the Latest Hobby Scandal

The recent discovery of numerous high-grade trimmed cards is another problem for the hobby

Late last year, a pretty big scandal hit the autograph hobby with the discovery of several authenticated signed cards proven to be fakes. Now, a new scandal is rocking the industry.

High-grade cards are all the rage these days and all it takes is a PSA 10 grade to turn a $5.00 card into one worth $200. Now, grading is subjective, as we all know. Thus, the high-grade game has always been a somewhat questionable one. I’ve seen several PSA 10 cards with obvious flaws. Still, the cards sell for big money because they have been professionally graded and, at the end of the day, many of the people buying those cards care more about the grade than about what the card technically looks like.

Is that wrong? I mean, not really. Collectors pursuing high-grade cards want someone to tell them that a card is virtually perfect and they’ll pay handsomely for that. How someone collects is not my problem or the problem of anyone other than the person buying the card, to be honest. But it’s pretty clear to anyone with an IQ exceeding double digits that not every high-grade card is as worthy of the grade it’s received.

And with a new scandal, that point has never been truer.

A recent Blowout forum post has apparently uncovered nearly 100 high-grade basketball cards featuring rookie cards of Steph Curry and James Harden. Now, if you’re someone that’s more into Cobb and Ruth than you are MJ and Kobe, don’t close that browser window just yet. This site focuses on pre-war cards but this is a problem that certainly affects older cards, too, for two very specific reasons that I’ll get to shortly.

The Scandal …

Steph Curry Panini Rookie ModernIn short, the scandal is a fairly easy one to understand. It’s also been uncovered much in the same way that the forged pre-war autographs were outed on Net54.

A collector on Blowout’s forum found images of cards before they were graded and compared them to pictures of the cards after grading. In doing that, they found several edges that were trimmed. The cards could be determined as trimmed because an edge on a graded card was modified based on where the card’s picture met the edge. For example, an untrimmed card may show more of a person’s arm than a trimmed card would.

An immediate question might be, how could it be determined the two cards were the same. In the cases of these cards, they were serial numbered and that meant they could easily be identified as the same.

The results were staggering. The Blowout post alleges a total (to date) of 93 Curry and Harden rookie cards have been trimmed and subsequently graded mostly as gem mint. Most of the cards were graded by PSA or Beckett. SGC appears to have graded only one such card.

Most collectors hardly need me to point out the problem here. A card that has been trimmed would automatically be given an Authentic grade. Authentic grade cards with great eye appeal can sell for decent money. However, since they are the lowest grade possible, prices for them don’t come close to prices for high-grade cards.

The gist here is that cards that should not be worth much money are selling for big bucks.

The other part of this story is that the cards discovered to be trimmed were cards that were sold in PWCC auctions. PWCC is one of the top auctioneers on eBay for sports cards. Their cards routinely sell for more money than those of other sellers so they are a popular choice for consigners looking to sell.

PWCC’s stance has mostly been pretty mum but since the Blowout post, they’ve come out and released some tenets/best practices. There’s more there than this but, summarizing briefly, they will offer refunds to buyers of trimmed cards that were believed to be legit, have those cards removed from the grader’s database, and also cease to stop working with certain submitters.

Interestingly, these steps are dependent upon agreement from the grading companies. In other words, the grading company needs to come on board and agree an alteration has taken place. That sounds kind of odd, granted. After all, why should the grader’s opinion matter with regards to, say, providing a refund if there’s pretty definitive proof? That said, I don’t personally expect that to be much of a hurdle. I suspect that, given clear evidence, any grader would have to agree that a card was altered. If it is sold on PWCC and nothing comes of it, you can bet collectors will point this out and that would just make the grader look bad.

… and the Impact

M116 162 Mathewson PastelA lot of stories about this will stop there. But to me, the real news is the potential impact this has on the graded card industry.

Grading cards these days is, essentially, a license to print money. I have little doubt that with enough money to sufficiently advertise and develop a brand, a fourth major competitor could enter the market and make a killing. Companies have been inundated with work as more and more collectors are starting to submit more and more cards for grading. Really, it’s the product of a very healthy market with cards selling for good prices.

With cards selling for high prices, graded cards are selling at even bigger numbers. So it makes sense — if you want to sell your substantial cards, you get them graded. And if you want to buy a high-dollar card, you’re looking to buy graded. Pretty simple. Graded cards are wildly popular right now for those reasons.

It doesn’t seem like much can slow the graded card industry. But if there’s one thing that can, it’s a good, ol’ fashioned scandal. You put a bit of fear into investors that are merely buying and selling cards for profit, and the market is hit substantially. If you don’t think scandals like these can, if nothing else, devalue already out of control prices for high-grade cards, think again.

Maybe this is a speed bump instead of a pothole. As stated, there are so many graded cards (the majority of which, particularly in the pre-war era, are not highly graded) that we’re talking a very small drop in the bucket here. But again, this is about very high grade cards and those are the ones that draw the most attention. It isn’t far-fetched to think this could impact how collectors consider high-grade cards.

So earlier, I mentioned two specific ways this scandal involving modern cards impacts pre-war cards. Let’s get to those before my hands cramp up.

First, if you don’t think any high-grade pre-war cards are trimmed, with all due respect, you’re nuts. Sometimes, you get things like the Black Swamp Find where cards sat virtually undisturbed for 100 years. And, as I’ve covered before, some things like game cards are often found in high-grade due to some not being handled much and other built-in advantages, such as having rounded corners.

But finding most cards more than 100 years old, particularly things like tobacco/candy issues, is just really rare. It’s simply not reasonable to think that the only cards collectors are trimming are new ones. The stakes are higher with older cards and there’s generally more to gain if you can slip a trimmed card by a grader. Unless they have telltale markings, tracking trimmed pre-war cards is going to be more difficult as they aren’t numbered. This isn’t like the autograph scandal where low-grade cards with distinguishable features were used. But again, they are certainly out there.

Ted Williams 1939 Play Ball

Second, if collectors lose confidence in grading companies, that affects all cards — not just modern ones. The reason is simple. Graded cards fetching big money is happening with cards of all eras. If less is being paid for high-grade cards, that trickles down to less being paid for low-grade cards. For example, if you’ve got a PSA 9 T206 that loses value, that means prices for PSA 8s and PSA 7s fall. After all, a collector isn’t going to pay the same price for a PSA 8 than they would a PSA 9. It’s not a complex thing to understand.

Like the autograph scandal, it’s going to take some time to see if this affects the market at all. How high-grade examples of different copies of the same cards sell will be a decent indicator.

What do I personally think? I generally lean towards the ‘drop in the bucket’ reference I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure collector confidence is shaken all that much because of this. 93 cards is quite a few but it’s going to take a lot more examples before people start paying considerably less money for high-grade cards. The grading machine is too large to be derailed by something like this.

Still, as is the case was with the autograph scandal, if a single collector can make these kinds of discoveries, one has to wonder just how many more could be out there.

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