Autograph Grading Guide


Provided that the autograph is genuine, the autographed item moves onward to PSA Grading. See "Autograph Grading Guide" below for PSA guidelines on Autograph Grading. For complete details on our Autograph Grading Standards, click here.


The Difference between Autographed Baseball Grading and Autograph Grading

Unlike our Autographed Baseball Grading system, here, the autograph itself is the only element of the item that receives a grade. For example, a Babe Ruth signed baseball would receive two individual grades for the condition of the autograph and baseball, and one overall grade. Under the PSA Autograph Grading service, a Babe Ruth signed photograph would receive one grade - a grade reflecting the condition of the autograph only. With all of the various objects that autographs can be found upon, it would be virtually impossible to assign a grade to each object.

Why Signed Baseballs Cannot be Submitted under this Service

Signed baseballs cannot be submitted under the Autograph Only Grading Service. The reason behind this decision is based on the following: First, most collectors of baseballs care about the condition of both the autograph and the baseball, almost equally as much in many cases. While collectors also care about the condition of photos, letters, contracts, checks, jerseys, bats and so on, the emphasis usually falls on the autograph as long as the item retains solid display appeal.

For example, you may have a vintage photograph that contains surface wrinkles, small tears in the borders, etc., causing the technical grade to suffer dramatically. On the other hand, as long as that photo can be framed and displayed in an attractive way, the technically flaws are of little relevance. In addition, for consistency on our PSA Autographed Baseball Set Registry, it is imperative that all signed baseballs are graded under one standard and one system.

The Significance of Autograph Location

The location of the autograph may have either a positive or negative effect on the autograph grade. For example, if you had a signed photo where the signature was poorly placed (perhaps in a dark area on the photo, causing little to no contrast in the autograph/photo), that factor might prevent the autograph from reaching higher grades. It really comes down to the eye-appeal of the autograph; the presentation quality of the piece. While the approach to grading autographs is intended to be as objective as possible, determining the eye-appeal quality might be the most subjective part of the grading process.

The Issue of Restoration/Enhancement

At PSA, once our experts have determined that an autograph has been enhanced or restored in any way, we cannot assign a grade to it. While the autographs can be authenticated by PSA/DNA in some cases, the intentional alteration of the autograph precludes it from receiving a numerical grade. Please keep in mind that this is not an uncommon issue in the marketplace. At PSA, we have seen everything from crude amateur retracing to professional enhancement - the type of enhancement that may be extremely difficult to locate for the average hobbyist.

In addition, please note that restoration or enhancement to the item itself will not preclude the autograph from receiving a grade under the PSA system. Restoration is considered by many in the industry to be acceptable as long as the seller discloses any known restoration to that piece. It is often done by professionals to repair defects such as tears, creasing, staining, etc to photos and the like. It is also done to replace parts of items like seals on documents, fabric on jerseys and chips on wood-based collectibles like bats or various display pieces. Restoration of the item, in some cases, may affect the market value but it will not affect the PSA autograph grade.

Additional Writing

The existence of additional writing, by someone other than the primary signer, will not be factored into the autograph grade. For example, it is not uncommon to see a vintage signed photo, etc., with additional notations placed on the item by the person who obtained it. It may simply be dated by another person or contain a notation about the event (Yankees versus Red Sox - Ruth hits two homers) or (The Sultan of Swat). Once again, the existence of additional writing may hinder the market value of an autographed item but it will have no bearing on the grade of the autograph present.

Personalized versus Non-personalized Autographs (Including Notations)

PSA will not view this issue as a factor in the grading process. So, in reality, you could have a scenario where a "To Bob, Sincerely, Babe Ruth" autograph grades a "10" and just a "Babe Ruth" autograph also grades a "10". Some collectors prefer non-personalized autographs and some are indifferent about them but this issue has no relevance to the PSA grading process. PSA is focused strictly on condition, not content.

When it comes to grading an autograph that features a salutation, inscription or notation, PSA will approach it as a whole with an emphasis on the actual signature and eye-appeal. For example, let's say that a photo was signed "To Johnny, Merry Christmas, Babe Ruth." If the "Babe Ruth" portion is extremely strong but the inscription exhibits more flaws, the autograph still has a chance of reaching a relatively high-grade since more weight is given to the signature itself than the inscription. This approach would include noted statistical and non-statistical achievements (such as HOF, MVP, statistical totals, etc.) as well.

