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Card Graders: Will PSA Grading Remain King? Can SGC Grading or Beckett Grading or Another Dethrone Them?
PSA Grading or Beckett Grading, or SGC Grading
Here at Gold Card Auctions, more reader questions may be submitted on the topic of grading than anything else. That’s understandable, as it’s a highly subjective yet ultimately critical process. It’s sometimes changing, and thus, it can be hard to make complete sense of it often.
In the overall history of the hobby, card grading is a relatively youngish or younger phenomenon, but there are certain truths we know. Grading is becoming more important in not just sports cards but all alternative investments such as sneakers, video games, and comic books. To help us explore those knowable truths and to try and answer the more challenging questions, we enlisted the help of two very prominent hobbyists. Both of them have had first-hand experience with counterfeiters.
Jeremy Ross is a former television newsman, long-time card collector/seller (30 years), and industry advocate. You can find him tweeting about #TheHobby, really cute dogs, and other oddities that he purveys @JeremyAdamRoss.
Kent Garnett is the owner of Pennant Fever, a cards and collectibles business. People in the hobby colloquially knows him as the “King of Soccer.” We discussed the grading pecking order, the major players in the business and the reasons why need grading in the first place, in substantial detail.
PSA- The 1,000 pound gorilla in the room.
“In my experience, and this is coming from the Jew here, there’s a holy trinity of graders- PSA, SGC and Beckett,” said Ross.
“Everyone else is pretty much, in my opinion, an also-ran. And when I come across those slabs, I really have to pause before buying. Because you ask out loud, why is someone using this?”
PSA (Public Sports Authentication) defines itself, via its webpage, as “the world’s largest third-party authentication company; the industry leader in card grading as well as autograph and memorabilia authentication.”
That’s true, as the hobby does pretty much defer to PSA when defining the condition on a card. However, the excessive demand to get PSA grades has led to prohibitive pricing and prolonged turnaround time.
That could potentially be turning people off.
“If they want to remain a 10,000-pound gorilla, they got to make moves because they’ve been losing a little weight,” said Ross, a former reporter with WBBM-TV, CBS 2 Chicago.
“Anecdotally, that is what my eye sees without any direct knowledge of the market conditions. So you go to your shows, and you’ll hear whispers of (they’re) just too expensive.”
Potentially, they could be losing market share enough that they may even cut prices down the road. Not to mention there have been accusations of trimming, which we’ll cover later on.
SGC- The future King? Maybe underpriced and underrated?
They could be the wave of the future. Not only are they cheaper ($30 to $100 at the base pricing level for one single card) but more and more collectors believe that SGC (Sports Guaranty Company) is, ar best, actually a superior grader to PSA, and on equal footing at worst. SGC is already known for being the preferred grader for older cards, and collectors who specialize in vintage material will tell you that.
This company, founded in 1998 in Florida, hangs its hat on convenience and consistency.
“Our ability to provide accurate and consistent grades in a timely manner is a service that is unique to the card-collecting community and has made SGC one of the pillars of card grading for over 23 years,” their website states.
Honestly, SGC may have an opening to step up and claim a position as the market leader, if they can go about establishing the correct company culture, and then market that culture effectively to the masses.
BGS (Becket Grading) Trusted Brand, but Probably Third in the ranking
My first foray into the hobby came just a few years before the junk wax era took hold, and back then Beckett was THE BIBLE. Back at a time when magazines and printed newspapers were a thing, the Beckett price guide was the authority, no questions asked.
This was in the mid-to-late 1980s, long before grading took off, and the high price (column) in Beckett was the so-called valuation. Dealers sold at this price and bought at the low (column) price in the mag.
It was such a powerful force that even the printed price guides themselves became valuable collectibles. Simply put, they dominated pricing back then in the same way that PSA dominates grading now.
That said, they have not been able to leverage that yesteryear hegemony into dominating the grading marketplace today.
“I feel like Beckett never quite capitalized on its name in the grading realm,” said Ross. “as much as it should have. And I don’t know the reason for that.”
Possible Up and Comers, Other Options
CGC (Certified Guaranty Company), which just got started in 2020 (couldn’t have picked a better year to commence this business), originates with a firm that specializes in comic book collecting. Not a whole lot has been said and written about them, but Ross agrees with me in that they seem to do an alright job from what we have seen and heard.
They claim the ability to provide confidence through “expert and impartial authentication, grading and encapsulation services for the most popular trading card games, including Pokémon, Magic, Dragon Ball Super, Flesh and Blood, MetaZoo and many more.”
