In addition to a numerical grade, some PSA graded cards also carry a Qualifier to identify specific characteristics of the card. Following is a description of the six PSA qualifiers, 2 of which are required, and 4 that are optional.
PSA Grading Standards Using the Classic 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle
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PSA will not grade cards that bear evidence of trimming, re-coloring, restoration, or any other forms of tampering, or are of questionable authenticity.
The Grading of Hand-Cut Cards
PSA will grade virtually any card that has been hand-cut off of a panel, box, etc. (Post Cereal, Hostess, Bazooka, Strip cards, etc.) keeping the following information in mind. This service does not include traditional sheet-cut cards. PSA will not grade cards cut from sheets that can be obtained in a normal fashion. For example, PSA will not grade a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky card cut from a sheet because that card was issued in non-sheet form. On the other hand, PSA will grade a 1959 Bazooka or 1961 Post Cereal Mickey Mantle because those cards could only be obtained in one fashion - removed by hand from a box or panel.
In order for PSA to actually assign a grade to any of the cards that possess visible/defined borders on all four sides, evidence of that border must be present or the card must exhibit virtually-full borders based on the design of the specific issue. If the cut exceeds the visible border for the card in question, PSA will encapsulate the card as "Authentic" only. If the card is severely undersized and suffers in overall eye appeal, the graders may deem the card not suitable for authentication or reject the card as minimum-sized altogether.
Keep in mind that, for cards that do not possess visible/defined borders, the cards must still fall within a certain size requirement for that particular issue in order to qualify for an actual grade. In other words, the borders must be virtually full in order for a grade to be rendered. Otherwise, as stated above, a label of "Authentic" will be assigned or, in some cases, the cards may fall short of the size requirement altogether. This is not an exact science. PSA will do its best to provide consistent guidelines for these types of cards.
In addition, PSA will allow cards that have had a coupon or tab removed from the original card to be submitted under this service. For example, if a 1952 Red Man Tobacco card is cut at or outside of the established tab line, the card would be eligible to receive a numerical grade. On the other hand, if the 1952 Red Man Tobacco card is cut inside of the line (the line where the tab meets the interior of the card), then the PSA graders will be precluded from entering a numerical grade. Cards that are cut within the limits established for a particular issue will be encapsulated and designated as "authentic" by PSA. All of the cards eligible for this service will be designated as "Hand-Cut" on the PSA label to distinguish them from the intact, "with tab" or "with coupon" examples.
PSA suggests that, in order to achieve the highest grades, the cuts of the cards should be relatively close to the visible borders without exceeding the limit. Cards that exhibit a clean, accurate and properly shaped cut have the best chance at achieving the highest grades. Eye appeal is very important. When it comes to excess paper or cardboard around the edges of the visible borders, the graders will place significant importance on overall eye appeal. Keep in mind that all cards of this type will be designated as "Hand-Cut" on the PSA label for accuracy. In addition, if the customer chooses, PSA will grade and encapsulate entire panels if those panels will fit in any of our current PSA holders. With the exception of the aforementioned items, normal grading criteria will apply.
The Grading Approach to Pins/Coins
The grading of pins or coins often comes down to the strength or weakness of the eye appeal since the material in question is far less susceptible to wear than cardboard or paper. The areas/defects that PSA graders focus on include but are not limited to: scratches, dents, severity of rust (if present), centering of the picture (obverse and reverse), compression of the pin/coin, the overall condition of the paper (if present) on the reverse and overall print quality. Since collectible coins/pins often differ in their makeup, sometimes greatly, it is very difficult to apply one uniform grading standard to all collectibles that fall into this category. The factors above represent the basic, key elements in the PSA grading approach. At this time, pins and coins will not receive half-point grades.
No Grade Definitions
PSA No Grade Definitions
If your card is returned without a numeric grade in a card saver sleeve, that determination was made based on one of the following reasons:
N1 Evidence of Trimming - When a card's edge appears to have been altered. A card doctor may use scissors, scalpel, cutter, or any other sharp instrument. A card that appears trimmed: A hooked appearance along the edge, unusually sharp or uncommon edges for the issue, an inconsistent tone to the color of the edge in question or a wavy, unnatural look to the edges. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic Altered” at the grader’s discretion and if “AA” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in either case.
N2 Evidence of Restoration - When a card's paper stock appears to have been built up - for example, when ripped corners are built up to look like new corners. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic Altered” at the grader’s discretion and if “AA” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in either case.
