What is card grading?

In a nutshell, a graded card has been reviewed by a card grading company and given a grade based on overall condition.

The grading company employs specialists and special grading techniques to review the authenticity, quality and condition of the card. The company then awards to card a grade (usually between 1 and 10 with 10 being the best) and places it inside a tamper-proof case with the grade and other information displayed above the card.

As a result a grade is only worth as much as the reputation of the company who awarded it. If you don’t trust the company then you can’t trust their grades. This can be particularly important for cards with a high rate of convincing counterfeits such as the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie card and the 1984 Star Michael Jordan Extended Rookie card.

Many people value the reputation and quality of grades of the most popular grading companies and only buy cards graded by:

  • BGS – Beckett’s full service grading company
  • PSA - A long serving and respected grading company
  • BCCG – Beckett’s limited service grading company who offer a speedier and less expensive grading

How to read a card grading

Below is the grade information from three Michael Jordan cards.

Please note: All graded cards come in clear plastic protective cases. The photos I’m featuring have black backgrounds as they were photographed on black backgrounds.

Grading example BGS 9

Grading example BGS 9
Grading example BGS 9.5

Grading example BGS 9.5

Here we have a two grades provided by BGS. As you can see the overall card grade is clearly shown to the right and includes a value between 1 and 10 (with 0.5 increments). BGS use a gold label for cards of 9.5 or 10 and a silver label for all others.

The name and number of the card is shown to the left. This is important to note as the card may be a reprint which will be stated here.

BGS also provide a breakdown of the grade into the quality of centering, edges, corners and surface. This information helps you to see how the grader reached their overall grade. Also note the serial number below the overall grade (blurred for security).

Additionally BGS provide an autograph grading service alongside their card grading service. This means both the quality of the autograph and the card itself are given separate grades. Below is an example card with a BGS 9.5 for the card and 10 for the autograph.

Grading example BGS 9.5 with 10 auto

Grading example BGS 9.5 with 10 auto

This is a grading provided by PSA. It is very similar to the BGS grade however generally no grading breakdown is shown by PSA.

Grading example PSA 10

Grading example PSA 10

Why bother with card grading?

If you are collecting for your own enjoyment then you probably don’t need your cards graded. However if you collect as an investment where you need to know you have top quality cards then grading may be for you.

If you have any intention of selling cards – particularly big ticket items – then grading may drastically improve your sales value. We investigate sales value increases some more below.

Can graded cards be faked?

Unfortunately, yes. However the higher quality grading company, the harder it will be to fake a case and label. I have seen some very dubious looking listings on some websites. This is where you need to look very carefully at the card shown and reputation of the seller even when buying graded cards (More: Tips for buying Jordan cards from eBay).

The top grading companies provide the serial numbers that we mentioned earlier along with tools to look up the card associated with that serial. This is highly recommended if you have any uncertainties about the card you are considering.

Why do graded cards often sell for so much more?

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Grading can be expensive. The cost of having a card graded – particularly low value cards – can mean a dealer is not interested in selling the card for anything less than a higher amount.
  2. Knowledge of quality. When buying a graded card from a reputable source you will know exactly what you are getting. It is not a fake and it clearly shows in both qualitative and quantitative terms its condition. This means the interest in the card rises considerably and as a result so does the sale price.
  3. Rarity. Lets face it – the Michael Jordan rookie card is far from rare. Fleer produced many thousands of this card. However a few years back a BGS graded 10 Jordan rookie card (of which there was only 1 at the time) sold for $150 000! This card that is not at all rare all of a sudden became a 1/1 card in the world. Dealers will often quote the population number of a certain grade as provided by the grading company – this can drastically affect the sale price if it makes the card a rarity.

How do I get my cards graded?

Typically you will ship your cards to the grading company along with all necessary paperwork and payment. See below for the information you need for each of the three most popular companies:

Buy Graded Michael Jordan Cards

Buying graded cards means you know exactly what you’re getting and can be assured of the card’s authenticity. Check out the links below if you’re interested in buying graded Michael Jordan cards.