Tag Archives: Beckett Grading Services

Ultra High-Grade 1951 Bowman Set Break, High-Grade HOF RCs & Scarce Oddballs & Inserts Highlight Small Traditions’ 4th Annual Holiday Premium Auction

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November 21, 2016 – Denver, CO. Widely considered one of the top-ten sports card sets ever produced, 1951 Bowman baseball is world famous for two simple reasons: Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. In addition to Hall of Fame rookie cards of Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox, Monte Irvin, and others, the ’51 set contains the first-ever cardboard appearances of Willie and The Mick. For this reason alone, the set has enjoyed more popularity than almost every other post-war set produced after World War II.

However, the 1951 Bowman baseball set boasts several other virtues that have endeared it to collectors for two-thirds of the last century. With 324 cards comprising approximately 85% of Major League Baseball’s 400-player roster on Opening Day in 1951, it is the largest-ever baseball offering from the famed Philadelphia gum manufacturer. There are 27 total Hall of Famers, with key cards from Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Duke Snider, and more. Last but not least, the set’s design consists of artistically enhanced color photographs that capture an almost palpable and transcendent timelessness as ably as the smell of fresh cut green grass, the taste of bubble gum, and the sights and sounds of the game itself.

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Denver-based auction firm Small Traditions LLC is pleased to kick off its 4th Annual Holiday Premium Auction with an ultra high-grade 1951 Bowman PSA-graded set break unlike almost any that have ever come to market. The offering consists of five of the 149 different 1951 Bowman cards to ever grade PSA 10 Gem Mint, 19 cards graded PSA 9 Mint, 27 cards graded PSA 8.5 NM-MT+, and over 100 other cards graded PSA 8 NM-MT, with stars and high-numbers offered as singles and low-number commons offered in four different groups of 20 cards each.

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In addition to a healthy selection of high-grade Hall of Fame rookie cards highlighted by a 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams pair graded PSA 7.5 and PSA 7, respectively, the auction also contains a fine selection of scarce regional and over-sized oddballs, foremost among them a 1960 L.A. Dodgers Team Issue of Sandy Koufax graded PSA 9 Mint, the single highest example ever graded, plus a Canadian-printed 1972 Pro Star Promotions Pete Rose graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, also ranking as the single highest ever graded.

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Operating in its fifth year of monthly auctions, Small Traditions LLC has garnered a reputation for seeking out and offering unusually challenging low population or “low pop” cards from its many consignors’ collections, and this month is no exception. Take, for example, the offered 1960 Topps #300 Hank Aaron card graded PSA 8 NM-MT, one of the most challenging Hank Aaron Topps cards in the hobby. Or how about the 1970 Topps #434 Johnny Bench card graded PSA 9 Mint, which is one of only nine in existence, or the hobby’s first-ever 1976 Hostess #33 Rod Carew graded PSA 10.The biggest surprise in the auction, however, might just turn out to be the 1980 Topps #230 Dave Winfield card graded PSA 10, the popular 1980 Topps set’s toughest Hall of Fame card, with only one other PSA 10 ever graded.

If you think you might have rarities like these hiding in your treasured collection, be sure to contact Small Traditions and to ask about the company’s popular Cost-Free Consignment Program, in which a representative of the company will work directly with you to identify candidates from your collection for consideration for professional third-party grading. Small Traditions will pay the expensive grading fees up front and then auction off your cards at a 0% sellers rate, the best deal in the hobby.

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Of course, the current month’s Holiday Premium Auction wouldn’t be a Small Traditions event if there weren’t an impressive selection of modern rookie and insert cards up for grabs, and this month’s selection does not disappoint. From Mario Lemiuex and Derek Jeter, to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, there is something for every collector. Highlights here include a borderline Gem Mint 1985 O-Pee-Chee #9 Mario Lemieux RC graded PSA 9 Mint, a centered 1986 Fleer #86 Michael Jordan RC graded PSA 8.5 NM-MT+, an exceptional 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Century Marks Derek Jeter Autograph RC graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, a notoriously challenging 1996 Finest Refractor #74 Kobe Bryant RC graded BGS 9.5 Gem Mint, and a 2003 SP Signature LeBron James Autograph RC graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, among many, many others.

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Finally, the auction also contains a sampling of unopened cello and rack packs, a fine selection of signed baseballs, lithographs, and other memorabilia, plus a wide range complete and partial baseball and non-sport sets dating back to the early 1950s and culminating in the hobby’s largest ever offering of late 1970s Hostess cards, offered as partially graded sets, low pop and Pop 1 PSA 10 graded singles, and groups. If you are a Hostess collector, or thinking of becoming one, don’t miss this opportunity to add a significant number of high-grade cards to your new or existing sets from 1975 through 1979.

