Trimming. To card collectors around the globe, this is treated like a four-letter word -- the really bad kind. No, I am not talking about what should be done to my Aunt Gertrude's mustache or to the back of one of my best friends (just kidding, I don't have an Aunt Gertrude). I am talking about card doctoring.
What is trimming exactly?
Well, in a nutshell, it's what some people do in order to enhance the edges or corners on a card. This, in turn, will enhance the overall grade of the card. With the prices realized for ultra high-end cards, it's no wonder that some people lower themselves to try this. These guys smell money like a Great White smells blood.
Back in the day, trimming was a bit more crude. Despite what many would consider obvious today, the old school brand of trimming did work for a while before the advent of grading. I can still remember seeing these severely whacked cards at card shows and commenting to a dealer, "Are there such things as 1954 Topps minis?" After PSA really caught on by the mid-1990s, many of the more prominent card doctors vanished.
Today, there are those who are still trying it. Some of them are butchers and some of them are master artists, but it doesn't, in any way, change the approach of PSA graders. The tools have changed in some cases and the skill level of the whackers has heightened but so has the awareness of our experts -- that's what they are paid to do -- and that's why people have so much faith in the PSA process.
The biggest point of confusion with trimming comes when a collector notices a card that is slightly undersized -- even in the PSA holder. I hear the cries, "That card looks small, it must be trimmed -- trimmed I say!" Nothing could be further from the truth. Is size one factor that may tip off a grader that a card could be altered? Of course -- but size alone, in this case, does not matter.
I can remember opening vending cases from the early 1970s where the cards came in a variety of sizes. Pre-war cards, especially, were cut very inconsistently. To most, the size differences are subtle but when placed in a holder, the card's size is more apparent. My point here is simple. Cards can come in different sizes straight from the factory -- straight out of the pack -- straight from a vending case. Experienced hobbyists know this but many do not.
There are more important questions when attempting to spot trimming.
- Do the corners flare out or dive in unnaturally?
- Is there solid consistency to the stock and/or grain of the card?
- Is the cut consistent with the year or issue?
- Is the card cut from a sheet?
- Do the edges possess an unorthodox waviness?
These factors, amongst other things, enter into the mind of each grader as a card is evaluated and graded. Does the size matter too? Sure it does, but that is not the most important factor that a grader considers. Technically, you could have an oversized card that is trimmed or a severely undersized card that is unaltered. These are extreme cases but actually plausible scenarios.
Just as in the everyday world of criminal justice, it's up to the authorities to keep up with or stay a step ahead of the criminals in order to prevent crime and catch them. As the world's sportscard grading authority, we take the same approach and will accept nothing less from our staff.