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Sports Card Grading Graveyard

old-card-gradersIt’s widely accepted that the only three major card graders in the hobby are PSA, SGC and Beckett.  

There have been many upstart graders over the years but those are the main three that are still standing strong.  

Still, we have many cards in circulation from other now defunct grading companies. I get questions from collectors all the time asking if they should trust so and so card in such and such holder they found on eBay.

So, I thought it would be helpful for collectors to have a ‘Sports Card Grading Graveyard’ where we list out old card graders and whether or not their slabs/grades should be trusted.  

Thus, this list is a collection of our experience with other grading companies along with our research sourcing opinions from other websites such as the Net54 Forums and Blowout Forums (both unbelievable resources).

We’ve assigned a Slab Trustworthiness Score © for each grading company based on our evaluation of how trustworthy the grader was in their evaluation of cards.  

The score is based on a scale of 0 through 5.  Zero– meaning that the grader was a complete sham setup to enrich its founders and associates to a 5, meaning that collectors should have full confidence that the grade is nearly 100% accurate. 

If you have any graders not on this list that you have questions or comments about feel free to email me at chris@allvintagecards.com

AGS (Advanced Grading Specialists)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  1 out of 5 

AGS was related with Shop at Home early on and notorious for overgrading cards that were sold on the Shop at Home network.  They weren't around for very long and I don't know with certainty how honest they were in grading any altered cards (or counterfeits) but if anyone has experience let me know.  Otherwise, I'd avoid these if you find them...or at the very least, spend a lot more time examining the card.  At a minimum, assume the card has been over graded or potentially trimmed.

ags-graded

ASA (Accugrade Sportscard Authentication)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  2 out of 5 

Accugrade was the first sports card grading company, founded by Alan Hager back in 1984.   Hager actually developed the 1 to 10 grading scale used by all of the major grading companies today.  However Hager's reputation as a card grader with ASA was in a nutshell - less than stellar.  Hager started out by grading out his own collection and quite favorably, often vastly over grading cards, while also grading cards that had been altered significantly.  At one point Hager was actually trying to sell ASA card grading franchises.

VGE-Gehrig

An ASA graded Gehrig 1933 Goudey.

An expose in an early issue of VCBC called Hager "the most dangerous man in the hobby" mostly for accusations that his price guides were misrepresenting the actual card prices to his benefit.   In addition, VCBC editor Alan Purdy Jr. said in observance of a number graded card that even 'Helen Keller could have spotted that it was trimmed'.   While I've heard of some ASA graded cards turning out as fakes, I think I would be mostly concerned about the over-grading and the numerical grading of doctored/altered cards. 


Capitol Grading

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  0 out of 5 

Capitol was part of an expose back in a 2005 SCD article, which claimed that GEM grading,  Capitol Grading and Foremost Grading (FGA) were involved in a big operation in which they were knowingly grading fake cards

"SCD discovered that counterfeits of 1963 Bazooka cards, 1921 W551 strip cards, 1931 W517 strip cards, 1947 Homogenized Bond Bread and 1952 Wheaties were being sold online.....but also the Bond Bread and other similar cards that were targeted in that SCD investigation three years ago. Capitol Grading and FGA (Foremost Grading Authority) holders often contain fakes, too"

Not to say that you might not get lucky with a Capitol holder, but I'd be very careful.  

capitol-grading

CSA (Certified Sports Authentication)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  2 out of 5 

One of the first card grading companies which got it's start shortly after PSA.   In fact one look at their early flips and you can see that they were nearly identical to PSA's.  CSA was a franchise like spin-off of Alan Hager's ASA.  From my research, its sounds as if CSA has a bit of a mixed past, with negatives mostly on over grading. Given Hager's checkered past with grading, I'd find it hard to believe that CSA was any better.

