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Is PSA Deliberately Undergrading Popular Cards?

In a perfect world the third party grading companies should be evaluating cards objectively, and not letting any sort of biases creep into their final decision for a card.  Yet, we all know that we've seen some questionable grading decisions in the past, based on the numerous trimmed cards that have ended up getting numerical grades.

A recent video posted by Vintage Card Curator on YouTube challenged this fact by taking a look at what they refer to as the "9:10 ratio"; a simple calculation that looks at the number of PSA 9 cards and divides the number by the number of PSA 10 grades.  A simple way to interpret the number quickly--if for example we see a card has a 9:10 ratio of 12:1 it means that a card gets a 10 grade for every 12 cards graded a 9 by PSA.  

The focus of the video which I've posted below is on mostly modern era cards (from 1978-1993), such as the ever-popular 1993 SP Derek Jeter card.

Vintage Card Curator's hypothesis (before examining any card population) and assuming PSA is grading cards 'fairly and objectively' is that the 9:10 ratio for any card in a set should see little variation---whether it's a common card or the most popular card in the set.  

However, based on his research, it is quite common for key players to have a much higher 9:10 ratio versus other cards in a comparable set, meaning that PSA appears to be grading key cards a lot tougher than it does versus commons or less popular cards. 

In the 1993 SP set there are 20 foil cards, including the infamous Derek Jeter card. Notoriously, Jeter's SP card has been a very tough subject for grading due to the foil front which smudges and scratches quite easily.

jeter-sp-chipping

The SP Jeter card is notoriously easy to scratch and smudge due to the foil front.

Yet in examining the other foil cards in the set, Vintage Card Curator found that between 9 and 10 graded cards, PSA gives the Jeter a 10 grade (or perfect Mint) in only 1 out of roughly 27 instances, whereas for the other 19 foil cards in the set, PSA grades the cards a 10 in 1 out of 5 instances.  

Even when looking at the entire population, the Jeter card has received a 10 grade in roughly .13% of all cards sent to PSA whereas the remainder of the foil cards receive a 10 in 2.4% of all cards submitted. 

PSA-JETER-GRADES

1993 SP Foil Derek Jeter Rookie RC #279 - PSA 8 - Near Mint - Hall of Fame

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1993 Derek Jeter SP Foil #279 RC BGS 8.5 W/ 2 GEM Mint 9.5 And 9 Rookie Beauty!

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1993 Upper Deck SP Foil Derek Jeter ROOKIE RC #279 PRO 10 GEM MINT (not PSA BGS)

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1993 Derek Jeter Upper Deck SP ROOKIE Rc #279 New York Yankees SGC AUTHENTIC

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In examining other modern era sets there appeared to be a noticeable trend--that the top players from each set had a much tougher shot of getting a 10 grade versus other cards in the set.  Here are a few more examples:

9-10-ratio-psa

There's a lot of big time outliers here, noticeably the 1985 Topps Roger Clemens which has a 9:10 ratio of 1 in 20 whereas the entire 1985 Topps set has a near equal ratio of 9's and 10's. Translation, the Clemens card is about 20x harder to get in a 10 versus any other average card in the set.  And as Vintage Card Curator notes in the video, the Clemens card was printed in the middle of the sheet with no known condition sensitive issues.

clemens-rookie-topps

One other example that I thought was interesting was the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.  As Vintage Card Curator notes, the Griffey rookie is more than 10x harder to get in a PSA 10 than an average 1989 Upper Deck card.  He also dispelled the fact that the Griffey card was hard to get in a 10 due to it's placement in the corner of the sheet, however the other cards on the corner have shown to earn 10's at a much easier rate than the Griffey card. 

griffey-uncut-sheet

Is the Griffey Jr a hard to get PSA 10 because of its corner sheet location?  The stats don't prove this to be true.

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89 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr BGS 9 (9, 9.5, 9.5, 8.5)

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The conclusion from the research is that for cards issued from between 1978 to 1993, PSA is more likely to give a mint condition card a 9 rating versus a 10 if it is a key player in the set. 

So the big question: why is PSA severely restricting the supply of high demand cards in PSA 10 grades?  And secondly, is this being done deliberately? 

The simple question to the answer concerning objectivity could be that PSA is intentionally paying more attention to those cards that have more value.  A common card is likely to get less scrutiny (and a less experienced card grader) than a potentially mint Derek Jeter SP rookie card.  There's more on the line for PSA and for the hobby as a whole.

In addition, the data doesn't necessarily account for what I would refer to in the hobby as 'PSA 10 chasers'.  There are many collectors out there subbing common or minor star players to PSA in the hopes of getting a PSA 10.  For the big name cards, collectors are likely to submit in all variations of condition.  In fact if we look at the Jeter SP card, roughly 3% of the population has a grade of PSA 5 or lower.  For all of the other common foil cards (such as Carl Everett below) it's close to 0%.

everett-sp-foil

Most "PSA 10 Chasers' aren't sending in a 'very-good' copy of Carl Everett to get graded

The flip side to the aforementioned defense would be that PSA is intentionally holding back on 10's for the big name cards so that collectors continue to submit to PSA in hopes of receiving a 10 grade. While at the same time, that dearth of PSA 10's leads to higher prices on the existing 10 population. Kind of like a flywheel that never really stops.  If the Derek Jeter 93 SP card had the same 9:10 ratio as the other foil cards in the set, would his PSA 10 card continue to break records at auction

While that's a sinister thought, I personally don't believe that PSA is intentionally engaging in any sort of intentional control of PSA-10 supply.  I do however continue to believe that PSA and other grading companies have consistency issues that need to be fixed.  Could a bias on more popular cards exist?  What are your thoughts?  Let us know in the comments section below.

And if Joe Orlando or anyone at PSA is listening, I'd love to interview you for your thoughts on this matter.

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  • Tim says:

    I get it. I just sent in a 53 bowman mantle that was off-center and definitely i mean definitely excellent to excellent plus. It got a 4 MC grade, which is utterly ridiculous. this card had not a scratch on it, full gloss. and 4 “Excellent/mint” corners. I was expecting a 5.5 or 6 OC, with absolute WORSE case scenario a 5 OC. and I got a 4 MC. Completely useless, now I’m going to have to resubmit it to SCG and hope for a reasonable score. This card would have been a 4 by their guidelines without the qualifier, so they just punched me in the gut for extra fun.

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