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Everything You Need to Know about Grading Baseball Cards

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Everything You Need to Know about Grading Baseball Cards

Baseball card collecting has become, for many fans, much more than a hobby. There is a great deal of value in certain baseball cards, and building a valuable collection could take years of research, time, and work. When a collector is interested in building a valuable baseball card collection, it is very important for the collector to know how to grade baseball cards. Baseball card grading is a method of determining the condition and value of a particular card. This guide shows the reader how to go about grading baseball cards, and introduces them to some important terminology that is used to describe the condition of baseball cards.

Why Grade Baseball Cards?

Grading is used to determine value. When a collector is purchasing the cards, they need to be able to evaluate their choices on their own. If they depend completely on the word of someone else, they may not get a card graded as high as it was advertised. If a collector is able to gain a discerning eye, they will find it much easier to make the right purchasing purchases. It is also important for a collector to be able to grade baseball cards if they ever intend to sell them. A fully graded card will be much easier to sell.

The Look of the Card

Grading baseball cards is based on four different characteristics that have to do with the look of the card. These four characteristics are centering, corners, creases, and surface. Each aspect will need to be properly understood in order to grade baseball cards properly.

Centering

Centering has to do with how the picture of the player is printed on the card. The image should have a slight border and the image should be centered within that border. There are four main ratings for centering. No card has an image that is perfectly centered and so they all fall into one of the following four categories.

Category

Rating Description

OC 60/40

This means that the image on the card is only slightly off-center. The untrained eye may not even realize it is off-center.

OC 70/30

This means that the card is off-center to the point that one side is close to twice the width of the other side.

OC 80/20

This rating means that one border is almost nonexistent.

Mis-Cut

This final rating means that actually part of the image has been cut off or another card’s image is on the border because the whole card was cut wrong from the large printing sheet.

Corners

When it comes to grading a baseball card, the corners can add or detract from the value more than anything else. For that reason, a collector should be very careful to properly grade and indicate the condition of the corners based on the following five corner ratings.

Condition

Grade Description

Very Slight Wear

This is the category for cards in the best condition. The corners show little to no damage at all.

Fuzzy

When the corner of the card starts to lose its shape, it will get slightly frayed and will fall into the fuzzy category.

Slightly Rounded

When the fraying begins to affect the shape of the corner, but not extensively, the card’s corners are considered slightly rounded.

Rounded

This label is used for cards that have lost their corner shape.

Badly rounded

This is the worst rating for cards with seriously damaged corners.

Creases

If baseball cards are not treated with the best care, they can become creased. When shopping for baseball cards online, a collector will have to be careful when choosing, because creasing will not necessarily show up in pictures. There are just three main grading options for creases.

Category

Description

Light

This is the best category. The card has little to no creasing and it is not visible to the untrained eye.

Medium

If the card is inspected, the creasing will be visible, but the overall image of the card is not damaged.

Heavy

This is the worst grading. The creasing has actually done damage to the image, and is very noticeable to the untrained eye.

Surface

Finally, the condition of the surface will need to be evaluated for the baseball card. This category covers a variety of damage. Generally, the following problems would be graded on a scale of one to four, with one being the least damage and four being the worst.

  • Wrinkling
  • Scratches
  • Warped surface
  • Damage to glossy finish (on newer cards)
  • Impression, bubbles, or lumps damaging the surface
  • Marks from rubber bands, gum, or other materials
  • Notches to the edges

Once these areas have been evaluated, the baseball card can be graded.

The Grading

There are a total of ten different grading levels that are used to indicate the condition of baseball cards. When a collector is selling a baseball card, it is better to err on the side of a lower grade than a higher grade if unsure which category fits. Grading a card too high could lead to misrepresentation and could cause serious problems. When a collector is purchasing a card, the grading should be a major factor in the decision-making process. Here are the details of the ten different grading categories.

GEM-MT

Reserved only for the cards that are near perfect, this term refers to "Gem Mint." A card in this category should have no staining, little to no imperfection in printing, four corners that are still sharp, and the original surface gloss. The centering of the card should be approximately 60/40 or less. Very, very few cards fit this category.

MINT

Mint condition cards should have sharp corners and little to no damage. In fact, the Mint card should have only one minor flaw. The minor flaws category can include slight stain on the back of the card, slightly off center borders (no more than 65/35), and only small printing issues.

NM-MT

Near Mint to Mint cards will still be considered of high quality. When they are first looked at, they may appear to be mint, but after grading, they may have one or more slight flaws. The flaws that are allowed in this category include small stains on the back of the card, small printing issues, borders that are off-white instead of white, one or two corners that are slightly frayed (corners should still be corners and not rounded), or centering that falls between 70/30 and 65/35.

NM

Near Mint baseball cards can have a few different damage issues that are still considered slight. They may have a very slight look or wear and tear when first glanced at. Near mint cards should have only slight blemishes and damage should be only on the back of the card. The centering should fall in the range of 70/30. Finally, the picture should be sharp and focused.

EX-MT

This category stands for Excellent - Mint. This refers to cards that have enough visible damage that they will be recognized as worn to the untrained eye. This could include such surface damage as light scratches, light corner fraying and light stains. The centering should be around 80/10. This category is for worn cards where the image is not damaged.

EX

For Excellent cards, the damage will become more evident. Corners may be rounded slightly. Printing issues may be more obvious. Light scratches and very light creasing may be evident. The centering should be around 85/15.

VG-EX

As the beginning of the lower valued grading, Very Good - Excellent would refer to cards with damage that is very noticeable. This could include scratching, chipping, and staining as well as damage to the glossy surface, and rounded corners. The overall look of the card should still be appealing.

VG

Very Good baseball cards can have any number of damage issues that do not detract from the overall look of the image on the card. These issues can include scratches and staining, noticeable creasing, rounded corners, and yellowed corners. The centering could be around 90/10.

GOOD

Good is the final category of baseball card grading that offers a still attractive image. These cards could have a number of damage issues like rounded corners, staining, scratching, and loss of gloss. The centering should be around 90/10 and the overall image should still be attractive.

PR-FR

Poor to Fair is the lowest grading category. In this category, the cards will have enough damage that it truly affects the overall look. This could include out of register images, torn cards, creased cards, severely chipped cards and cards with severe corner rounding. Cards that are missing pieces or have major creasing issues would fall into the Poor category.

Buying Baseball Cards on eBay

Collectors can perform a general search for "baseball cards," unless there is a specific card they are looking for. First, buyers must register for a free eBay account. If the selected item features a Buy it Now button, the item can be purchased like any other online item. Auctions are available and it’s possible to buy a card at a lower price than when making a direct purchase. The downside to auctions is that a collector can lose out to a higher bidder. If a buyer finds a card they want, but the grading information in the item listing is incomplete, they can contact the seller and ask them to clarify the grading. To contact the seller, the buyer simply needs to go into the seller’s profile and click on the "Contact Member" link.

If a collector chooses to buy in bulk or buy unopened packs, it may be a gamble, but it’s a gamble worth taking. Cards can also be bought based on a player or team, with vintage cards being the most valuable. Of all the variations, rare inserts and memorabilia cards are the most valuable. Their value can be determined using Tuff Stuff magazine, but most collectors use Beckett as a pricing source.

Conclusion

Beginners and serious collectors can use eBay to find great buys on baseball cards. Buying cards on eBay is a fun and exciting way to discover great deals and rare finds. A baseball card collector needs to understand the grading process and what grades mean, as the grade affects the value of the card, whether buying or selling.

 
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