Taking My Hacks

The Importance of Grading Context

Joe Orlando

When it comes to the grading of a collectible, the ability to understand the grade in context is of serious importance. While many collectors seem to understand this concept, it has been difficult to get others to comprehend the same thing. Sometimes, there is so much focus on the assigned grade - the number - that hobbyists can lose sight of what that number actually means.

One of the benefits of third-party grading is the contribution to better standardization, of both quality and value. In other words, while no two collectibles are identical, if both items are graded with the same number, there is a better understanding of the general quality of the item. As a result, there is a better understanding of the value once the grade is assigned.

There can be trouble, however, when hobbyists don't understand how context comes into play. For example, you could have 10 different cards and they may all be graded PSA EX-MT 6, but each one of them is different. Some have better corners, while others have better centering. Some have better color, while others have whiter borders. Therefore, there are variances within every grade.

There are some cards that barely made the assigned grade and others that barely missed the next grade higher. The result is pretty simple. Some cards will sell for a premium within the same grade based on that strength in quality, while others may fall a little short of the going rate for the grade because they are perceived as a weaker example. All of this is part of the process, a product of grade interpretation and the imperfect nature of grading itself.

The good news is that this is understood by most collectors and simply a part of the human-based system. It only becomes a problem when the variance is so enormous that Mint cards look like EX-MT cards or vice versa. Services that show that kind of grading inconsistency usually don't last long in the hobby, which is one major reason so many services have come and gone over the last 20 years.

Another grading issue, one which relates to context, is one that deals with items that are known as the finest example. While the grade of an item does affect the value, they are two mutually exclusive concepts. This is an issue that some collectors struggle with. They seemingly cannot separate the difference between grade AND value when appropriate.

For example, you may come across a bat, an autograph or a card where the finest known example is a 7. Even though the grading scale for all of PSA's services goes as high as 10, that doesn't mean that a 10 exists for that category. There are many instances, in a variety of collectible fields, where the best example known might "only" grade in the mid-range.

Some collectors feel that if the item is the best one of its kind, the scale should adjust based on that fact. I couldn't disagree more. If you adjust the scale based on scarcity, then the meaning of the grade is lost. It's alright if the best example in the world is a PSA 6 or a PSA 4. The market will often adjust and consider the scarcity when determining value. It happens all the time.

So, the moral of the story is that the grade is usually of extreme importance, but make sure you understand the grade in context. It will often help answer many questions you might have as a buyer or a seller.


Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief