How To Spot a Trimmed Card
With all of the latest trimming scandals running rampant throughout the hobby, we’ve had many collectors ask us about how easy it is to spot a trimmed baseball card.
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing how to detect counterfeit cards, but haven’t spent much time discussing cards that have been altered or trimmed.
My hope is that this guide will become the premier resource for collectors and help educate everyone in order to avoid buying any altered cards.
Let’s face it; PSA, SGC and Beckett are just third party authenticators. There is no guarantee, whether intentional or not, that the graders will get it right.
It’s now on all of us, to be a ‘fourth party grader’ of sorts to ensure that we are not getting scammed.
If you come across any graded cards that look like they might be trimmed, shoot me a note at email@example.com.
What's The Difference Between Miscut And Trimmed?
A miscut card comes from the manufacturer as a print defect; a mishap in the printing process led to the card not having the normal printing dimensions. Cards that are only moderately off-centered aren't typically considered to be 'miscut'. However, when a card's borders are way out of place or even have the names of two players on the same card, you generally know that you have a miscut on your hands.
Here's an example of a T206 Red Portrait Cobb card which was miscut--as evidenced by Cobb's name on both the top and bottom of the card.
One popular type of miscut card is what is called a 'diamond cut' card, which can often get confused with a card with a card that is trimmed, due to the odd dimensions of the cut.
Here's a Vic Willis T206 card, which has a 'diamond cut'. A novice collector might believe this card was trimmed, but on closer examination, it is clear this card was miscut at the factory. Notice how the player's lithograph inside the inner border is basically tilted to the right? What likely happened here is that a vertical cut on the sheet of cards was precise, while the two horizontal cuts on the card from the sheet were done at a slight angle, leading to the 'diamond cut'.
A trimmed card is one that has been purposefully altered in order to improve it's overall condition. Trimmers will trim the borders of a card to improve the sharpness of the edges and the corners of a card. As shown with recent discoveries of trimmed graded cards, the trimming process (if it goes undiscovered) can improve a card's overall grade significantly.
We should once again provide a shoutout to Blowout Forums, whose members have been the grading police over the past few years. Their detective work has led to the discovery of many trimmed cards and they helped expose the misgivings of PWCC.
Here's one of Blowout's past discoveries--a 1949 Bowman Yogi Berra that was trimmed and re-submitted for grading--moving from a PSA 7 to a PSA 8. They have outlined where the trimmer doctored up the edges and the corners.
Will The Card Grading Companies Authenticate A Trimmed Card?
PSA will not provide a numerical grade to any card that has evidence of trimming. They will however authenticate a card that has evidence of trimming. A trimmed card is going to fall into either the 'Authentic' or 'Authentic Altered'. This gets really confusing and most collectors i know still struggle with the two grades.
It is clear that something graded as Authentic can have evidence of trimming but so can something that is slabbed as 'Authentic Altered'. It is in my experience the 'Authentic Altered' cards which tend to have more obvious visual alterations--whether trimming, re-coloring or restoration.
PSA Authentic and Authentic Altered Descriptions
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 an 'Authentic' PSA graded Nap Lajoie T206 card. Obviously some clear evidence that this card has been 'trimmed' or maybe 'cut' is the appropriate term. I'm guessing since the alterations here were probably done by some kid back in the early 1900's and not as a means to imprve the appearance of the card, is likely why this card did not receive an 'Authentic Altered' designation.
Now here's a T206 Cobb which received an 'Authentic Altered' grade from PSA. Note that prior to 2010, PSA would include why they belived it was altered on the flip but has since stopped doing so. However it is quite clear that this Cobb card has been trimmed.
Note that both Beckett and SGC will graded trimmed cards, but like PSA will only authenticate the card and provide an 'Authentic' grade. Neither have an 'Authentic Altered' grade.
The Key Steps To Identifying A Trimmed Card
While not all of us have the eagle eyes and expertise of some of the Blowout Forums members, there are some simple steps a collector can take in order to try and identify a trimmed card. Here are a few things you're going to need to help in the process.
Use The 'Eye Test' To See If The Card Has Been Trimmed
Sometimes, a trim is so blatantly obvious that you can spot it with your own eyes. Here's a T206 Addie Joss, that has clearly been trimmed. Just check out those jagged borders at the top of the card and we know immediately that we have a trimmed card on our hands.
The more experience you have with a particular set, the easier this sort of eye test becomes, even without measuring the card. You start to get a feel of what the border sizes should look like. And a lot of times, if the borders are super sharp and the corners are a perfect 90 degree angle, I'm always suspicious, especially on pre-war issues like the T206 cards.
