Sal over at Puck Junk recently posed the question 'Do You Collect Graded Cards?'. I agree with the overall analysis that the competitive graded card market is bad for the hobby. Collectors one-upping each other to climb the ranks of the set registry and attain the most impressive specimens flies in the face of what this hobby should truly be about in my opinion. I also think paying $94,000 for a PSA 10 Gretzky rookie is an insane waste of cash (not to mention look at that right edge, that is NOT a gem mint copy!).
That being said, I do think graded cards can have a place in the hobby if approached correctly. While most of my collection consists of non-graded material, I do buy my fair share of PSA-slabbed cards. I don't view graded cards as the "pissing match of collecting" at all.
First of all, with very few exceptions all of the graded cards I've purchased are pre-1990. I think hundreds of collectors submitting their 2010 Steven Strasburg cards in hopes of scoring a PSA 10 example and cashing in is exactly the pissing match mentality Sal is referring to in his post. Instead, the bulk of my graded cards are from the 1950's and 1960's, with a few stragglers from the 70's and 80's. Let's look at a few examples of graded cards I've picked up within the last few months or so. I'll use each one to try to illustrate why graded sometimes makes sense for me.
Argument #1 - Validity
Where I live I have little to no access to vintage hockey cards. I never seem to make it to shows, and the one hobby shop by me, while great, just plain doesn't have much in the way of vintage hockey. I've never run across this particular card in person, which means one thing, I had to buy it online. In cases like this, the graded copy is not for bragging purposes, is not meant to convey "my Parent rookie is nicer than yours is" (in a whiny voice).
I'm not in search of a Gem Mint 10 copy, I was perfectly happy with this Near Mint PSA 7. The reason is that I've heard of too many collectors being burnt by counterfeit, altered or trimmed cards. When I'm buying a rookie card of a Hall-of-Famer like this that's half a country away, and I'm basing my purchase on a couple of low resolution photos, it gives me good peace of mind to know that the card was inspected and has not been trimmed or otherwise altered in any way.
Argument #2 - Graded Cards Are Always Expensive (Myth)
I think the argument that graded cards are always more expensive is a myth. Sure, a pristine 9 or 10 vintage Hall-of-Famer is going to cost you top dollar. But if you're willing to accept lower grades like I am there are deals to be had. This 1950 Bowman Jimmy Russell is a good example. I'm a sucker for 50's Bowman, especially the 1950 and 1952 sets. On top of that I try to accumulate Brooklyn Dodger cards whenever I can. So what did this card cost me? How about $6.51?
I think every collector at one point or another has spent far more than $6 and change on something they ended up being disappointed with. I definitely had no buyer's remorse on a 1950's Brooklyn Dodger card that cost me what many hobby packs go for nowadays.
Argument #3 - Graded Cards Are Always More Expensive Than Non-Graded Versions (Myth)
I think this 1953-54 Parkhurst Woody Dumart may possibly be my oldest hockey card. I paid $25 for it, which I think is pretty reasonable considering this one went for $14, and basically has four rounded corners. The Parent rookie at the beginning of this post suits this argument as well. I paid $32 for it, yet a search of completed auctions on eBay for a '68 Topps Parent currently turns up only this one, which went for $24 and is not centered as well as the one I picked up. Again, if you're not looking for absolute mint copies, and just want to know that the card you picked up hasn't been altered or doctored, you don't have to pay a premium for a graded example.
There are some other benefits to buying graded, like the fact that the cards tend to hold a higher resale value. If something happened and I had to part with my entire collection tomorrow, I know I'd get back for the graded cards roughly what I paid for them in the first place. The same cannot be said for a $150 hobby box that yields about $30 worth of market value. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a reason to buy graded. I buy plenty of wax and other things that don't "retain value", because I don't think the hobby is about retaining value, but it is a nice benefit.
So, in summary I agree that graded cards can lead to a pissing match about whose copy is "the best". I think paying 94K for a Gretzky rookie is nuts, when you can buy a near mint-mint copy like I did for around 300 bucks. But in all fairness I think that with the right approach they can be an integral part of a good collection. Then again, the great thing about this hobby is that everyone and every collection is different. What works for some doesn't work for others.
How about you, do you collect or have any graded cards?
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