Making the (PSA) Grade – Part 1

How do you tell the difference between Gem Mint, Near Mint-Mint and Excellent-Mint?

When it comes to defining the do’s and don’ts of managing your collection, one of the first rules of thumb is to preserve your cards. Because if you choose to sell some of them – or your entire cardboard collection – condition will be a critical factor when it comes to closing the deal. And cards graded by PSA will no doubt yield you the biggest payday.

Whether your assortment falls under the pre-war category (oldies but goodies), the vintage class (1950’s, ‘60s and ‘70s) or the modern era, player selection and card condition are two of the most important parts to the equation. And the grades your cards receive can either help pay for your daughter’s high school graduation gift or for her entire college education. It really is that big of a deal.

Say you wake up one day and discover that your great grandfather left you a foot locker full of T206 cards. Or that your dear departed dad, who passed away when you were eight, willed to you his entire 1952 Topps Baseball card collection once you secured your bachelor’s degree. Well guess what recent college graduate? It’s your lucky day and now is the time to cash in. And a better understanding of PSA’s card grading scale can not only help you in determining your set’s worth but also in gauging your own expectation level of financial prosperity. (NOTE: There are half grades throughout PSA’s 10-1 scale, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll explore only whole grades in this article.)

PSA CARD GRADING SCALE

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in PSA Gem Mint 10.

GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint): A PSA GEM-MT 10 is a virtually perfect card, from its four sharp corners and no creasing to its sharp focus and full original gloss intact. A card that earns this distinction must be free of any staining, though allowances are made for slight printing imperfections if they don’t impair the card’s overall appeal. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front and 75/25 percent on the reverse.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in Mint 9.

MINT 9 (Mint): A PSA Mint 9 is a superb condition card that exhibits only one of the following minor flaws: a very slight wax stain on the reverse, a minor printing imperfection or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 60/40 to 65/35 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in Near Mint-Mint 8.

NM-MT 8 (Near Mint-Mint): A PSA NM-MT 8 is a super high-end card that appears Mint 9 at first glance, but upon closer inspection can exhibit one or more of the following: a very slight wax stain on the reverse, slightest fraying at one or two corners, a minor printing imperfection and/or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 65/35 or 70/30 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in Near Mint 7.

NM 7 (Near Mint): A PSA NM 7 is a card showing slight surface wear visible only upon close inspection. There may be slight fraying on some corners. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register although a minor printing blemish is acceptable. Slight wax staining is acceptable on the back of the card only. Most of the original gloss is retained. Centering must be approximately 70/30 to 75/25 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in Excellent-Mint 6.

EX-MT 6 (Excellent-Mint): A PSA EX-MT 6 card may have visible surface wear or a printing defect which does not detract from its overall appeal. A very slight scratch may be detected only upon close inspection. Corners may have slightly graduated fraying and picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. Card may show some loss of its original gloss, may have minor wax stain on reverse, may exhibit very slight notching on edges and may also show some off-whiteness on borders. Centering must be 80/20 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in Excellent 5.

EX 5 (Excellent): On a PSA EX-5 card, minor rounding of the corners is becoming evident. Surface wear or printing defects are more visible. There may be minor chipping on edges. Loss of original gloss will also be more apparent. Focus of picture may be slightly out-of-register. Several light scratches may be visible upon close inspection but don’t detract from the appeal of the card. Card may show some off-whiteness of borders. Centering must be 85/15 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the back.

PSA’s card grading scale goes much deeper and trickles all the way down to PR 1 (Poor), which classifies a card that may have advanced to such a serious stage of deterioration that the eye appeal of the card has nearly vanished. Additional classifications include OC (off center); ST (staining); PD (print defect); OF (out of focus); MK (marks) and MC (miscut).

The difference in prices obtained at auction between a GEM-MT 10 and an EX-MT 6 card can be astounding. Take, for instance, this comparison of the 1948 Bowman George Mikan rookie card (RC) #69. In December 2015, SCP Auctions sold the only PSA GEM-MT 10 version of the Mikan RC known to exist for $403,664. A little more than two years later, Heritage Auctions sold one of 3,750 versions of the same card that was graded EX-MT 6 by PSA for $3,186. That’s a $400,000 swing based on just four grades down. That’s an astronomical difference!

Another jaw-dropping example can be found with the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #31 when just a half point separates it from the competition. Cards that exhibit high-end qualities within each grade may achieve a half-point increase. In December 2015, Heritage Auctions sold a version that was graded PSA 8 for $525,800. Eleven months later, Heritage sold a PSA 8.5 example for $1,315,300. That’s more than two and a half times the value based on just half a percentage point. Suffice it to say, it’s in the best interest of collectors to get their cards graded by PSA.

Next time we’ll explore some of the differences that distinguish cards between a VG-EX 4 (Very Good-Excellent) grade to a GOOD 2 (Good) to the previously mentioned PR 1 (Poor). Once again, depending on the player’s popularity and the card’s collectability, you may very well be surprised with some of the results even the lesser grades can still yield at auction.

Posted by Terry Melia

Terry Melia is a hobby veteran who has served in various PR and marketing roles for industry movers and shakers including The Upper Deck Company and SCP Auctions and is currently working as PSA's Public Relations Specialist.

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