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Should I Get My Sports Cards Graded?

One of the most common questions we get from collectors is whether they should get a specific card graded by one of the third-party grading companies.   

The unfortunate issue is that there isn’t always a clear-cut answer to this question. 

Numerous factors go into third-party grading, ranging from grading costs to personal preferences or the additional value a graded card might provide.

In nearly all circumstances, a graded card is worth more than its raw counterpart.

There might be some minor exceptions to this. For example, if a card is returned from a grader labeled as questionable authenticity, we could theoretically say that the card values are approximately equal. 

But if we assume that a card gets a numerical grade, it normally should increase the value versus the raw version.

Graded Cards Are Worth More Than Raw Cards

Third-party grading companies such as PSA, Beckett, and SGC have transformed the hobby over the past decade.  When I started the hobby in the mid-1980s, there was no uniformity, and it was a complete free-for-all all. 

If I had a card of questionable authenticity, it was up to me to try and figure out whether it was real.  If I had a card that looked nice, I had to estimate a value (based on condition) and then get someone else to believe that value was the correct figure.

Nowadays, it is so much easier

There are population reports, so I can see the exact number of cards that have been graded to help estimate the overall population of a card. 

population-reports

There are certificate numbers in which I can go online to verify if a card in question has been graded or not.   

psa-cert

The condition scales have provided a level of consistency and transparency in pricing, making it so much easier to transact with others. 

I no longer have to guess the condition of a card when a grading company has already done the work for me.  

1914-tycobb-cracker-jack

And the fact that a graded card is encased and preserved in a consistent holder through whatever grading company you are dealing with makes it much more attractive for collectors. 

With a graded card, I know EXACTLY what I am buying and that it has been authenticated to ensure it is not a forgery. 

This goes a long way in helping drive prices higher in a hobby that used to be besieged with counterfeit cards.  Now, I’m not saying that scammers don’t still exist, but it has become a much cleaner and more transparent environment.  

Why Should I Get My Card Graded?

The obvious answer as to WHY is that, as noted above, getting a card graded will immediately add value to the card.   

Now, this isn’t 100% always accurate, especially if you overestimate the condition of your card. Thus, when trying to self-grade a specific card, I stress that you always estimate conservatively. 

The grading companies can be consistent, but you often run into a grader who decides for one reason or another that the card has a MUCH less desirable grade than you believe. 

So being conservative is always essential when thinking about submitting for grading.  

In addition to adding value, a graded card provides much better liquidity

If you need to sell your card, the chances are (considering equal grades) that a graded copy will sell for more money than a raw copy. 

Check Out Our Guide To The 30 Most Valuable Football Cards Of All-Time

Buyers have trust in the big three third-party graders and their ability to provide an accurate grade. This leads to better resale value in the end for graded cards.  

When you submit your card to one of the grading companies, one of the significant benefits, in my mind, is the holder provided (also known as a ‘slab’ throughout the hobby). 

Some critique how well the holders protect your card, but in my mind, the cases are the best solution for storage on the market.   

To Grade Or Not To Grade 

Now, we first need to consider the COSTS of the actual grading service and the time involved. 

For PSA, the baseline cost in everyday environments is around $20, with a rough 25-business-day turnaround. However, recent grading disruptions in the hobby have led to massive price increases and the halting of economy-based services. 

SGC and Beckett have also instituted price increases and changes in service levels.

(Note with PSA, there are quarterly membership offers that can occasionally reduce the per-card grading costs but requires bulk-type submissions typically.)

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that the cost of grading a card is $20.

Let’s say we have a Roger Clemens Topps rookie card in what we think is right around Near Mint condition. 

PS- if you want to learn more about grading and how to estimate conditions, our card grading tutorial should help you!

Here’s our Clemens card:

clemens-rookie-topps

If you’ve read our grading guide, I think Near Mint would be a reasonable estimation of the condition.  The corners are pretty sharp, but a tiny bit soft on that bottom left corner. 

Remember to always be conservative with your grade.  If we think it’s a Mint card and it comes back as Near Mint, then we have likely overestimated the actual value of our card.  

I would start the process by going to PSA’s website to get an idea of the grading population. 

Here’s a snapshot of how many PSA-graded Clemens rookies are out there:

clemens-topps-pop-report

If you weren’t already aware, the 1985 Topps set was massively over-produced, with nearly 23,000 Clemens cards graded by PSA. 

Note that this doesn’t even include any other third-party populations, such as SGC or raw cards. 

Needless to say, the Clemens card has a massive supply.

Next, I would head to eBay to see what a PSA 8 (Near Mint) Clemens rookie card goes for.  Since the Clemens Topps rookie was massively produced, there is no shortage of these cards in the marketplace.   

The average selling price is around $15 for one of his cards.  Thus, for the rough cost of getting our card graded, we could go out on eBay and buy a Near Mint Clemens and have $5 left over.   

Even if the card came back as a PSA 9 (Mint condition), the value only goes up to around $30.  

clemens-ebay

So the really simple equation that you need to remember is this

Estimated Card Value (based on current eBay pricing) – $20  > $0 

(note using $20 here as grading cost but likely much higher at today’s prices).

Please check out our Sports Card Grading Calculator for updated pricing information and advice on whether you should grade your card. 

If it’s not greater than zero, don’t bother. If it’s precisely zero, I probably wouldn’t bother either, but then it becomes more of a personal decision. 

If you are grading just because you want it graded and don’t care how much value it adds, then by all means, go for it.  

Can I Get Trading Cards Graded Near Me?

Occasionally the big grading companies will set up authentication and grading services at major sports card shows, such as the annual National Sports Collectors Convention. However, most of the services are fairly limited. For example, PSA does a lot of 'drop-off' services only. You can check their calendar for a list of shows they will have a presence at. 

Even PSA's 'Walk Through' service at its offices are rather limited, and are reserved for high dollar cards, still with a turnaround of three business days. If considering, please email info@psacard.com to see your options for 'walk-in' service.

How Do I Get Cards Appraised?

There's a great amount of sales data to leverage to help us value our cards. eBay latest sales are a great tool for getting an accurate comp, as is PSA's APR auction sales data. We've covered the different ways to help value your cards here. All Vintage Cards is always willing to try to help out fellow collectors. Please visit the link below to send us details of your cards in order to get a free appraisal. 

Find Out If YOUR Cards Are Worth Grading

All Vintage Cards will review your collection and provide some advice on whether to grade or not

About the author 

All Vintage Cards

All Vintage Cards is the number one destination for everything related to vintage baseball, basketball, hockey, and football cards. Our love of card collecting and in particular vintage sports cards drives our desire to inform others of the joys of collecting.


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