The grading market continues to grow each year, with collectors and investors keen to find out the value of their assortment of trading cards.
Updated March 2020: If you don’t want to read the entire article we here at GoldCardAuctions.com have used PSA initially as our pick but have now switched to Becket/BGS due to extremely long waiting times at PSA and unfair grading practices in our opinion (small guys don’t get the same advantage as bigger companies such as PWCC… you can read more about a pending lawsuit regarding this issue at TopClassActions).
The modern card market is dominated by marvels like online auctions and virtual collections, but the process of getting an item graded is the same as ever.
You’ll need to send over the cards you want to be appraised, and wait for a period of time while they certify the authenticity and quality of your items.
Services like Beckett and PSA grew to be popular as cards became more and more valuable.
It’s a great way to avoid being stung by a counterfeit card, and it’s increasingly important online where many collectibles are traded sight unseen.
Almost every expensive card is worth getting valued, while a high rating from the likes of BGS and PSA is likely to add a couple of zeros to the asking price.
It might not be worth it if the card isn’t especially rare, but they’re always worth looking out for if you’re planning to pick up a couple in the near future.
Another important reason for getting cards graded is to avoid potential counterfeits.
PSA and BGS check everything from the size to the coloring to ensure the legitimacy of an item, so you won’t have to sweat if you’re thinking about adding an expensive card to your collection.
Here’s an in-depth guide with everything you could possibly want to know about PSA and BGS, including pros and cons, which should help you to decide which is better for your collection.
Who is PSA?
Arguably the best known of the two, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is a US-based third-party grading and authentication company.
Since 1991, they’ve processed over 30m cards and collectibles with a cumulative value of over a billion dollars, including some of the most expensive cards ever sold at auction.
For example, the famous T206 Honus Wagner card owned by Wayne Gretzky went for $2.8m at auction in 2007, just six months after it was bought for $2.35m.
It was graded by PSA, earning an 8.
It’s easy to understand why they’re seen as the premier option for vintage cards considering the prices they’ve sold for in the past, and they’ve positioned themselves as the clear choice.
PSA uses a simple rating system, grading cards from anywhere between 1 and 10 depending on a variety of factors.
PSA Grading Scale
- PR 1 (Poor)
- FR 1.5 (Fair)
- Good 2 (Good)
- VG 3 (Very Good)
- VG-EX 4 (Very Good-Excellent)
- EX 5 (Excellent)
- EX-MT 6 (Excellent-Mint)
- NM 7 (Near Mint)
- NM-MT 8 (Near Mint-Mint)
- Mint 9 (Mint)
- GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint)
PSA used to exclusively grade using whole numbers but changed to allow for half grades for more precision in February 2008.
It’s especially important for high-end cards.
They clarified that; “In order for a card to be considered for the half-point increase, it must exhibit qualities that separate it from the average card within the particular grade.
In general, the centering may be the most important factor in achieving the half-point increase with eye appeal being so crucial in the grader evaluation.
Since centering is so important and clearly visible to most collectors, the strength or weakness of the centering will have a significant impact on the final outcome.”
It’s a welcome decision, especially considering the potential difference in price between a 7 and an 8 grade.
However, they only issue half-point grades for anything between PSA Good 2 and PSA Mint 9.
It’s annoying if you think a Mint 9 should be good enough to get a 10, if not for the slightest imperceptible flaw.
The lack of a 9.5 rating can cause some disparity in pricing between 9 and 10 grades, but high-rated PSA cards are always sought after.
PSA also has a range of qualifiers to give the buyer a better idea of the general look and feel of the card.
This is especially important if you’re bidding online or you’re unable to see the card in person.
After all, nobody wants a nasty surprise if they’ve spent a wad of cash on a sub-par item.
The PSA qualifiers are as follows: Off Center (OC) – They give some leeway depending on “eye appeal”, but an OC card always lowers the asking price.
Staining (ST) – Staining will also diminish value, and it’s more prevalent with vintage cards.
Print Defect (PD) – Generally this comes in the form of a small white dot, which is often known as “fish-eye” or “snow”.
As you might expect, the slightest defect will stop cards from getting the highest grades.
Out of Focus (OF) – Thankfully OF cards are rarely seen in new packs, as you’ll get a headache if you stare at one for too long.
This will vastly lower the price.
Marks (MK) – This could take the form of a signature which was added at a later date, but any card with “writing, ink marks, pencil marks, or evidence of the impression left from the act of writing” will ensure a card gets the MK designation.
Miscut (MC) – A miscut focuses on the card itself rather than the image. If a portion is missing, or the card is oversized, it’s designated MC.
