Discussing the Grading BUSINESS Again

UPDATE: THE STRASBURG SUPER HAS RECEIVED A 9.5 AS PREDICTED. PLEASE CONSIDER THAT POINT AS YOU READ THIS ARTICLE.

I think its time to revisit the grading discussion, because this Strasburg card is about to get a lot of publicity for BGS, and I have a feeling they knew what the card’s grade was before it was even submitted. I have always been a person who has rallied against the grading of cards by organizations like Beckett and PSA, because so many people don’t see the obvious conflict of interests that are inherantly present in running things the way they are run. Grading is a business, and from what I have been told, it is the most profitable part of each of the companies that do it. The problem is, so many people refuse to question anything that is set in slab, and that is the main reason why I feel it is necessary for me to comment on this for the hundredth time.

Grading was started back in the 1990s to help combat fraud for people who were just starting to buy and sell on the dark ages of the internet and eBay, but has turned into something completely different. Because the service offers ABOVE mint grades for some reason, people have started to use it as a way to bolster value on a card that would normally sell for lower prices. Its rarely used for modern cards in a way that echoes the original intent of the service, but that can be expected from the end user. Its kind of odd that BGS has actually started to cater to that crowd in recent years, and that is the reason why things are getting so out of hand. It has everything to do with the fact that BGS is a subsidiary of a magazine that has no relevancy in the hobby anymore, and the grading BUSINESS is the one thing that can do for circulation numbers what a slab would do to a raw card.

Based on this fact, I want you to start to think about the conflicts of interest that creates. You need to create repeat customers, and how do you do that under most normal business circumstances? Without a doubt, you do everything in your power make the customer happy. How do you make the customer happy in this sense? Well if you have a customer that repeatedly sends in huge orders, why not give him a little bump, right? He has a bunch of cards bordering that elusive 9.5? Well, get him that 9.5 so that he keeps coming back. I remember a while ago someone actually did an experiment with PSA and found that larger orders averaged better grades on the same cards than a smaller or individual order. Its common sense that this would happen, so why doesn’t anyone consider it to be a problem?

The reason is because when you think of the perceived legitimacy of the slab itself, there is no reason to question a result, unless it is unfavorable. If you are lucky enough to get a 10 on any scale for your card, no person in their right mind would ever resubmit it just to check and see if it could be duplicated, right? So, if a company wanted to bump a few orders for a VIP, no one would ever come back to them and say what they think is actually going on. Where is the need?

I still havent gotten to the meat of the conflict of interest though, and here it is. Because there is no governing regulatory industry that offers inspections on the different services, companies have no responsibility to their customers to provide accurate services. Because the service is run and performed by humans in the first place, bias is unavoidable, and therefore puts doubt into the whole process. Ill give you an example. Look at the BGS 10 Montana that was the talk of the town last time the National Card Show rolled around. It sold for $19,900 more than a raw one and tens of thousands more than a 9.5. Its funny how that type of occurrance hits the news during the biggest card show of the year. Not only that, but who is to say that it wasn’t manufactured publicity? Its pretty easy to make a Montana 9.5 a 10, mainly because Beckett has singlehandedly created an above mint culture in the hobby. Can any normal casual buyer make a case why a 9.5 is a 9.5 and a 10 is a 10? No. In fact, there probably isnt a person that can make a case like that in most instances.

Then when you see the publicity it got for a company that desperately needed it, the conflict of interest that grading presents becomes much more clear. There is no agency that will come and knock down Beckett’s door if they grade the card “incorrectly,” so why not give yourself some free advertising?

I also think its worth mentioning that both services do offer crossover grading, which is basically a way for collectors to beef up their grade gotten from another service. Funny how that is. There has also been a surge in slab crackers, or people that take poor results and resubmit multiple times for better grades, in recent years. Because there is so much subjectivity and arbitrary situations that are part of the service, people like this can get the result they want if they try enough times. If grading was the service it advertised, that type of problem wouldn’t happen.

Although there is a standard of grading, or so Beckett and PSA say, there is no doubt in my mind that this Strasburg 1/1 will be graded at least a 9.5 for the exact reasons I just mentioned. No magazine without customer responsibility would invite that kind of negativity about a card that is so important to their success. However, due to the off centered print of the card, they may be asking for a lot of people to start shouting my concerns from the rooftops.

