Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Case for Graded Cards

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

1968-69 Topps - #89 - Bernie Parent (RC)

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)

1950 Bowman - #223 - Jimmy Russell

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)

1953-54 Parkhurst - #96 - Woody Dumart

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?


Jeremy said...

Have you read the book "The Card"? It's about the famous Gretzky Wagner card. It's pretty much well known that the card is sheet cut, but PSA graded it as authentic anyway. Graded cards are just a scam industry.

Nick B. said...

Great follow-up to Sal's article.

@Jeremy, I also read The Card and it just goes to show there are no shortage of "bad guys" in the industry, including the grading companies. The way the Wagner was first acquired really set a negative tone for the rest of the book for me. It just seemed very shady.

I also love when a fake patch or auto gets slabbed and the grading company says they don't authenticate the auto or the patch, just the card itself.

The whole concept is way too subjective for me to put any faith into graded cards.

Nathan said...

A very well written post.

I don't buy graded cards, but I do believe that there is a place for them in the hobby. I'd be more inclined to buy graded because of your first argument...especially if I were to get into much older sets some day.

Kazi said...

You bring up some really valid points but in the end, its the collector who determines the path they will take--

dogfacedgremlin said...

I got one of those TriStar Hidden Treasures boxes once and there was a Parkhurst Steve Yzerman in there. It was a BCCG grade of 10. Upon further review, there is a pretty visible nick in the bottom left hand corner of the card, like the ones you get when you try and put them into toploaders or sleeves too hard. This is one of 8 reasons why I don't trust grading companies.

Anonymous said...

I hate graded cards primarily because I'm a set builder and I find them really awkward to store and leaf through. Also, different companies have different-sized holders that don't work well together.

I will pick up the odd graded card if it's running under value for some reason, but I'll almost always crack it and put it in my set. My favourite is the card with perfect corners, but a tad off-centre. If it gets a 6.5 or even a 7, ir runs way less than the 8's and it looks just fine in a sheet.

GCA said...

The only graded cards I buy are T205s from 1911. I just started a team set of the NY Giants.
I think grading is good for sight-unseen purchases like you have done. You can be sure (at least we still hope so) that the card is authentic and really is in the condition reflected by the grade.
Having said that, I think grading is otherwise a corporate corruption of an honest recreational hobby. I think that a Gem Mint card should never be worth any more than a pristine raw version. High book value of the ungraded card should be the maximum of a graded one too. Because realistically, all grading at 9 or 10 does is cement the condition at Mint. Any of that other stuff about population among other graded cards or whatever is irrelevant.

shoeboxlegends said...

Thanks for all your comments everyone. This definitely gives me some varying perspective. I'll be adding "The Card" to my summer reading list...

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