Some folks from an old Collectors Forum post note that CSA had three different 'flips', one as above with the red and white label (in which the grading was ok, but slightly over-graded), another with an entirely blue holder (shown below with the Jordan RC) in which cards were even more over-graded.   

jordan-csa

They also had a third holder with subgrades which one forum poster claimed is one to definitely steer clear of:

Clear holders with subgrades - Laughable grading/authentication - basically PRO style rules on trimming and authenticity. Who cares about the grades when it is likely trimmed?


CTA (CTA Grading Experts)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  1.5 out of 5 

One of the earlier graders that went out of business around 2007.  They claimed to be using a 'computerized' score, but most claimed that it was just more of a detailed sub-grade calculation.   

I personally don't have much experience with CTA and have never come across a holder.  But, this note on Blowout Forums certainly does not instill my confidence in their 'trustworthiness'.

"Alright, time to let the cat out of the bag on CTA... I have personal knowledge of two individuals that made a deal with CTA when they first started out. These two individuals would buy PSA 6'S on the internet, crack them open and submit large orders that they would grade either "CTA 7" or "CTA 8" GRADES for a nice fee. A majority of these cards were T 206'S,1915 Cracker Jacks, up through the early( 50's star cards only).

jordan-cta-grading

Thus with CTA, I don't know if they were slabbing fake cards, but most definitely over grading cards.  As with anything, if you come across one, give it a close examination. 

Here's an archived view of the old CTA grading website.

FGA (Foremost Grading Authority)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  0 out of 5 

Some call this one FGA (or "Forget Guaranteed Authentic") due to its association with several scammers in the hobby.  One of its founders - Roger Hooper - was arrested for sports memorabilia fraud.  And eBay had banned sales of its cards following an expose in SCD which outed FGA, Gem Grading and Capitol Grading. Note you can still find FGA cards on its website, but I'd be super careful with any of those.

fga-bond-bread

GAI (Global Authentication Inc.)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  3.5 out of 5 

GAI was founded in 2001 by former PSA founder Steve Rocchi.  Mike Baker was a former grader at PSA and the head of grading at GAI.  Global Authentication was a pretty good grading company yet when they hit financial troubles in 2009, they spun off the grading company into a new unit called Global Authority.  Note that while GAI graded cards and packs have a fairly good reputation- Global Authority was not very trustworthy.  

Notably GAI was the first unopened pack grading company and if you find a GAI graded wax pack, odds are that it is authentic and not tampered with.  Thus, I would have a lot of trust in GAI graded cards and packs, however, Global Authority graded cards should be avoided.  On note on GAI;  make sure if buying a card in on of their slabs--lean towards the silver flips and avoid the newer/whiter flip.  

Regardless, any GAI card would still need a full evaluation...meaning that I would not 100% trust the grade.  I haven't seen them grade many fake cards, but trimmed cards have received numerical grades.

gai-83-fleer-pack

GEM (Gem Grading)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  0 out of 5 

Gem Grading had two services--it's core Gem Grading service and Gem Elite which offered grading with subgrades, similar to what Beckett does today. 

Note this snippet found on their website back in 2004 should tell you all you need to know about the grading quality/trustworthiness of GEM:

Providing authentication is challenging and not guaranteed due to improved computerized printing techniques.

Here's a 'Gem Elite' Gem Mint graded card that definitely looks trimmed:

gem-elite

Our friend Steve Taft had also discovered that Gem was grading fake Star basketball cards among others.  They were also Shop at Home card graders.  Stay away. 

UPDATE ON GEM:  One reader had this to tell us about their experience with GEM:

"Every single card I have ever sent to SGC from GEM for crossover has come back to me with a "Trimmed" designation. It seems automatic, like SGC isn't even taking the time to consider it. 
Now, I have a few higher end cards I have collected over the years that are encapsulated by GEM or GEM Elite that I can't get crossed over.  I even tried sending one of them to BGS. It came back "Trimmed" as well, but it's the only experience I've had trying to cross a GEM to anyone other than SGC."