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HOW TO: Submit Cards For Grading Part 1, Cleaning & Handling Your Cards

People often ask if Small Traditions has special arrangements or back door deals with PSA and BGS, two of the hobby’s leading grading firms. How else could we get so many PSA 10 Gem Mints and BGS 10 Pristines for our consignors every month? The answer to the first question is invariably no. PSA, or Professional Sports Authenticator, is a division of Collectors Universe, a relatively large company that is publicly traded on the Nasdaq stock market under the handle CLCT, and Beckett Media, home of Beckett Grading Services, or BGS, is an established publishing firm that has been in business for nearly 30 years. Ever see the magazine Victorian Homes at the supermarket? That’s them. Or how about Gun World or Diesel World or Drive? Yup, all products of Beckett. Although some casual collectors on the fringes of the hobby suspect the worst of authentication companies—and for good reason; the hobby has endured countless forgery scams and inquisitions by investigative journalists and even the FBI—to those who work closely with PSA and BGS, the idea that these two respected companies would ever engage in collusion or some other type of fraud is laughable.

The answer to the second question—how does Small Traditions get so many PSA 10 Gem Mints and BGS 10 Pristines—is almost just as simple. We sort millions upon millions of cards every year. Every day at Small Traditions, USPS, FedEX, and UPS deliver packages stuffed with old cards from our consignors, and we also buy product by the pallet load. We don’t crack wax boxes, we crack cases: set cases, vending cases, cello and wax cases, hundreds of cases every year. But anyone can accumulate cards. Indeed, every other house in every town in middle America has a stack of shoe boxes or white vaults or monster boxes somewhere in its attic or in the dusty recesses of its garage or cellar—please, get them OUT of the cellar; they should be in the attic, where it is dry. These boxes are mostly filled with worthless, overproduced trash from the 1980s and 1990s. But you know the old saying, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? It’s true. Even the most worthless of cards from the so-called junk era can now fetch $10s if not $100s in top grades, and many insert cards from the 1990s are now selling for $1000s and even $10,000 and more.

So you’ve got some old cards. Who doesn’t? The hard part is figuring out what to do next. Sell them as is? Grade them? Give them away? Trash them? Or better yet, recycle them? This blog post is the first in a multi-part series about preparing your cards for professional grading. Even experienced hobbyists often assume that they can submit their cards “as is” to PSA and BGS (or SGC or ISA or GAI, there are more than a few grading companies in the market). However, these submitters couldn’t be further from the truth, and this is precisely the reason so many hobbyists are often disappointed with the results of professional grading.

In addition to using up to 10x magnification beneath bright white halogen light to examine every square millimeter of both surfaces and all four corners and edges of every card you submit for grading, it is important to learn how to handle cards by their edges so that the oil and dirt of your fingerprints don’t mark the cards. Unfortunately, many cards, especially newer, glossy cards, have already been mishandled, and even if the cards are perfect in every other way—centering, corners, edges, and print quality—they won’t grade higher than Mint 9 if their surfaces are marred with smudges and fingerprints. But who wants Mint 9s? We want Gem Mint 10s, right? So here’s a detailed 10-step prescription for cleaning and handling dirty cards in preparation for storage and/or professional grading. You’ll need a few things to get started, including penny sleeves and semi-rigid Card Savers from Cardboard Gold or Ultra Pro, lens cleansing cloths from your local camera shop, a damp sponge or paper towel, a bunch of a free time, and a whole lot of patience.

