My Love-Hate Relationship With PSA, SGC & BGS

Consider this a quasi-follow-up to my History-Destroying Relic Cards post from a couple weeks ago. On another website where I write more about my own personal life than here, I had a different post inspired by the same news item that inspired the HDRC post: Upper Deck’s and Marvel’s destruction of vintage comic books to create relic cards. As a result of that post, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine regarding the collecting vintage comics in the equivalent of fair condition or worse. Along the way, I brought up one of the benefits of the professional grading services when it comes to sports cards: the perma-slab that encases the card itself and how it allows you to both store and look at the card without inflicting any additional damage to the card.

I actually have a serious love-hate relationship when it comes to PSA, SGC, BGS and their lesser-known brethren. I’ve already noted what I view as the primary benefit of their service, which is especially important in the case of pre-WW II product. The fact is that there are no great storage and display options available for such material — especially when the card is in the type of condition as the 1911 T205 Gold Border John Lobert shown here (yes, this card is from my personal collection). For all I know, there is some serious layering occurring at the one or more of the corners (a safe assumption given the grade assigned to it) but all I can currently see, without cracking the case open and destroying the slab, is what looks like paper loss at a couple of them. Yet, I will never know, and better still, I can now store this card and never worry about accidentally damaging it further.

Admittedly, the other reason for purchasing this card in a professional graded slab is the very reason professional grading started: relative* piece of mind regarding the card’s condition and authenticity when buying it sight unseen. Yes, I do pay a slight premium for the privilege, and for the most part I am okay with it. But, this also happens to be where the blurry divide in my love-hate relationship begins. What’s become obvious is that many sellers and dealers on eBay are demanding an inordinately high premium for this privilege. I completely get it when a tobacco card professionally graded at NM or higher gets more than twice (sometimes way more) its book value, but when dealers start trying to apply that type of mark-up to cards in only fair, good or very good condition, I get really annoyed. I know the free market will supposedly work its magic and that if dealers don’t get what they’re asking then the price will eventually come down. On the other, I do worry that such a thing will never happen.

Yes, I know I have the option of buying non-graded cards. However, I don’t have the time to attend card shows where I’m more likely to find them, and I don’t like the hit-or-miss aspect of buying pre-WW II cards sight unseen. And, as I’ve already stated, there is the fact that I like the protective casing that they place on the older cards. It’s quite the conundrum for me, as someone who has an interest and the resources (albeit limited) to collect cards of that vintage.

There are other reasons I don’t care for graded cards, but that has mostly to do with their use for brand new or relatively recent product and I stay away from those cards. I’ll save more on those thoughts for another time.

* I say “relative” because I’ve long been aware — well before reading Dave Jamieson’s Mint Condition — that the grading companies aren’t as vigilant as they would like us to believe in regards to determining which cards have been altered, that they aren’t as consistent as they would like us to believe when grading cards, and that they face a huge conflict of interest in regards to the fact that they their primary customers are the dealers who send them large volumes of material to grade, not the collectors.

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