There are others out there, which we’ll cover later, but at the end of the day, the so-called invisible hand of the market will decide. That line is for all you Adam Smith people out there.
Being the Very First to Get a Card Graded
It seems to be a common perception, some might even say an unwritten rule, that you never want to be the first person to ever get a specific card graded. This theory certainly makes a lot of sense, as you’re kind of a guinea pig on this. And when you’re a test subject, how do you know that going to get a square deal?
Garnett, 62, is one of those who was the first to get a prominent card graded. He no longer has the issue today, but it’s a 1964 Barratt George Best rookie card. Best, as his name implies, is one of the most superlative soccer players of all time, as he placed 6th overall in the FIFA Player of the Century vote.
While he’s not a household known name here amongst Americans, the Northern Irishman is legendary in Europe, and part of the United Trinity, or Holy Trinity of Manchester United. This term refers to the triad of George Best, Denis Law, and Sir Bobby Charlton, who led United, the most prominent sports club in the world, to the first-ever European Cup triumph accomplished by an English club, in 1968.
And the 1964 Barratt is the only rookie issue that has ever been produced. The print run on this card wasn’t very extensive either. The Richmond, Virginia native, who now lives and works in Palmetto, Florida, paid $25 to get his copy (he actually had two, but this was the better condition of the pair) graded. The grading was conducted by Beckett, at the 2007 National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
And Beckett got the year, (labeling it a 1962) and the product (referring to it at Bassett) wrong. So BGS actually made two major mistakes, and Garnett pointed that out.
“I got it back in my hand, and it looked great, and the holder and everything,” said Garnett.
“But I said, I’m not trying to complain, but I did pay cash for this. I said I got to get it right. So I told Dave (Sliepka, one of Dr. James Beckett’s right-hand men) what was wrong and they had to go back behind the curtain and redo it.
“And five minutes later he (Sliepka) came back out and I was very pleased with the grade I got, which was a 7.”
Garnett made a very nice profit off the card, holding the card for a decade, and then selling it for $1,000 at a show in Chicago a couple of years ago. He says he paid $80 for it (and the $25 grading fee of course).
“Well, I wish I stuck it back and never let the sun shine on it,” he said.
“Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s like a ’52 (Topps, Mickey) Mantle. It’s genuinely scarce, I’d be willing to bet there are fewer of those around than ’52 Mantles.
“I mean the card itself in the set is not short-printed, but I just don’t think the English made much of that stuff. I’ve been told their print run was 2000, but I have no way to verify that.”
Garnett considers Best to be the greatest player never to have played in a World Cup, and there are many other soccer experts out there who would agree with him.
Today, a BGS 7-graded 1964 Barratt George Best would command four figures easily, maybe five, if you find the right buyer. So it’s easy to see why Garnett has so much seller’s remorse despite having made such a healthy profit.
And his story shows us that graders can sometimes make a few major mistakes, even with the most basic tasks. This is a $5,000 card that we’re talking about, and even when the stakes are high like this, graders can get things wrong. They’re human and thus prone to error.
Trimming and Other Chicanery
In 2019, the largest seller of cards on eBay, PWCC, was caught up in a trimming scandal, having sold millions of dollars worth of cards that were allegedly altered fraudulently. Many people believe that PSA was involved in this gift as well.
Trimming is the practice of slightly cutting a card so that one can minimally alter the width and or height. Mostly, it is done for the purpose of sharpening the corners, to thus improve the authenticator’s grade. Ross explained how this is done.
“They take it to Kinko’s and use one of those slide cutters,” he said.
“And you take a little bit off the width, a little bit off the height, and your rounded corners all of a sudden become sharp- voila!
“And card companies are supposed to take a look at the measurements, and the qualities of the cards to determine if they have been altered. And that’s one of many reasons why you pay to have your card evaluated for things like that.
“So a buyer assumes that PSA, SGC, Beckett goes through a rigorous process to ensure that it’s not trimmed or altered; and after that, what sort of condition is it in?
“Is it a one, instead of two, is it a three, is it an eight?”
It’s uniform, this 1-10 numerical scale, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest, with every single point and half point making a big difference. In some cases, those differences add up to thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.
With so much money on the line, cheating is going to occur, it’s just human nature. And you have plenty of other ways to alter beyond just trimming. Ross explained other instances and practices.
“If you have staining on the borders,” he elaborated.
“Someone who’s really good touching up, could use a light marker, or maybe a paintbrush with a little bleach, to whiten up cards on the corners.”
“Card companies are supposed to try and review the surface to see if there are chemicals that might be used in touching up cards. So that’s another thing that companies, allegedly, are supposed to look for.”
