Taking My Hacks

Crucial Grading Tips

Joe Orlando

Over the years, I have received a variety of topic requests for this column. The most frequently requested topic, by far, is card grading tips. Some hobbyists have requested mini-tutorials and others have requested visual grading guides within SMR. While I believe there is value to providing grading tips, it is usually much easier to educate someone in person since many imperfections are very hard to describe within plain text or hard to capture via printed photos.

During my travels to sports collector conventions across the country, I always enjoy sitting down with hobbyists and discussing their collections. Not only does every card provide educational value since no two cards are exactly the same, but I also get to live vicariously through other collectors since all of my vintage cards turned into home furnishings several years ago! It's funny how that happens once you get married.

Moving on...

When it comes to card grading, there are many factors to consider prior to rendering the final grade. Of all the potential defects, the following three, in my opinion, are the most commonly missed or misunderstood.

1) The Bent Corner - Oh, the dreaded corner bend or line. This defect alone prevents more high-end cards from reaching the PSA NM-MT 8 level or higher than any other. A corner, over time, can be subject to a lot of damage. Here, the corner is bent or flipped (upward or downward), leaving a line through a portion of the corner. This occurs, often times, as a result of storage in screwdown holders that flatten the corner but leave evidence of the prior bend or line. In 99 out of 100 cases, no matter how nice the rest of the card is, this defect will prevent a card from reaching the magic PSA NM-MT 8 grade or better.

2) The Paper Wrinkle - Otherwise known as a surface crease, this hard-to-detect condition obstacle is one that can frustrate the most seasoned hobby veteran. A paper wrinkle is a product of manufacturing in most cases. This is not like a full crease, which is the result of a severe bend to the cardboard. A wrinkle is just that, a wrinkle in the top layer of paper that failed to flatten during production. This is commonly found on vintage cards. Usually, a card that would otherwise grade at the Near Mint level of higher would drop to a PSA EX-MT 6 if the wrinkle is found on the reverse or PSA EX 5 if found on the front. Severity of the wrinkle is also a factor.

3) Centering - This seems simple enough but there is some level of subjectivity in evaluating centering. The first part, which is not subjective at all, is the fact that PSA graders measure from the worst point. Often times, vintage cards are found with a tilt to the picture and the graders will measure from the worst point of that tilt. This factor can be the difference between grades. The second point to make is that, when the centering borders on two grades, the grader must make a judgment call based on eye-appeal and market acceptability. Please refer to the PSA Grading Standards for a more detailed explanation.

There you have it. Grading offers a host of challenges but these three defects should not be taken lightly and, if the submitter takes the time to look for them under the proper grading conditions, these tips can hopefully save you time, money and aggravation.


Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief


Joe Orlando has been an advanced collector of sportscards and memorabilia for over 25 years. Orlando attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California where he studied communications and was the starting catcher for the baseball team. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Orlando obtained a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in Southern California in the spring of 1999. During the last fourteen years, Orlando has authored several collecting guides and dozens of articles for Collectors Universe, Inc. Orlando has also authored two books for Collectors Universe. Orlando's first book, The Top 200 Sportscards in the Hobby, was released in the summer of 2002. His second book, Collecting Sports Legends, was released in the summer of 2008. Orlando has appeared on several radio and television programs as a hobby expert including ESPN's award-winning program Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, as the featured guest. Currently, Orlando is the President of PSA and PSA/DNA, the largest trading card and sports memorabilia authentication services in the hobby. He is also Editor of the company's nationally distributed Sports Market Report, which under Orlando's direction has developed into a leading resource in the market. Orlando also contributed the foreword and last chapter to The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, a 2010 release, and to The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players, a 2013 release.