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Grading Non-Sports Cards

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This guide will tell you about the advantages of graded non-sports cards. I also explain the grading system in detail. I introduce you to the professional card grading companies and give a bit of advice on when you should consider having cards graded to sell and when to buy graded cards.

Professional grading of sports cards has become very common especially for the more valuable cards. Not many non-sports cards were graded, but that is beginning to change as the advantage of graded cards becomes better known.

Professional Grading

Professional grading companies are service companies that provide consistent and impartial grading of cards.  Someone with a card sends it to the card grading company, and that company's expert graders assign the card a grade. The card is encapsulated in a tamper-proof container often called a "slab" or labeled with a tamper-proof holographic label that identifies the grade given to the card, and it is then returned to its owner.  The fee paid to the grading company, per card, is typically between $4 and $20 plus the cost of shipping it by insured mail. Cards are either "raw" meaning not professionally graded or "graded" meaning professionally graded. If a dealer inspects a card, no matter how expert he may be, the card is not graded because dealers have a conflict of interest due to being a seller of cards. Thus his opinion is not impartial.

Professional grading has changed the card market tremendously.  The cards have become commodities and it is possible to buy and sell them sight unseen with much more confidence. Professionally graded cards command good prices, because people will trust a professional grade and are often willing to pay more for these cards. It is now true that if someone is trying to sell a non-graded premium card, people will wonder why it isn't professionally graded.  There is the concern that if it is not professionally graded, there might be something wrong with it.

Condition of Cards, Grade

The grade of a card is determined by weighing the condition or quality of four basic aspects of the card.  Sometimes, it's easy to grade a card because one aspect is defective, and it's generally recognized that if that particular aspect is defective in a certain way, the card should get a certain grade. Other times it is harder to grade a card, since the relative condition of several aspects of the card must be taken into account.  In most cases, a card is graded based upon its worst feature.  If other features of the card are particularly good, the grade of the card might lift a little, and if several of the card's features are bad, it might lower a bit.

Cards are graded by four aspects of the card.  These are: corners, edges, surface and centering.  Centering is a major factor in the grade of vintage cards. The presses of the time did not hold registration like modern presses do and almost all cards had an unprinted border around them. Modern presses hold registration very well and most are bleed printed meaning the printing goes right off the edge of the card. For these modern cards centering is not a factor.

Grading Scale

There are, unfortunately, several different grading scales; however, they are similar enough to keep confusion to a minimum. The 10 point grading scale is the standard that all the scales are based on.
 
The 10 point Grading Scale:

Poor (P) or Fair (F) 1: A card that has seen serious abuse or has a hole in it.

Good (G) 2: This grade is usually the result of heavy corner rounding, surface wear or creases. Any card with writing on it falls in this category. (Writing other than an autograph of course).

Very Good (VG) 3: A card that looks good from a distance, but on closer inspection several defects can be seen without magnification. This is the highest rating possible on a creased card.

Very Good / Excellent (VGEX) 4: This is the highest grade that a card can have with a small wrinkle. A wrinkle is a crease that can be seen on only one side of the card.

Excellent (EX) 5: This grade is for cards that look really good, but show some wear.

Excellent / Mint (EXMT) 6: A card that looks mint, but upon close examination defects can be seen without magnification.

Near Mint (NM) 7: A card that looks mint, but upon examination with magnification, defects can be seen usually on edges and corners. This grade is often given to cards that are new right out of the packages. This is the best grade I would assume any "raw" card is in unless it has been professionally graded higher. Many sellers will tell you the card they are selling is a higher grade, but unless the card is professionally graded higher, that is just so much seller verbiage. I would always assume any new card right out of the package is Near Mint when making a buying decision. I would be a bit skeptical of any dealer who tells you his new raw card is better than Near Mint. The best dealers describe new raw cards as Near Mint. When collecting autographed non-sports cards you should strive for all your cards to be Near Mint or better.

Near Mint / Mint (NMMT) 8: A card that looks mint, but upon examination with strong magnification and bright light, very small defects can be detected usually on edges and corners. This is another grade common to new cards right out of the package and professionally graded. Grades higher than Near Mint / Mint are rare. The main reason a new card is not mint is that the cutting blades leave marks on the edges and corners. To consistently get mint cards the blades would have to be sharpened often and the surface of the blades polished to avoid any blade marks.

Mint (MT) 9: Mint basically means very nearly prefect in every regard.

