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Condition and Grading
'14 Polo Grounds Rube Marquard Mint condition and '40 Play Ball Ted Williams Poor condition
One of the most important aspects of a card is its condition. While there are no set rules as to how cards receive a price, one constant is condition. With all other things identical between two cards, the card in better condition will be worth more. If you look at the lists of cards for sale in a magazine or website, each card is followed by its condition, or 'grade.' Some people pay money to have professional organizations grade their cards. The condition or grade of cards is important stuff.
In this section you will learn how to asses card's condition, otherwise known as 'grading a card.'
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The grades for cards are as follows, from best to worst.
Near Mint-Mnt (Nrmt-Mt)
Near Mint (Mt)
Very Good (Vg)
These are the terms you will learn how to use. Before long, giving cards one of these terms will be second nature.
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Age makes no difference in the grade. Some people mistakenly believe that older cards are graded differently than new cards. Mint is Mint is Mint, no matter what the age.
It is generally true that older or sensitive cards are harder to find in higher conditions. For example, there is believed to be only one Mint 1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko, and there are many turn-of-the-century cards where no Mint examples exist. These cards get a strong premium (higher price) when found in top condition. But these are cards graded in the same way as cards printed this year.
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Important Aspects of Condition:
Some people want perfectly centered cards and with others centering may be less of a concern. But either way it is a part of condition.
The centering of a card is shown by a series of numbers representing the percentage border of a card. Below are some examples of this centering ratios.
50/50 means the centering is perfect. The border on one side is exactly the same width as the border on the other side.
0/100 means the centering is totally off. All of the border is on one side, and there is none on the other.
The rations are represented in numbers devisable by five. You won't see rations such as 23/73 or 12.666/87.444.
There are two centering ratios per card. The centering ratio is made for the card top-to-bottom and left-to-right. The below is an example of two centering rations for a card.
50/50 top-to-bottom and 60/40 left-to-right
Following are some cards and their centering.
This is a 1934 Diamond Star of the great pitcher, Lefty Grove.
The ratio is base on the white border surrounding the picture. A first glance, the centering looks pretty good. It's not quite perfect, but it looks nice.
If you measure the left border, it is 3 millimeters. The opposite border on the right 4 millimeters.
This works out to a rounded ratio of 40/60 left to right. Again, the ratio numbers are divisible by five, so there is always a bit of rounding.
The border at the top has a width of 3 millimeters, while the opposite border at the bottom is 5 millimeters. We will round this ration to 65/35 top to bottom.
So, this 1934 Diamond Star Lefty Grove is centered 40/60 left to right and 65/35 top to bottom.
1967 Topps Luis Aparacio
Just looking at this card, it is obvious that it has centering problems. Top-to-bottom, the centering is off but not bad. Left-to-right the centering is way off.
After measurements, the ratio top-to-bottom is 70/30.
The centering left-to-right would be 0/100 except you can see a sliver border on the right side. We will call the ration 5/95.
The 1967 Topps Luis Aparicio is centered 5/95 left/right and 70/30 top/bottom.
As you become more experience, centering will be come fairly easy. Most experienced collectors can come up with an accurate centering ration just be looking at card.
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A miscut card actually shows part of the adjacent card in its larger border and consequently a corresponding amount of its card is cut off. Cards are printed in sheets of many cards. The sheets are then cut up into singles. When a card is off center, this cutting was off one side to the other.
The hobby considers a miscut card severely damaged.
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Corner wear is the most scrutinizing grading criteria in the hobby. Corners are the most easily damaged part of the card.
The following are different degrees of corner wear:
CORNER WITH A SLIGHT TOUGH OF WEAR. The corner still is sharp but there is a slight tough of wear showing. On a dark-bordered card this shows as a dot of white.
FUZZY CORNER. The corner still comes to a point, but the point has just begun to fray.
SLIGHTLY ROUNDED CORNER: There is only the hint of a point, and there may be layering. Layering means that the different layers of the cardboard are revealed and overlap.
ROUNDED CORNER. The point is completely gone. Some layering is noticeable.
BADLY ROUDNED The corner is completely round and rough. Severe layering is evident
A common card defect is a crease. The degree of creasing in a card is difficult to show in a drawing or picture. The following are degrees of scale:
LIGHT CREASE: a light crease is a crease that is barely noticeable upon close inspection. These creases can be hidden from the eye if they are in holders or plastic sheets. Often this crease is revealed when putting the card under different light or showing at a different angle.
MEDIUM CREASE: a medium crease is noticeable when held and studied at arm's length by the naked eye but does not overly detract from the appearance of the card. It is an obvious crease but not one that breaks the picture surface of the card. This is often called a 'wrinkle.'
HEAVY CREASE A heavy crease is one that has torn or broken the card's picture surface, meaning that it has put a tear in the image surface.
Deceptive trimming occurs when someone alters the card in order to 1) shave off edge wear, 2) to improve the sharpness of the corners, or 3) to improve centering. These cards are considered altered. This 'shrinkage' is noticeable when closely compared with a regular sized card or measured. Many collectors won't buy such altered cards.
Obvious Trimming is easily noticeable and severely lowers the value of a card.
