Downgrading a Card — On Purpose

Collectors frequently upgrade cards but I’ve been known to downgrade some instead — here’s why.

To card collectors, condition is king. It is a large determining factor of a card’s value and can mean the difference between a $10 card or a $1,000 card.

Because of that, collectors want their stuff as nice as possible. And often times, they may buy a card in lesser condition and then acquire that same card in nicer condition. That newer purchase can even be offset by selling the original, lesser card.

This is a practice I commonly follow in my own collection and is particularly true with the sets I build. When building a set, I really have no rules in terms of condition. I will take a card in virtually any shape and worry about upgrading later. I do even actually follow through on that. When I built my T206 520-card set a while back, I followed that approach, starting with mostly very low-grade cards. Since then, I’ve probably upgraded the 100-150 worst cards to make for a much more presentable (albeit still lower-end) set.

Some collectors hate the upgrade approach and would rather just buy a card in the condition they want from the start. I can appreciate that but it’s just not for me. After all, if I can complete a set in half the time it would normally take if I waited for ‘just the right card,’ I’d much rather do that. To each their own and it’s the reason I’m able to complete sets pretty quickly.

But there’s a far more interesting approach that fewer collectors take — and that’s downgrading a card.


Now, if collectors want the nicest stuff, why would you ever intentionally choose a card in lesser condition?

So here’s the thing — I would always rather have a nicer card, all things equal, of course. If I could have all perfectly centered cards with sharp corners and no flaws, I would take that any day of the week. But there are two specific instances why I will sometimes downgrade cards.

One of those instances is in the case of a more expensive card and the idea there is simple — it’s to save money. I will sometimes buy a more expensive card to temporarily fill a hole in a set and then sell it to acquire a lesser one that comes along later if the price is significant. I’ll then use the extra money to fill other set holes or collecting wants. That might not be all that applicable to you. After all, if you’re buying something like 1970 Topps, that’s less of an issue just because of the abundance of them out there. But if you’re buying older tobacco and caramel cards from rare sets, you know that your options will be much more limited.

And then, I will also downgrade because it’s all about the binders. Wait, what?

But Why? Bobby Wallace, that’s #&$%* why.

So, I’m a binder guy. Forget that, I’m a binder nut. All of my cards are in binders and even my graded ones go into binders (using the four-slot pages that were designed for postcards). I just prefer to keep my cards in binders and, as I’ve written before, they’re my go to for all storage options.

And while I do have my more expensive stuff graded, frankly, it’s just easier to keep raw cards in binders. My T207 set is a perfect example of that and was really what prompted me to write about this.

The 1912 T207 set (minus the print error variations) includes a tidy 200 cards. That works out quite well if you’re like me and prefer to use the 20-pocket tobacco card sheets. 200 cards, 20-pocket sheets,  you’ve got the entire set in ten sheets.

Bobby Wallace Raw T207Bobby Wallace PSA Graded T207A while back, I bought a reprint T207 set. The idea was to fill that binder with the reprints and then replace them with the original cards as I got them. At 197 cards, I’ve got most of the reprints replaced. The exceptions are the three missing cards and my 8-10 graded cards. The graded ones are in the back of that binder and the reprints are still in the pockets for those cards.

That sounds like a fine solution but, well, it’s kind of annoying to look at. In the place of a perfectly fine low-grade card is a new, shiny reprint with perfectly white borders that just doesn’t belong. This would not bother a normal person. I, however, am not a normal person and the sight of them is frustrating. Thus, I want as few of them as possible.

One of the cards in my set is that of Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with Wallace’s card that has nothing to do with him or the card itself, really. I had the opportunity to buy a low-grade Wallace for about $50 a while back and passed on it. I then waited and waited, looking for another one in that price range only to come up empty. Others had presented themselves but they were always more expensive options, typically over $100.

Reluctantly, I bought a PSA 2 that was somewhere around $125, if I recall correctly. That is a bit over market for it, but it seems to be one of the tougher Recruit cards in the set and Wallace is a Hall of Famer. Plus, frankly, I’d just gotten tired of waiting for one to surface.

Many times for cards in sets, I will crack open graded ones that are below a 3. But in the case of slightly more meaningful cards, like Wallace, I try to resist the urge of doing that in the hopes that I can find a lower-graded one and then sell the graded example. I’ll gladly crack open a $20 card. Cracking a $100 card? Eh … I try to avoid that most of the time.

Such an opportunity presented itself recently, as I got a raw lower-grade Wallace. This card will now go into my binder slot and I’ll either keep the graded Wallace separately in my tobacco card binder or sell/trade it for other cards I need for a different set. Shown above are the two cards.

Now, the aesthetic differences of the two cards are clear. The raw card obviously isn’t as nice and even has a bit of writing on Wallace’s jersey. But that doesn’t bother me all that much and I can certainly live with it given the other cards in my set. It’s a binder of cards, not a freaking museum. Plus, maybe I’ll even upgrade it to a slightly better raw copy someday. Maybe not. The world, I would argue, will not end either way.

Downgrading isn’t for everyone and I definitely limit how much I do it. But there are times when it makes good sense for me and I’m happy to do it in such cases.

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