It’s all big business, and anywhere you have highly sought-after collectibles, you’re inevitably going to have counterfeiters. That’s certainly true in the hobby today. Billions of dollars are transacted yearly in this niche, and millions of dollars in forgeries come with it.
A recent episode of HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel included a segment focusing on the card-collecting business, and it featured a trip to the most recent edition of the National Sports Collectors Convention. At The National, reporter Jon Frankel walked the Rosemont Convention Center floor with an FBI agent who was on the hunt for potential forgers.
Ross himself has had first-hand experience with the FBI, as they contacted him regarding a PSA-graded 1948 Sammy Baugh card that he had purchased on eBay.
“I want to phrase this carefully, because a company that sold it to me that was being investigated in connection with a trimming scheme,” the West Bloomfield, Michigan native said of the card he had to later turn over to the Federal authorities.
“And the holder it was in was PSA. So, yeah, I have first hand knowledge of that (how big counterfeiting is) and I got my money back, and many years later, I actually bought a similar Sammy Baugh, but that always shakes your confidence in companies like that.
“But they still remain the go to for investors and collectors. No company is perfect and that’s an example.”
And now, somewhere in the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation sits a box of fraudulent collectibles, and within this “treasure trove” (which we say ironically) sits this Slingin’ Sammy Baugh issue.
One of the main points of this exercise is authentication. A big part of the job, for professional graders, is making sure the cards that they are sizing up are not counterfeit. This practice runs rampant, take this story about “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, and his Holy Grail rookie card, ’79-’80 O-Pee-Chee #18.
Garnett was at a large card show in Pasadena, California in 1980. He said the show was more notorious for the promoters, who had a reputation for bouncing the paychecks they gave to the athletes who appeared there. There was a lot of “riffraff in the hobby,” as he tells it.
Garnett had bought a Gretzky O-Pee-Chee RC in Canada a few months prior and sold it to a showgoer raw. The purchaser returned later that afternoon and demanded a refund, stating he had been told the card was counterfeit.
“I said this is the deal. You’re calling me a crook for selling you a counterfeit card. I have the right to know who told you this before I refund you. So I made him take me in the other room. And he showed me the guy, and this guy had two stacks of PSA graded Gretzky O-Pee-Chee rookies, they were all counterfeit.
“Mine was real, but I had been coached on my trip to Canada to know the difference between a real one and a counterfeit one, and the real one, for whatever reason when they had the sheets, a spot got on Gretzky’s shoulder, so every real O-Pee-Chee rookie, there’s a little white spot on what would be his right shoulder pad.
“It’s an orange area so it sticks out very significantly and if you see one that doesn’t have that, it’s counterfeit right off the bat. Every one of them that was made that’s legit has that little white spot on the orange part of the solar pack and a lot of people didn’t know this.”
As Eric Norton, grading expert for Beckett, points out, it’s difficult to find this card (and its Topps counterpart as well) in a top tier grade, and thus, variability in pricing is extremely high.
“Both the ’79-80 OPC and Topps cards are extremely condition sensitive and they were cut with a wire,” Norton said.
“That means there are plenty of centering and edge issues to be found. This card almost has to be taken on a case by case basis. The pricing that you see reported in Beckett can be considered a general guideline. Any given raw example may be more or less depending on how it presents.
“Grading is key with this card.”
When you bring up Gretzky, and card collecting, something else comes to mind first and foremost, even above his RC.
In 1991, Gretzky, in partnership with the then owner of his club at the time, Bruce McNall, won the bidding war at Sotheby’s auction house for the 1909 T 206 Honus Wagner car. Bidding rose swiftly, from an opening bid of $114,000 to the hammer price of $410,000.
The full amount, with Sotheby’s fees included, was $451,000 (which is $892,360 today, when adjusted for inflation). This shattered the record for a trading card sale by an extensive margin. And in doing so it created a tremendous amount of publicity, as it marked a watershed moment for sports card collecting.
Three years later Gretzky bought out his partner, the Los Angeles Kings Owner (McNall), and then sold the card to Wal-Mart for $500,000.
But the story of this specific issue was just getting started- it’s the most notorious incident of card trimming that the world has ever seen.
Ross described it as “probably even more expensive now due to its infamy, rather than the actual card itself.”
He continued: “back in 1910, 1911, they didn’t have an excellent process for manufacturing and cutting the cards, so many of them were not uniformly cut. Some guy got his hands on a Honus Wagner larger than the traditional one, so he hacked it up.