Gem Mint (GEM) 10: A mint card with extra appeal. This usually means a brighter than usual surface. This should be a extremely rare grade. Any grading company that issues too many Gem Mint grades should be avoided.

Some graders give in-between grades like NM+ to indicate these are cards at the higher end of the grade.

The Card Grading Companies

There are five grading companies that are well known and respected in the industry. These companies are:

  • PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator)
  • SGC (Sportscard Guaranty Authority)
  • BGS (Beckett Grading Service)
  • SCD (SCD Authentic)
  • GAI (Global Authentication)

Cards graded by these five companies tend to sell easier and for higher prices than those graded by lesser know companies.

Among the lesser know professional card grading companies are:  AGS (Advanced Grading Specialists), ASA (Accugrade), CGS (Champs Grading Service), CEX (Certified Express), CSA (Certified Sports Authentication), CTA (CTA Grading Experts), FGA (Foremost Grading Authority), HGA (Holographic Grade Authenticator), KSA (KSA Sports Card Authenticator), MINT (Mint Grading Service), PRO (PRO Sports Grading), PGS (Professional Grading Services), TFA (The Final Authority), USA (Ultimate Sports Authority), WCG (World Class Grading).

All the companies listed above except HGA use tamper proof slabs to encapsulate their graded cards.  HGA uses a tamper proof and copy proof hologram to seal and label their grading in a regular top loader protector. Many collectors like this because the graded cards fit right in with the rest of their collection. I have found HGA conservative in their grading and they do not use in-between grades like NM+ 7.5.

Although it is true that cards graded by the five well-known companies tend to sell easier and for higher prices than those graded by lesser know companies. I have seen no difference in the consistency or quality of the grading of the cards They all do an excellent job of giving reliable grades to the cards with one exception I think MINT (Mint Grading Service) is too liberal in their grading and issues way to many Gem Mint grades. I believe professional grading is a wonderful thing for the consumer. It assures they are getting what they pay for.

My Advice

My advice for the collector concerning professional grading is, if you are only collecting for your own pleasure without a concern about selling the cards in the future, there is no need to have any of your cards professionally graded. If you were interested in selling the cards in the future, I would have any card with an estimated value greater than $300.00 professionally graded by one of the five well-known companies. You will find the card easier to sell on e-Bay and it will likely bring a better price than an ungraded card. For cards over $50.00 but less than $300.00 if you wish to have them professionally graded, it should not matter what company you use. There is little reason for a collector to pay the fee to have any card graded with a value less than $50.00 because you are unlikely to recover the grading fee should you sell it. Of course if you can buy a professionally graded card for less than $20.00 it is usually a good buy.

My advice concerning buying cards is similar. I would not buy a card for over $300.00 that was not professionally graded. In addition I would not purchase any autographed base cards (those that were autographed after distribution from the card company), for over $50.00 that are not professionally graded. I would look to buy professionally graded cards wherever possible as long as the premium of the graded card over the same card ungraded was not too large (about 30%). It is not uncommon to see a graded card selling for the same price as an ungraded card. Given the choice always buy the graded card.

Some collectors avoid professionally graded cards because the "slabs" do not fit in well with the rest of the collection where the cards are in top loader protectors. If you have this concern you might want to consider buying HGA professionally graded cards. HGA uses a tamper proof and copy proof hologram to seal and label their grading in a regular top loader protector. The protection of the card is not as great as those in a sealed slab, but the grading is just as good and they fit right in with the rest of your ungraded collection. I have found HGA to be very conservative and consistent in their grading.  HGA is a new company so you might not find too many of their graded cards unless the idea catches on well. HGA only grades non-sport cards.

Just as a point of interest, comic books and coins use a system of grading that is very similar to the one used for cards. Comic books and coins can also be professionally graded in much the same way that cards are.  Miniature figures use a scale with 5 grades. They are Poor, Fair, Good, Near Mint, Mint. Other collections use a condition "C" scale that rates condition on a 1 to 9 scale. Poor = C1 or C2, Fair = C3 or C4, Good = C5 or C6, Near Mint = C7 or C8, Mint = C9. As you can see except for the words used, the "C" scale is about the same as the scale used for trading cards. Some other collectibles can be professionally graded using holograph labels although authentication is more common than actual grading.

By George V. Schubel

Comments are welcome. You can write to me by going to my store - Collectibles Abound

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