Card Grading: Finding the Right Company To Grade Your Sports Cards

Card Grading: Finding the Right Company To Grade Your Sports Cards

There's a variety of reasons collectors pay card grading companies to grade their sports cards. Several of the more common reasons are to verify the authenticity of a card and/or signature, create added value based on card condition, protect your investment, and to preserve the cards. The most important thing to consider when getting your card graded is which company to go with.

Although it would seem that picking one company for all your grading needs would be the best route to take, that isn't always the case, especially if your collection features a combination of both vintage and modern cards. Below is a look at the four most commonly taken trails when it comes to trading card grading.

Nevertheless, picking a card grading company is never as simple as it seems. None of the options are infallible and every grading experience is subjective.

Top Card Grading Companies

PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators)

Card Grading: Finding the Right Company To Grade Your Sports Cards 1This is a must for any card made between 1950 and 1980, and many go with PSA for modern, as well. Because PSA is considered the first major grading company, many vintage card collectors prefer PSA-graded cards over BGS. The primary reason for this can be attributed to vintage set builders, as they prefer a singular slab in order to create continuity. The classic style of the PSA slab is also a key selling point.

Whether you're a set builder or not, this factor plays a key role in the value of your card. Below are a few examples of cards that are best suited for PSA.

  • 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle
  • 1955 Roberto Clemente RC
  • Non-rookie year vintage Topps cards
  • Non-superstar vintage Topps cards
  • Cards from 1950-1980
  • Vintage cards commonly associated with trimming or counterfeiting
  • Vintage Topps Venezuelan and O-Pee-Chee versions

Of course, PSA is a major grader for modern cards, as well, and many prefer PSA for all their cards.


This is a service offered by PSA that does nothing more than certify the authenticity of a card's autograph. This process doesn't take card condition into account. PSA/DNA is best for certifying cards you have gotten signed in person or cards that are commonly associated with forgeries, such as Topps Rookie Premiere autographs or AFLAC autographs.

SGC (Sports Card Guaranty)

Card Grading: Finding the Right Company To Grade Your Sports Cards 2Like PSA, SGC specializes in the grading of vintage cards. SGC is more commonly associated with pre-1950s card grading. SGC is primarily used for high-dollar, standalone vintage cards that don't rely heavily on the neighboring cards in a set for value. SGC is largely geared toward vintage singles collectors rather than vintage set builders.

  • 1939 Play Ball Ted Williams
  • 1908 E102 Ty Cobb
  • Pre-1950s cards
  • Vintage basketball cards
  • Non-standard size vintage cards such as Topps Tall Boys Basketball
  • Vintage cards of substantial stand-alone value
  • Oddball vintage cards

BGS (Beckett Grading Services)

Card Grading: Finding the Right Company To Grade Your Sports Cards 3Though they can be inconsistent at times, BGS is among the top grading companies for post-1980s cards, especially when it comes to the modern, pack-pulled autograph. For instance, a BGS-graded 2009 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout autograph can often be worth more than one graded by PSA. This is because BGS grades both card condition and the autograph on a 10-point scale.

Some collectors also prefer the overall aesthetics of a BGS slab, including the more detailed grading breakdown, over the other major grading companies.

  • Bowman Chrome Autographs
  • Any pack-pulled autograph
  • Book Cards
  • Relic Cards
  • Post-1980s cards

Sports Card Terminology/Notes:

  • Slab: word used to describe the plastic case graded cards are encased in.
  • Book Cards: cards that fold open like a book and often contain multiple player relics and autographs.
  • Try and stick to PSA, BGS and SGC for all your grading needs. Cheaper grading companies may seem like a bargain at the time, but can cost you dearly when it comes to both short and long-term value.
  • Four primary card attributes that go into card grading: Centering, Corners, Surface and Edges.
Card Grading: Finding the Right Company To Grade Your Sports Cards 4

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Brett Lewis

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Brett is a former contributor to The Cardboard Connection.

User Comments

  1. I know there are other companies grading cards, as well as one that went out of business that kind of make you think grading is deterring people from coming back to the sports card business. This is also why having numerous product lines as well as numerous manufacturers just confuses folks, and why they stay away. I can forsee the same happening w/ grading.

    Also, just because Beckett established what looks to be the 1st standard for autographs doesn’t mean it’s good for the hobby. For them, as a business decision, yes, it gives them an early advantage. However, human being signatures vary for numerous reasons, especially when you’re signing a lot of a product. I dare anybody to replicate their own personal signature more than once. Extremely difficult to do. Not quite sure how something that’s really subjective and variable can be graded based on only a few factors, but ultimately, customers will dictate if it makes sense. Thanks.

  2. It means that at the time of the grading, only five cards matched the grade. It speaks to the rarity of the specific grade. Pop = population.

  3. Yep. It’s common grading terminology. They are both qualifiers. OC is off-center and MC is miscut.

  4. I have so many great cards. Most very vintage dont know what company I should go with I have 5 1996 fleer Michael Jordan cards but also have cards like Mickey Mantle and George Herman Ruth any advise on a company to go with… Altogether i have about 100-120 vintage cards worth BIG Money. Any help?

  5. For vintage cards, PSA tends to be the more popular choice.

  6. I just received my grades for 19 cards I send over 2 1/2 months ago to PSA. They were awful. I had Michael Jordan SP1 cards just out of the pack and they were graded 8. Likewise, six Ripken rookies and they said two of them could not be graded–they were the wrong size. I know exactly where they came from and they were never trimmed or anything like that.
    Further, I send in a 1952 Bowman Willie Mays, looked perfect. Should have been an 8, came back a PSA 7. Unreal. It seems these grading companies are intentinally downgrading some people and helping others. But they keep splitting up all the money. Sounds like a job for the Feds, RICO act!

  7. You make a fantastic point. There seems to be growing mistrust of the grading companies for favoring their best customers and helping them get the best grades while the average collector gets mediocre grades at best (on average). They’ve been investigated for fraud before. Some have been caught. They basically create the opportunity for others to print money based on the grade of their cards. Price difference between a PSA 10 and a 9 can be tens of thousands of dollars!

  8. Currently, the company that stands out to me is GMA. GMA offers faster service, better pricing, and better customer service. I cannot fathom sending my cards to any other company, especially PSA. PSA has become less than reputable in recent years, which is why GMA is growing quicker than the others. I would consider BGS aside from GMA, but not PSA.

  9. No way I can agree that BGS is the better grading company to get the most value out of your modern cards. Few collectors like their slabs for one thing, and that’s mainly because they’re so big and heavy, and quite frankly BGS typically over grades as to detract from your card/investment especially when it comes to off-centering. The vast majority of more modern graded cards still fetch way more money as PSA’s than as BGS’s. That’s just a well known fact by any seller or big collector. There are a few exceptions, sure, but not all that many. The only BGS cards really worth investing in are the Black Labels in my view. Everything else with again a few exceptions are not worth the investment. PSA’s simply fetch more money generally, and they will definitely continue to do so. No one wants 100 BGS graded cards, they’re too big, and too heavy, and as I said, they detract from the investment with their over grading. PSA judging cards by their eye appeal is so far ahead of them really. They are more what real diehard collectors are looking for. Something that enhances value, not all these subgrades that detract from the cards appearance/value by overstating 7 bringing extra attention to the specific cards issues right on the slab. BGS doesn’t understand collectors or collecting like PSA does. Simple as that. It’s trendy to say that BGS are best graders for modern cards, yet it’s far from the truth out in the real card world; Most importantly, it’s far from the truth according to most big card collectors. It is the collectors themselves that really determine the market the most.

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