Bad Lessons of Over-Grading Your Cards

Card collectors now know that any card from the modern era has to be kept in pristine condition for the card to ever have any value. Vintage cards can be in rough condition, but wrinkles and rounded corners on modern era cards will be the kiss of death to any future value. There has been a gold rush in the card grading sector during the pandemic, but there is a dark side of the grading game that collectors need to be aware of. This is a bad lesson of over-grading your cards.

Collectors Dashboard evaluates collectibles as an alternative asset class. The reality is that this statement really pertains to “high-end collectibles” rather than all collectibles. Generally speaking, the high-end modern era cards either have to come with strong grades or be in pristine pre-grading condition to have value.

Grading companies like PSA, SGC and Beckett have all undergone record volumes in the last 18 months. On top of suspending their grading services, or coming with severe delays, there is a dark side of the card market — collectors and new “collectible investors” have become programmed that they must get every card of value graded. Unfortunately, this means that many collectors and investors are going to pay the grading companies more to have their card graded than some of the cards will be worth.

Whether you choose to get a grade from PSA, SGC, Beckett or one of the newer grading services is going to be a matter of preference (or availability). One thing that card buyers need to be extremely careful about is fairly evaluating their own cards objectively and honestly ahead of grading submissions.

There is a personal story here that should be a lesson for collectors and card investors, and the blame is on me rather than on the grading service.

In early 2020, I submitted more than 100 cards to Beckett for bulk grading. I had purchased a huge collection of 1950s cards full of commons and superstar cards. I also had close to 50 superstar cards from the 1970s to 1990s that were rookies which had been accumulated here and there over the last 20 to 30 years — shoe-box cards.

I own a magnifier and use a bright light to evaluate every card before sending to dealers for grading. The problem is that sometimes a card sneaks into the “get graded” pile that should not.

While services are either suspended or facing long delays, a base card grade from PSA will cost $20 for anything up to $499 in declared value. The Beckett grading cost in early 2020 for bulk submissions was still $10 per card at the time, a bargain compared to 2021 and very affordable for getting those 1970s to 1990s cards graded. A base grade from SGC is generally $30. All of these costs do not include shipping, applicable tax and insurance.

Where things can get messy in collecting cards is when the person submitting cards gets into “over-grading mode.” Quite simply, this is submitting cards for grading that have no business being graded. If a card’s value is less than $10 or $20, why should anyone dare pay to get that card graded? Sometimes a collector has no idea that a card has been altered or they miss defects, and that is just part of the game. It is extremely important to evaluate your cards honestly before submitting a card to any grading service.

One card that I completely failed to properly evaluate in that bulk submission was one of my three Wade Boggs rookie cards. These 1983 Topps cards are nearing 40 years old now, but they were mass produced at a time when Fleer and Donruss were also printing cards galore. This was also around the time I was a card dealer in my early teens, and these cards had resided in a box likely for more than 30 years.

Despite me using the magnifier and a bright light ahead of time, I was disappointed when Beckett sent the slabbed card back to me with a 3 (of 10) grade. At first I thought they were off their rocker, until I gave a closer look back under the light in an encapsulation and there was the culprit staring me in the face — a nice light wrinkle right down the face of Wade Boggs’ face in the circle.

Wade Boggs rookie

On top of the Wade Boggs rookie card having that wrinkle, these corners are also a bit too soft to submit for grading from the 1980s era. Any search on eBay for Wade Boggs 1983 Topps will show how plentiful these cards are. The population report from PSA alone is nearly 14,000 cards. There were over 1,000 cards available on eBay and any grade less than “8” is going to come with a price that is generally under $20.

In the case of the Beckett 3 grade, no collector in their right mind would pay anything for this card. It’s literally not worth the cost of grading. That was true even at the prior $10 basement level pricing.

There have also been some grading standard changes that dealers were routinely complaining about at the National Sports Collectors Convention. Many dealers and collectors are disappointed with the grades that are coming back in general. Some of that may be a change in grading standards, but it’s obvious that over-grading and over-rating a card’s real grade ahead of time.

Before you invest in the grading process, give each card a thorough evaluation to make sure it’s actually worth getting graded. Otherwise it is easy to waste hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars that will never be recovered.

Categories: Sports

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