How Should Collectors React in the Post-Blowout Findings of Altered Cards?
With so many altered sports cards being uncovered, what can collectors do?
More and more altered cards continue to be discovered on the Blowout forum and with each one, collectors are beginning to rethink their collecting habits.
Reactions, from what I’m finding online, seem to vary quite a bit. Some collectors have sworn off buying entirely (we’ll see if that sticks) while others have decided to buy with caution or avoid certain sellers. Others, still, aren’t even sure.
First things first, to answer the question posed in the title, there’s no consensus. Nor should there be. All collectors are different. Some prefer high-grade while condition matters little to others. Some view all alterations as icky while others aren’t as concerned with some. Some collect only to, well, collect, while others collect to invest. Most of us, I suspect, collect while keeping an eye on values. In other words, there’s no correct answer for everyone.
But here are my own thoughts that might or might not apply to your own situation.
Know Your Sellers
This is a fairly basic one and a good tip in general. But it’s always best to buy from people you know and can trust.
I’m often asked my opinion on Twitter or through an email about a particular card. Most of the time, said card is on eBay. A seller’s history, how the description is worded, and the key terms in the listing are usually going to help you avoid many problems.
In addition to viewing the card yourself, always look for potential red flags. Does the seller accept returns? Is he/she selling the card with exceptions such as, ‘unknown authenticity?’ Does their feedback as a seller have several negative comments or not much of a track record? How much feedback do they have as a seller as opposed to simply being a buyer where points are easy to accumulate with a lot of low-value purchases? Did they post clear, large images?
In general, you want to buy from well-established sellers that have a strong history and will accept returns. Like me, you might find yourself needing to take a gamble on some from time to time. But try to avoid doing that as much as you can.
Inspect Your Cards. Like, Now.
With so many cards being discovered to have been altered, now is a great time to check out your own collection. You might not need to do that for every $10 card you own but it’s a good idea to start looking at your more substantial cards — particularly graded ones.
In graded cards, you’ll want to look for telltale flaws that a card may not deserve the grade it was given. Is the card much shorter on any side than it should be? Any signs of color having been added, etc.?
While you can do some of this with your own eyes, I’d recommend using a loupe/magnifier and a blacklight to look for alterations that may not be able to be seen with the naked eye. In fact, those are two things that are virtually essential to have and that won’t cost you a ton of money. On older cards, parts on a card that light up under a black light can be sign of an issue. And a loupe/magnifier can point out hidden flaws.
What should you do if you find something? If you find any issues and want a refund or discount, try reaching out to the original seller of the card to see if they will do anything. If you’re out of luck there, you can also try reaching out to the grading company, assuming the card has been graded. And if that doesn’t work you can always file a dispute with Paypal or a credit card company to have them look into the matter and see if they will force a refund on your behalf.
Keep in mind, you’ll want to do this now. The longer you wait to raise an issue, the less sympathetic you may find those folks.
One more important thing needs to be said. Maybe you’re happy with the card the way it is, even with an alteration, based on what you may have paid for it. There’s nothing that says you can’t keep the card. But if you do, be sure to note the alteration so that a future buyer or owner knows about it. Keeping the card but not doing that can only cause problems down the road for someone else. And if you want to make sure it is documented for the next buyer/owner, having it reslabbed by the grading company nothing it as authentic or altered is maybe even the best route.
Pay More Attention to Graded Cards
The phrase, ‘Buy the card, not the holder’ is a common one. But while it’s a good rule to follow, many don’t. And, as someone that doesn’t really seek out graded cards most of the time, I probably even put myself in that category.
Here’s the thing. Collectors have been conditioned to be far too accepting of a graded card without doing their own inspection. If a grader says a card is a 5, we’ve generally come to accept that. We may quibble with the precise grade and most collectors usually feel their stuff is undergraded. But by and large, grades these days have been mostly accepted with few questions.
