This is a buyers guide for one of the most popular cards of the last two decades, the 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr rookie card. At any one time there may be over 100 of this particular card listed on eBay. Over the years I have purchased many of these cards, generally with poor results. While not expecting a PSA 10 Gem Mint condition card to arrive in my mailbox, I do expect the card to arrive in or near the condition stated. This simply hasn't been the case so I am typing this step-by-step buyers guide to protect you, the buyer of this wonderful card.
1. CENTERING: The Griffey Upper Deck card is prone to factory miscut. The card is often off-center which can reduce to investment potential by an order of magnitude (At the moment a PSA 10 Gem Mint Griffey is around $250 while a PSA 9, perhaps the only flaw being off-center, is in the $40 to $50 range). Be sure to see both sides of the card as the centering on front may differ from that on the back. Also look to see if the hologram on the reverse side is in a reasonable position. A slightly off-center hologram will likely not make a difference in the final grade but a significantly misplaced one may very well knock that grade down. One trick sellers have been using to make the overall centering of the card look better is to take a digital photo of the card at an angle. This trick is designed to fool the eye but don't let it fool you. Consider passing on these auctions or request a proper image from the seller. Another recent trick is to elongate the card in the image which may make the centering look slightly better than it really is. This is easily accomplished by entering HTML language for image height. Don't be fooled! Yet another common trick is to place the card in a holder that partially disguises the card borders. Avoid these at all costs. The big one: make sure the image of the card is of the actual card for sale. Stealing of images is relatively common on eBay (right click: Save Picture As...).
2. HOLOGRAM: Again, one must look for a Griffey card with a scan or image of BOTH sides of the card. This is important since the hologram on the reverse side of the card is prone to chipping. A chipped hologram will reduce to some extent the aesthetic look of the card and reduce the condition of the card if it is sent in for grading. This will limit your upside investment potential. Unfortunately many sellers do not show the back of the card or state the condition of the hologram in the item description. Once again, remember to check the centering of the hologram. A small deviation is ok.
3. CORNERS: It is hard to see these on a scan or image but look close and consider avoiding auctions containing blurry, hazy, or distorted images. Use caution when the card is in a case that is scratched. Case scratches lead the eye astray. Most sellers who want to maximize value in the sale will either have the card in a clean holder or have a proper image of the card outside of the case. I can't reiterate enough to take a look on the reverse side of the card to make sure the corners are good there as well. The front of the card may very well be Gem Mint but if the back has a flaw than your card will not be in that condition.
4: EDGES: The 1989 Upper Deck cards are prone to rough edges. It is almost impossible to find a Griffey with absolutely perfect edges. That is ok. Look at all the edges in the image. Edge flaws in scanned images are one of the few flaws that actually stand out more than what the eye sees when the card is in front of you despite the white border. Scanners are good at highlighting differing depth. Look for an edge as smooth as possible but don't necessarily avoid an otherwise perfect card that shows a just hint of edge roughness. If all the edges show this than you may wish to look for another copy.
5: SURFACE: This is perhaps the most overlooked portion of the card by sellers and collectors alike. Upper Deck cards from 1989-1993 are prone to surface scratches if not protected in holders. The 1989 set is also prone to small printing defects or defects related to handling on the surface. Small white spots or chips can sometimes be seen on the surface of the card. This is not uncommon for cards stored in those obsolete thick holders that do do have a recession to keep the card from getting pressed. If a card is in one of those old school oversized thick holders you are gambling that the surface will not stick to the holder. I have purchased some of these in the past without problem but you cannot be certain in this situation. If all else is perfect then the small gamble is probably worth it. You will also need to see the reverse side of the card to get a full assessment. Small indentations on the surface are extremely default to pick out in a scan or image but try your best. Scratched card holders can disguise any surface blemishes so buy accordingly.
OTHER FACTORS: Keep in mind the Upper Deck Griffey rookie is one of the most professionally graded cards in the hobby. A Gem Mint PSA 10 or BGS 9.5 graded version can fetch around $250 at current prices. A graded Mint 9 can fetch around $50. Many ungraded Griffey cards can be had on eBay for under $30 but the buyer assumes most of the risk. Unfortunately many sellers on eBay either don't properly give a reasonable assessment of the card condition or deliberately avoid mentioning apparent flaws in the item description. If you are looking for a mint Griffey card than you may wish to consider paying the premium for a graded Mint 9 card. This additional investment will spare you the hassel of combing through the various listing hoping to win the Gem Mint lottery. There is a reason those professionally graded Gem Mint cards fetch a significant premium; they are in short supply and are difficult to obtain (even fresh from the pack wrapper). The buyer should avoid the mentality of thinking the newly purchased Griffey will arrive in the mailbox ready for a PSA 10 grade. Doing so is the equivalent of playing the lottery. Many resellers already have this in mind, scooping up many copies of this card and sending the best copies to be professionally graded while relisting the ones that don't have a chance at the highest grades. If a seller lists/listed a bunch of professionally graded cards and also lists non-graded cards than you can just about bet that those cards will not meet PSA 10 grading standards. The card may still be Near Mint or even mint but do not pay a premium for these cards as many get sucked into doing. I am an extremely picky buyer of this card and have yet to obtain a copy that I would consider getting professionally graded. The odds are against you.
If you are not extremely picky about the condition then you should still expect a reasonable assessment of the card's condition from the seller, you should assess the card yourself by looking at the image, avoid paying a premium for the card (or even find a discount), and expect a refund if the card is not in disclosed condition. Be careful buying from sellers who claim they "don't grade cards". Anybody with an eye can look at all attributes of a card and give a reasonable minimum assessment. Perhaps some of the sellers who do this are simply avoiding the extremely picky buyers that waste time and money but I would still be cautious. The minimum grade assessment is really all you have if you are not happy with the condition of your purchase. It is hard to leave an honest negative feedback if the card is not mint but the seller never stated it was mint in the first place. It is more difficult to obtain a refund when you purchased an item from an unscrupulous seller.
SUMMARY: Get a large clean image of both sides of the card before paying a premium. Make your own first assessment of the card's condition and also be sure the seller advertises a minimum assumption grade. This is perhaps your only protection next to leaving negative feedback. Have high expectations but do not expect a raw PSA/BGS 10 card to arrive in your mailbox. Get a refund if the card is not in the seller's specified condition and don't be afraid to leave negative feedback if you are unsuccessful. Leave a positive comment if your transaction was successful. Enjoy your 1989 Upper Deck Griffey card!
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