Beginner’s Guide to Trading Card Value14 min read

We’ve all been there. You hear your childhood trading cards have spiked in value, so you track down that dusty box hidden in your closet and start sifting through the collectibles of the past, in hopes of finding valuable trading cards.

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Yes, trading cards have come a long way since decorating the spokes of children’s bikes or lining the junk drawer. The advent of the Internet connected collectors across the world, and forums and online auction sites like eBay provided a platform to trade, buy and sell cards as they please. This mass connection of collectors has led to spreading the love of the hobby and in many cases, a dramatic spike in value for various trading cards. Now lots of former collectors are searching for those dusty boxes.

1869 Peck & Snyder Card

Assigning value to trading cards can be a difficult task. With millions of trading cards printed every year ­– ranging from sports to non-sports, trading card games (TCG), and everything in between ­– finding the key details of each card and its corresponding value can be easier said than done. There’s a lot of cardboard to cover; trading cards date back to roughly the 1860s, after all!

As this hobby grows in popularity, some of these cards continue to climb in value. Cards like the fabled T-206 Honus Wagner or iconic 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 have commanded seven-figure paydays at auction! If only there were a single website, complete with some sort of online card price guide to keep track of all of these cards, auctions and values …

This 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, graded PSA Mint 9, sold for $2,880,000 at auction.

That’s where the online resources at www.PSAcard.com come in. PSA is the premier third-party trading card authentication and grading company, which means that the scarcest and most legendary cards in the world have been evaluated by PSA, including multiple examples of the Wagner and Mantle cards mentioned above.

Over the years, PSA has compiled an extensive online archive of essential trading card info, including trading card value as it relates to PSA’s 1-10 Grading Scale. (We’ll cover that shortly.)

Back to our little trading card scenario. After locating your old trading cards, sifting through the box and setting aside the cards you think might be worth something, what do you do from there? How do you know which cards are valuable? And, in the event you do have cardboard commodities, what next?

After reading this guide, those burning questions will be answered and you’ll be on your way to becoming a guru of trading card value, using the wealth of PSA’s online resources.

What Impacts Card Value?

Before we delve into PSA’s online resources to figure out how much your cards are worth, let’s explore some of the factors that influence trading card value. Everything from when the card was printed, how much of it was printed, and its condition, can impact a card’s value. We’ll start with supply, or in this case, rarity.

In general economic principle, when supply is down, demand and, in turn, value, increases. Seems like a simple concept, right? Trading cards can act the same but with some key differences. (We’ll touch on that shortly.) Still, the concepts of card rarity and value are at times linked in a similar fashion, not unlike the Scarcity Principle.

In broad strokes, the Scarcity Principle states that the price of a good (trading card, in this case) in low supply will increase to meet its heightened demand.

In short: people want more of the things (trading cards) there are less of, which can increase value. With that said, just because a card is in short supply will not always make it valuable.

For instance, say Nabisco collaborated with Michael Jordan and placed an ultra rare Michael Jordan promotional card in one of every 1000 boxes of Chips Ahoy! The card is rare, yes, but there might not be a market for it. If the card is in short supply but isn’t popular – isn’t in demand – value isn’t likely to follow. But at least you’ll have a box of hypothetical cookies.

However, when cards are released to mass appeal and are immediately popular, this concept proves very true. A recent example can be seen from a TCG card standpoint. Just look at 1st Edition Pokémon cards. They were the first cards of what became a popular series. And, they were produced in much smaller quantities than subsequent issues, which has made them, in part, more desirable and valuable to collectors.

1st Edition Pokémon cards command more value than subsequent releases, like these Blastoise cards above.

In general, the wildly popular 1999 1st Edition Pokémon cards are more valuable and sought after than issues that followed – as seen in the 1st Edition (left) and Unlimited (right) Blastoise cards pictured above. Though they may look the same, there are subtle differences, and collectors know these differences.

It doesn’t hurt that the cards were the first Pokémon issues to feature the striking artwork of revered animator Mitsuhiro Arita.

Other Influences on Card Value

In addition to rarity, factors like popularity, print year and condition can all impact a card’s value. Alas, there’s no magic formula that will automatically determine if you have a cardboard commodity on your hands, but rarity + popularity + condition = value can at least serve as a handy guideline.

