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.
There are numerous factors that go into third-party grading, ranging from personal preferences to the additional value that 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 then approximately equal.
But if we assume that a card actually gets a numerical grade, then 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 and SGC have really transformed the hobby over the past decade. If I think back to when I first got started in the hobby in the mid-1980s, there was no uniformity, and it really was a complete free-for-all all.
If I had a card of questionable authenticity, it was really up to me to try and figure out whether it was real or not. If I had a card that looked really 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.
There are certificate numbers in which I can go online to verify if a card in question has actually been graded or not.
The condition scales have provided a level of consistency and transparency in pricing that makes 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.
And the fact that a graded card is encased and preserved in a holder that is consistent through whatever grading company you are dealing with makes it that much more attractive for collectors.
With a graded card, I know EXACTLY what I am buying and I know that it has been authenticated to ensure that 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 the scammers don’t still exist, but it has become a much cleaner and 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 going to be true, 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 oftentimes you run into a grader that just decides for one reason or other that the card has a MUCH less desirable grade than you believe.
So being conservative is always important 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.
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 big benefits in my mind, is the holder provided (also known as a ‘slab’ throughout the hobby).
Some critique how well the holders actually 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, the first thing we need to think about is the COSTS of the actual grading service and the time involved.
For PSA, the baseline cost in normal 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 normally requires bulk type submissions.)
For simplicity’s sake, let’s just 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 tutorial on card grading should help you out!
Here’s our Clemens card:
If you’ve read our grading guide, I think Near Mint would be a good estimation of the condition. 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 comes back as Near Mint, then we have likely overestimated the true value of our card.
I would start the process by going to PSA’s website to get an idea of what the actual grading population looks like.
If you weren’t already aware, the 1985 Topps set was massively over-produced, with nearly 23,000 Clemens cards graded by PSA.
Note this doesn’t even include any of the other third-party populations such as SGC or any raw cards.
Needless to say, the Clemens card has a massive supply.
Next, I would head over 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 right around $15 for one of his cards. Thus, for the rough cost of what it would cost to get our card graded, we could actually go out on eBay and buy a Near Mint Clemens and actually have $5 leftover.
Even if the card came back as a PSA 9 (Mint condition) the value only goes up to around $30.
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 as to whether you should grade your card.
If it’s not greater than zero, don’t bother. If it’s exactly 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 really care how much value it adds, then by all means go for it.
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