  1. Always wash your hands before handling your cards, and repeat as necessary when your fingers get sweaty, as they often will. It also helps to have a fan against which to dry your hands when they do get clammy. 1
  2. Work on a clean, smooth, and clutter-free surface. I often like to work on top of an over-sized top loader to ensure that there aren’t dust and other particles that might scratch the susceptible surfaces of newer cards.
  3. Holding your first card by its edges, the way you might hold a CD or DVD, examine first the reverse surface by tilting it under the reflection of your light.
  4. 2If you encounter smudges or other unidentifiable grime on the card’s reverse surface, lay the card face down on top of your clean surface.
  5. Using a plastic penny sleeve to hold the card in place, use your lens cloth to clean the area of the surface that is not covered by the penny sleeve. If the grime won’t fully disappear, then lightly touch your lens cloth to your dampened sponge or paper towel, and repeat. Wipe in the same direction, and wipe until you see no more smudges, only the perfect reflection of a clean and totally pristine surface.
  6. 3Flip the card around and place the penny sleeve over the surface area you just cleaned, and then repeat the same process as above. Take your time, and repeat as necessary.
  7. Once the back is perfectly clean, use the penny sleeve to help lift the card off of your surface so that you don’t smudge it again. Remember to hold the card only by its edges, and hold it lightly.
  8. Flip the card over and repeat the same cleaning process for the front surface. Be patient, and repeat until all smudges are gone. Understand that scratches won’t disappear, but this process can certainly help to lessen their impact. Please also understand that a dirty lens cloth will only continue to smudge the card. Even though they are expensive, you should replace them often.
  9. 4Using a penny sleeve to lift the card off your surface again, and holding it only by its edges, carefully insert the clean card into a fresh penny sleeve so as not to nick any of its corners. Now insert the penny sleeve-protected card into a semi-rigid Card Saver, and move on to your next card. Note: I like to put my finished cards into plastic bags so even the Card Savers stay fingerprint- and dust-free. Also, penny sleeves are not necessary for cards produced in the 1980s and earlier, and they can be both annoying and dangerous, but for the newer, glossier cards, they give graders something to grab onto when they pull the cards out of their semi-rigid holders, thereby preventing them from leaving their own fingerprints behind.
  10. Fill out a submission form from PSA or BGS, and then package up your cards per each company’s particular submission instructions. Address and insure your package, drop it into the mail, and then move on to your next round of orders. Don’t forget to stand up and stretch, go for for a walk, talk to a friend. Working with cards can be long, lonely, and laborious.  5

As you can see, preparing cards for professional grading is a very delicate process, but this is only a very small part of that process. What about cards that appear a little smaller than other cards? How can you be sure that these cards have “natural” edges and haven’t been trimmed or otherwise altered? Surely you don’t want to ruin your hard work of preparing your submissions by accidentally including “doctored” cards. And what about cards that appear to be dirty or smudged but that have already been graded? Can you regrade them? Can you remove them from their holders? Or what about cards that have a protective skin on their front surfaces? How the heck do you peel that thing off without ruining a corner or an edge? And finally, what about older cards that have wax on their front surfaces? Isn’t it possible to remove that wax without damaging the card? After all, if your 1960 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle card had a bugger stuck to its front surface, wouldn’t you just flick it off? Of course you would! 6

The controversy over so-called card doctoring is more relevant today than it has ever been, but at Small Traditions we draw the line at either adding or taking away anything that isn’t essential to the card. You cannot add extra color or gloss to a card’s surface. Neither can you trim or shave an edge or file a corner. Evidence of these sort of shady tactics is about as obvious to a professional as are the signs of an impending summer thunderstorm to a stadium full of baseball fans. If you’re buying raw cards off of eBay or from dealers at card shows and conventions, nothing can guarantee that all your cards will be clean and unaltered, and unfortunately, altered cards abound in raw, ungraded form. Neither PSA nor BGS will ban you from using their services if you occasionally submit a questionable card, but the same cannot be said if the activity becomes a trend. 7

To conclude on a more positive note, however, I’d like to briefly answer the final few questions proffered above. The answer to the issue of wax is remarkably simple and can be summed up in just two words: ladies pantyhose. That’s right. Or in one word: nylons, stockings, leggings, hosiery, call it what you want. But if8 you apply the same process as above and rub the surface of a wax-stained card with a small swatch of pantyhose instead of a lens cloth, the mesh fabric will lift and trap the wax as you go, leaving nothing but an ultra clean and polished and bugger-free surface in its wake. Just don’t let your wife of your girlfriend catch you stealing her favorite pair or, worse yet, shopping for your own!

EXPLAIN IT TO ME: BGS 10 Pristine

JordanrookieHow does a piece of cardboard printed less than 30 years ago and for a fraction of a single cent grow in value to $100,000 today? To those familiar with the curious world of high-grade sports collectibles, the answer is simple: BGS 10 Pristine. To those not in the know, however, the answer is a little more complicated. Non-hobbyists (or citizens, as we in the hobby sometimes call them) have a difficult time understanding why such a piece of cardboard is worth anything at all, let alone 100,000 bucks, and even many long-time dealers and collectors can’t adequately explain the strange economics of graded baseball (and other) cards. This article, however, is an attempt to do just that, to explain, to both collectors and non-collectors alike, the freakonomic nature of the high-grade sports card market.