“He cut it perfectly, and it was auctioned off at the time as the most mint Honus Wagner ever. And Gretzky and McNall bought it, and then through a federal investigation, they determined that it was altered and part of a fraud case. Fascinating stuff.”
“That’s part of the reason grading companies are a thing- they’re an allegedly independent eye to review and authenticate collectibles.”
Indeed it is fascinating material. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald famously expressed, through one of the characters in his first novel, This Side of Paradise, the only kind of business people want to read about is crooked business. (Well, not entirely true, but mostly, as some of schemes and scams can be very interesting to read about)
This brings us back to McNall himself. In December of 1993, he plead guilty to five counts of conspiracy and fraud, as he admitted to scamming six different banks out of $236 million over a decade of malfeasant business doings. He was sentenced to 70 months in prison but ended up serving 57 due to good behavior.
Stories of fraud and counterfeiting such as these remind us of why card grading companies are indeed “necessary evils.” Numerous bad actors abound within the trading card industry.
Card Grading Companies in Detail
PSA was the first major grading company, as they got the ball rolling in 1991.
PSA claims to be “the largest and most respected third-party authentication and grading company in the world for trading cards and memorabilia.” That’s reasonably fair, given they’ve certified over 40 million cards and collectibles with a cumulative declared value of over a billion dollars over the past 30 years.
The company got their start in California (they are currently located in Santa Ana, inside CNI College) and before they began grading cards, they were grading coins, stamps and other similar collectibles, as far back as the 1980s. The concept of grading cards did not take off at first, as most people believed it was just some form of the latest scam.
PSA turned that around by building up its brand because you have to ask yourself, how hard can it really be to grade a card? Sure, a fair amount of training is involved, but could it really be that difficult?
With this specific niche, it’s all about the brand, and that makes sense because a brand, by business school textbook definition, is how that product/service evokes thoughts, feelings and emotions.
They are considered the highest authority due to their reputation and their brand-building. However, on the same day this article was commencing composition, they posted a poll on their official Twitter account, seeking feedback.
Is this an indication of cracks in the armor? Maybe it says something about PSA being too high-priced for many collectors? To pay the premium for a PSA grade, you have to be confident you’ll get that investment in time and money returned back to you when it’s time to sell.
“It’s what I call the GQ brand,” said Garnett before pointing out that even the top dog was bending the rules in their favor (and in favor of anyone who directly benefited from partnering with them)
“I don’t know how they’ve attained their status,” he said.
“I think it’s nothing short of amazing. Because like all other grading companies there, and even the whole hobby knows, anybody who is in it with even a lick of sense knows this- they were over-grading a couple of years ago.”
“And that’s when they grabbed a stranglehold because guys were making money off of them. They were spitting out 10s, especially on the newer card market. And guys were making a lot of money off that.
“Sure, they became a trendy friend in the hobby to those who took advantage of it. I’m not one of them, but I wish I were.”
That’s one theory about how and why PSA got to where they are today. Over-grading is the process of giving a card a higher grade than it deserves in order to artificially inflate the price. The benefits of doing this are obvious.
PSA Grading Scale
PSA used to exclusively grade using whole numbers but changed to allow for half grades in February 2008. It’s essential 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.”
“Since centering is so important and visible to most collectors, the strength or weakness of the centering will have a significant impact on the outcome.”
- 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)
However, they only issue half-point grades for anything between PSA Good 2 and PSA Mint 9. 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.
They also offer a range of Qualifiers to give you a better idea of what to expect. They 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 that was added later, 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 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, partly because of the work they’ve done in the past.
There are lots of people deeply involved in the hobby who believe SGC is the superior option, simply because they feel PSA is overpriced, and just takes too long to get back to you when you send a card in for grading.
Do they have an advantage with the forthcoming wave of collectors? Ross and I believe that they do.
“I think it just comes down to money and time,” he said.
“I’m not a member of PSA’s Collectors Club, so for me to get something graded, it’s gonna cost me 100 bucks for one card, for SGC $30, not including mailing and insurance and that sort of stuff. But on a math basis, it’s not even close.
“Would that justify when I go to sell that card? I don’t know. And collectors need to figure out if that $60 difference is worth it, but for me, No.
“Because I try as best as I can to buy the card, not the grade and the holder, which is a phrase that many collectors will use.”
That’s a fundamental hobby maxim right there, and it’s genuinely what the essence of this specific article is all about. Let’s say you receive an SGC 10 2020 Justin Herbert Prizm RC and a PSA 10 of the same card). The PSA 10 will be worth way more, and that is just plain wrong, in our opinion.