Just remember, there are exceptions to every rule and these combined factors won’t necessarily equate to a valuable trading card, nor are they sure to diminish a card’s value. There are scarce, seemingly popular cards that command only modest values. And there are cards that are anything but scarce, yet popularity takes over and leads to impressive price tags.

Michael Jordan’s rookie card can sell for as high as $32k in PSA 10 and $6,000 in PSA 9 grades.

Take Michael Jordan’s 1986 Fleer #57 rookie for instance, or even Mike Trout’s 2011 Topps Update #US175. Both cards saw vast production runs, especially Trout’s, but both prove an exception to the rule and are valued highly by collectors. Jordan’s rookie card can sell for as high as $32,000 in PSA 10 and Trout’s card in PSA 10 is currently valued at $1,200.

Trout’s 2011 Topps Update rookie card still commands values around $1,200, despite seeing large production numbers.

PSA Population Report

To get an idea of a card’s supply, as far as PSA-graded examples go, look no further than the PSA Population Report (Pop Report, for short). This useful resource is exactly what it sounds like, an online catalog of a given card graded by PSA, in a given PSA grade.

Just head to the PSA Pop Report, enter the card name within the field, locate your desired card from the clickable link and peruse the corresponding card data.

The card quantities will be listed in order of PSA Grade, from left to right, starting with “Authentic” and ending in PSA Gem Mint 10.

But here we are, talking about different factors to influence card value when condition really is key. Cards in great condition garner higher grades, which typically equates to greater values.

Speaking of condition, it’s about time we cover PSA’s 1-10 grading scale.

Learning the PSA Grading Scale

From Poor to Gem Mint and everything in between, PSA’s Grading Standards assigns a numeric grade to a given card. As we mentioned earlier, the coveted PSA Gem Mint 10 (PSA 10) is what many collectors aim for, the highest mark on the scale and a grade that exemplifies “Gem.”

For a card to garner PSA 10, it must be “virtually perfect,” with respect to the centering, absence of staining and all inherent imperfections that might influence a card’s condition.

For a drastic example, check out this 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card in PSA 10, followed by a PSA 1 example:

PSA 10 (left) compared to a PSA 1 (right) 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311.

Quite a difference, right? Now look at how a PSA 10 differs from a PSA 9 example … The differences are more nuanced, but they are there. Look closely.

See the subtle differences between a PSA 10 (left) and PSA 9 (right) 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311?

Pack Fresh Isn’t Always Fresh

It’s important to note that, just because a card may have been pulled fresh from the pack, then sent off to PSA for grading, that does not equate to a surefire PSA 10. All manner of cardboard misfortunes can occur from printing to packaging and from packaging to its arrival at a card shop – you get the picture. Damage like factory nicks and scratches on a delicate foil surface can be a common occurrence, unfortunately.

Familiarize yourself with the PSA Grading Scale, and you’ll be one step closer to becoming a trading card value whiz.

Trading Card Storage and Preservation

Speaking of trading card condition, how the cards in question are stored is paramount. It’s simple; well-preserved cards are more apt to be in a better condition than those that are not. And as we just covered, cards in good condition have a better shot in the PSA grading room.

Mickey Mantle cards that were plucked from packs and affixed to bike spokes won’t be in the best condition, which means they’ll incur grades on the low, low end of the PSA grading spectrum. On the other hand, the Mantle cards carefully handled and stored for decades will be in much better condition, which will be reflected in their final grade.

Here’s a couple quick tips for trading card storage:

  1. Use card sleeves or cases

For raw cards, PSA prefers Card Savers, a semi-rigid plastic sleeve that helps to protect cards from dings. You can find these on the PSA store.

  1. Boxes are your friend

Use card boxes designed for trading card storage. They are designed to hold and protect your cards, so don’t hesitate to make use of them. In addition to PSA card boxes that can also be found on the PSA store, you can find any number of trading card boxes online.

  1. Think Cool, Dry Places

Yes, there’s been some tremendous treasure finds in the form of exceptionally rare and valuable trading cards discovered in an attic or scattered among rubbish on the floor, but that doesn’t mean the attic or floor are proper destinations for cards. Warm, humid environments can damage cards, which can hurt the condition and impact the cards’ grades. (That’s right, there’s that “condition” word again.)