OTHER DEFECTS (varying in degree and severity)
Gum, wax, tobacco, candy or similar stains (as the result of how and with what cards were packaged)
loss of gloss
scratched off puzzles or scratched-offs
removed tabs or coupons
sun or chemical fading
pen marks or writing
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Grades of cards:
Mint No flaws, the perfect card. Four perfect corners, 55/45 or better centering, smooth edges, original color and gloss, no print spots, color or focus imperfections. A professionally graded mint card receives a large premium in price, often 200% or much more than Near Mint prices quoted in price guides. Many of the cards pictured in this book do not even in exist in this grade, and Mint examples would sell for lots of money. Gem Mint is the absolutely perfect card, considered higher than Mint. For example, for all the 1909-11 T206s out there, only a handful or so are Gem Mint.
Near Mint-Mint (Nrmt-Mt) Close, but not a Mint card. Centering must be 60/40 or better. There may be a minor flaw with the card such as a slight 'touch' (a light point of wear where the card was bumped or touched), the picture slightly out of focus, or a slight color imperfection. Nrmt-Mt cards also receive a premium in price over a Near Mint card. This premium is not as high as a Mint card. Again the cards from this book are rarely found in this high of grade. Cards from the 1990's are regularly found in this grade
Near Mint (Nrmt) Close, but not a Near Mint-Mint (Nrmt-Mt) card. Its centering can't be worse than 70/30. One of the following imperfections is allowable: very slight touch to two or three corners, slight wear to the edge, minor print spots or color imperfections. This is the standard grade which cards are measured buy in the hobby. The prices quoted in most books are for Near Mint cards.
Excellent-Mint (ExMt) Card may have visible surface wear or a printing defect which does not detract from its overall appearance. Corners may have slight fraying. The picture may be slightly out of focus. The card may show loss of original gloss or have a minor wax stain on the back. Centering must be 80/20 or better.
Excellent (Ex): Centering must be 80/20 or better, with four fuzzy corners. It may also have rough edges, minor discoloration, print spots or focus imperfections.
Very Good (Vg): This card shows wear, but still retains some attractiveness. Corners may be somewhat rounded. There may be edge wear, border discoloration, hairline creases.
Good (Gd), Fair (Fr), Poor (Pr): The bottom rung of cards. Good is the best and Poor is the worst. A Good card has significant wear, such as severe corner rounding, creasing, fading, staining or other problems. Altered or retouched cards will fall into this category). A Good card still retains some attractiveness. A Poor card has extreme problems, such as a significant part of it is missing, or ink or paint has marred it. The difference between a Fair and a Poor card, is that a fair card has some semblance of appeal while a Poor card is utterly repulsive.
Some cards are given a grade between grades. For example ExMt is really a grade between Ex and Nrmt. GdVg is a grade between Gd and Vg. VgEx is a grade between Vg and Ex.
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Some cards are described with qualifiers. For example, a card may be graded as Nrmt off center 0/100 left/right. This means that a card would be Nrmt but is off center. It is not a Nrmt card.
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How Condition Affect Price
The condition of a card directly affects it's price. Somr price guides usually list several prices for a particular card, with each price assigned to a particular condition.
The following is a general chart for price according to condition. Near Mint (Nrmt) is usually used as the standard grade or 100% of book price. Nrmt-Mt or Mt will be priced much higher than 100%, especially if old and/or condition sensitive.
Fair and Poor: less than 10%
In other words a card that is worth $100 in Nrmt condition, is worth $75 in ExMt, $50 in Ex, $20 in GdVg and so on.
It is important to note that while many auctions and sellers list the book price as a convenience for the bidder or buyer, the book price listed is usually for a Nrmt card. So an auction lot listing '1957 Topps Mickey Mantle Ex (Books $1,000 in Beckett Price Guide)' means that a Nrmt card books $1,000 in Beckett, but this one is in Ex condition. The buyer is expected to do the math.
Professionally Graded Cards
There are companies who offer 'objective' grading of cards. Grades are given using special formulas administered by experts. A number is usually assigned to a card (1-10, or 1-100) with a particular number corresponding to a grade. A graded card is then sealed in a special tamper proof holder, given a serial number which is kept in their records. Many graders will not grade cards they deem altered or forged, so graded cards have stamp of authenticity.
Especially when buying expensive cards, many find it comforting to buy a card that has been professionally graded.
There are a lot of strong opinions good and bad on Professional Grading. In general I think that professional graders are not perfect but useful. From what I have seen the grade is generally reliable and the companies are well run. If I owned a Gem Mint 33 Goudey Ruth I would probably have it graded. In the end whether or not to use a professional grader is your choice.
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What grades to Collect.
Choosing a grade of card to collect is a personal choice. While the highest grades are the most desirable, they are also the most expensive. You had better have a lot of money if you are going to collect only Mint Pre-War cards.
Most people collect lower grade cards, Vg to ExMt. A little ding, wrinkle or off-centering doesn't bother a lot of collectors. While badly marred pictures are unpopular, lower grade cards often retain eye-appeal without the high price tag. While a high grade Joe Jackson may be out of most collector's leagues, a worn example may be affordable.
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