Not all PSA (MK) Qualifiers are the Same

The dreaded (MK) designation on PSA cards usually means a significant drop in overall grade — but should it?

Rick Ferrell 1939 Play BallPSA-graded cards can sometimes include one of an assortment of supplementary grading designations. In these cases, a card is given a numerical grade that is essentially based on how it would grade without a particular flaw. And then that flaw is noted with a qualifier, a brief abbreviation that appears after the numerical score.

For example, a card that is significantly off center will receive a numerical grade that really looks at the rest of the card. And then the off center designation is added at the end as (OC). It’s really their way of saying, this card would otherwise be graded as ‘X’ but it’s so wildly off center that it’s not a true ‘X’ grade.

How collectors treat these qualifiers can be very different. But many times, collectors will consider a card with a qualifier to be two full numerical grades lower. Thus, a PSA 6 (OC) card is really valued closer to a ‘straight’ PSA 4 without any qualifiers. Again, there’s no 1:1 valuation for all qualifiers but the drop of two number grades is a standard used by many folks.

A common PSA qualifer is the MK one. This is used when a card has some sort of writing on it with a pencil or a pen. But unfortunately, the MK qualifier scares quite a few collectors off. And MK cards, as you can imagine, will vary quite a bit.

Collectors wrote on cards for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, as in the case with this Rick Ferrell 1939 Play Ball card, it was to identify the player on the front of cards that only named them on the backs. Others it was to make homemade changes, such as when a player needed to change a team. And others, it was even to simply jot down a note or two.

MK qualifiers occur in every type of card. But one instance where they are particularly seen is on postcards.

Some postcards, obviously, were used as intended. They can include long messages written on them, have a recipient’s name and address, and just generally be written on all over. At the other end of the spectrum are postcards with a tiny amount of writing, often in pencil. For example, many dealers of postcards would lightly write a price in pencil on the back of them. If you collect postcards, you’ve almost certainly see these.

Those two examples are vastly different (a person writing on an entire postcard vs. a very small mark on one) but the MK qualifier does not really account for that. It is applied evenly to both cases and while many collectors do value eye appeal and will take the difference into account, the latter type of cards with minimal writing will suffer in terms of price because of the qualifier.

Frank Gotch Max Rigot Wrestling PostcardFrank Gotch Max Rigot Wrestling Postcard BackAs a buyer, that’s great news. I am not a huge postcard collector but do have probably about 50 pre-war postcards covering a variety of sports. I recently came across a couple for legendary wrestlers Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt.

Gotch and Hackenschmidt, if you’re unfamiliar with them, really are viewed as two of the earliest great wrestlers and are still considered two of the true legendary figures in the sport. Neither has many trading cards but the two did appear in some early postcard sets. Hackenschmidt is in a 1908 health and wellness postcard set and both appear in the 1912 Max Rigot postcards.

I’d been looking for some examples from those sets and found two with tremendous eye appeal. When I initially found them and had not yet seen the backs, I assumed they had been postally used and completely written on as they both had the MK qualifier. But upon seeing them, the only marking was a bit of pencil for a price. On one, that small number had been subsequently erased, though still barely visible. The marking on the Gotch, shown here, is not even visible in a scan.

These postcards were gotten at bargain prices compared to what they would have fetched without the qualifier.

I don’t really have a problem with the MK qualifier or any of PSA’s qualifiers, for that matter. It’s a good way of evaluating the rest of the card while still pointing out a significant flaw. But it’s just important to remember to keep them in context and realize that all qualifiers shouldn’t be treated equally.

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