  1. Display with Care

If you are displaying and not storing cards, be mindful of location and display with care. Direct sunlight, specifically UV rays, can damage cards. Position your display away from direct sunlight, in a temperature-controlled environment and, ideally, within a case with a UV-protective barrier (plastic, glass, etc.)

How to Determine Trading Card Value

We’ve covered what impacts a card’s value, the PSA Grading Scale and card storage, now let’s break down some quick steps to determine trading card value, using PSA’s online resources.

If we haven’t driven the point home yet, card condition and value go hand-in-hand. Cards in good condition are typically more desirable and thus valuable. So, the most crucial step is No. 1, which deals with card condition.

  1. Determine the Condition of Your Card

Note, this step is specifically for raw cards. If your card is graded, see steps 2 and 3. Grab the card in question and head to our online PhotoGrade tool. There, you’ll see high-resolution images of PSA-graded cards in each PSA grade, from which you can compare your card.

  1. Visit SMR Online Price Guide

You’ve compared your raw card to PSA-graded examples and have a grade in mind. Head to the SMR Price Guide, search for the card set and locate the card grade in question.

  1. Visit PSA Auction Prices Realized

Auction Prices Realized grabs recent trading card auction results from across the internet. Simply enter the card in question, locate it within the search results and browse through recent sales. You can even filter by specific grade. This will help paint an even clearer picture of what your card is worth. We break down how to use this handy tool here. 

What to Do If Your Cards are Valuable?

OK, you’ve caught up on some of the factors that can affect a card’s value, learned how to store your cards, studied the PSA grading scale and even learned how to determine trading card value.

Now what happens if you actually have some valuable cards on your hands? Well, aside from storing your raw cards using the techniques above, have you thought about getting your cards graded?

Auction results continue to show that, in general, cards graded by PSA are elevated in value compared to those of ungraded cards. In addition to value, PSA’s tamper-evident, sonically-sealed cases provide security, protection for your cards, and as an added benefit, they can be stacked and stored or displayed proudly.

Submitting cards to PSA is a simple process that can be accomplished in just a few steps.

Follow these steps to submit your cards to PSA

  1. Create a free account on PSA’s Online Submission Center

After using the techniques discussed previously, choose the cards you’d like to submit and visit and create a free account.

  1. Follow the simple, step-by-step process

Once you’re in the system, you will be walked through the submission process, starting with “Item Type.” Odds are you’ll be submitting “Regular or Small-Sized Cards,” so check that first box and proceed through each step.

  1. Complete the Submission

Once you’ve worked through each step, verify that your information is correct, agree to PSA’s Terms and Conditions and complete the submission

  1. Time to ship

Prepare the cards for shipping (make sure they are in card sleeves like Card Savers, as mentioned above) and include the printed copy of your form.

It’s also important to put the cards in the order as they appear on the submission form. This makes for a much smoother receiving process when your cards arrive at PSA headquarters. Don’t forget to mark your service level (Regular, Express, etc.) on the outside of the box and send away.

If you find yourself submitting more often, you may want to consider joining the PSA Collectors Club. Members get up to 15 free trading card authentication and grading vouchers, a one-year subscription to Sports Market Report (SMR), PSA’s monthly magazine, and exclusive members-only specials.

Master PSA’s Card Price Guide and Online Resources  

Whether you’re interested in appraising the cards that you own or looking to sell your cards and want to gauge their value, the online resources available at www.PSAcard.com will guide you in your collecting journey.

Keep a savvy eye on the factors that may affect value, starting with condition, and proceed accordingly.

Learn the PSA Grading Scale and apply what you know to the cards you’re seeking.

Then, match the cards to PSA’s online resources, like Photograde, Price Guide and Auction Prices Realized.

Follow these steps and you’re on your way to becoming a trading card value master.

Posted by Ryan Gaeta

Ryan is a sports fan and Non-Sports aficionado, who is still tormented by the fact he owned the entire 1st Edition run of Pokémon cards but traded them away or ruined them at one point or another.