How Are Baseball Cards Graded

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If you don’t stop and force yourself to think about how baseball cards are graded, it’s easy to mentally blow past all that’s involved in the process. In fact, as someone who submits a card to a card grading company, all that’s really involved in your personal process is packaging the card, shipping it out, waiting, and then receiving.

In reality, though, there is a ton more that actually goes into grading a card—it’s not that you didn’t know that, but you just haven’t stopped to think about it, perhaps.

Why does it matter?

Well, there are a lot of reasons, actually. But, here are a few.

One, especially these days, the cost of grading a card is a pretty steep investment. Thus, it’s only natural to think that if you’re being asked to pay $100 or so to get a card graded, you have a right to know what goes into the grading of that card.

Two, there are a lot of different grading companies. And even among the best of the best, you have a few options when it comes to selecting one to service your card rating. So, again, it makes sense to wonder how PSA grades cards versus BGS, and then how CSG and SGC might grade, along with HGA and others.

And last, it’s important to know how cards are graded because there are a lot of different details that could make or break your experience. Thus, if you have a grasp on how cards are graded, you’ll be better in tune with these details and hopefully have a favorable endeavor.

How are baseball cards graded?

Baseball cards are graded based on main appearance factors including the condition of their corners, edges, surface, and centering. Upon evaluation of these factors, cards receive a 1-10 score – or grade – and are then encapsulated or put into a holder and sealed with a grade label.

The grading process typically includes the owner shipping their card to a professional certification service who then examines the card and assigns it a grade.

Again, the process will differ by company, as will the final grading values and thus the market value that stems from the grade and the company that did the grading.

What is the Card Grading Scale?

The card grading scale will vary by grading company, but most follow a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the highest or best. That said, one company’s “10” might be considered to be better than another company’s 10.

For instance, even though PSA and BGS grade on a 10-point scale, a PSA 10 is typically more common than a BGS 10, and thus, the PSA 10 might be worth less than the same card in a BGS 10 slab. Because of this, it’s popular opinion that a BGS 9.5 is more equitable to a PSA 10, yet is often less valuable. A BGS 9 is also usually less valuable than the same card as a PSA 9, and so on.

These comparisons extend further, with wider gaps between the market leader of PSA, and others, like BGS as just mentioned, and then even more so between PSA and a up and coming company like SGC. It should also be pointed out that a BCCG 10 is completely different than a PSA 10.

Why? It’s anyone’s best guess, but if the curtains were pulled back, one might find that the grading process to be not really all that different, which means the market may like the look of one slab more than the other, or there is a certain amount of trust and value placed in the process, etc.

How PSA Grades Cards

In terms of the grading specifics, here is what you’re looking at when you grade cards with PSA:

Grade Scale: 1-10; 1 being “Poor” and worst and 10 being “Gem Mint” and best.
Labels: PSA labels are more or less uniform, without any special designation for gem mint cards.
Sub-grades: No sub-grades with PSA.
Half-grades: Yes, PSA will add a half-point grade (excluding 9.5)
Factors: Corners, centering, edges, surface
Qualifiers: MC (Miscut), PSA OC (Off Center), ST (Staining), OF (Out of Focus)

The Grading Process

In terms of the grading process being objective vs. subjective, here is a quote from PSA’s website, along with the link to more info:

“While it’s true that a large part of grading is objective (locating print defects, staining, surface wrinkles, measuring centering, etc.), the other component of grading is somewhat subjective. The best way to define the subjective element is to do so by posing a question: What will the market accept for this particular issue?”

There is actually a great PSA blog post that details the journey of a card as it makes its way to PSA and through the grading process. Here is a summary with a few additional bits.

Research: When a card arrives, it is researched so the correct information is printed on the slab label.
Grading: Graders evaluate the card on the factors mentioned above along with “eye appeal.”
Labels: Labels are then printed with the research info and the card grade.
Seal: The card and label are then “sonically sealed” in a PSA holder for security and protection.
Grade Check: Another PSA grader will then review the accuracy of the provided grade.

How BGS Grades Cards

While there are certainly similarities between different grading companies, each has its own factors and unique ins and outs.

Grade Scale: 1-10; 1 being “Poor” and worst and 10 being “Pristine” and best.
Labels: Labels will display sub-grades if ordered; BGS 10 Pristine will be awarded with a black label.
Sub-grades: Yes, BGS can add a card’s sub-grades on the slab label.
Half-Grades: Yes, BGS will award half-grades.
Factors: Centering, corners, edges, surface

The Grading Process

Like PSA, there is a detailed post from Beckett that walks you through the grading process. Here is a summary with a few additional pieces of information.

Research: Card is first determined to be authentic and not altered.
Grading: As mentioned above, cards are then graded and scored 1-10 according to their corners, centering, edges, and surfaces.
Calculation: While it might be tempting to think the final calculation is simply an average of the four-factor evaluation, the lowest grade is actually the “most heavily weighted in determining the overall grade.” And, the highest grade a card could receive is .5 above the lowest sub-grade.
Labeling: After grading, the card label is printed according to the grade received.
Slabbing: The card is then “slabbed” or encapsulated with an ultrasonic machine to weld the plastic completely, which is one of the benefits of grading cards (the protection).

Because the above might be a little confusing when it comes to the combination and calculation of the final grade, Beckett offers this example:

If a card receives the following, edges 8.5, surface 9, corners 9.5, and centering 9.5, the highest grade the card can receive is a 9.

Not to mention that in order for a card to be graded as “gem mint” which for Beckett is a 9.5, it must receive three 9.5 grades and no lower than a 9 for the fourth grade.

For the most part, while most grading companies have policies, guidelines, and processes in place. most still include the human element and opinion. It’s for that reason that a person could send a card to one company for a grade, receive it back, and then send it to another company for a grade – or even again with the same company – and receive a different grade.