There are two services within the industry that are enormous money makers for their respective parent companies. One of them is card grading, and the other is autograph authentication. In fact, they have become so ingrained within the hobby environment, that the rulings provided by some of the bigger companies are considered gospel by almost all casual collectors. They have been the center of recent controversy, but the stories only serve to showcase their place among us more than ever. If you receive an autograph and get it graded, that grade can increase or decrease the value significantly. If you get a an autograph certified, by all intents and purposes, its considered real.
I wont come on here and say that the process of grading and autograph authentication isnt a drawn out and controlled situation, but I dont think there are any reservations in saying that it isnt perfect. However, when you look at the landscape, there are some significant discrepancies in the trust people have in certain companies, and lack of trust in others. I dont always support the practice of using these companies, but that means little to the majority of the people out there. If you have questions, here is my guide.
Here is how I break it down for the companies that are, in my opinion, more reliable, as well as their perceived specialty:
BGS – Graded Modern Cards
When it comes to grading cards that were produced in the so called ‘modern’ era, BGS is the gold standard (pun intended). They have built a sterling reputation, despite my own reservations on the nature of their business. I would even go so far as saying that when it comes to grading cards, its hard to go the wrong direction in buying a BGS 9.5 and above, as their scrutiny of modern examples has built them a huge customer base. Their business of grading chrome cards from over the years is pretty remarkable, and its because there is so much trust in the grades they give. Yes, I realize I am giving a good review to Beckett on something, but I cant deny its place and relevance in the hobby. I still think that the value placed on the different iterations of the grading structure is fucking nuts, but it is what it is. For whatever reason, that microscopic and subjective difference in grades can mean thousands of dollars in value, but thats what happens.
PSA/DNA – Autograph Authentication / Vintage Graded Cards
In a lot of cases, I think the certifications of autographs is about as inexact a science as can be, at least when you get to professional forgeries like we saw with Operation Bullpen. That being said, PSA is about as solid a certification as you can get on an autograph, as their reputation (though not perfect) is one of the best. We all have good examples of why their auth procedure isnt what it should be, but no process can be as long as a human is making biased and subjective decisions. I say “biased” because humans naturally have bias, which is unavoidable, and in my opinion, I think that there is reason to believe that larger customers tend to have more success with their stuff.
As for the vintage card grading, PSA is king. They have an audience in a part of the hobby that is ever aging, but still growing. The people who comprise this market are usually quite liberal with spending, and arent afraid to drop major cash in getting their cards certified. Because so many of the high dollar vintage cards come with significant risk of fakes, certification is KEY to getting top dollar for your cards. Usually, a BGS 9.5 can outsell a PSA 10 in modern, but not so in vintage.
PSA also does a great job playing to the vanity of collectors with their set registry, something I find incredibly cool. It basically showcases which collector has the highest graded collection of a certain set according to a number of factors. Its great.
JSA – Autograph authentication
We all know that James Spence is thought of with high regard in his autograph authentications, and from what my understanding is, he got his start with PSA in the first place. Although his company doesnt seem to have the same kind confidence as PSA, their partnership with BGS to authenticate cards has proven to be a great business venture. For the normal types of auth, I would definitely feel comfortable with a JSA certificate. For the more difficult autographs, I would feel much more comfortable with PSA as a personal preference. Im talking Mantle, Ruth, etc.
SGC – Pre-war Card Grading and Authentication
If there is a type of card that I know little to nothing about, its pre-war cards that can come in all sorts of varieties. SGC has become the go to service for grading these cards, as their encyclopedic knowledge of the different brands allows for some incredibly accurate grading. Considering the different issues that pre-war cards have in the age and quality of stock, that is saying something.
Other autograph related auths – all good and reputable:
Tristar – these guys are a huge business and sponsor many of the signings around the country. Tri-Star certs are usually witnessed first hand and are completely legit.
Mounted Memories – again, see above. Its basically the same concept, and I would trust these guys too.
Upper Deck and Panini Authentic – I dont think I need to explain why these are good items, but you will pay through the nose to get them.
Steiner – again, high end retail certification focusing on New York, but completely reliable. Expect to pay big money over normal market price.
Here are companies that I have less confidence in:
GAI – Card grading and auto authentication
At one point, GAI was reasonably reliable in terms of their reputation around the hobby, but over the last five years that has all gone to shit with some of the problems their business has had. The rumor going around is that they were in the red for finances all around, and started offering relaxed standards to get more submissions. As a result, you have a lot of alleged forgeries and high grades getting certified without much thought. I would not buy a GAI auth’ed autograph, and I ESPECIALLY wouldnt buy a graded card. The cert carries no weight, and guarantees nothing to me.
NSA – Knick knack 1/1s
I have done a number of posts on NSA, mostly in regards to their fabrication of “game used” jersey cards created by them and encapsulated for sale on eBay. Based on the quality of the swatch and the youtube videos showcasing the quality of the cards, I think its obvious to me that there isnt much reliability in the cards they provide. I wouldnt trust them one single bit, but that doesnt stop people from buying them for the last few years. Its sickening to think they make money. Sucker born every minute.
BCCG – Graded cards
From my understanding, BCCG is an offshoot of BGS, but without the same standards in which they grade cards. In other words, a BCCG 10 means nothing close to a BGS 10 in any way shape or form. Its not that they are untrustworthy, just that the cards arent held with the same type of value.
There are literally a million companies that do grading and authentication, and it isnt worth the risk to buy them over an auth from a reliable company. I would stick to what you know, and these guys are so tiny that they have no accountable reputation to speak of. Because of how much money is involved with grading, these guys will try to capitalize at every turn. Dont even think twice, just avoid.
Again, this article is built off my personal opinions on the matter, and I am open to hearing what other people have to say. I have had a lot of questions on what to do with certain items, and hopefully this will shed some light on it.