Measuring a Card For Evidence Of Trimming
One of the most important steps in trying to identify a trimmed card is to see if it 'measures' up', which means checking to see if a card in question has the appropriate dimensions of a typical card from the set. Note that a small t-square or right angle ruler can help with the measuring.
The problem is that not all cards within a specific issue are exactly the same size; case in point, the T206 set is well known for cards that have all different size measurements. This is due to the inconsistencies of printing at the time, thus normally, the older the card, the higher the probability that there will be varying sizes.
Still, this should always be considered a first step. First, you should try to get your hands on several cards from the same set. Sometimes this isn't always possible, but it can really help in distinguishing if your card is the correct size. A simple ruler will help in measuring the card. Find the dimensions of the card to get a base line understanding of what the length and width should be and go from there.
Note the Old Cardboard website is a great resource for card sets and lists the approximate dimensions of each set.
Using A Loupe To Examine Card Edges
Grab a loupe and under a bright light, start to examine the edges of the card. Again, if you have another card from the same set to compare this can be extremely helpful. On older cards, the edges typically have small little fibers that stick out. A card that has been trimmed has razor sharp edges that are very smooth to the touch.
As a novice investor, I bought a 1949 Bowman Johnny Pesky rookie card at a local card show. I had never held one in my hands and thought it was strange that the card had these little sort of fibers sticking out from the edges. I actually asked the dealer if the card was trimmed, when in fact this was the normal sort of cut on these cards!
Here's a 1949 Bowman Yogi Berra that has been trimmed. It might not be easily evident just from an eye test but if measured up, we find that this Berra card comes up just slightly short on the top and the bottom.
I should also reference one 'former' collector Kevin Saucier, who use to have a great website called Altered Cards (which can be found on the archives). Kevin was really ahead of his time in helping collectors help avoid the pitfalls of getting scammed by trimmers. Some of his old advice to collectors:
“The border-edge on a normal card will be slightly rounded and have somewhat of a smooth edge but not perfectly flat or overly smooth to the touch. Very gently rub your finger-tip across each edge. Feel for signs of an abnormally smooth edge left by the sharp instrument. If an edge has been trimmed it may have a different feel than the others. While normal edges can have a slightly rough feeling, a trimmed edge will feel somewhat slick. In time and after some practice the skill of feeling an edge for alterations will become more developed. If you feel an edge that is different from the rest, look at it under a 50+ watt halogen light and a 10x jewelers loupe.”
- Kevin Saucier on detecting trimmed cards
Saucier also used this image to show color differences in where a card has been trimmed--along the left top of the card, whereas on the right hand site it has not been trimmed. It is clear that the trimmed edge has a much whiter color whereas the non trimmed side retains the aged colors of the original card.
And one more great shot from his old site which shows two examples of cuts on cards. A 'downward cut' in which the card doctor likely used scissors, sloppily leaving a higher edge on the middle of the card. And as Saucier noted, a 'bat-ear' cut in which the corners appear higher than the middle edge of the card. Thus it is important to get a good look at the distance between the outer and inner borders of the card to find evidence of trimming.
Using A Blacklight To Find Further Evidence of Card Alterations
While we have covered a lot on trimming to this point, we wanted to include a short section on using a black light to detect evidence of alterations. I'm not certain, but I don't know that a blacklight is going to help in detecting any trimming, but it certainly can be useful in determining if a card doctor has tried to alter the card in any other way. If they have gone to the depths of trying to trim a card, there is a good likelihood that other alterations have also been attempted.
There is a great example over at Blowout regarding a 1957 Topps Glenn Hall, which was altered an sold at a PWCC Auction as a PSA 9 graded card.
From a reader's commentary and research that was sent to Blowout on the card:
I firmed (sic) believe that PSA could detect and reject 99.9% of all altered cards with a black light, a jeweler's loupe, and a ruler. In my view, they choose not to. Why? Let's hope the FBI finds out.
This particular card is interesting because it has some coloring added near a print spot (in the yellow background), and a foreign substance added to two corners (a tiny amount to the upper left and quite a bit more to the lower right) and to the left edge of the card (it looks like some sort of clay or chalk-like filler).
I believe the card has also been trimmed on at least one edge.
All of the altered areas luminesce when placed under the UV source/black light although they can also be observed in normal light under magnification. The magnification shown is about 15 times. There are comparisons between the card in natural light and in UV light.
It's certainly not easy, but hopefully this guide provides you with some additional resources to try and avoid purchasing trimmed or altered cards. It's clear that the third party graders are not doing enough by letting these altered cards slip through the cracks. We as collectors need to stay informed and educated in order to prevent these scammers from taking over our hobby.
If you have a card you suspect might be trimmed or altered, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org