N3 Evidence of Recoloration - Where a card's color appears to have been artificially improved. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic Altered” at the grader’s discretion and if “AA” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in either case.
N4 Questionable Authenticity - This is the term used when a card appears to be counterfeit or when the autograph is deemed to be not genuine. This designation would never qualify for encapsulation under any circumstance and applicable grading fees would still apply.
N5 Altered Stock - This includes, but is not limited to characteristics on the card that appear to show some form of alteration such as paper restoration, crease/wrinkle pressing or enhanced gloss. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic Altered” at the grader’s discretion and if “AA” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in either case.
N6 Minimum Size Requirement - When a card is significantly undersized according to factory specifications. You will not be charged the grading fee in this instance. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic” only at the grader’s discretion and if “Auth” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in the latter case.
N7 Evidence of Cleaning - When a whitener is used to whiten borders or a solution is used to remove wax, candy, gum or tobacco stains. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic Altered” at the grader’s discretion and if “AA” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in either case.
N8 Miscut - This term is used when the factory cut is abnormal for the issue, causing the card’s edges to deviate from their intended appearance. You will not be charged the grading fee in this instance. Note that this designation can qualify for encapsulation as “Authentic” at the grader’s discretion and if “Auth” is listed on the submission form as the desired minimum grade. You will be charged the applicable grading fee in the latter case.
N9 Don't Grade - he term is used when we do not grade or cannot encapsulate an issue. The cards may be oversized or an obscure issue. This designation does not qualify for encapsulation, and you will not be charged the grading fee. Note: If additional information from two or more verified or hobby-approved resources are provided for the issue, the decision could be reversed upon resubmittal. Submit a “Research Request” in advance through the Customer Request Center (CRC) to inquire about a specific item.
*Please note that the Minimum Grade (MG) option is only available on select service levels. If the option is available, the field to enter your MG will appear when filling out your submission form via the Online Submission Center.
The Importance of Eye Appeal and Subjectivity in Grading
Over the years, more and more collectors have come to understand the basic guidelines behind PSA grading. After grading for well over a decade, PSA grading standards have truly become the official standard for the most valuable cards in the hobby. That being said, there are a host of grading questions that arise and the one basic question that comes up the most has to do with eye appeal and centering.
While it's true that a large part of grading is objective (locating print defects, staining, surface wrinkles, measuring centering, etc.), the other component of grading is somewhat subjective. The best way to define the subjective element is to do so by posing a question: What will the market accept for this particular issue?
Again, the vast majority of grading is applied with a basic, objective standard but no one can ignore the small (yet sometimes significant) subjective element. This issue will usually arise when centering and/or eye appeal are in question. For example, while most cards fall clearly within the centering guidelines for a particular grade, some cards fall either just within or just outside the printed centering standards.The key point to remember is that the graders reserve the right, based on the strength or weakness of the eye appeal, to make a judgment call on the grade of a particular card.
What does this mean exactly?
Well, take this example. Let's say you have a 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie card that is right on the edge of the acceptable guidelines for centering in a particular grade. The 1955 Koufax card has a yellow background that tends to blend with the border of the card. In other words, the contrast isn't great, so poor centering may not be much of an eyesore – the borders are not clearly defined. In this case, if the card exhibits extremely strong characteristics in other areas (color, corners, etc.), an exception may be made to allow an otherwise slightly off-center card to fall within an unqualified grade (no OC qualifier). This is a rare occurrence but it does happen.
On the other hand, there are cards that technically fall within the printed PSA Grading Standards that may be prevented from reaching a particular unqualified grade because the eye appeal becomes an issue. For example, a 1957 Topps Sandy Koufax card has great contrast between the white borders and the picture because the background is very dark. It is possible that a 1957 Topps Sandy Koufax, one that technically measures for a particular grade – let's say 70/30, may be prevented from reaching that unqualified grade because the market would view that card as off-center – based on eye appeal issues. Again, this is a rare occurrence but it does happen from time to time when a judgment call has to be made on a card that pushes the limits for centering.
In conclusion, the issues discussed do not apply to the vast majority of cards that filter through the PSA grading process each day but this is an issue that needed some clarification in the marketplace. The bottom line is that there are times when a PSA grader must make a call on a card that falls on the line between two grades and that final determination is made based on experience, eye appeal and market acceptability.