What Does ‘Authentic’ Mean In Card Grading?
One of the most frequent questions we get from novice collectors is in regards to the ‘Authentic’ grade from third party grading companies.
It’s confusing, since we automatically assume a card we get graded is authentic to begin with; thus why does a grading company label a card as solely ‘Authentic’ with no numerical grade (from 1 to 10)? And then ‘Authentic Altered’…what’s the difference between the two?
Simply put, an ‘Authentic’ grade means that the grading company identified something wrong with the card, usually an alteration or some other major defect, which prohibited them from assigning a numerical grade to the card.
In what follows, we will examine some of the nuances of ‘Authentic’ graded cards and why they are graded that way. Hopefully this will help clear up some of the confusion.
Be also sure to check out our piece on ‘How To Spot a Trimmed Card’ which talks more about grading and trimming.
What Do The Authentic Grades Mean for Each Grading Company?
PSA Authentic and Authentic Altered Descriptions
Here below are the descriptions of the 'Authentic' and 'Authentic Altered' grades from PSA. More often than not, it's the Authentic Altered designation which shows some significant alterations quite noticeable to the naked eye. The Authentic grade is usually more subtle in nature, maybe a piece of the card is missing or a slight trim.
N-0 Authentic Only - This means that PSA is only certifying that the item is genuine, without a numerical grade. This may be due to the existence of an alteration, one with malice or otherwise, a major defect or the original submitter may have requested that PSA encapsulate the card without a grade. The "Authentic" label means that the item, in our opinion, is real but nothing more.
AA Authentic Altered - This means that while PSA is certifying that the item is genuine, due to the existence of alterations, the item cannot receive a numerical grade. The term altered may mean that the card shows evidence of one or more of the following: trimming, recoloring, restoration, and/or cleaning. Items receiving the "Authentic Altered" designation, in our opinion, are genuine with the presence of some type of alteration. This is done on a case-by-case basis only, and must be notated on the submission form at the time of submission.
Here's a T206 Izzy Hoffman card that received an 'Authentic' grade from PSA. You can see that there's a rather sizeable portion of the card missing from the top right corner, maybe even some trimming at the top. Normally, parts of the card missing equate to an 'Authentic grade at PSA.
Now here's a T206 Addie Joss Portrait card which was graded 'Authentic Altered' by PSA. It's pretty clear that this card was cut on the left hand side. Now based on PSA's language for this grade, it would fall under the 'trimmed' category, although hard to say this trimming was done with any intention of improving value here.
Now here's an 'Authentic Altered' Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card which is commonly known as the 'Bearded Mantle' in the hobby. Again, no one was looking to make this Mantle more valuable, likely a little kid having some fun back in the day.
Those are the exceptions, as many times the 'Authentic Altered' designation holds a card which was purposefully restored or trimmed in order to enhance the value.
Here's a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card graded as 'Authentic Altered' by PSA. Quite common actually with these Jordan rookies as the red borders can chip and some will try to color the edges in with a red marker. Hard to notice in this example, but there is evidence of marker addition on the bottom of the card.
One significant note here; prior to 2010, PSA actually provided an explanation as to why a card was graded as 'Authentic - Altered' on the label. Thus, if it was trimmed, PSA would put 'Authentic - Trimmed' as the grade.
Since then, however, PSA will just label a card as either 'Authentic' or 'Authentic Altered' with no explanation why card was graded as 'Altered'.
Here's an example of a 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle in an old PSA holder that got the 'Authentic Recolored' grade. If this were graded today, it would just be graded as 'Authentic' or 'Authentic Altered' with no explanation as to why.
SGC Authentic Grading Description
SGC does have an 'Authentic' grade as well, but does not have an 'Authentic Altered' grade. Any type of alteration falls under the 'Authentic' umbrella for SGC. They will however not not a reason for the 'Authentic' grade on the label.
If you are submitting to SGC and you have a card that you suspect may have been altered, you need to mark off 'Encapsulate if altered' (see below).
