Recent High-Grade Trimmed Cards Part of Larger TPG Epidemic … and Random Garbage Takeaways

The trimmed high-grade cards are bad … but that’s not the end of the story

This morning, I posted an article on the mass discovery of high-grade cards that were found to be trimmed. Trimmed cards are nothing new and the practice to improve a card’s appearance has been around for some time.

Despite my best efforts to keep that post to a minimum, even 1,500+ words weren’t enough to adequately cover the topic. So I’m back for more with additional ramblings of a madman.

So yesterday, I covered the discovery of the Steph Curry/James Harden rookie cards and also detailed why that was important from a vintage and pre-war perspective. But those cards, in reality, are just the tip of an Empire State Building-sized iceberg.

I’d heard of other trimmed cards that made their way into slabs while earning high grades, obviously. And I’d been aware of numerous doctored cards that did the same. But I wasn’t aware of this site, which has done a pretty good job of tracking a bunch of them in one place rather than trying to track this stuff down piecemeal. There, you’ll find a bevy of other purported trimmed goodies and also altered and other doctored cards. Several of which, are vintage and older ones.

The site does a pretty good job of showing that trimmed cards are just one piece of a rather substantial, problematic puzzle.

The Card Doctoring Game

14CJ 030 CobbThe trimming is bad. But, overall, it’s part of what we can call the card doctoring game.

The card doctoring game has been around for some time. This can include all sorts of things, including trimming cards to sharpen corners or borders, coloring in damaged areas, erasing markings, and even removing creases (the verdict on how effective that can be over the long term, in case you’re wondering, is very much still out). In short, there are people that specialize in this stuff and, for a fee, have been known to clean up cards. I’m going to get into the ‘Who does this’ argument. That information is readily available and can be found with little effort. Promoting such businesses, even in a desire to cover a story, just seems kind of icky.

Proponents of card doctoring will often tell you that there’s no harm in having a card cleaned up for someone’s own personal collection. But that’s a wildly short-sighted viewpoint. The reality is that, even if a card is intentionally doctored for a well-intentioned collector, none of us will own this stuff forever. Most of us will come to sell our cards before we die and, even those that take the ‘You’ll need to pry these things from my cold dead hands’ approach will ultimately not take their cards with them to the grave. Well, I mean, unless they’re some sort of sickos.

Here’s the deal. These cards, now, ten years from now, or 80 years from now, will end up in someone else’s hands. And while doctoring a card for your own sense of enjoyment doesn’t affect it while it’s in your possession, that card will ultimately end up somewhere else. The hands of a relative. An auction house. A buyer on eBay. Whatever. And even disclosing such information about a card’s history only goes as far as the next buyer. What he/she does with that information is then in their hands.

Now, full disclosure here — this was not a point/concern I made when the restored Honus Wagner card sold recently. But the Wagner card is significantly different than something even something like a 1952 Topps Mantle. Wagners, as people often say, are like fingerprints. Their origins and history is tracked and documented quite well. Someone trying to break the restored Wagner from the case and pass it off as legit to a grading company would have an extremely difficult time in getting over just because it was such a high-profile card. Much different than taking an altered Michael Jordan 1986-87 Fleer and passing it off.

I don’t personally have much of a problem with someone’s decision to doctor a card. It’s their card and what they choose to do with it won’t affect the amount of sleep I get on any given night. If you want to take a pen and scribble all over a WaJo T204 Ramly, knock yourself out. But the issue, of course, is when their decision to do so affects the hobby as a whole. And if a restored card makes its way into the hobby without disclosure, that’s a problem.

Summing it up here – there are trimmed cards but also all sorts of other altered cards making their way into slabs undetected.

grangedonut

A Few Minutes of Your Time, Por Favor

Card trimming? Card doctoring? How does this all affect things? Glad you asked because I’ve got some entirely random thoughts about the whole deal that absolutely no one needs to hear. Indulge me, anyway.

The Card Grading Industry as a Whole May Not be Interrupted, but … I think the jury is out on the long-term impact of high-grade cards. I sort of alluded to this yesterday but even all of these trimmed and altered cards are really just a drop in the bucket. Seriously, do you have any idea how many cards have been graded? PSA alone says they’ve graded more than 30 million with about 100,000 submissions a month. That’s just one company. You’d need to find 300,000 of their cards to account for even 1%. We’ve got, what, a few hundred examples (I feel like that should be capped with an ‘lol’ but that it would be unprofessional. Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and leave that out)? That said, I do think the more of these discoveries are found the greater the chance that the high-grade market suffers. There are limited collectors of that stuff once you get into the expensive stuff and, as I wrote yesterday, that still affects everyone because of a trickle down in prices across the board, which would be likely to happen.