“They’ve always been a viable alternative since I’ve re-entered collecting,” said Ross.
“And I think that as the price discrepancy and the turnaround times continue to widen, they become a more obvious choice to long-term and incoming collectors.”
“Competition like that is suitable for the hobby, but it also brings in some companies that are not great, but other companies have fallen by the wayside.
“And now when you see like a card pop up with a slab that you’ve never seen or heard of before, rather than being a certificate of authenticity, it becomes a red flag.”
SGC Grading Scale
SGC uses a scale that eliminates the grades known as “tweeners”, while they claim that “no grading scale is more accurate or consistent.” A tweener is a card that is “in between” two different grades. The SGC grading scale is as follows:
- 1: This card usually exhibits many of these characteristics: heavy print spots, heavy crease(s), pinhole(s), color or focus imperfections or discoloration, surface scuffing or tears, rounded and/or fraying corners, ink or pencil marking(s), and lack of all or some original gloss, small portions of the card may be missing.
- 5: 80/20 or better centering, minor rounding or fuzzing of corners, roughness or chipping along the edge (no layering), one VERY slight surface or “spider” crease may exist on one side of the card, the gloss may be lost from the surface with some scratching that does not detract from the aesthetics of the card.
- 10 MT
- 10 PR: A “virtually flawless” card. 50/50 centering, crisp focus, four sharp corners*, free of stains, no breaks in surface gloss, no print or refractor lines, and no visible wear under magnification.
You can find more detailed information about each rating here.
Founded in 1984 in Farmer’s Branch, Texas, Beckett is to the hobby what the stocks in F.A.A.N.G (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) are to Big Tech. Dr. James Beckett is The Godfather of the modern hobby, but what is he a Doctor of?
“That’s a good question,” responded Garnett.
“That’s an excellent question. I should know that, but I don’t. I think he just got his doctorate in some type of literature or something because he started doing a price guide, and he had a yearly price guide at first. And then he started doing it monthly and that became big business and that was the backbone of the hobby; for price guys.”
So we looked it up- turns out Beckett earned a Ph.D. degree in statistics at Southern Methodist University in 1975, and then joined the faculty of Bowling Green State University as an Associate Professor. It was there that began preparing baseball card price guides, which he initially offered free upon request. Before long it exploded into a major publishing company, which Beckett then sold to Apprise Media in 2005.
The statistician retains a position as Senior Advisor for Beckett Media, but is no longer the Editor/Publisher, as he was during the 1980s and 1990s.
Beckett still sometimes attends some of the most prominent sports card and collectibles conventions, all across the country, to this day. Beckett is among the leading publisher of sports and entertainment market collectibles.
However, it’s third, and a distant third at that, in the grading/slabbing world. They have struggled with consistency in grading, and had some problems with branding too. They used to slab under the brand name BVG, and no one seems to know what that means, just like no one seems to know what Beckett is a doctor of.
Said Ross: “I just kind of wonder, out loud, if they were like Facebook changing to Meta, thinking things aren’t going well, so let’s just rebrand; right?”
“In my experience, I’ve seen a little bit more variation in the quality of grading with Beckett on average, which is not to say that it’s wildly different. But generally, I’ve seen some grades from Beckett products that don’t make sense. Now, some of the other holy trinity folks that I mentioned, every so often, I’ll see some stuff that I feel might be underrated or overrated.
“But the variation seems a little bit larger with Beckett. And that’s, again, just in my eyes from what I’ve seen.”
Beckett Grading Scale
As for the grading system, it’s similar to the PSA scale in terms of descriptors and numbers, but they have several extra grades for each of the half-points. (In fact, the Beckett Grading Scale and SGC Grading Scale are the most similar of the trio).
- 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
Beckett’s top-graded cards are identifiable at a glance thanks to premium-colored labels. A gold/black 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.
A unique Beckett Grading Services feature comes in the form of a Report Card which provides specific grade details and leaves “no confusion as to why your card received its grade”. Cards are graded on four key categories: centering, corners, edges and surface. We’ll discuss each one below.
- 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 can cause creases and flaws, which are noted here.
- Edging – How well the edges of the cards align. White borders can blend more quickly, making it slightly more challenging to detect any flaws. While edging is often seen as the least important factor, it still has a significant impact on the overall rating.
- Corners – Some cards can be trimmed to boost the value artificially, and it’s a standard method of alteration. Sharper corners are more desirable, as they’re the most susceptible to wear and tear over the years.
