When it comes to authenticating, it used to mostly be about ensuring those antique baseball cards you found at the flea market are legitimate or not. But in today’s “hobby” with so much value placed on new releases or valuable Mike Trout rookie cards, combined with the technology and resources people have at their fingertips, authentication is just as important as it ever was.
So if you’re wondering how to authenticate your cards or a special one you acquired from a family member or garage sale, here are the steps you’re going to want to take.
1. Decide on Your Authentication Goals
Meaning, what is authenticating your baseball cards going to do for you? Are you planning on keeping the cards and thus just want to know whether they’re authentic or not for your own peace of mind? Will you be selling them or passing them on to someone else?
All of this matters and will dictate the level of authenticity or, said differently, the level of formality.
For instance, you could take your card to a local card shop and ask for the owner’s opinion on authenticity. They might be able to give you an answer, but probably won’t be able to draw up any sort of certificate of authenticity. Thus, it would be hard to sell the card to someone at that point by saying “my local card shop owner said so.” Not to mention the shop owner might not be trained in authentication, and their opinion could be incorrect.
Some of these cards are really difficult to figure out, too, and as you might have guessed with the Trout example above, many of the fakes will of course resemble some of the hobby’s biggest cards. Check out this post from Cardboard Connection on sporting a Michael Jordan rookie fake.
As a result, you’re probably better off to find a more formal authenticator. Yes, this will cost money, so that’s a consideration too. But, there are plenty of options.
2. Find a Trusted Source
We can spend a lot of time on this step, and while I’ll give my personal recommendation or example of what I’d do, you’re obviously free to do whatever you feel is best. So for now, we will frame this around PSA and their authentication services.
For those who don’t know, it’s right there in their name—PSA stands for Professional Sports Authority, and is a leading provider of memorabilia authentication, trading card grading, and more. I’ve written a number of resources on PSA if you’d like to learn more before we jump into their services:
Now, when it comes to PSA’s services, there are a few different options depending on your cards…
3. Grade and Authenticate
When a card is graded, it’s actually authenticated as well. As PSA states, “Grading can only take place after a trading card has been deemed authentic.” It’s at this “step 1” of the process that PSA looks for trimming of the card or any sort of “doctoring” like coloring, etc.
Meaning, the way to get a card authenticated through PSA is to have it graded, in which case the card will first be checked for authenticity, and then graded. Said differently, PSA won’t grade a card that isn’t first deemed authentic.
The one factor that changes all of this, though, is whether or not the card is autographed or not. If so, then your options would be to:
- Stick with only the card authentication/grading
- Opt to have the autograph and card authenticated, but neither graded
- Get the card authenticated/graded and get the auto authenticated
- Get the card authenticated but not graded, and then the auto authenticated/graded
- Get the card authenticated/graded and get the auto authenticated/graded
Confused yet? I assure you it’s not that complicated, and it might sound a little more overwhelming than it actually is. When it comes to getting a card graded, the steps are simple:
- Fill out your submission info
- Follow the steps to package your card
- Ship your card to PSA
- Wait for card to be authenticated/graded
- Receive card back
The cost of grading will depend on how quickly you’d like the card back in your hands, among other factors. For instance, $50 with PSA is the Economy Service level for cards with a declared value of $999 or less. The expected turnaround time on such a service is 45-90 days. Want something faster? Regular service is $100 and will have your card back to you in 15-30 days.
Now, this is a simplification, but that’s the general idea.
Once the card is returned, it will look like this:
As you can see, the card is slabbed by PSA, which offers many benefits including protection thanks to a “tamper-evident” case. This encapsulation process also prints the card info on the label along with a certification number. (And yes, like most things, fake PSA labels and authentication exists, sadly.)
In this case, the seller had the autograph and the card graded, receiving a “7” on the card and a “9” on the auto.
Going back to that label, here are additional security features:
Again, all of this is just talking about PSA, but there are a handful of other grading services out there including Beckett (BGS), SGC, and CSG—each offering their own take on the card authentication and grading process.