New BGS 10 Black Label Stirs Up Old Conflicts

I have never been one that has put any stock in the grading process business. I dont like graded cards, I dont make an effort to seek out graded cards, and I think people that pay astronomical prices for high grade examples, are really not seeing the whole forest or the trees. Of course, my feelings on the conflict of interest that it presents, or the human element involved in the review, have no impact on the rest of the hobby. Grading means a lot to a lot of people. It is arguably the only reason the Beckett media group still exists in a lot of ways.

One of my biggest gripes with grading is the above mint standard that BGS has perpetuated. No longer is a mint card the top valued condition available. Since the advent of BGS, now cards can be Gem Mint or even Pristine! No matter that the difference between gem mint and pristine is so small that any card could easily occupy both conditions. The subjective difference between many grades holds no bearing with most, as some collectors stake hundreds or even thousands of dollars for that difference. Well, now they have a new level of mint to chase. BGS has since released the all pristine Black Label graded card.

Here are some examples:

2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James RC BGS 10 Black

2014 Topps Chrome Johnny Manziel Superfractor Auto BGS 10 Black

2014 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Auto RC BGS 10 Black

2014 Topps Platinum Odell Beckham Auto RC BGS 10 Black

In case you are wondering, instead of just grading a card as a Pristine 10, a black label card is a pristine card that has all 10s in the subgrades. It adds another level of the chase for some people, and many of these cards are getting some ridiculous prices as a result. I understand the need for collectors to display the vanity that makes our hobby what it is, but this just seems excessive.

Grading was originally created so that someone buying a card before actually having it in hand could see a quantitative representation of the condition prior to purchase. This was in a time where digital cameras were insanely expensive, and the resolution of the photos were minor. Now, with each cell phone camera having such a high capability to take ridiculous pictures, grading has become the standard by which an anal collector can pick out the top examples in condition for each individual card. It has become a collection organizer in so many words.

My argument lies in the conflict of interest that exists in grading – being that not only does Beckett price and sell graded cards, but they also have a reason to provide preferential treatment to top customers. Even more than that, the human element at play only speaks to the subjectivity of the process. The difference in a 9.5 vs a 10 is so small, that whatever is decided becomes the bible. That is, unless it is unfavorable. There is a community of collectors that buy up “undergraded” cards, crack them out of the cases and resubmit them for a higher grade. The levels of success are so high, that people have made a living out of it.

However, if a 9.5 ever was graded a 10, there is no one that would be stupid enough to crack it out of the case and resubmit it just to make sure it really was the grade BGS said it was. Now, if that was a 9.5 that was graded a 9, it would be approached with a completely different process. Grading is a business, and a great one at that. It has transferred over to all sorts of industries, and taken hold as well as it has in cards. That wouldnt happen if it werent a crazy profitable business model. Many sets are produced with BGS in mind, mainly Chrome, as the entire product’s viability depends on its potential grades.

Similarly, there is no regulatory body to ensure that grading companies arent acting with their own best interests in mind. Not that I would expect there to be, but who is to stop them from going out and rewarding their best customers with better grades? At this point, because the reputation is already established, a few bad apples would do nothing to spoil the bunch. They could churn out half grades better treatment very easily, and no one would be able to call them out.

Again, adding this new “Black Label” does nothing but present a further departure from what the grading process should be about. Obviously, staunch supporters of the “objective” process will fight me to the bitter end on my feelings, but I find too much implied conflict to even come close to changing my feelings.

When you see that a Michael Jordan Fleer RC BGS 10 is worth almost 1000 times the value of a BGS 9.5, its easy to see why the conflict exists. There is too much power in the grade itself, and very little in the card that sits in the slab. That is wrong to me. Very wrong. Adding a new element to that is beyond unnecessary.