They note that the overall numerical grade is not a simple average of the four subgrades. The lowest overall grade is the first category to observe because it is the most obvious defect. The lowest grade is the most heavily weighted in determining the overall grade. In other words, poor centering will drag the overall rating down, even if the card is perfect in every other way.
Research into Beckett’s Black Box algorithm concludes:
“In summary: Corners are punished hardest, Centering next, Surface/Edges the least. How much the overall grade is higher than the worst subgrade depends on which subgrade is the worst, and also depends on how much the other three subgrades are better than the worst subgrade, measured by (the differential in subgrades).”
Rest of the Field
We mentioned another alternative to the holy trinity in an earlier section of this article, and that company is just an example of many. Let’s discuss another one out there. I hold a 2019/20 Panini Prism Christian Pulisic Premier League #30 with an HGA 9 grade on it. That’s Hybrid Grading.com if you’re interested in learning more about this company.
I am not interested in selling that card until Pulisic consistently stays healthy enough to produce the number of goals and assists that would see him live up to his tremendous hype. If/when I do, will that company still be around?
What will people say when they look at the name of the grading company on my holder?
You also have another alternative in CSG, Certified Sports Guarantee.
“I have no idea what that company is,” Ross said.
“Okay. But that’s an example of companies identifying that there’s a demand out there, and they’re trying to step up and satisfy the demand.
“Is CSG good? So far, what I’ve seen is that their grades seem to be pretty good. Is that going to be the case three years from now? I don’t know. But that’s something that investors and collectors need to take a look at.”
With CSG and HGA, the collector has to ask himself- will they be around in 10 years? What about five? Ross pointed out during our extended interview session that it’s easy to find some bizarre names on holders the longer you’ve been in the hobby.
“It’s nerdy, super nerdy,” Ross continued.
“Again, it is, but it’s a lesson in economics and in hobby collecting. The demand is out there, and it’s huge. All these card companies are in the driver’s seat, and you’ve got new ones coming up. And it’s creating market forces and competition that collectors can benefit from.”
Crash, Correction Coming?
From 17th-century Dutch tulip mania to the latest correction in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, you know that all that goes up, inevitably must come down.
Examples are endless: the South Sea Bubble, stock market crashes in 1929 and 1987, the dot com craze, housing bubbles (another one is coming there) the worldwide economic crisis of 2008 that nothing lasts forever.
Trading card prices are in a boom town right now, but anyone who remembers the junk wax era will tell you- don’t always believe the hype.
“You know, and I know, anybody who’s got any IQ at all, we know there’s going to be a correction period, it’s gonna be pretty serious,” said Garnett.
“I wouldn’t want to be holding a million dollars worth of branded cards, I’ll just leave it at that.
“Anybody that’s got two ounces of brains knows it’s coming, and if you don’t see it coming, and you think this is going to keep on going on forever, you got another thing coming. Because in the history of anything, gold and silver, anything up, down, up, down, up, down, well, obviously we’re at a height.”
Garnett believes the scarcest and most vintage collectibles will still retain, and maybe even increase in value, and that the pain will be inflicted elsewhere.
“The new card thing is where it’s going to be felt,” he continued.
“It’s just crazy how they keep going, how these companies keep on making products, and guys will pull it out of the pack and create value. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
While many have said that a crash is coming, for awhile, in 2022 we have another major factor to contend with- inflation. The cost of everyday living is spinning out of control. According to CBS News, prices are up 7% from a year ago, the fastest pace of inflation since 1982.
Just a couple of days ago, the Federal Reserve hinted that its first rate hike since 2018 could be in the near future, saying it could happen “soon.” This announcement came amid the Central Bank’s elevated concerns that they’ll need to be more aggressive in combating this persistent runaway inflation, and that’s been a major catalyst to this month’s extreme volatility in the stock market.
With prices for food, gas, housing, cars, you name it continues to rise, people are going to have to cut corners (and we don’t mean trimming on cards) in order to survive. We might see more and more people off-loading those valuable pieces of cardboard with nice, high grades on them, in order to make ends meet. The transition from boom to bust might not be too far off.
Card Grading Tips
- Tip 1: When buying a raw card, check the seller’s history and see if they previously sold or bought the exact card you’re buying… If so, the odds are good that they sent it in for PSA Grading and received a sub-par grade, and are now trying to pass it off to you.
- Tip 2: Buy a high-caliber magnifying glass to check out every inch of the card before you send it in for grading. You can eliminate unnecessary spending on cards that would never be graded PSA 10, SGC 10, and BGS 9.5 in the first place.