The Issue of Cancellation Stamps

When it comes to autographed collectibles like signed checks or First Day Covers, this is a highly relevant subject. Many signed items may be affected by the existence of a stamp that touches or intrudes on some portion of the autograph. This is very common on cancelled checks. While this would not prevent an autographed check from reaching PSA Mint 9 status, it would prevent the autograph from achieving a grade of Gem Mint 10. The severity of the intrusion or boldness of the stamp will also influence the grade. The grade, as always, will center on the eye-appeal of the autograph.

Vintage versus Modern Grading Approach

When it comes to analyzing the grade of an autograph, the standards will be applied to both vintage and modern signatures with very little variance between the eras. Due to the evolution of writing instruments, etc. there may be some vintage autographs that will need to be evaluated in context. While there will be no overall plan to apply less stringent standards to vintage autographs in comparison to modern examples, there may be exceptions to the rule when an exception is justified based on pertinent factors. Generally speaking, however, a vintage autograph will need to be just as strong as a modern one in order to achieve the same grade.

Dual Grading: The Modern-Era Trading Card Medium

When it comes to autograph authentication, most of the time the medium itself takes a backseat to the characteristics of the autograph in question. There are, however, occasions when the medium can assist in the process. One example would be the dating of baseballs, which occurs from examining the label. This can help eliminate the possibility of a particular player signing a baseball if that baseball was manufactured after the signer's death. That being said, most of the time, the medium does not impact the authentication process.

When it comes to the grading of autographs, the impact a medium can have on the ultimate grade is clear. Such is the case with many autographed trading cards that come directly from the manufacturer. A large number of these cards are made with all kinds of surface obstacles and issues. This includes, but is not limited to, embossing, stamps, extra glossy or slick surfaces, ridges, dimples and a number of other characteristics. The vast majority of cards made in the pre-1998 era do not present these types of characteristics, but they are prevalent in the modern era.

As a result, PSA does factor in the manufactured characteristics of the modern card when approaching autograph grading on this medium. In our opinion, it would be nonsensical not to consider how the cards were made. This is very different, for example, from the grading of autographs on mediums such as cancelled checks. In this case, an autograph grade may suffer from the encroachment of things such as a cancellation stamp or punch holes. The key here is that those characteristics were added after the check was signed. They become more relevant factors because they hinder the eye-appeal, which impacts the grade.

Another analogy that might help the hobbyist understand the PSA approach is the grading of trading cards versus tickets. Most of the time, both are relatively similar in construction. They are each paper-based items where basic things like creasing, corner wear, staining and similar flaws can impact the overall grade. That said, it would be illogical to treat the grading of trading cards and tickets exactly the same. Each medium, while similar in many respects, has inherent issues that make them different. That is why PSA has slightly different grading standards for each type of collectible, ones that we think are more sensible based on the medium.

While a basic understanding of general autograph grading is relevant, even with modern-era trading cards, it is important that the hobbyist understands that our staff does consider the additional factors and characteristics found on these types of cards. Many of the obstacles noted above are simply not present on most vintage cards. Most vintage cards offer a simplistic and smooth surface, which makes it much easier to sign one’s name in the desired location. Since many of these modern-era cards were often manufactured with a completely different set of surface obstacles, PSA believes a common-sense approach is warranted when rendering the final autograph grade.

The Issue of a Grading Guarantee

Due to the inherent problems associated with autograph preservation, PSA cannot guarantee the assigned grade for the life of the item. As many collectors know, deterioration of autographs, such as fading, etc., may occur over time through handling and exposure. In some cases, the mere aging process may take hold and inflict condition problems on the autograph. Sometimes, the damage to the condition of an autograph may be visibly delayed and, for his reason, PSA cannot guarantee the grade for life.

PSA can guarantee the grade of the item at the time of the authentication and, with the help of the image detailed on the letter and proper storage methods, your item can be preserved in such a way that will enable the PSA grade to live concurrently with the item. With the proper precautions, the vast majority of autographs can be preserved in their respective/current condition.

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