Taking My Hacks

Grading Standards: Does Age Matter?

Joe Orlando

This is a question that I hear quite often at PSA. In essence, people want to know if the same card grading standard is applied regardless of the card's age or if the standards change depending on the type of card being evaluated. In short, the answer is – yes – the same card grading standard is applied but it is far more complicated than that. In the following paragraphs, I will do my best to explain.

While the basic standard or general guidelines are applied to all cards that enter the grading process, it would be foolish to say that there are not specific standards that apply to each type of card. These can, and often do, affect the outcome... as they should. The art of grading can be defined as the ability to interpret the guidelines correctly and apply the standard, in context, to the card in front of you. Card grading really isn't as easy as it sounds. Most people can read the standards but applying them is an entirely different thing.

First, let's start with centering. Centering is one of the most objective parts of the grading process but there is still some degree of subjectivity, or interpretation; that comes into play since there is leeway within each grade. Eye-appeal is a crucial issue when it comes to card grading and centering is one of the more crucial characteristics that collectors focus on. Even though the general guidelines always apply, since there is slight leeway listed in those guidelines, the specific design of the card can have an impact on the centering determination.

For example, if a card is on the border between grades, a grader might give a little more leeway to a 1954 Topps card than a 1952 Bowman card if the issue is top-to-bottom centering. The leeway is still very slight but it exists nonetheless. Due to the design, a 1954 Topps card is not nearly as adversely affected by subpar top-to-bottom centering as a 1952 Bowman card is. Here, while the standards always apply, there is some consideration given to the design of the specific issue.

That approach applies to other aspects of cards as well. Let's take print or registration quality. Once again, the general standard applies; however, specific knowledge of the issue is required to render an appropriate grade. For instance, it would be ludicrous to compare the registration on a 1948 Leaf Bob Feller to a 1966 Topps Sandy Koufax. The grader has to apply the standards in context for the issue.

The same can be said when judging things like the cut of a card or its color. It's important for a grader to know when things like a rough-cut are common for the issue and when they are not. In many cases, it is more important that the rough-cut is actually present than the other way around. In fact, I can remember when another grading service was bragging about the fact that they had graded their first Gem Mint 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie several years ago. The problem was the card was laser smooth along all four edges, which is impossible for an O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie.

The issue of color is very similar to the evaluation of print or registration characteristics on a card. It is important that graders are familiar with the degree and type of color commonly associated with each issue. Certain issues exhibit deep, rich colors like 1933 Goudeys while others utilize very light, pastel colors like 1911 M116 Sporting Life cards.

The bottom line is that – no – graders do not "go easier" on vintage cards simply because they are old and grade harsher on modern issues because they are more common. That said; the graders do take each issue's characteristics into consideration when making that final judgment. To do otherwise would be foolish.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief