My Grading Experience – PSA 1 (Poor)

When grading hit the hobby in the late 1990’s, it was, for me, a death knell. As a set collector, seeing nice commons get sucked out of the market in raw form put me on a baseball card hiatus that lasted about 15 years (except for my annual sets and some occasional new things that caught my eye). I still don’t like buying graded cards (I crack them out of cases if I happen upon one for a set I’m working on) and I’ve never graded a card. Never, that is, until this past month.

As my friend Greg will tell you, my thoughts on grading my pre-war cards stretches back at least a year or more. I’ve been thinking of selling those off to support my current hobby interests. (Here’s a post from last July, which puts some kind of date on this exercise.)

In a very real sense, my back was against the wall when it came to my George Ruth Candy Company cards. A rash of fakes hit the market at the turn of the century, and, though I listed one of the two I have, it was clear that I’d need to get it graded to alleviate any fears of counterfeiting. PSA won’t grade these cards anymore because of the frauds, but SGC will. I sent off #3, the one I want to sell. It’s a pretty nice looking card, nicer than some I’d seen grade EX. I had high hopes.

Ruth front

Ruth back

To SGC’s credit, they promise a quick turnaround. To their discredit, they didn’t deliver on that promise, and I had to call to find out why it was taking so long to get back. I got good help, and, it was during that conversation, that I found out the grade, a 3, VG.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only is the card now valued much less, but I had to pay about $80.80 (including my priority postage to send it) for the privilege.  The whole ordeal made my stomach hurt.

Still, I had an extremely nice Ty Cobb Sweet Caporal Domino Disc to look forward to grading, this time by PSA. I searched around and found some EX ones that sold for well over $1,000, and I was at least in that condition ballpark. While PSA cost less SGC, $49.80, they take longer.

I checked the PSA site often, almost daily, and the card was in processing for a long time. Finally, the grade appeared – PSA 4 (VGEX). I was appalled.

I was once told “Buy the card, not the grade.” That’s good advice, but getting lower (though still good) grades feels terrible. Not only will I end up with less money via sales, but the grades have affected how I feel about these cards. Though I made the intellectual decision to sell them, I enjoy (enjoyed) having these, especially the Cobb, which I loved. Not anymore. Now it feels lousy and I don’t know what to do moving forward. I really would prefer not to have my other pre-war cards graded, but I wonder if I can sell them at a fair price without that. It’s a trap and, for a Katz, I feel pretty mousy.

Overall, it was a Pretty Shitty Adventure. I can’t give it a worse grade than that.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

22 thoughts on “My Grading Experience – PSA 1 (Poor)”

    1. That sucks, Jeff. Like you I have no interest in grading, but I felt forced to grade a card I thought I might need to sell. I received a 2.5 for a card that had been a 3 before coming out of its case. As this small difference alone could mean a $300 difference in sale price, it put me in the shitty quandary of wondering whether I should just take the hit vs send it in over and over until I got a higher grade. As for insult to injury, I can’t even tell you how many copies of this card are out there worse than mine but with higher grades.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Great article! All that grading stuff gives me a headache.

    I retain my original joy for cards. I never spent much on a special card–think my biggest was $10 for a Roberto Clemente 3D card.

    That Cobb coin was very sweet!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jeff, those of us in collecting for a longtime remember when it was a hobby and not an industry. From 1988-2004, I had stores and can remember only a couple of times a customer didn’t agree with our conditioning of a card. Some of the pioneers back then lamented when grading was being discussed that we were heading down the path of coins. The resulting ‘industry’ has made a few very rich. Recently I have been helping some longtime customers liquidate their collections and they have experienced the same inconsistencies you have. I have never had a card graded of the thousands on hand. Unfortunately the autograph authenication industry, that is controlled by two intities, has the same inconsistencies. Things always change. Sometimes for the better and sometimes not better…depending on one’s viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post, JK. I’m ignorant about such dealings and I’m sorry to hear of these trials. Somewhere I have a graded 1972 Topps Rico Petrocelli blank back card. I bought it for $10 at a show years ago and the dealer was the only guy at the show with graded cards. (All of his offerings were graded, so he was sort of a graded card pioneer, I guess.) I bought it even though I couldn’t see the attraction of encapsulating. Today I own just three graded and your post has me thinking about reducing that number to two by freeing a Turkey Red (Trying to Catch Him Napping) from its case. 🙂 Such bologna is this grading thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The only graded cards I’ve bought, and kept encased, are for sets that I was storing individual cards in top loaders. Then they’re just added to a pile. I couldn’t stand the idea of having every card in a set in sheets or a box, and a few graded.


  4. OK, as it’s clear I’m the only person willing todefend graded cards, I guess I have to add my two cents. First, why on earth would anybody spend $50 or $80 to get a card graded? That’s nuts. Buy the graded cards if you want them after somebody else (probably a dealer) has then graded, usually in bulk for a heck of a lot less. Or take them to a dealer to submit a card for you. I buy mid-grade early ’60s (PSA 5,6,7s) all the time for less than $10. What confuses folks a lot about grading is that the same quality standards are (supposed to be) applied, no matter how old the cards is. Pre-war cards graded 2,3 or 4 are often still very valuable. You shouldn’t expect them to grade as 7 or 8s. I collect graded cards for the enjoyment of it, but when I’m gone, my kids might want to sell them. The slabs help to insure (literally and figuratively) the value.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I hope my comment didn’t sound like a personal attack, ’cause I enjoy your posts and your dedication to collecting. But I gotta admit: That Ruth card looks like a 3 to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I really liked this article, I’ve been wondering about this process. Thanks for sharing Jeff, hopefully venting helps a little.


  6. I have bought very few graded cards, but yeah, I crack them out of the case immediately. Of course, in no way do I consider myself a collector in the business sense. It’s the nostalgic worship of the game and its heroes (great & small) that motivates, and the tactile aspect – being able to handle the card up close & personal -has to be a part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There has to be some check in the system to root out fraudulent cards, but this grading system is just a scheme to make the graders wealthy. Card aficionados can judge the quality of a card by eyeballing it themselves. Prices can be negotiated. My ’60s cards were handled a lot because A) I loved them and B) I was young and didn’t know any better. These would not do well in any grading system but I love them no less for that fact. Down with graders. Love your cards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The grading of cards did create a third party world of arbiters, however it hasn’t weeded out fraud completely.

      What irked me the most was having a much harder time finding nice raw commons. I’ve since come to realize that I can still find nice ungraded cards that fit my criteria.


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