When we were kids, we painstakingly organized our trading cards in their page protected binders to keep them pretty and pristine. This natural instinct to protect your trading cards comes in handy because the best looking cards make for the best appraised cards, and the most valuable ones. Trading and baseball card appraisals aren't as complicated as you might think, and with a little bit of money and an internet connection, you can get the ball rolling on learning more about the favorite cards in your collection.
What Is a Trading Card Appraisal?
An appraisal is a process where a professional with a ton of knowledge about a particular collectible assesses a piece and gives it an estimated value. With trading cards, the appraisal process is a little different. You don't necessarily need to visit an appraiser, but rather you need to get your cards graded. The grading process is essentially the same as an appraisal in the sense that a highly educated professional looks over your cards and gives them a letter or number grade (depending on their system) that correlates to worth. The higher the grade, the more valuable a card is going to be.
Granted, an appraiser can help navigate the specifics for how much an individual card's price range might be for the grade it has been given. But most of the grading authorities have their own estimated price logs for the cards they've graded in the past. And these, unlike appraiser services, are free.
Where Can You Get Your Trading Cards Graded?
If you're a trading card collector or have a huge collection of old cards from your childhood, you're incredibly lucky. Unlike most other collectibles, it's super easy to get into contact with one of the major grading companies. Each has their own system and requirements that you'll want to consider, so you know that you're sending your cards to the right place for you.
Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)
The PSA is the leading titan in the trading card grading world. Not only do they provide grading services, but they also have a huge catalog of previous sales, lists of cards that are currently available, and so much more. For a PSA card, the highest and most valuable grade is a Gem Mint 10. Every decreasing grade lowers a card's value because it means it's in almost perfect to very poor condition.
Because PSA is the industry leader, you'll definitely get your money's worth. However, you'll end up paying a pretty penny too. If you want your cards graded quickly, you'll have to pay increasing amounts of up to $600 per card. The cheapest option for inexpensive cards has an estimated wait time of 120 days. Additionally, the more valuable you think a card is going to end up being, the more money you'll have to pay for PSA to grade it.
Beckett Grading Services (BGS)
Beckett Grading Services is a close-second in terms of the trading card grading world. While PSA excels in having a lot of user databases and analytics for card collecting, BGS offers a lot more options in their specific grading system. Not only do they rank their cards on a number system, with 10 being a perfect and highest score, but they also have special labels that high-value cards can achieve. For instance, a 'black label' card scores 10 across all grading categories.
If you like details, you'll enjoy BGS's reports because the company includes subscores which show where your cards ranked in four different subcategories. Also, if you want to save some money, BGS's most expensive packages only reach the $50 per card range, which is incredibly less than PSA.
SGC holds their own against the two main titans of the grading world, and they're well-known for being the cheapest option out there. Their grading services are just as authentic and rigorous, but they don't come with the same reputation that PSA and BGS have. This reputation can have an impact on a card's sale price since buyers are drawn to the pedigree that comes with PSA and BGS labels. But, if you're just trying to get your cards graded for the least amount of money, SGC is the way to go.
When Should You Get Your Cards Graded?
Unless you're a serious card collector, the main reason you'd want to get your card(s) graded is because you think they're worth some money. Grading provides the documentation that assures collectors and buyers that a card is authentic, in good condition, and sometimes rare/special. Of course, that's all well and good, but not everyone knows what a winning card looks like at first glance.
Thankfully, there are some things you can look for on your own, and if enough of these characteristics pop up on a card or two, it might be worth investing in having them graded.
- They're in pristine physical condition. Look all around the card for any damage, wear and tear, stains, watermarks, or bending. These minute details can mean the difference between a high and low grade, and the more perfect a card looks to your eye, the better chance it has of being worth something.
- You find low quantity numbers. Quantity is usually marked in a fraction, and the lower the bottom number, the rarer the card is. One-of-one cards, which are normally marked 1/1 (or something similar) are the rarest cards possible, and worth a lot.
- Rookie cards are always a big draw. Rookie cards are usually lower quantity unless a player has had a huge press lead-up to their debut, and they're typically the most valuable card of any sports player's career.
- Signed cards can have double value. Autographed cards are interesting; the card itself has value, and the autograph has value. Put the two together, and you get 2x the value (depending on how desirable the card and autograph are).
Things to Keep in Mind During the Grading Process
The grading process really isn't that complicated. But, there are a few things you should consider before paying any grading service.
- A high grade doesn't automatically mean it's worth millions of dollars. All a high grade means is that a card is in the most pristine condition possible for that specific card. If your card was a mass-produced one people kept to commemorate something, chances are it's not worth that much money.
- You'll have to send your cards off to the grading company. Sending anything special that you own can be a hard thing to do and involves a lot of trust, but it's something you'll be expected to do if you want your cards graded.
- Grading costs money. Any service is going to cost you something, and the same goes for getting your cards looked at by a professional. You have to pay them for their time, and the more cards you want looked at, the more time they have to spend, and the more money it'll cost you.
- Getting a card graded doesn't mean it'll be easy to sell. Getting a card graded does set your cards apart from others on the auction circuit, but it doesn't guarantee that someone will actually buy it. That's up to who's in the audience and interested in collecting your piece.
Treat Your Cards Well
Getting your trading cards graded is the most important step you can take before putting them on the market. Not only does grading put the cards in the system to be compared to others in the future, it also gives them a stamp of professional approval that increases the chance they'll be bought for a good amount of money.