If this scandal on altered cards has shown us anything, it’s that collectors need to take a close look at cards for themselves before buying them. Take a loupe or magnifier to shows or your local card shop with you. Even carry a pocket blacklight with you if a seller will let you take the card to a dark area to inspect it. The really good sellers will even have these tools with them and allow you to use them.
A lot of people are throwing graders under the bus here. I’m not doing that, folks. That may be an unpopular opinion to the growing lynch mob but, as I’ve said before, third party card grading is absolutely essential. The fact that many cards appeared to get by them doesn’t mean you abolish the entire system. It means that they aren’t the be all end all and that their grade should be taken as an opinion. As a whole, we need do a little more work for ourselves in assessing a card’s condition.
Thoughts on Condition
Now, this is a little more difficult to navigate because collectors are all different when it comes to condition. So, rather than giving some actual advice, some general thoughts on condition are probably best.
I have cards in all sorts of condition but definitely am more of a lower-grade collector. As we’ve seen with this, collectors seeking these types of cards aren’t immune from the altered cards situation as a bunch of those have been found to be affected, too — far more since when I first wrote about it. With cards graded as low as 1s or 2s, how can collectors of low-grade cards feel completely safe?
The most realistic answer is, they can’t. At least not entirely. Collectors of even these low-grade cards must be wary — especially in the case of expensive cards. But the good news is that most low-grade stuff in the sub-$100 or so range should be pretty safe.
Now, those cards, of course, can be altered and made into more expensive cards. But if you’re buying, say, a raw $25 American Caramel card in low-grade condition, you’re generally not taking a huge risk. That’s because alterations to get a card to that point aren’t really going to affect the value much. If you have a low-grade T206 card you purchased for $20 and find out that one side has been trimmed, it really doesn’t affect the value much.
That mindset is even true in more expensive low-grade stuff, mind you. Take, for example, the Joe Jackson E90-1 American Caramel rookie card believed to have been altered. The original card (graded as only ‘Authentic’) was sold for $7,000 and the altered card (graded as a PSA 1) fetched $8,800. Now, while $1,800 is nothing to sneeze at, we’re talking about one of the more expensive pre-war cards out there. The supposed alterations don’t make the card worthless. At worst case, they should make it no less than that initial $7,000 sale. And even if it were regraded as altered, my hunch is it would still fetch more money because the card just looks better.
Compare that to something like a higher-grade card that sold for about $5,000 more like some of these Ty Cobb cards did and you can see the damage on the Jackson card is somewhat minimal in the grand scheme of things.
Is this a plea to send all high-grade collectors into the land of beaters? Nah. And in fact, I’d rather they not since it would just raise the prices for low-grade stuff. If you’re into mid-grade and high-grade cards, stick with them. Just understand that, as I’ve said on any number of occasions, buying lower-grade stuff is almost always going to have far less risk of a disaster occurring.
While the altered cards being found makes for an alarming situation, collectors should also keep cool.
That doesn’t mean everything’s fine and that you don’t need to be concerned. But also realize that the number of cards we’re talking about is still an incredibly insignificant number.
A few hundred cards have been noted on the Blowout forums but remember that millions of cards have been graded. Now, I’m certainly not naive enough to believe that additional cards not yet discovered on Blowout haven’t been altered and inappropriately regraded. But understand that the collectors making these alterations are mostly doing them to make money. So if you’re buying a $20 or $30 card, chances of it being altered are probably pretty low.
It’s the same reason I always get a chuckle out of collectors that insist that like 90% of the autograph market consists of fake signatures. That, of course, is inaccurate. While faking signatures of the likes of Michael Jordan, Mike Trout, and Joe Montana makes sense, forgers aren’t churning out signed cards of Don Aase and Bill Cartwright. Most athletes, while very good at what they do, were not Hall of Famers or even stars. In this, like the autograph market, it’s mostly the bigger ones you have to worry about.
Plenty of us are buying cards significantly more valuable, of course. But the good news here is that the bulk of cards out there, honestly, are not touched by this simply because they aren’t financially worth it.
Still, exercising a little more caution as a buyer these days, regardless of a card’s value, is not a bad thing.