To grade or not to grade?

There are many reasons to have cards professionally graded – but also reasons why grading may not be worthwhile. Here are a few pointers.

Financial reasons not to grade a card

Grading is not always likely to increase a modern card’s value.

Damaged or modified cards

In general, most experienced card collectors don’t choose to grade cards which are in poor condition, such as cards which are damaged (e.g. bent, scratched or frayed), and never for cards which are modified (e.g. cut, coloured, ‘waxed’, or altered in any other way).

In general, the reason why it may not be financially worthwhile grading a card in poor condition is because reputable grading companies like PSA will either give the card a poor grading (rated on a scale of 1 to 10), or in some cases, not provide a grade at all.

Modern cards which receive poor gradings are very unlikely to increase in value. In fact, having a card confirmed to be of poor quality by a reputable grading company may only provide reasons for a buyer to either ignore the card sale altogether, or otherwise seek to negotiate a lower price.

Of course – like any collectable item – some buyers will still buy cards in poor condition, however often at a (heavily) discounted price.

For cards which have been modified or altered, reputable grading companies like PSA will most likely not grade the card at all. If PSA doesn’t grade the card, they won’t charge a fee in some cases; however, the owner of the card is still liable for shipping costs, in addition to any other shipping insurances if purchased.

Slabd staff are usually able to identify modified or altered cards on physical inspection, and will recommend avoiding sending them off for grading.

Counterfeit cards

Grading companies generally won’t grade counterfeit cards for the obvious reason that counterfeit cards are generally worthless. Of course, individuals who counterfeit cards or knowingly deceive buyers about the authenticity of cards can face civil, or in extreme cases, criminal repercussions.

Overspending – not worth the cost

Grading a card which is not particularly valuable – even if the card is in excellent condition – is unlikely to materially increase its value.

Consider spending $24.95 to send a card off for grading (Slabd’s least expensive option – minimum three-card orders, or 3 x $24.95): in this example, if the un-graded card is expected to be sold for a value of $40, the owner would very likely have lost money compared to not grading it and having sold it at the un-graded expected sale price.

The situation is made all the worse for those who send single or a small number of cards to be graded themselves compared to sending through services like Slabd. Compared to sending cards to PSA directly, individuals can save money by going to companies like Slabd who can reduce costs due to the high volumes of cards they frequently send to be graded.

Grading is also generally more expensive for certain card types, such as newer cards (from 2017 onwards) or in certain other cases (for example, certain cards between 1972-2016).

Financial reasons to grade a card

Grading can – and in the right circumstances very likely will – increase a card’s value.

Valuable and/or rare cards

Grading a card which is rare and/or highly-valuable is generally very likely to increase a card’s value, especially if the card is in excellent condition.

Consider the expected return-on-investment of restoring a rare classic car compared to a mass-produced low-end family sedan. The same is true for collector cards, where usually greater financial returns are realised when the card is already valuable and/or rare.

Of course, many factors affect a card values: rarity; desirability (e.g. player, era, or team); uniqueness; or other special features (e.g. signatures, rare editions, or cards which are made from or contain unique physical materials).

Cards in good, excellent, or ‘new’ condition

Like all valuable objects, condition makes all the difference. Highly-graded cards are much more likely to attract higher sale values, especially from experienced collectors.  In fact, many experienced buyers may only buy graded cards.

New cards ‘fresh out of the pack’ may be one of the most likely items to appreciate in value by grading. Since the condition of new cards is likely to be excellent, by grading the card, the seller can assure buyers of its premium condition.

Card grading is especially important for online selling, where physical inspection is not usually possible, and as sellers increasingly demand quality assurances.

Other reasons to grade a card

To some collectors, financial considerations aren’t the main – or even an important – factor in deciding to grade a card.

Some collectors limit their purchases to single or a select few player(s), team(s) or event(s). For those with niche collections, knowing their items are in excellent condition can be an important consideration.

Likewise, collectors with personal or sentimental attachments to particular cards may also take comfort in knowing their items are professionally graded.

Gifts and endowments are other possible non-financial reasons for deciding to grade a card, for some or all of the reasons listed above.

What’s right for you?

Whether or not you grade your card may be a financial, personal or other non-financial decision. Slabd staff can help you determine if it’s worthwhile grading your cards, based on the card’s significance, condition and your motivations.

Additional resources

Disclosure: The information provided in this article is general in nature. Card collectors and traders should consider their own circumstances to assess if this information is appropriate for their situation.