The same is true if portions of more than one card are visible.
They’re seen as the best choice for many older cards, in part because of the work they’ve done in the past.
After all, if it’s good enough for a T206 Wagner card, it’s probably good enough for the vintage cards in your collection.
PSA is a great choice, with an extensive list of criteria for grading so you know exactly what you’re getting.
However, that doesn’t mean that BGS aren’t worth checking out, and it’s not like their service is a carbon copy of what PSA has to offer.
Who is BGS?
The Beckett Grading Service (BGS) has been around since 1999, carving out a niche as a solid choice for getting cards appraised.
It was formed by the founder of Beckett Publications, which has been at the forefront of collectible news since 1984.
BGS focus on four main subgrades when grading cards, which are: Centering, Surface, Edges & Corners.
Centering – The centering considers how the image fits the card, and how it aligns with the border.
Many older cards are poorly centered, so it’s one to look out for!
This is judged by measuring the angle, and 50/50 centering is when the image is directly in the middle of the card.
Surface – The quality of the surface. Wear and tear can cause creases and flaws, which are noted here.
Edging – How well the edges of the cards align. White borders can blend more easily, making it slightly harder to detect any flaws.
While edging is often seen as the least important factor, it still has a major impact on the overall rating.
Corners – Some cards can be trimmed in an attempt to artificially boost the value, and it’s a common method of alteration.
Sharper corners are more desirable, as they’re the most susceptible to wear and tear over the years.
*Bill Maestro confessed to trimming the famous T206 card formerly owned by Wayne Gretzky as part of a plea deal, using a paper trimmer to give the card a better rating.
These subgrades are always considered when giving the card an overall rating, which is the Final Grade.
A card that receives an overall grade of 9.5 or higher can receive a Gem MT 10 evaluation, which is the very best grade available via BGS.
You’d expect the overall rating to match the average score, but BGS has explained that: “The overall numerical grade is not a simple average of the four subgrades.
BGS uses an algorithm that determines the final grade using the four subgrades on the front label of the cardholder.
The lowest overall grade is the first category to observe because it is the most obvious defect, and the lowest grade is the most heavily weighted in determining the overall grade.”
As for the grading system, it’s similar to the PSA scale in terms of descriptors and numbers, but they have a number of extra grades for each of the half-points…
Beckett Grading Scale
- 1 – Poor 1.5 Fair
- 2 – G (Good)
- 2.5 –G+
- 3 – VG (Very Good)
- 3.5 – VG+
- 4 – VG-EX (Very Good-Excellent)
- 4.5 VG-EX+
- 5 – EX (Excellent)
- 5.5 – EX +
- 6 – EX-NM (Excellent-Near Mint)
- 6.5 – EX-NM+
- 7 – Near Mint
- 7.5 – Near Mint +
- 8 – Near Mint-Mint
- 8.5 – Near Mint-Mint +
- 9 – Mint
- 9.5 – Gem Mint
- 10 – Pristine It’s reasonably extensive, and you’ll arguably have a better idea of the overall quality of the card compared to a PSA graded version
They’re not seen as the best option for older cards with PSA often being preferred, but they do have a vintage service (BVS) for older cards.
A recent example would be a rare Babe Ruth rookie card which was found in a $25 dollar piano.
It was given a 2.5 grade, and went on to sell for just over $130,000 at auction.
The point is, Beckett is a viable option if you’re thinking about selling pre-war cards, and the same goes for investing.
Beckett’s top-graded cards are identifiable at a glance thanks to premium-colored labels.
A gold label on the front of the cardholder signifies the highest graded cards (9.5-10), while a silver label can be found on cards graded from 8.5 to 9.
Lastly, Beckett is seen as a great option for newer cards, likely due to their methodological approach to grading.
Pros and Cons of PSA
We’ve come up with a list of some of the common pros and cons you’ll find with PSA.
- PSA is seen as the experts when it comes to older cards, especially for anything pre-1970’s. This has caused the price of older PSA cards to exceed their BGS counterparts, even if they have a similar overall rating.
- PSA can be trusted with the handling of high ticket items, and they’re often faster in terms of appraising cards.
- They’re tougher on corners, especially for Gem Mint cards.
- They offer the PSA Set Registry, which enables you to track your inventory, costs, and populations, build and update sets, enjoy competition with others, meet collectors who share common interests, create a photo album of your collection, and share your sets with others.In addition, you can perform “What If?” scenarios to see how the addition of new items will change your set ratings. It’s great if you want a little recognition for your hard work, or if you want to keep track of your progress while collecting a set.
- PSA has processed over 30 million cards and collectibles with a cumulative declared value of over a billion dollars, so they know what they’re doing.