Is there a place for grading in this hobby? Sure. Beckett has created that on their own. People value graded cards. But those cards have holes, and its important that some people realize that before dropping thousands on a “pristine” copy of a card they love, because that pristine card may be pristine for a reason other than its condition.

How Not To Handle One Of the Most Valuable Cards Ever Made

This card was posted on Blowout’s Twitter feed earlier today. I am in total shock as to the content of the card, but more importantly what someone (possibly the seller) did to this card. Take a look at the auction first, as the seller sure did a major hype job in the description -rightfully so.

Now, I have a few questions for you to ponder.
1. Why the fuck would you grade this card? Seriously. This card has no reason to be graded, not a single one. By letting someone arbitrarily work on this card, you can only diminish its value rather than helping it. Even if it grades a 10 by some ridiculous standard, who cares? Its not worth any more than it actually is. Some people idiotically believe that every card can gain value by having it graded. Some can, as the prospecting genre of collecting is pretty much based on that stupid but true fact. As for the others, ESPECIALLY the super high end cards that are not known for being in pristine condition, or even necessarily desired in pristine condition, have more of a chance of LOSING value than gaining it.
The funny part of this whole grading question is that this is a fold out card. The fact that it is a fold out card makes me even more confused as to why someone would desecrate a card like this with a Beckett holder. Guess he got what he deserved, either way, as the holder looks ridiculous. The person who did the grading will probably argue that this gives more protection, but honestly, that argument is demeaned by the general aesthetics of the results.
2. Why would you even entrust this card to a third party for an extended period of time? Im guessing you have to either leave it with those idiots at a show or (god forbid) send it through the mail. Considering this card is pretty much priceless, Im not sure why you would risk the grading knowing that there is always that slim chance that you may not get it back. Even with the insurance money, you probably wouldnt be able to even replace something like this if you tried.
3. Why would you by a card that is encased like this? The reason I ask is because the seller has made it infinitely harder to display, and infinitely uglier in the ridiculous case that Beckett used. You cant really crack it, mainly due to the value of what is inside and how you would have to get it out, so why not just buy the cuts yourself and make a similar card for that much cheaper.
Im not going to get into my feelings on the grading service business, or its scam potential, but I just couldnt help but scoff at the person who ran this through Beckett. Some people. Ill file this under epic fail.
EDIT: After some discussion on the boards, this card was possibly a result of one of the biggest cut signature fuck ups in industry history. Documented on HBO, a collector who had gotten a quad cut of four players including Ruth found out that two of the cuts used by Upper Deck weren’t real. He was given a few cards to make up for it, this being the crown jewel I would expect. Notably, the others (known so far to be a Jordan/Lebron and a Tiger) were sold ungraded.

Another Comment On Grading

Chris over at Blowout Cards just tweeted on Beckett’s story that a near “perfect” Michael Jordan Fleer RC has sold for over $200,000 per the people over at Scamville, USA. Let me respond by saying that this is further evidence that shows grading is about as subjective and arbitrary as PSA and their autograph fraud detection services. Basically, a guy in texas gets a good copy of a Jordan RC in for “grading.” After seeing that it is a good copy, he has a choice – as a human being – about how to continue with “grading” the card. I mean, there is very little concrete differences about what can be a 9.5 and what can be a 10, and no one would ever question a good grade on a card like that, so who is to say he doesnt act with bias.

