Ruining with Scissors

By now you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the various scandals rocking the baseball card world. Any summary I could provide here would be outdated by the time I hit “Publish.” Therefore I will address only one aspect of the scandal, one that to some collectors is no scandal at all: the alteration, restoration, and repairing on cards. (Also see “What Do Baseball Cards Want?” for a related SABR Baseball Cards article.)

I will lead off with an unquestioned assumption I think most collectors have hung their hats on for a while: condition is a one-way street.

True or not, we at least initially presume cards begin in some pristine (or at least best) state from which their condition either stays the same or gets worse over time. Were we to plot the condition of a card continuously over time, we could get what your calculus teacher would have called a monotonically decreasing function.

Where a collector put his cards in bike spokes, pockets, or a rainstorm, condition decreased quickly. Conversely, where a collector used more protection than a Spring Breaker in Tijuana, condition was protected and preserved. However, nothing caused condition to improve. Cosmetic appearance? Yes. Condition? No.

When it comes down to it, the idea that condition is a one-way street is the main reason high-grade cards are so coveted. Some collectors might argue that their value simply comes from looking the nicest. However, I would prop up the near worthlessness of reprints as a counter to that claim.

Take a look at this (aptly named) Hack Wilson, before and after it’s run-in with a paper cutter.

With four well-placed cuts the corners, edges, and centering have all improved, but would you (or anyone) actually pay me more for the card on the right, having watched me create it from the card on the left? Unless your intention was to profit off an unsuspecting collector ignorant of the trimming, I have to imagine you’d either walk away or lower your offer considerably.

Yes, the card may look better, but we know it’s not better. Sure, the contrarians out there might challenge us to explain why size is somehow more important than corners, edges, and centering combined, and when they put it that way we would likely even struggle. Of course the real reason isn’t a reason; it’s an assumption.

Condition is a one-way street. As such, anything significant done to a card automatically and axiomatically makes the card worse. Period. Doubt that, and nearly any discussion of condition or premium on condition becomes farcical.

Condition is a one-way street. Period.

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

9 thoughts on “Ruining with Scissors”

  1. There is, in fact, one improvement that I believe you can in good conscience make on a card: gently removing the gum wax. From my graded-card perspective, this has improved several cards I have. For example, I had a ’64 Topps ERA leader card with Koufax. It had been sent in for grading on got a 6 (ST). It was clear to me that the stain was gum wax, so I popped it out of the slab, used a tiny bit of lighter fluid on a tissue on the glossy side and resubmitted it. As I expected it came back as an unqualified 6, a much more valuable card, if that’s the concern.

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    1. If I proceed from the axiom that condition runs one way I’d have to reject this. However, one could argue that the wax is separate from the card, hence its removal is not a true alteration of the card.

      An example I’d been thinking about is if I dropped some bread crumbs on a card. Certainly I could brush them off with no real guilt or malfeasance. But is there a clear line as to what is okay and what is not? If there isn’t, the blur can always be exploited.

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  2. How about this one? I have a 1948 Bowman Bob Feller with the letter C written in pen on the front top of the card. Would it have been “cheating” if I had asked Bob to autograph right over it so it the writing was invisible, making my, perhaps PSA 6(MK) into a signed PSA 6?

    I tried to do that maybe 20 years ago, but, alas, Bob didn’t hear my request and signed across the bottom, leaving the “C” there in all its glory.

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