- Tip 3: Use a hard Ultra Pro Top Loader with a Penny Sleeve as it will give the best protection for your card. We recommend cutting two pieces of cardboard around the card and wrapping the final coating in bubble wrap. Never use those long plastic sleeves (those are ugly as sin and offer horrible protection).
SGC vs. PSA vs. Beckett: Final Review and Our Pick
At this point, what separates one card from another, when the card itself is easily found, is the condition, and thus, it’s good to be a grading company right now. It’s perfect to be the King, and to set prices, so PSA remains in pole position.
They know that you need them!
“Sometimes the difference in one grade is 1000s of dollars,” Garnett explained over our very long interview session.
“And so that’s why they do it. But it’s gotten so expensive to grade cards that it’s really getting out of hand. And yeah, between the authentication companies and the grading companies, they’re rolling. They really got the hobby by the short hairs, if you know what I mean. It’s been manipulated; so, so bad.”
It’s a tacit assumption- the 86-87 Jordan Fleer RC is the most iconic basketball card in history.
PSA Authentication and Grading Services, the industry’s leading card grading organization (as we’ve said over and over again), called it “the most recognizable basketball card and the most important modern card from any sport in the entire hobby.” Finding a truly mint condition, top-tier, flawless card is tough. The borders are notorious for being particularly susceptible to wear and tear, as well as chipping.
You can easily find a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan, but it’s quite another thing to find one with four very sharp and distinct corners. This card was also known for having significant issues with centering.
At one point, far before the grading companies got started out, Garnett owned 40 copies of the Jordan card.
“That card has never been rare and never will be rare,” said Garnett.
“It’s just valuable…when that stuff came out in 1986, they were on the shelves at Walmart and Kmart. Those two stores in particular, they were just sitting there at 10 bucks a box. Nobody wanted the stuff. I’m not kidding. You could have made millions if you go in there and speculated, and bought ten boxes of the stuff.”
At the end of the day, grading companies made that Jordan RC the Holy Grail that it is. It’s clear that without grades and authentications, it would not have become the phenomenon that it currently is. Which brings us to the summary of this whole endeavor.
For that, we take you back to the 1994 Chris Farley and David Spade film “Tommy Boy.” There is a scene where Tommy (Farley) encounters an auto parts mega store manager named Ted, who is obsessed with guarantees being prominently present on all product boxes.
The card’s grade on the slab is just as important to us as the guarantee was to Ted. As Tommy tries to sell him on becoming the store’s brake pad supplier, Ted says no. His reason is simple, there is no official guarantee displayed on the product, as he tells him:
“It’s not there on the box, comforting you, telling you I’ll never go bad, and even if I do, I’ll fix it and make it allllllllll better!”
The following exchange then occurs:
Let’s think about this for a sec, Ted; why do they put a guarantee on a box? Hmm, very interesting.
Here’s how I see it. A guy puts a guarantee on the box ’cause he wants you to fell all warm and toasty inside.
Yeah, makes a man feel good.
‘Course it does. Ya think if you leave that box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter.
What’s your point?
The point is, how do you know the Guarantee Fairy isn’t a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy, but we’re not buying it. Next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser and your daughter’s knocked up, I seen it a hundred times.
But why do they put a guarantee on the box then?
Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of sh*t. That’s all it is. Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for right now, for your sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality item from me.
Ted then tells Tommy, he is sold.
So with all due respect to all the grading companies out there, on the consumer end, it’s just all about the name on the slab. Just like it was all about the guarantee on the box for Ted. So the only question remains, can SGC step up and replace PSA as the guarantee that people most covet?
Only the market, and time, will determine that.
Our Card Grading Picks Based on the Card
- All Cards Valued $2,000 and Under = SGC Grading
- All Cards Valued $2,000 and Over = PSA Grading
- Autograph Cards $1,000 and Under = SGC Grading
- Autograph Cards $1,000 and Over = Becket Grading
- Rokie Patch Auto Card (RPA) = PSA Grading
Summary: SGC Grading should be selected on the majority of your cards. Select PSA grading for higher valued cards (for now but this could change quickly) and Beckett Grading for higher valued cards with an Autograph. RPA select PSA.
PSA/BGS/SGC Customer Service Options
Here are the contact details for each of the services.
