Card Grading Defined
Card grading is the practice of submitting a trading card to a third-party service. The card is inspected for authenticity and ranked, usually on a 10-point scale, for the condition. The card is then assigned an overall grade, sealed in a tamper-proof holder and, finally, assigned a cataloged serial number.
The benefits of card grading include indisputable provenance of authenticity, no subjective condition assignments and an accountability system through an online database. All of these factors combine to, more often than not, increase the value of the card when compared to an ungraded card in equal or similar condition.
The Specifics of Card Grading
Before submitting anything to a card grading company, there are a few things to be aware of to get the most out of your grading submission: knowing what cards to grade, what service to use, and the logistics involved in shipping and insurance.
What to Grade
Choosing what cards to grade is a personal and subjective decision. But there are some guidelines to follow that will not only save you money, but also increase the value of your collection. For example, grading any one-of-one card makes little sense from a financial standpoint, although people continue to do so. The cost of having the card shipped, graded, insured and returned is unlikely to increase the worth of an already highly valued card enough to offset those costs. However, some collectors may like the added protection of a graded slab.
Submitting vintage cards for grading, in particular, makes for a solid investment. Player collectors, team collectors and set builders often target cards in a specific grade. Removing the subjectivity of self-assessment provides a foolproof way of making sure a card is actually in the condition the owner claims.
Even vintage commons can bring a strong return if submitted to a reputable card grading company. A mistake many collectors make with older cards is overlooking these commons. Many high-end set builders will often pay top-dollar for that graded NM or Mint backup utility infielder's card simply to complete their collection of graded cards.
Modern prospect and rookie autographs are also highly desirable in high-grade condition. The obvious reason is that, if that player attains star status, their most popular rookie cards will always be those that are signed and in Mint condition.
When it comes to choosing what service to use, it is best to do your research. Ask fellow collectors, dealers and your local hobby shop owner who they use and why.
Currently, there are several reputable and well-used grading companies in the hobby: Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA), Beckett Grading Services (BGS) and Sportscard Guaranty (SGC). Each card grading company grades a variety of cards.
Fees between the companies vary so collectors are encouraged to see the pricing policies listed on their respective websites. Collectors can also pay for different levels of service.