The Role of Qualifiers in PSA Grading … and Their Effect on a Card’s Price

What are qualifiers in PSA grading and how do they affect a card’s value?

While many collectors are familiar with the ins and outs of grading, many are not. Even those that are commonly have questions.

One of the more common questions I’m asked is about qualifiers. If you’re unfamiliar with these, this is a PSA issue. SGC, for example, does not use them. In addition to a numerical grade, PSA will sometimes add what is known as a qualifier to it.

1913 Tom Barker Game - Home Run Baker Fenway Breweries - CopyWhat is a Qualifier?

Qualifiers are essentially PSA’s way of telling you that, although they have assigned a certain number grade to a card, the card has another defect worth noting. Really, it can be defined as a flaw that is noted by PSA in addition to its numerical score of the rest of the card.

For example, one of PSA’s qualifiers is for cards that are significantly off center. Cards with a marking (i.e. pen, pencil, etc.) qualifier will be marked “(MK).” A card like this one with a grade of PSA 8 (MK) means that the card would otherwise grade a PSA 8 but that it has a marking.

Sometimes, those qualifying defects are very noticeable and other times, they are not. I’ve had this card, for example, for quite a while and have not been able to locate where the marking is on it. Part of me even wonders if the card received that designation due to the stamped/printed advertisement for Fenway Breweries on it.

But in short, you should look at a qualifier as a defect. And as stated, SGC does not use them. SGC will merely factor the defect into the overall grade. PSA will provide a grade for a card and the qualifier would be an added notation with the numerical score not taking it into account.

Types of Qualifiers

PSA has a total of six different qualifiers that can be added to a card’s grade. You can take a deeper dive into PSA’s precise definitions of each on their site but here’s a quick hitter on the six and what they stand for:

  • Marks (MK) – a card that has some kind of written marking on it
  • Miscut (MC) – a card that has been cut incorrectly by the printer
  • Off Center (OC) – a card that is not well centered
  • Out of Focus (OF) – a card that is excessively blurry or has focal issues
  • Print Defect (PD) – a card with a notable factory print defect
  • Staining (ST) – a card with a significant stain, gum or otherwise

You should know that PSA generally has some minimum standards with these. For example, a card very slightly out of focus will probably not receive the OF designation. A card with a minute print defect may not get the PD label. Typically, the defect has to be pretty significant. That isn’t always the case, though. For example, even a card with a minimal pen mark is subject to an MK designation.

Harry Batstone V31 Dominion Chocolate 1925 PSA 5 MC

Impact on a Card’s Value

The biggest problem for collectors with qualifiers is not necessarily their identification. Many that are familiar with graded cards will know of these types of qualifiers. The bigger issue that most seem to have is, how do they affect a card’s value?

Like many things in the subjective world of grading, there’s really no easy answer. But two things are notable here and should be mentioned.

First, the most typical rule of thumb here is that qualifiers affect a card by two full numerical grades. Thus, a card like the aforementioned PSA 8 (MK) would really have a value closer to that of a PSA 6. That isn’t definitive, mind you. But it is the most commonly cited measurement.

Second, while that is a rule often used, all collectors treat qualifiers completely differently. While something like a stray pen mark may be of little consequence to some collectors, it can be viewed as unpardonable by others. Some collectors that focus on cards with strong centering will not even consider OC cards. The point here is that you can’t take the two grade rule and affix it to everything. Some qualifiers, if minor, may not weaken the card by quite hat much. Others may suffer even larger downgrades. It all depends on the buyer.

All same-type qualifiers are not equal, either. Consider this. You have a card with someone’s initials written quite small in pencil. Now, you also have the same card with all kinds of letters and numbers written largely in ink. Both are technically (MK) qualifiers but they likely would not be valued the same — the latter would be worth considerably less to some collectors. The reality is that, while PSA does not really distinguish between the severity of some qualifiers, that always needs to be taken into consideration when buying or selling a card with them.

While we can assess past sales of graded cards without qualifiers and often come up with a reasonable price range for most things, that’s much harder to do for cards with a qualifier.

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