PGS (Professional Grading Service)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  2.5 out of 5 

Based on my research PGS was at the time a decent grader, and have seen some PGS cards cross over fairly well to either SGC or PSA.  Although I have seen some trimmed cards with a numerical grade in a PGS holder.  Worth a shot if you find something decent in a PGS holder, but of course, I'd look out for any evidence of alterations. 


PRO (Pro Sports Grading)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  1 out of 5 

Pro had a less than stellar reputation as a grader and was notably often grading altered and trimmed cards with a numerical grade.  From my experience, PRO was not as notoriously bad at grading fake cards, but it's more on the over grading and number grades for trimmed cards.  Here's a Lajoie T206 card that has clearly been trimmed but graded as Near Mint:


SCD (Sports Collector's Digest)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  3.5 out of 5 

The well known sports card magazine launched a short lived card grading company in 2001 that lasted until 2003.   While much harder to find than some of the other grading companies with more longevity, SCD was known as a very trustworthy grader.  However as the link above shows, SCD was hiring new graders on the spot, so they weren't necessarily impeccable in discovering altered or trimmed cards.

bonds-scd

Note that Sport's Collector's Digest sold a bunch of its equipment to another company that launched as Sports Card Direct although with a label that looked quite similar, albeit with a blue label.  Sports Card Direct (also SCD) had a very bad reputation.  Here's an SCD (Sport's Card Direct) card graded as a 10 which is certainly not a 10.  

scd-gem mint

A card graded by Sport's Card Direct, which had no relationship with Sport's Collector's Digest aside from buying some equipment from them.

TFA (The Final Authority)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  2 out of 5 

Maybe one of the ugliest flips in existence, The Final Authority (TSA) was a Florida based card grading company that only made it a few years and went under in the early 2000's.  Some say they have crossed some vintage stuff successfully, but probably would be rare to find any old valuable stuff in these holders.  Most of the TSA stuff i see on eBay is more modern such as this Jordan card below:

USA (USA Sports Grading)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  2 out of 5 

I don't have a ton of experience with USA, as they went under sometime around 2002-2003 I believe.   Some say their grading was fairly accurate but can't speak from experience.  If you have any info on USA please let me know.

SMA (Sports Memorabilia Authenticator)

Slab Trustworthiness Score:  1.5 out of 5 

Wasn't familiar with this one until a reader sent me in this Babe Ruth magazine clipping.  From my research online, the creator of SMA started by cutting magazine clippings and slabbing them, as with this Red Sox Team photo from a 1916 copy of 'Reach magazine.

sma-ruth

While I have not examined one up close, the same reader noted that they had placed this copy under blacklight and the paper did not fluoresce, thus their claim was that the clipping was in fact original.  

This is not something I can debate and value for something like this is certainly hard to ascertain.  This grading company is no longer in business, and would view these as more of a cool novelty than anything else.

I will also note that based on other digging, I found this Blowout Forums post where someone posted about this SMA slabbed Orr rookie which is clearly a counterfeit.  Thus, there certainly would be a credibility concern about any card that you might find graded by SMA.  Thus, caveat emptor

orr-fake

Other Graders Still Operating Today

KSA Grading - Canada outfit, fairly reputable, would trust the grades
Beckett Collector's Club Grading (BCCG) - Beckett's discount grading service. While it would be rare that they grade an inauthentic card, they are well known for massively over grading cards.
World Class Grading (WGC) - Avoid
GMA Grading - Basement graders. Avoid
BCG (Baseball Card Grading) - eBay seller selling graded aged reprints. Avoid.
BSG Grading - eBay seller that does basement grading. Avoid
ISA Grading - ISA, aka Sports Authentication.  A reader alerted me to this one. Based on research sounds like a mixed experience.
ASGA (All Star Grading) - Avoid

Have cards from one of the defunct or second-tier operating graders that collectors should see?  

Feel free to comment below or send any images to chris@allvintagecards.com.  

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
richie - July 12, 2021

With all these new grading companies popping up which one do you think will be the first to end up on this list? My money is on Elite Card Grading https://www.facebook.com/Elitecardgrading.Inc/

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