What is football trading card grading?

October 1, 2020

If you want to buy, sell or collect football trading cards of any kind, it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of the grading system. This guide will assume that you have little to no starting knowledge so you can find all of the basics here.

Trading card grading is fairly self-explanatory. It’s the process by which trading cards receive a guarantee of condition, allowing the owners/buyers to begin to evaluate its rarity and value. A graded card has been checked by a third party and rated on its overall condition, generally based around things like authenticity, damage and print-quality. Graders usually rate these individual factors on a 10-point scale and the ratings are combined to give an overall score

What companies grade trading cards?

The most popular grading service is PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators). PSA have become embedded in the trading card vernacular, similarly to how the ‘hoover’ brand has become synonymous with vacuum cleaners and the Jacuzzi brand has become synonymous with hot tubs. If you’re looking into buying or selling trading cards, it wouldn’t take you very long to hear something described as a PSA 10, for example. Next to PSA, Beckett Grading Services (BGS) is the second most popular grading option. In trading circles Beckett, in particular, are often considered to have the most rigorous grading procedure. They also offer a more in depth breakdown of the grades given to certain areas of the card. Whether this association with strict grading is earned or not, a BGS 10 may well hold more value than a 10 in another system, as a result.

PSA and BGS are the most significant players in the grading field but it would still be safest to research the other options before using any grading service. It’s also a good idea to have an understanding of the market, when evaluating the value of cards. As mentioned above, some systems produce more valuable cards. It’s also possible that you will find cards with an unfamiliar grading system that doesn’t belong to any company. If you see a collection of 3 letters and a number (e.g. GAI 10) that is unrecognisable, it is likely a defunct grading system.

What is a Gem Mint 10 and what scale are cards graded on?

This is the most important section for buyers. The knowledge of what the grading numbers mean and a general understanding of the perception of each of them will be essential, if you plan to buy or sell a card, graded or not. Knowing the defined ratings is useful but understanding the associated value of a certain rating will allow you to make money trading. As mentioned earlier, a Beckett 10 may have a higher value than a 10 on another grading scale. Similarly, even if a card looks to be in good condition on the surface, If it receives a low score, no buyer will care whether you feel the grading was fair.

PSA will be used for these descriptions but similar rules apply to the other grading systems. More detailed information can be found on the websites of the grading companies.

Gem Mint 10

As a general rule, a Gem Mint 10, or whatever the highest rating available is, denotes that the card is in almost perfect condition. PSA defines it as a ‘virtually perfect card’. The corners will be clean and sharp, the face will be free of blemishes and the printing will be aligned. Depending on the grader and the system used, some very minor imperfections may be allowed.

Mint 9

A 9 will be allowed 1 minor imperfection, like borders that are slightly off. Otherwise, it will look very similar to a 10.

Near Mint-Mint 8

An 8 will appear to be mint condition but can have a slightly more significant imperfection than a card that would receive a 9. A card that appears perfect would be an 8 if one of the corners of the card was slightly frayed, for example.

Near Mint 7

There is a fairly significant drop to a 7, with blemishes and damage beginning to become more visible to untrained observers. A 7 can have surface wear, minor stains (only on the back), slight fraying and some misalignment issues.

From 6 and below, there is a significant drop off in desirability. Cards become less defined by their closeness to mint condition and damage becomes far more visible. It is worth noting that grading systems are designed to evaluate relative to perfect condition. A PSA 3 will still be in fantastic condition compared to cards that you might have played with as a child for example. Because of this, PSA even label cards rated as a 3 as ‘very good’. The lowest grading is a ‘Poor 1’, given to cards that are often creased and torn to the point where even a layman would say that it is in a bad condition.

This rule won’t hold true for more extreme examples but, as a whole, cards graded as a 9 or 10 are the most desirable by a distance. Collectors will often send a card back for regrading if it receives a 7 or an 8 because the value increases a lot if it gets a 9. Less wealthy collectors will often try to build a full set of cards in a certain condition (e.g. a full arsenal team graded as a 7) so 7’s and 8’s are still sought after, even of the less rare cards.

Should you get your cards graded?

The answer to this question mainly comes down to a few factors.

  1. How valuable is the card that you want to be graded? If the value of your card would be less than the cost of the grading, there is obviously no point. Make sure you research possible prices of the card before you get it graded.
  2. What condition is your card in? If your card is visibly damaged or off-centre its unlikely to receive a grade worth paying for. There are obviously exceptions to this but the entire point of grading is to verify the condition of a card. There isn’t generally much point in paying to have significantly damaged cards graded, only to have their poor condition verified and no value gained.
  3. Do you have multiple cards to send out? Most of the companies responsible for grading offer lower prices for bulk orders. If you only have 1 card to check, you should wait until you have more so you can benefit from a lower price. If you only have one and you don’t play on buying more, your best option would likely be to sell ungraded, unless you believe that the card is valuable and would be rated a 9 or a 10.

How can you get a trading card graded? Because of the internet, it’s easier than ever to get cards graded. All you need to do is visit the website of your preferred grading system (as mentioned earlier, we generally suggest PSA or BGS) and follow the steps. Most of them will require that you create a free account, before selecting the size and type of card you will be submitting. This is also where you’ll find the pricing of their services. Bulk orders are cheaper but may have other limitations. There is also a membership option, where you pay a monthly fee for various benefits, including reduced prices. Beginners shouldn’t consider buying a membership until they’ve used the service multiple times though. It is only worth doing if you plan to invest a significant amount of time and effort into buying, selling and learning about the market.

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