Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Discussing the Grading BUSINESS Again


I think its time to revisit the grading discussion, because this Strasburg card is about to get a lot of publicity for BGS, and I have a feeling they knew what the card's grade was before it was even submitted. I have always been a person who has rallied against the grading of cards by organizations like Beckett and PSA, because so many people don’t see the obvious conflict of interests that are inherantly present in running things the way they are run. Grading is a business, and from what I have been told, it is the most profitable part of each of the companies that do it. The problem is, so many people refuse to question anything that is set in slab, and that is the main reason why I feel it is necessary for me to comment on this for the hundredth time.

Grading was started back in the 1990s to help combat fraud for people who were just starting to buy and sell on the dark ages of the internet and eBay, but has turned into something completely different. Because the service offers ABOVE mint grades for some reason, people have started to use it as a way to bolster value on a card that would normally sell for lower prices. Its rarely used for modern cards in a way that echoes the original intent of the service, but that can be expected from the end user. Its kind of odd that BGS has actually started to cater to that crowd in recent years, and that is the reason why things are getting so out of hand. It has everything to do with the fact that BGS is a subsidiary of a magazine that has no relevancy in the hobby anymore, and the grading BUSINESS is the one thing that can do for circulation numbers what a slab would do to a raw card.

Based on this fact, I want you to start to think about the conflicts of interest that creates. You need to create repeat customers, and how do you do that under most normal business circumstances? Without a doubt, you do everything in your power make the customer happy. How do you make the customer happy in this sense? Well if you have a customer that repeatedly sends in huge orders, why not give him a little bump, right? He has a bunch of cards bordering that elusive 9.5? Well, get him that 9.5 so that he keeps coming back. I remember a while ago someone actually did an experiment with PSA and found that larger orders averaged better grades on the same cards than a smaller or individual order. Its common sense that this would happen, so why doesn’t anyone consider it to be a problem?

The reason is because when you think of the perceived legitimacy of the slab itself, there is no reason to question a result, unless it is unfavorable. If you are lucky enough to get a 10 on any scale for your card, no person in their right mind would ever resubmit it just to check and see if it could be duplicated, right? So, if a company wanted to bump a few orders for a VIP, no one would ever come back to them and say what they think is actually going on. Where is the need?

I still havent gotten to the meat of the conflict of interest though, and here it is. Because there is no governing regulatory industry that offers inspections on the different services, companies have no responsibility to their customers to provide accurate services. Because the service is run and performed by humans in the first place, bias is unavoidable, and therefore puts doubt into the whole process. Ill give you an example. Look at the BGS 10 Montana that was the talk of the town last time the National Card Show rolled around. It sold for $19,900 more than a raw one and tens of thousands more than a 9.5. Its funny how that type of occurrance hits the news during the biggest card show of the year. Not only that, but who is to say that it wasn’t manufactured publicity? Its pretty easy to make a Montana 9.5 a 10, mainly because Beckett has singlehandedly created an above mint culture in the hobby. Can any normal casual buyer make a case why a 9.5 is a 9.5 and a 10 is a 10? No. In fact, there probably isnt a person that can make a case like that in most instances.

Then when you see the publicity it got for a company that desperately needed it, the conflict of interest that grading presents becomes much more clear. There is no agency that will come and knock down Beckett's door if they grade the card "incorrectly," so why not give yourself some free advertising?

I also think its worth mentioning that both services do offer crossover grading, which is basically a way for collectors to beef up their grade gotten from another service. Funny how that is. There has also been a surge in slab crackers, or people that take poor results and resubmit multiple times for better grades, in recent years. Because there is so much subjectivity and arbitrary situations that are part of the service, people like this can get the result they want if they try enough times. If grading was the service it advertised, that type of problem wouldn’t happen.

Although there is a standard of grading, or so Beckett and PSA say, there is no doubt in my mind that this Strasburg 1/1 will be graded at least a 9.5 for the exact reasons I just mentioned. No magazine without customer responsibility would invite that kind of negativity about a card that is so important to their success. However, due to the off centered print of the card, they may be asking for a lot of people to start shouting my concerns from the rooftops.

Is there a place for grading in this hobby? Sure. Beckett has created that on their own. People value graded cards. But those cards have holes, and its important that some people realize that before dropping thousands on a "pristine" copy of a card they love, because that pristine card may be pristine for a reason other than its condition.


  1. It makes no sense for that guy to get the card graded - it is a one of one. There is no other card to compare it to. You are right Beckett is not going to grade it an 8.

    There may be a place for grading in the industry for only those who can give the grades. There is no school you can go to get a graders diploma. There is no State license to get to become a grader. It is something very arbitary and smells of manipulation.

    I just don't why Robert Power did this. It just does not feel right.

  2. RE: Conflict of interest

    Imma just leave this right here.


  3. This is an excellent piece.
    I have a 2008 Goudey Jeter AUTO. I paid more than I really think the card is worth, because it was graded a 9.5 by BGS. There is absolutely no reason why the card shouldn't be a 10. I have looked at, conservatively 3 - 4 million cards in my life, and I can not find anything wrong with the card.
    What makes a 10 a 10? Great question.

  4. Good stuff. It's a point I try to make, but I can never articulate it. I'll just refer people to this post when I need to.

  5. On August 8/28/08 this topic was one of the first things The VOTC covered. http://www.voiceofthecollector.com/2008/08/graded-card-conspiracy.html

  6. I think the whole idea of grading is a little silly and always have. More power to the companies for figuring out how to cash in on the process, you can't blame them for making a buck. It's the people who put extraordinarily high values on subjective grades that create a bit of a problem!

    It's not the worst option for vintage, it at least guarantees (supposedly) authenticity, but I don't understand it for new stuff.

  7. Let us not forget that probably THE biggest reason PSA popped up was the PSA 8 Honus Wagner card.

    The original owner/seller (Bill Mastro) needed the card to be graded somehow to prove to the world it was not altered (even though many people to this day still say it was). Lucky for Mastro, one of the earliest hires for PSA was a good friend of his (Bill Hughes).

    Well, guess who just happened to grade that Wagner?

    Ever since I have read the book about the Wagner card, I have been terribly leery of the grading card business and I have only purchased TWO graded cards myself, and they are both PC.

    By the way, that book is "The Card" by Michael O'Keefe and Teri Thompson. If you haven't already, you should check it out. Pretty interesting stuff in there.

  8. Written on twitter to Beckett Editor Chris Olds: @chrisolds2009 strasburg centering looks BGS 9.5 /sarcasm. ;)2:12 PM Jun 26th via PockeTwit in reply to chrisolds2009. Chris Olds’ reply: @cardboardicons don't encourage them. (this one ain't good at all)2:14 PM Jun 26th via TweetDeck in reply to cardboardicons Nice to see Chris Olds acknowledge that this is a major problem, but why would he say not to encourage us to fight an injustice? Thank you for everyone else for being outspoken in thoughtful and thorough ways. Thank you for all those who screamed from the rooftops long before the 9.5 Strasburg about the racket that is Beckett. Fight the powers that be! It’s what you, your wallet, and your children deserve. Quit being outspoken against your own interests, and quit helping some rich people get even richer. Tell your hobby stores that you’re boycotting Beckett and their store until they join the cause. “This one ain’t good at all.”