If you’ve been away from collecting for a while, your return can be a bit overwhelming. Game used relics? Autographs, serial numbers? Points? Only two baseball card brands now? What’s a break? Just give me a wax pack of cards already so I can sort them in my binder, right?
One of the more perplexing questions you’ll face at some point will revolve around grading cards. I won’t get into the specifics of cost, turnaround time, and process—there are already some really good resources that already exist on such topics.
The question I’m hoping to clarify is whether or not you should be grading cards in the first place, and what are the pros and cons in doing so.
Does it make sense to grade cards?
It makes sense to grade cards when a certain set of conditions is met. As you might expect, those conditions depend on your goals as a collector.
For instance, it might make sense to grade cards:
- If you want to try and increase the value of your collection
- If you want to authenticate your collection
- If you want to better protect your collection
- If you simply like collecting slabbed cards
That’s it, seriously! I’ll dive into some of those potential conditions below, but really, when it comes to grading cards, it comes down to your personal preference and collecting needs. The cost of grading cards is of course a factor as well, but weighs more heavily depending on your ultimate goal.
You want to increase the value of your collection
I’d say the most popular reason cards are graded these days is because the person holding those cards is trying to increase the value. Meaning, if you find a fresh Juan Soto rookie card from a pack of 2018 Topps Update, you’ve pulled something quite nice! How can you make it even nicer? By grading it and receiving a PSA 10 or BGS 9.5.
For instance, a raw Soto might fetch between $12-$20, but a PSA 10 could up that value to near $90-$100. Of course, it costs money to grade the card, and a perfect 10 is never guaranteed (and a PSA 9 version of the same card might only sell for around $30).
As a result, you might see people selling cards as “gradeable” or a “grade lot,” etc. All this means is that, in their personal opinion, the cards are gradeable. (That said, always use caution and use your best judgement as most people are professional card graders, and might just be trying to enhance the sellability of their cards because they look good, and thus, can be gradeable.)
Why are graded cards worth more? Because they are expertly-rated and assigned a condition by a trained eye. Mistakes happen, as with anything, but you get the point.
On the flipside, and mostly joking but some of you could be wondering…when you send your cards in for grading, you typically send in card savers or more recently given the shortage of card savers, top loaders. In either case, you shouldn’t expect to receive the holders you sent your cards in with to be returned to you after grading.
You want to authenticate your collection
Like most anything with value, there are going to be fakes and counterfeits floating around (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all, right?). Even worse, many of these reprints are of excellent quality, making it nearly impossible for the untrained eye to identify.
Thus, there are going to be some cards you come across where you’re just not sure of their authenticity, and while the condition may be a little beat up, getting it graded is really more of an authentication measure than anything.
Take a card popular enough to spawn fakes—let’s say a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan RC in poor condition. Ungraded, that card might be worth $100 give or take, but beyond that, many collectors are scared of by the risk of the card being a counterfeit.
So, grading is a way to legitimize your collection. Not to mention that, and going back to the point above, a poor condition Ryan RC might be worth $90 ungraded, but the same poorly conditioned card graded as a PSA 1 could bump that value back up to $175.
You can also simply submit your cards for slabbing and authentication without grading. For instance, with this option pictured below, you can see you can choose “Dual Service—No Grade to Card or Autograph” and you’ll receive autograph and card authentication, but no grading.
Plus, you’ll only need to grade/authenticate your cards once, and the authentication and scores they receive hold forever. Meaning, there isn’t really the need to get them graded again down the road.
With that said, sometimes the grading companies will release new designs for their slabs, or there might come a time when you get a card graded but there was a mistake in the grading process either with something trapped under the window, or a label error, etc. In either case, you can submit cards to get re-slabbed, but the grade might change in the process.
You want to protect your collection
A quick aside, but a story that will forever stick with me. Back in 5th grade it was show and tell, and I was at the ready to show off my 1971 Topps Johnny Bench. It was one of my few vintage cards at the time, and I couldn’t wait to tell the world (my classroom).
So I thought.
Looking pretty in its snap case, the card was ready to go, but I actually wasn’t. When in front of my peers and teacher, I clammed up! So nervous and unsure of what to talk about, I thought it was a good idea to put my Bench’s snap case to the text, proceeding to say something along the lines of the card being so special and important, it’s placed in this unbreakable case that will protect it from accidents, the elements, etc.
I then proceed to drop it; on purpose. Confident the card would somehow survive the fall, it landed on a corner and the case blasted apart. The card was more or less unharmed, but man, was I mortified.
Moral of the story, it makes sense to grade cards if you want extreme protection. I’ve had cards fall out of top loaders, autographs be compromised in mags, and obviously, have had snap cases not survive true tests. Would a graded slab have survived the fall? Probably.
Cards worthy of protection: Joe Namath RC, 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe, and 1989 Donruss Alex Madrid, apparently.
You just like graded slabs
Card collecting is immune against getting stale because there are a million different directions you can go with the cards you seek. One of those directions is simply preferring cards in graded slabs versus simply leaving them in top loaders or one touches.
This actually might be the best reason of them all—a reminder that you should collect what makes you happy. If that “thing” is knowing your card is authentic and protected, then so be it, and have at it! If this is you, it might also be a goof time to look into uncirculated cards.
So in the end, does it make sense to grade cards? If you’d like to increase the value, and are certain the card you’re grading will receive a great score, then sure. On the other hand, if you simply want to authenticate or protect your collection, then yes as well!
Really, the only time it doesn’t make sense to grade cards is when you’re doing so without reason…and trying to impress or doing it because you want to hang out with the “cool crowd” isn’t valid in my opinion.