I have the largest collection of PSA-graded John Elway cards in the world, as far as I know.
Learn How to Maximize Your Chance for High-Grade Cards
There are millions of football, baseball, and basketball card collectors in the world. Of course, there's also hockey and various other sports and non-sports. Card collecting is more popular than ever, and prices are increasing dramatically, sometimes doubling in only a few months.
Back in the good, old days, people had shoeboxes full of cards, and you'd be lucky if the condition of those cards remained anywhere close to perfect. Eventually, you had plastic sleeves, penny sleeves, and solid card holders.
For many years now, the best way to maximize the value of your sports cards is grading. Whether it's PSA, Beckett, or SGC, getting a top grade can really increase the value of an already valuable card.
Knowing how to accurately assess the condition of raw cards is a critical skill. Often, collectors are too quick to send a card to a professional grader only to have it come back at a much lower grade than expected. Frequently, even if you pulled that card yourself directly from a pack and sent it straight in, disappointment and frustration set in when the card comes back, encapsulated, at PSA 8. Sometimes, grading can actually devalue a card, so it's important only to send in cards in mint condition.
This is particularly frustrating when that card was purchased from eBay from a seller who swore up and down it was in GEM MINT condition. If you haven't purchased a raw card in GEM MINT condition only to have it come back graded at PSA 8, you haven't been collecting long enough.
So honestly assessing cards before sending them in is a critical skill. Knowing what flaws to look for will save you time, money, and frustration.
Evaluating corners is probably the easiest thing for a novice card collector. Unless you have a card that's extremely old, a bumped or damaged corner renders most cards effectively worthless.
While it's acceptable for a card from the 1950s or 1960s to show perhaps one bumped corner and still retain significant value, it's simply not worthwhile to send in a card from almost any other subsequent decade because there are just too many cards out there in perfect condition. In other words, if you just opened a brand new pack of football cards and pulled out a card of your favorite player and one of the corners is crushed or bumped or nicked, it's just not going to be worth sending in.
A corner problem can render a card a PSA 8 or worse if that's the only problem on the card. And don't be surprised; it's not uncommon for brand new cards to emerge directly from the pack with damaged corners. Hanger packs, where the corners are unprotected from potential damage, are probably the most likely culprits, so be very careful buying hanger packs. Open packs sold in stores can also suffer from corner issues because other people have potentially touched them. Usually, if you buy cards in sealed boxes, you shouldn't have too many problems.
Ultimately, all corners on a card should be dead sharp to obtain a GEM MINT grade. Even the slightest rounding can reduce a card's grade.
Edges are usually one of the things that trips up novices when it comes to submitting cards to professional grading companies because it requires a close examination of each card.
Newer cards usually don't have edge problems, but as cards age, the edges can begin to chip and that will lower the grade.
Probably in the 1990s, sports card companies began to coat the cards with urethane or other types or protectant. Not all cards were protected in this way, but many were. Now, almost all cards contain this protective coating, which tends to limit edge damage.
However, it's good to keep in mind that even some cheaper card issues lack this coating, so it's good to check any card you submit for grading for edge damage. This may require a magnifying glass in some cases, though usually it can be seen with the naked eye.
A card can otherwise be in absolutely perfect condition, but if the centering is off, it will reduce the grade. This is probably one of the things that frustrates collectors the most because they've checked every aspect of the card and don't realize it's not centered perfectly.
Unfortunately, sometimes the best way to know if a card is centered right is to buy multiple copies of the same card.
Again, older cards suffer from centering issues a lot more than newer cards, but even newer cards can have centering issues. Most older issues were intended to be perfectly centered, so it's easy to tell if one of them is not right. However, with newer cards, the designs are so much more complicated, it's often not that easy. So, if you're interested in collecting a particular player, buy multiple copies and check them against each other.
And yes, checking the centering may require a ruler of some sort, but be careful not to scratch the card surface when checking.
Of all the problems I've had submitting cards to grading services, evaluating the surface condition has undoubtedly been the hardest. It's also the one that took me the longest to figure out.
When buying raw cards on eBay, for example, you should check every one you buy for surface scratches immediately and make returns where appropriate. Many sellers are not careful with their cards or do not store them properly and inadvertently scratch the surfaces. Sometimes, people will be so stupid as to write something with a card underneath. In fact, I've purchased cards where it was clear somebody was writing on a piece of paper and the card was underneath.
The older the card, the more likely it is to have surface scratches.
Most surface issues can be seen with the naked eye if you hold the card at eye level and tilt it back and forth in the light. Make sure you do so with clean hands always, otherwise you'll potentially damage the card or leave oil on it that may react with the surface.
Sending Cards in for Grading
The top two professional grading companies are PSA and Beckett (links below). SGC is another good company, but they're just a notch below the first two. Some people like PSA more than Beckett and some are the other way around. Personally, I think PSA is the best and that's where I send all my cards.
I hope this article helps. If you follow the guidelines about condition, you can dramatically increase your return on investment by being much more careful about which cards you send in to be professionally graded.
Each grader provides guidelines about how to send in the cards. Ultimately, it's best if you store the cards in a way that allows you to send them in without touching them multiple times. The more you touch a card, the more likely it is to degrade. So be careful.
Ultimately, have fun. Whether you collect sports cards for fun or for profit, it's a great hobby.
- PSA Homepage
PSA is the world's largest third-party authentication company; the industry leader in card grading as well as autograph and memorabilia authentication.
- Beckett: Online Sports & Non Sports Cards Collectibles and Price Guide Subscription
Write your review about Beckett Online Price Guide Subscription and any other products and Services at Beckett.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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