- Joining the PSA collectors club will give you access to bulk rates when selling cards.
- A lack of a PSA 9.5 rating isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s painful if you think it should be a 10. However, it does raise the price of PSA 10 rated cards, and they’re highly sought after.
- The slab isn’t really eye-catching as they’ve opted for a plain sticker listing the relevant information. It doesn’t compare to Beckett’s options, especially if it’s a 10 grade.
- The card isn’t secure inside the case, and can move around if dropped or damaged. However, it’s unlikely to damage the card itself, which is good news.
- You won’t be able to add non-PSA rated cards to the PSA Set Registry.
- In the past, they were seen as leaders in authenticating, although their grading system has vastly improved in the last decade.
Pros and Cons of BGS (i.e. Beckett)
There are a number of reasons why BGS could be a better option than PSA.
Of course, BGS has a range of cons that are also worth considering, so here’s everything you need to know.
- Beckett’s labeling is generally preferred, and it’s easy to see why when you compare their offerings to the PSA equivalents.
- They’ve seen a great option for newer cards, and they’re often
- BGS is tougher on centering, especially for Gem Mint cards.
- They decided to release the Beckett Graded Registry in 2013, hoping to match up to PSA’s service with many similar features. You can compare cards with others, sort through your collection, and there’s also the chance to win prizes by competing against others in upload and set completion contests.
- Extensive subgrades allow the buyer and seller to have a better idea of the item, detailing everything from the value to any flaws clearly and concisely.
- The BVG service is ideal if you’d like to get a vintage collection valued.
- Beckett cardholders are larger than the PSA equivalent. This isn’t ideal if space is an issue, and it gets worse if you have a large collection.
- Unlike PSA, it can take a while for the BGS grading process to take place. This is especially true if you’re sending over a lot of cards to be graded. Some people have had to wait up to a year to find out what their cards are worth, and it isn’t ideal if you’re buying them to flip them quickly.
- While it’s great to have a lot of info about a card, there are so many variables that go into the BGS grading system. If you have a duo of 9.5s with slightly different grading stats, it’s not surprising if the price differs depending on what collectors value more.
- The special labels are a great touch, but they do have an unintended consequence. They make the silver tabs look second-rate in comparison, and you don’t want people making that connection while they’re looking at your cards.
PSA Grading Cost vs BGS Grading Cost
Below are images from the PSACard and Beckett websites showing their basic cost of card grading (as you can see this is not a cheap hobby!).
Which is best?
There’s more to it than a simple coin flip, but there isn’t much to choose from between Beckett and PSA.
After all, they’re two of the biggest names in the game, and for good reason.
Of course, this means that some collectors prefer to grade cards from one service over the other, although it’s generally down to personal preferences.
If you collect pre-war cards PSA is an obvious choice, but if you’re looking at 2019 parallels you might be better off with Beckett.
If the price is the main factor, fees are dependant on whether you’re a member, along with the potential value of your cards, and the volume.
Card grading is far from an exact science, despite what BGS and PSA would have you believe.
After all, you could send the same 8 grade over again and again if you’re hoping for an extra half-point, and it does work sometimes. (of course, this could also mean lower grades, and they get their fees regardless.)
It’s worth remembering that some collectors prefer ungraded cards, while others view the practice as an obvious scam.
Considering the massive market for forgeries and doctored cards, it’s better to be sure if you’re looking at rare options.
For example, in 2019, the PWCC auction house was subpoenaed by the FBI, causing their attorney Jeffrey Lichtman to release the following statement: “There has been some evidence that cards sold at PWCC auctions have been altered.
While there are questions of what constitutes an improper alteration, I can say that PWCC is among those who have sold altered cards.
PWCC has sold hundreds of thousands of cards and the problematic ones are in the hundreds — or less than 1%.”
Less than 1% is still a significant amount if you happen to find an altered card in your collection, and the story highlights exactly why it’s best to go for a graded option when possible.
Overall, a PSA 10 is going to be better than a BGS 9 (obviously) although it becomes more subjective when you get to lower grades.
You don’t have to stick with one over the other, but they do attempt to force you to via loyalty schemes and the respective Registry services.
You’ll have to decide for yourself, and there’s no right or wrong answer.
Everything from the era of the cards you collect to your preferred slab should have an impact on your personal preferences.
Let us know your thoughts and experiences with the PSA and BGS grading services, and which cards you prefer to collect!
PSA Customer Service
Dial toll-free 1-800-325-1121 or if outside the United States call (949) 833-8824.
BGS Customer Service
Email email@example.com or call 1-972-448-9188.