See, as a human, not a machine, he makes arbitrary and subjective calls due to his inconsolable nature. When Beckett created a grade higher than mint, despite this problem, the goal was not to show the perfection of a card, but to add more reasons for people to submit their cards for “grading.” If it was just a scale from shitty to mint, it would only be used as the service it was supposed to be (a fraud prevention device for online sales), rather than a way for people to make money.
Let me put it this way, grading is a complete scam, like most of the other shit Beckett does on a regular basis. Because it is done with only loose standards applied to human eyes, with little reason to question any positive result, Beckett has created a loop hole for their ad vehicle, as well as their big customers.
Ill give you an example to illustrate what I am saying.
Because no one will question a positive “grading” result (no matter how fraudulent it may look), due to increased value of the card in the slab, Beckett has an out. This means if you buy a Beckett 9.5 slabbed card that is really an 8, it is now a 9.5 and no one will question that. Same with the 10 above, as it could really be a 9.5, but no one in their right mind would ever try to dispute that with the prospective loss of thousands of dollars. This also means that for each customer that submits huge orders on a regular basis, Beckett now has the ability to reward them for their business without establishing that the “graded” cards are done so at a lower standard as a favor. If a guy sends in thousands of cards each month to be graded, and consistently receives 8.5s and 9s, he has every reason to stop his submissions or go to another company. If he continually gets 9.5s and 10s, thats more and more business Beckett would receive. Because the “grading” process is so arbitrary and subjective, there is no ability for me to prove this happens, but I have definitely seen the possibility in action with sellers like Wolverine24 and others.
The possibility of helping out a high profile card can also be used as a ridiculously potent ad vehicle, as we saw with the absurd Montana 10 sale, and the previous Jordan 10. Its almost like people cant see through the thinly veiled attempt at promoting the service, and pay the price of a FUCKING HOUSE to get these cards, despite the fact that cracking them and resubmitting them would almost surely result in a lower grade.
There sure are a lot of people out there who cant understand why I despise Beckett as much as I do, but I have my hundreds of reasons for doing so. The fact has always remained, with no objective non-profit regulating body, Beckett has ZERO responsibility to provide a service to collectors that doesnt have huge conflicts of interest built in. Every single thing they do is designed to make them money, not provide you with real information or a realistic view of what is actually happening in the hobby. For that reason alone, the tip of my iceberg was created, and luckily for me, I have developed a great vehicle of my own to show how much of it lies below the surface of the water.

We Have Our First PSA Slabbed Fake Rookie Premiere Auto


I sincerely hope this is fake slab, for their sake. This auto is 100% fake, and as we can see, it has been graded by PSA. I thought it would only be a matter of time, but now its pretty obvious that either PSA has a bunch of amateurs, the fakers are now creating their own slabs, or someone cut a deal with the devil.
What a fucking joke.
Here are a few other examples of Burge’s fakes, just for proof. Now they are “graded.” Wonderful. This is an example of a real one for those of you who are unfamiliar with how the cards are supposed to look. Here is one other. Here is the ebay search to show you just how many of these fakes there are.

More Craziness Over Subjectivity

Mario posted recently about the Jordan rookie BGS 10 that has popped up on ebay with a feeding frenzy in tow. Wow, already over $50,000, right?

The question I have is whether or not we should actually trust that these cards are not just publicity stunts that have benefitted one fortunate collector. Since one cannot challenge the subjectivity of the grading process without destroying an obviously valuable piece, it falls on the shoulders of the buyers to avoid those cards .

As soon as Beckett created a higher-than-mint grade, we should have already questioned whether this was the point of the grading process in general. If you look at the cards that get the 9.5s and 10s over the 9s, even with a magnifying glass, show me the difference in grade between each of those levels. Each of you would have different answers. Considering the grading process was created as a service to help with internet buying, why should we believe that the graders have the means, as well as the expertise, to tell us when some piece of cardboard has exceeded the worldwide standard of mint? On the post, one of the commenters suggested this is a “we go to 11″ type of standard to differentiate their process from others, and I wholeheartedly agree. As a result of this, when a card like the Jordan and the Montana receive those types of grades, things go nuts. If not only because it is publicized by the company that is responsible for the service. With that understanding, we should not have faith in the people known for having more conflicts of interest than any other hobby company in history. By giving a card that grade, especially one like this Jordan, having a system that prevents people from questioning the result, and the fact that Beckett receives almost national attention, its easy to see why its beneficial to manufacture an event like this. Obviously, the Jordan was graded a while ago, but it hasnt come up for sale since that time. Now that the Montana has sold for crazy go nuts prices, this card was sure to follow.

One of the things we have to realize is that there is not a specific standard that applies to each card without subjectivity. In the end, its always a human with emotions who makes the decision. Obviously when you price, sell and advertise these cards as well as providing the service itself, things are going to get suspicious with every public result. So, if a 10 to one person is a 9.5 to another, why do we allow these stunts to continue to grab our attention? As buyers, in an age when digital cameras and scanners are in the 10 megapixel range, this type of service isnt needed any more. Add in that most of the valuable modern cards are worth what they are regardless of condition, mainly due to contrived scarcity, the grading process then becomes even less of a necessity. As of now, the only reason to have this service is to allow people to exploit the grades they get for more money, make more money for a failing magazine, and to give another way for people to wrongly invest money in a medium that has a subjective element.

Until grading becomes more than a guy in texas examining your card, it will never be a worthy expense. Save yourself $80,000 and go buy a regular card. It will look just as nice, I promise.