… PWCC May Suffer Some Damage. The meat of this scandal is that PWCC was reportedly the known consigner for all of the Curry/Harden rookie cards. Some of that may be attributed to the fact that they are a major consigner. But regardless of their exact role, the problem is that they are still attached to these cards to some degree. I don’t know that that will ultimate affect how many consignments they get but I do think it’s possible they lose some buyers over this who question how reasonable it is to drop four or five figures on a high-grade card in their auctions. I’d reinforce the part about that being possible. I’m not sure this really slows their business much and some collectors will get some degree of surety from the company’s newly-released tenets. Again, small sample size here in terms of the trimmed cards vs. PWCC’s overall business. If they aren’t hurt at all, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me.

Lower-Grade Stuff is Hurt the Least. In Fact … I think there could be a chance for a real increase in interest there. Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I don’t think buyers of high-grade stuff are suddenly turning their eyes towards T201 beaters. But I do think that, as there’s less risk there, low-grade cards will be a desirable alternative for newer collectors coming into the market that want to play it safe.

Graders are More Important Than Ever. Wait, what? You heard that correctly. The reality is that while graders are not perfect and they’ve made mistakes, they are still this hobby’s best shot at keeping things relatively clean. Things will never be Mayberry Main Street clean but they weren’t before graders hit the scene, either. In fact, things have been cleaned up considerably with their help. Arguing that graders shouldn’t exist is kind of like longing for the days before the College Football Playoff was around. Remember that statistic I gave about how many cards have been found to be doctored vs. how many have been graded? Very small number. That’s not suggesting graders don’t need to do a better job. They do and, I suspect with this oversized flashlight on their heads, they will. But, as bad as things might appear to be, without grading oversight they’d be far, far worse. This isn’t a recent epiphany, either. I covered that idea here.

1926 Spalding Walter Hagen GolfThe Hobby Will Live. Again, while this looks bad, the hobby will get past it. You don’t need to look beyond Operation Bullpen of the 1990s and the still thriving autograph market to see that. Collectors will become more wary. They may watch their wallets a bit more. They may make more considerations with whom they deal. But the one thing that will remain is that they will still collect. If you’re worried about the long-term viability of the hobby, there are far more greater concerns such as kids choosing not to collect. We can have that discussion another time. This may alter the landscape of how graded cards are perceived but it’s not going to touch the hobby of collecting speaking in general terms.

Collectors, not Grading Companies, are the Police. What shouldn’t be lost in all of this is that, these scandals, including the Net54 forged autographs one (detailed here, here, here, and also here), have been uncovered by collectors. While grading companies are helping to weed out the fakes, without collectors making these discoveries, would we ever hear about these sorts of scandals? Would grading companies be chasing this stuff down like McGruff the Crime Dog? Given the backlog issues they’ve experienced and with plenty of work to keep them busy, not likely. Collectors that are weeding these things out are providing a great service to the hobby. And if grading companies were smart and serious about really cleaning things up as best as they can, they would actually be employing a team of people to do the same things these collectors are doing — which, by the way, is little more than a bit of legwork in checking sites like Worthpoint, eBay, and auction houses to view past sales.

Put Down the Microscopes. The jury is still out but I’m hardly convinced this is fake moon landing/Area 51 rubbish. In other words, I’m not buying the whole conspiracy theory with grading companies and auction houses working in cahoots to purposefully assign high grades to doctored cards. It’s bad but it’s almost certainly not rooted in some deep conspiracy on the parts of graders. I don’t think graders are aware of these cards and still dishing out high grades. If they are, we’ve got a real problem. But my gut tells me these are mistakes more than they are open arrangements with grading companies and auction companies. As I wrote yesterday, a grading company basically has a license to print money and I don’t know why you would risk that for a few shiny, high-grade cards. Now, could a single rogue grader work out some kind of arrangement on his own? Sure, I guess. But as far as this being some grand conspiracy theory? Man, I ain’t buying it.

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