BGS 10 Pristine is the toughest, most elusive, and most coveted professional third-party grade in the card collecting hobby. To be clear, a “grade” is a numerical value that a paid expert assigns to a collectible trading card after he has thoroughly examined it from every angle and determined that it is original and unaltered. Grades range from 1 to 10, with 1 being Poor and 10 being either Gem Mint or Pristine. Once the professional grader has determined a card’s grade, the card is then sealed inside a tamper proof plastic case along with a label (we call it a “flip“) containing the card’s name, number, and year, as well as a unique certification number that allows the newly graded card to enter a database with all other graded cards in order to track how many total examples have been graded and how many examples in each grade have been realized. These databases are called population reports, or “pop reports,” and they form the mathematical basis for the economics of the graded card market.

BGS 10 Pristine is the highest grade awarded by Beckett Grading Services, a division of Beckett Media, the same Dallas-based publishing firm that first began hawking price guides nearly 30 years ago in 1984. On their website, they describe the Pristine 10 grade as follows, “Centering: 50/50 all around on front. 60/40 or better on back. Corners: Perfect to the naked eye and Mint under magnification. Edges: Perfect to the naked eye and virtually free of flaws under magnification. Surface: No print spots. Flawless color, devoid of registration or focus imperfections. Perfect gloss, devoid of scratches and metallic print lines.” The BGS 10 Pristine grade is a full step above the BGS 9.5 Gem Mint grade, which Beckett describes as, “Centering: 50/50 one way, 55/45 the other on front. 60/40 or better on back. Corners: Mint to the naked eye, but slight imperfections allowed under magnification. Edges: Virtually Mint to the naked eye. A speck of wear is allowed under intense scrutiny. Surface: A few extremely minor print spots, detectable only under intense scrutiny. Deep color, devoid of registration or focus imperfections. Perfect gloss, devoid of scratches and metallic print lines.”

The BGS 9.5 Gem Mint grade is generally equivalent to the Gem Mint grades at Beckett’s two primary competitors, PSA and SGC, and what’s important to understand about the Gem Mint grade at any of these companies is that it does not indicate perfection. Take PSA’s standards for its Gem Mint 10 grade: “A PSA Gem Mint 10 card is a virtually [my emphasis] perfect card. Attributes include four perfectly sharp corners, sharp focus and full original gloss. A PSA Gem Mint 10 card must be free of staining of any kind, but an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn’t impair the overall appeal of the card. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed approximately 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front and 75/25 percent on the reverse.” The point is that the standards for Gem Mint at both PSA and BGS allow for slight imperfections. Another important point to understand is that while there are dozens of other grading firms in the market, PSA, SGC, and BGS are the most trusted and most utilized; they are the big three. However, the standards at each firm DO differ, and much to the chagrin of far too many collectors, a card deemed Gem Mint by PSA might not necessarily grade Gem Mint by SGC or BGS, and vice versa. The primary difference between the firms, however, is that PSA’s grading scale tops out at Gem Mint, while the scales at both SGC and BGS top out at Pristine, a full notch above Gem Mint. So, what does that mean?

jordan psa 10Simply put, a BGS 10 Pristine is a perfect card, and it is far scarcer and far more valuable than a Gem Mint card from any grading company. Let’s look at the famous 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie Card (RC) as an example. A PSA 10 Gem Mint specimen is currently worth about $8,000 to $10,000. According to PSA’s free pop report for the 1986 Fleer Basketball issue, there are currently 155 PSA 10s of this iconic Jordan card in circulation from a sizable sample pool of 13,324 submissions to the Newport Beach-based grading firm, while estimates of the total print run for Fleer’s famous 1986 Basketball set range from 60,00 to 100,000 of each card in the short 132-card set, a small fraction of the print runs for most other products distributed in the 80s. One of our favorite websites, vintagecardprices.com, tracked 25 different sales of these PSA 10 Gem Mint Jordan RCs in 2012, with a high of $11,800 and a low of $7,000 and a mean average around $8,700. That’s a nice price for a so-called “modern card,” which we generally define as anything produced after 1980, but let us not forget that “His Heirness” was also the greatest and most popular player in the history of the hardwood.

The picture is much different at BGS. According to their population report, BGS has graded a total of 6,481 copies of Mike’s iconic Rookie Card and awarded 288 Gem Mint 9.5s, which sold last year for as high as $20,000 and as low as $3,483. Vintagecardprices.com was able to track 88 of these sales in 2012, with a mean average around $4,500. However, and we’re finally getting to the important point here, if you look at the BGS population report, which is also free but requires a log-in, you will notice that they have also graded four examples of the famed Jordan RC in the pinnacle Pristine 10 grade. There are no sales records for three of these fabled four Pristine 10 Jordan RCs, probably because they are locked away in safety deposit boxes somewhere, but the first one ever realized sold on eBay in August 2009 for a whopping $82,000, and that same card later sold in June 2011 for $100,000. Now that’s some serious coin for a card produced not 30 years ago.

