If you love sports and collectibles, card grading has likely delighted or infuriated you at some point:
After all, grading can make or break a card’s value. And it’s just as easy to over-spend on a graded card as it is playing roulette on ungraded alleged bargains.
Without any doubt, understanding how third-party companies grade sports card is an invaluable resource for not just new collectors but also for veterans:
Here’s a complete guide to understanding card grading (using baseball cards as the example):
Baseball Card Grading
Typically, the grading system for cards are as follows, from top quality to the worst:
- Gem Mint
- Near Mint to Mint
- Near Mint
- Very Good
This rating system is standardized across the grading industry.
However, third-party grading companies have their own guidelines… So a Mint graded card from one third-party company doesn’t mean it has been held to exactly the same guidelines as it would at another third-party company.
And here’s our first top tip: The age of the cards does not make any difference to the grading of that card…
Condition is condition, whether 50 years old or one.
Third-Party Card Grading Companies
Most commonly, collectors turn to popular third-party grading companies to get a grading for their cards.
Here are all the major companies that are involved in card grading that you should know about if you are a card collector.
PSA is the biggest and most respected sports card grader on the market. The PSA grading scale is widely respected and followed.
Top Tip: Cards graded by the PSA tend to carry a higher price in the resale market as compared to other grading companies.
The PSA grading scale grades cards on a ten-point scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being in Gem Mint (best) condition.
Here is the PSA grading scale that is most commonly used by most collectors:
- PSA 10: Gem Mint
- PSA 9: Mint
- PSA 8: Near Mint to Mint
- PSA 7: Near Mint
- PSA 6: Excellent to Near Mint
- PSA 5: Excellent
- PSA 4: Very Good to Excellent
- PSA 3: Very Good
- PSA 2: Good
- PSA 1.5: Fair
- PSA 1: Poor
SGC is a close second in the sports card grading community:
Top Tip: The SGC grading system is more popular with vintage collectors who prefer the black inserts that are used in the SGC cardholders.
In recent times, SGC has moved onto a new grading system and now uses the same numeric grading system as PSA (previously they used a 0 to 100 grading system).
The Beckett card grading system is also popular. However, when it comes to PSA vs. Beckett, PSA is the clear winner because of its popularity and use with vintage cards.
The Beckett card grading system, therefore, tends to fetch a lower price, especially in the world of vintage cards.
Beckett has three different grading subsidiaries – the Beckett Grading Services (BGS) that grades cards from 1981 to the present-day; Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG) that grades cards from before 1981; and Beckett Collectors Club Grading (BCCG) that is the lower tier grading level that is not very popular or well regarded.
If you want to compare PSA vs. BGS, the important thing to keep in mind is that BGS uses a different system in order to differentiate itself from the other grading companies.
Under the BGS grading system, the cards are provided four different sub-grades that are based on:
Then a black box algorithm is used to take the sub-grade scores and calculate an overall grade:
Due to the huge confusion involved with the Beckett card grading system, collectors prefer other third-party services.
CHECK OUT: 5 Most Valuable NFL Cards From The 1990s.
How much does it cost to get a card graded?
The prices for sports card grading depend on various factors, including the card value, type of card being graded, and the desired turnaround time.
If you have never submitted a card for grading before, the pricing can become very confusing very fast.
Let us take a look at the grading prices of PSA, SGC, and Beckett.
The cheapest card grading service from PSA, known as ‘Economy,’ begins at $20 for a card that has a maximum declared value of $499. The standard turnaround time for this category is 50 days.
If the declared value of your card is $999, then it will fall under the ‘Regular’ priced category that costs $50.
PSA also provides an expedited grading service under the ‘Express’ category that accepts cards with a declared value of up to $2499, with an estimated turnaround time of 8 days.
There is also a ‘Super Express’ category that costs $200 and has a turnaround time of just two days…
Plus, there is also a one-day Walk Through’ option that will cost you $500.
SGC’s card grading services are slightly cheaper than PSA and begin at $10 for cards that are worth less than $250.
They also have higher-priced submissions that are based on the declared card value and turnaround time.
Their Express service is priced at $15 with 15 business days as a turnaround time. The Priority service is priced at $35 with five day turnaround time, and the Next Day service is priced at $85 with two days turnaround time.
They also have the Same Day card grading service that costs $250. SGC also provides super premium service for cards that are worth over $100,000 with a base charge of $3,750.
Beckett grading prices range from $20 to $250, with options called Economy, Standard, Express, and Premium:
The pricing is less confusing than PSA and SGC, at least on the surface, with different aged cards getting different grading services.
The Beckett grading system comes last in our conclusion. Not because it is worst, but because it is less standardized, and therefore more confusing and less in-demand.
Top Tip: Card prices are set by the seller, not the actual value. So always check the PSA or SGC website.
The last thing you want to do is buy when a card is scarce and demand is high – and knowing the valuation of a card vs. the sellers price should always be step number one when buying a graded card (or knowing when to sell).
This is where PSA and SGC excel. They give base valuations that people trust.
Therefore the battle between PSA and SGC comes down to cost and your collection:
If you have lots of sub-$250 cards to grade then SGC is the way to go. Its $10 service is a bargain. However, if you have cards worth $250 and up, PSA Grading is a must.