PSA Customer Service
- Phone: 1-800-325-1121 or if outside the United States call (949) 833-8824
- Mail: PSA, P.O. Box 6180, Newport Beach, CA 92658
- PSA Grading Form: www.psacard.com/submissions
- PSA Collectors Club: www.psacard.com/join
BGS Customer Service
- Phone: 1-972-448-9188
- Email: email@example.com
- Beckett Grading Specials via the Beckett Grading Services Club: www.beckett.com/grading/bgs-club
- BGS Grading Form: www.beckett.com/grading/submit
- Beckett Grading Locations
SGC Customer Service
- Mail: 951 Yamato Road Suite 110 Boca Raton, FL 33431
- Phone: 1.800.SGC.9212
- Online: gosgc.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
PSA vs Beckett vs SGC: Grading Consumer Reviews
Is there anyone better placed to give their opinions about the three services than our readers? Here’s what you thought of PSA, Beckett, and SGC, respectively.
Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below! Which grading service is best for you, and why?
PSA Grading Service Reviews
In general, PSA has a good reputation, although some users have faced issues in the past.
“PSA takes a lot longer than Beckett and other options (i.e. SGC) but in some cases, it is worth the wait as PSA 10 consistently sells for more than BGS 9.5 or SGC 10’s. Sometimes I use PSA; sometimes I use BGS, sometimes I use SGC, it just depends on the card” – Jake K. Chicago, IL
“I have a signed baseball with the likes of Mickey Cochrane, Rogers Hornsby, Bill McGowan, dizzy dean, and others. It’s PSA authenticated but my problem with it is they rushed the authentication. They stated the ball is mid 40’s and it was actually 10 years older. On the card, they didn’t even list all of the Hall of Fame autographs on it. How can you not list Goose Goslin, Schoolboy Rowe, and Tommy bridges? Other than that I haven’t had any other problems with either of the two.” Rolland W.
“PSA cards grade higher than BGS which we like BUT they take FOREVER (especially if the card is a patch/autograph. Just depends on the cards that we are getting graded.” Miles H. Boston, MA
“I prefer to use PSA. I just received my latest package back in late February. I like the eye appeal over the other companies. I like they are a trusted name once someone like me wants to resale. Not the cheapest or quickest turnaround times. But I know that going into it. Just look at the Lucky 7’s T206 owner. People use PSA because it’s a trusted source with the highest return on investment.” – Joe K. Norwalk, IA
“I prefer BGS due to subgrades. Plus as was mentioned in another comment, PSA will give a 10 to a card that’s really not a 10. You get truer grading with BGS although there’s definite objectivity in the grading which leads to some inconsistency.” – Sean R. Julian, PA
“I was big on BGS, but the more I’ve gotten back into the hobby, I prefer PSA. The smaller slabs make the cards easier to store. And I like that a 10 is a 10. You don’t have a 10 with different subgrades that make it a more or less valuable 10.” – Drake M. Ft. Smith, AR
Beckett Grading Services Reviews
Here’s what our readers thought of the various Beckett services they have used:
“Beckett Authentication offers a great combination of speed and reasonable prices. We have received a few Black Labels! We love the look of the Black Label 10s!” – Miles K. Miami, FL
“The Beckett grading in-person option was available at an event I attended… the line was long but went quick. The in-person grading process only took a few minutes from the time they got my card. Pretty cool option… Beckett should look into having this option at local card shows in major cities.” Mike S. – Kansas City, MO
“I would rate Beckett grading services a solid 9 out of 10. We use Beckett on the majority of our cards we get graded. Cheers!” Steve C. New Orleans, LA
“The only thing I dislike about BGS grading is if your card grades a 9.5 auto, 9 people look at the card like it’s a crappy auto. But really it’s not. Now PSA 10 equal to BGS there isn’t an auto-grade.” Chris G. – Westfield, Massachusetts
SGC Grading Service Reviews
SGC has a devoted fan base who are quick to note the numerous positives:
“I actually prefer SGC to both the big boys. They’re cheaper and turn-times are quicker. They have really stepped up their game too.” – Mark Y. Clearwater, FL
“Quick and cost less vs PSA/BGS… what’s not to like here?” – Chris G. Denver,
SGC Grading Logo 2021
“If it was up to me and not my wife we would ONLY use SGC… does anyone know a good divorce lawyer?” James C. Miami, FL
“SGC has the best looking slabs, the fastest time (my Ja Morant Auto RC came back in 1 week), and cost the least amount of the three? why are we even discussing this? SGC is a no-brainer… check please!” Tom M. Austin, TX
PSA vs. BGS vs. SGC: Wait Times
PSA Grading Wait Times
PSA wait times will be the longest of the BIG three on average.
Beckett Grading Wait Times
Beckett has increased the average wait time for each service level, while you’ll note that it’s 5-10+ days, so it could easily be longer. (At least they’re being honest.)
SGC Grading Wait Times
SGC is the fastest of the three, particularly if you pay extra.