Here's a 1962 Topps Roger Maris card that got an 'Auth' grade from SGC. Similar to our Izzy Hoffman card above, this one just has too much missing to earn a Poor (or 1) grade.
Here's an 'Auth' graded Jordan rookie from SGC. This one has been altered with coloring in the corners similar to the one above from PSA. So, this will show you that with an 'SGC Auth' grade, a card that has been intentionally altered is a very distinct possibility.
Beckett Authentic Grading Description
So for Beckett, 'Authentic' is a little bit different. Remember that PSA and SGC use 'Authentic' as a sort of catch all for anything that can't be provided a numerical grade.
For Beckett, a pure 'Authentic' grade is provided only if a collector submits to Beckett and asks them to do so. Check out the Beckett grading form below:
Thus an Authentic grade from Beckett is just their stamp of approval that a card is authentic.
Now you'll also notice from the boxes on the grading form above that there are two check boxes which allow you to choose that your cards receive an Authentic grade only or for potential of a numeric grade yet with a result of 'Authentic Altered' if the card has been tampered with.
Note that Beckett will provide written explanation as to why they graded the card as 'Authentic Altered'.
Here's a 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig card that got an 'Authentic Altered' grade from Beckett. A few things going on here, most notably the scratching and removal of the surface under Gehrig's name along with the imprinted etching surrounding Gehrig's body.
Now someone likely tried to get a numerical grade from Beckett, probably hoping for a 'Poor' or 1 grade, yet they decided it was worthy of an Authentic Altered grade, which I would wholeheartedly agree with.
Remember that an 'Altered' grade doesn't always mean the alterations were done with the intent of improving the value of the card.
Do The Grading Companies Tell You Why It Was Graded As Authentic or Altered?
For PSA, the answer is no (although they used to mark Altered cards with the reason why from 2010 prior. For SGC, they do not either. Beckett typically will return a form noting why the card was graded as 'Authentic Altered'.
What Differentiates An 'Authentic' vs 'Authentic Altered Grade?"
Authentic means that a card is real and not counterfeit, yet the grading company was unable to provide a numerical grade due to some issues, usually some sort of alteration or portion of the card missing.
Authentic Altered is typically provided as a grade if there is a significant alteration done to the card, whether trimming, coloring, cutting or restoration.
Can You Refuse An Authentic Altered Qualifier?
With PSA, you can select a minimum grade, thus if you for example select a minimum grade of '1' it will not receive any sort of grade if it were determined to be 'Auth' or 'Auth Altered' and returned to you ungraded. I know of some people that will include in the comments something to the effect of 'Please encapsulate as Authentic if minimum grade is not met" or "Please don't grade if Authentic Altered', however I would check with PSA if you have any questions.
Note that SGC does not have an 'Authentic Altered' qualifier, and with Beckett you can uncheck the box that says this:
By checking this box, your cards will be given a numeric grade if possible but if the cards are deemed to be altered (trimmed, recolored, etc), we will seal and authenticate the cards in a standard Beckett Authentic/Altered case
How Much Does An Authentic Grade Reduce The Value Of The Card?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it really all depends on how hotly demanded the card in question is. Certainly, all else equal you'd be hard pressed to get the same return on a comparable Authentic card versus something graded say Near Mint and above. Yet there are some Authentic graded cards which are truly in fantastic shape and it is hard to make out the reason for the 'Authentic' grade.
Here's an example of an SGC Authentic graded T206 Mordecai Brown with a rare Hindu back:
Now most examples of this card are usually going to be graded anywhere from Poor to Good. This one has clean borders, a bright red background and is in excellent condition with great eye appeal.
I can't really see any noticeable trimming, maybe something along the side of the card, but overall it looks really nice to me. If I were able to acquire this card for a discount versus a 1 or 2 grade, I would certainly go for it.
The ambiguity of Authentic grades does often lead to opportunities in finding cards that are priced too far off what their true value is. In the case of Authentic Altered cards, again it depends, but if it's a really obvious trim job or re-coloring or alteration, I'm usually staying away from it.
Altered cards just are not very sought after by collectors.
Have any questions on Auth grades? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment down below.