“But this card was pulled out of a pack and sent directly to PSA!” As a customer service representative for PSA, it’s a statement I hear from collectors all too often. Their disbelief comes across loud and clear when a card they pulled from a previously unopened pack and placed directly into a protective holder was sent to PSA for grading and did not come back as a Gem Mint 10.
There seems to be a common misconception that “freshly pulled cards” are automatically worthy of a PSA 10 grade, or at a minimum, PSA 9. This is the case with not only ultra-modern (2017-present) submissions, but also packs that are decades old. We see it often with those collectors hunting for the elusive 1999 Pokémon First Edition Charizard or the 1986 Fleer Basketball #57 Michael Jordan rookie card in ultra-high grade.
What submitters often forget is that PSA considers multiple factors beyond obvious wear and tear when assigning a grade to a card, many of which don’t necessarily come from handling of the card. The manufacturing of a card plays an equally large role in the grading process as the condition of its corners and edges, poor centering, and any surface issues and manufacturing print defects can all dramatically affect the grade as well.
“With older packs, there is always the chance that the entire pack could have been ‘OC’ [Off Center]. Back in the day, the quality control on trading cards was not so great,” shared one senior member of PSA’s grading team.
With higher quality control standards and better manufacturing practices employed these days, pulling higher-grade cards directly out of newer packs has become more likely, but is not a guarantee. It’s also worth noting that occasionally pack-pulled cards won’t qualify for a grade at all due to a manufacturing defect.
A submitted card may be returned unprocessed and labeled as “N6 – Minimum Size Requirement.” This non-gradable classification is what PSA graders assign to cards that were manufactured significantly smaller than set specifications. If PSA graders find that your card is under the factory standard for that card, it will not be eligible for a numerical grade. For more information, please see PSA Grading Standards. For photo grade comparisons, please visit PSA PhotoGrade Online.
The best approach is to inform yourself of the fundamental basics of card grading, and to set realistic expectations based on that information. Trying to convince yourself that the Shadowless Charizard you pulled “fresh” from a 21-year-old pack of cards garners an automatic PSA 10 requires further education on your part. Arm yourself with the various tools and information that PSA provides before making your submission. Your card may very well earn a high grade, but it may not. That is the thrill of the hunt, and why we collect and grade our cards. Choose wisely, do your homework and remember – have fun!