Before concluding, let’s turn down the volume on the value dial and explore the impact that the BGS Pristine 10 grade has on cards of lesser significance than the Michael Jordan RC. Most dealers and collectors of this sort of ultra high-grade material would agree that the BGS 10 Pristine grade tends to increase the value of a BGS 9.5 Gem Mint or PSA 10 Gem Mint card by an average multiplier of anywhere from 5 to 10 times, if not significantly higher in certain cases. For many years, the mere sighting of a BGS 10 on eBay or at a card show was a rare phenomenon, but they are more abundant now as a result of increased production standards at contemporary card manufacturers—cards nowadays often emerge from packs in Gem Mint if not Pristine condition—and also the sheer volume of submissions to BGS. Small Traditions is one of the hobby’s leading sellers of BGS 10 Pristines, and there are always dozens available in our popular Monthly Auctions, which always start on the middle Wednesday of every month and end 15 days later on the final Thursday of every month. Click here to be taken directly to a list of BGS 10 Pristines selling in the current month’s auction, and click here if you’d like to register to bid. Here are just a few examples of the premium prices collectors pay for BGS 10 Pristines:

Card PSA 10 Sale Date BGS 10 Sale Date
1982 Fleer #603 Lee Smith RC $62 eBay Dec 27 $600 eBay Feb 11
1983 Fleer #179 Wade Boggs RC $36 eBay Jan 19 $355 STs Nov 2012
1985 Donruss #273 Roger Clemens $69 eBay Jan 10 $293 STs Nov 2012
1987 Donruss #502 David Cone RC $15 eBay Dec 06 $380 eBay Mar 18
1989 Topps #49 Craig Biggio RC $25 eBay Dec 27 $316 STs Oct 2012
1989 Topps #647 Randy Johnson RC $25 eBay Jan 10 $384 STs Oct 2012
1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey RC $240 eBay Jan 26 $1,249 eBay Oct 29
1990 Leaf #300 Frank Thomas RC $69 eBay Jan 10 $921 eBay Nov 21
1990 Topps #692 Sammy Sosa RC $10 eBay Jan 11 $261 STs Oct 2012
1996 Score #240 Derek Jeter RC $12 eBay Jan 09 $355 STs Nov 2012
1999 TSC Triumvirate Derek Jeter $36 eBay Nov 28 $575 STs Nov 2012
2011 BP #BP1 Bryce Harper RC $270 eBay Jan 19 $1,200 eBay Nov 29

In addition to creating higher prices, the BGS 10 Pristine grade has another impact on the hobby that is important to mention before concluding. As Beckett rolls out its online Set Registry system over the coming months, the BGS 10 Pristine grade will have a significant impact on Set Registry collections. As collectors scramble to assemble the highest-graded Registry of sets like 1952 Topps, 1984 Donruss, or 1986 Fleer Basketball, to name just a few, demand for even common players in the BGS 10 Pristine grade will increase. Moreover, when it comes to Player Set Registries, expect to see increased demand for players’ cards beyond their rookie years. For an informative read on the Set Registry idea, please my first Explain It To Me Post: Pop 1, Pop 2, Pop What? – Understanding The Set Registry Concept.

In answering a few important questions about the economics of the ultra high-grade card market, we’ve opened the door to several more questions, with which I will leave you here but hopefully return to answer in subsequent posts. First, how can the prices for a PSA 10 Jordan RC, or any other card in the same grade for that matter, range by nearly $5,000, and how can the prices for a BGS 9.5 or BGS 10 Jordan RC range by as much as $20,000? Second, who’s to say what’s Mint or Gem Mint or Pristine, especially when the answer can create $100,000 of value? After all, isn’t grading an essentially subjective process? Third, why doesn’t PSA have a Pristine or Perfect grade like other grading companies? And last, are there other cards that will approach six figures because of the Pristine 10 grade, and will there ever be a seven figure Pristine 10? Forget Honus Wagner and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson cards, will there ever be a million dollar modern card? Thanks to the BGS 10 Pristine grade, I’m confident that the answer is yes, but I won’t tell you exactly what that is right now, because I’m still out there looking for it.

Thanks for reading, and happy hunting,

Dave Thorn