Taking My Hacks

Population Reports – What You Need to Know

Joe Orlando

The PSA Population Report can be one of the most helpful and eye-opening resources in the hobby. It can also be misinterpreted or used to deceive. After nearly 20 years in the business, this resource has become a significant selling tool for sellers and a needed reference for buyers. There are many factors that impact the value of a collectible but its rarity – or population – is one of the most significant.

When PSA first opened its doors, as expected, submissions were light so population figures were virtually irrelevant at that point. The concept of third-party grading was new so it took several years for the service to catch fire. In fact, PSA graded its 1,000,000th card in 1998, after opening its doors in 1991. From 1998 to present, PSA has graded over 1,000,000 cards per year. Once the volume of submissions became meaningful, so did the population figures.

As the years have gone by, we have learned that certain cards were not quite as difficult as once thought. Prior to the advent of these reports, buyers were armed with nothing but what the hobby believed or what the seller represented to them. For example, a 1954 Bowman Ted Williams is a terrific card but it was once thought to be a great postwar rarity. Is it really a rarity? No. It's still a great card but not quite a tough as once thought.

In other cases, we have learned that there are many, many cards that are very tough in high-grade – the "Low Pop" cards – whether they are star players or common names whose cards turned out to be not so common after all. This is where the population figures have made their greatest impact. Today, it is not uncommon to see these types of cards garner tremendous premiums, especially since the resurgence of set building as a result of the popular PSA Set Registry.

Before the PSA Population Report existed, I had no idea that cards like the 1969 Topps Lou Brock were so hard to find in high-grade due to consistently poor centering. So, in turn, that Brock card sells for a huge premium in high-grade versus comparable stars in the set... and it should. We just didn't know better years ago but now we have real data that supports the claim that certain cards are condition rarities.

Unfortunately, some people do not look at the population figures in context. There are so many different cards that have been produced over the years. That means that PSA grades cards each week that we have never received for grading before. Sometimes, it is a result of a card's scarcity but it could also merely be a product of a new holder size or increased popularity in a particular player. Whatever the case may be, it is important to look beyond the raw numbers and ask yourself why, in some cases, are the population figures low.

Is the card truly rare or have few people submitted the card for grading? Is the card a real condition rarity or did PSA just begin recognizing the backs or variations? Remember, as the hobby has evolved, so has the PSA Population Report. In the early days of PSA, we did not note things such as the backs of 1952 Topps or 1909-11 T206 cards so the population figures can be deceiving... or used to deceive.

Variations and card specifics are becoming increasingly important so we have become more detailed in our labeling. With that in mind, the early data is still very helpful but it requires that you digest the information first before jumping to conclusions. The PSA Population Report is a fantastic resource but, without context, no raw statistical analysis tells the whole story.


Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief