Tag Archives: BGS 10 Pristine

Big Results in Small Traditions Exclusive 100-Lot April Premium Auction

2Small Traditions LLC recently concluded its Exclusive 100-Lot April Premium Auction, setting several industry-wide sales records and reaching new milestones for the Denver-based auction firm. Despite its compact size, the auction closed at nearly a quarter million dollars, a new high for Small Traditions, which conducts monthly no-reserve auctions at its website, with every fourth month’s auction limited to just 100-200 premium lots. Each item in the premium auctions must have a minimum value of approximately $1,000, and the company strives to present each of these higher-end lots with a thoughtful and interactive description that links to hobby resources like PSACardFacts and BaseballCardPedia, and to player statistics, video highlights, and more — an engaging and information-rich approach that is at the core of the Small Traditions experience.

“The Premium format allows all lots to share in the spotlight, and 3the limited selection really encourages bidder competition,” says Small Traditions founder, Dave Thorn, a former teacher and research and writing coordinator for a pair of larger auction companies at the forefront of the hobby. Those are nice side effects of a decision Thorn made, he admits, strictly to help pace him and his small team, who work almost round-the-clock to coordinate their much larger Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions, which average anywhere from 500 to 1,500 lots. “We needed to take a break, but we didn’t want to miss a month, so the limited format developed naturally.”

5In addition to some staggering prices realized for both vintage and modern sports cards, perhaps what was most surprising about the company’s April Premium auction was that at least half of all the cards sold had come to Small Traditions in raw, ungraded form. As a part of its cost-free consignment process, Small Traditions will pay up front to grade its customers’ cards, only charging for the grading services after the sale of the cards, pending their owners’ approval of the grading results. The fee for selling on Small Traditions is 0%, so there’s absolutely no out-of-pocket expense to its consignors.

“So much work goes into sorting and closely inspecting our 15customers’ cards to identify candidates for grading,” says Thorn, “and that’s just the start of what is really a very expensive and challenging process, as it should be. So many customers expect high grades for their cards because they’ve been carefully preserved, but most don’t understand how rare Mint or Gem Mint cards from the 50s, 60s and 70s really are, how the perfect ones, even in many products from later years in the 80s and the 90s, are extreme statistical anomalies.”

That’s when the former teacher in Thorn steps in, as he works to ensure that every Small Traditions consignor understands not just the process of grading, but the stringent standards involved and the many challenges submitters face. The end result 9is that the grading process increases the value of the consignors’ cards, it increases the company’s profit from the flat 15% buyers premium it charges, and it brings some “great new-old cards” back into the hobby, a win-win-win for everyone involved.

“Great new-old cards” might be an understatement. Check out the following highlights from Small Traditions’ Exclusive 100-Lot April Premium Auction, which will be view-able at the company’s website until it begins its next auction on May 21st (consignment deadline Friday May 16th) . You can always search all of Small Traditions ended items, however, through the company’s user friendly results section, where you can reverse sort up to 5,000 items to see the top selling material in any search category. Small Traditions is also very active in social media and conducts compelling giveaways through both its Facebook page and its Twitter account, where it has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in giveaways since starting its monthly auctions just two years ago, all for free. Just “like” and/or “follow” today in order to play. 

  • 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold Derek Jeter SGC 96 — $16,995 RECORD
  • 1980 Charlotte O’s Police Issue Cal Ripken Jr. RC PSA 4 — $11,721 RECORD
  • 1964 Topps #541 Braves Rookies Phil Niekro RC PSA 10 — $9,670 RECORD
  • 1987 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC PSA 10 — $9,963
  • 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18 Wayne Gretzky RC PSA 9 — $8,791
  • 2000 Bowman Chrome #340 Albert Pujols RC BGS 9.5 — $7,033
  • 1971 Topps #5 Thurman Munson All Star Rookie BGS 9.5 — $5,568 RECORD
  • 1990 Topps #USA1 George Bush White House Issue BGS 8 — $5,568
  • 1992 Little Sun High School Signatures Derek Jeter RC PSA 10 — $5,275
  • 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle SGC Authentic — $4,982
  • 1993 SP Foil #279 Derek Jeter RC BGS/BVG 9.5 — $4,396 RECORD
  • 1954 Topps #8 Gordie Howe PSA 8 — $3,810
  • 1954 Bowman #66 Ted Williams PSA 8 (OC) — $3,517 RECORD
  • 1998 Fleer SI Extra Edition 1 of 1 #64 Derek Jeter PSA Authentic — $2,462
  • 1996 Select Certified Mirror Blue #100 Derek Jeter PSA 10 — $2,228 RECORD
  • 1986 Houston Astros Miller Light Nolan Ryan PSA 10 — $1,408 RECORD
  • 1951 Connie Mack’s All Stars #8 Christy Mathewson PSA 5.5 — $1,056 RECORD

Dave Thorn and his team extend their thanks to the countless collectors both past and present whose passions have made a place for Small Traditions to exist, with special thanks to the company’s growing list of consignors and bidders, without whom its monthly auctions wouldn’t exist, as well as to its many fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter.

Consignments Wanted for Multiple Summer Auctions

Small Traditions is currently seeking consignments for its next three Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions as well as its Exclusive 100-Lot August Premium Auction and its Exclusive Derek Jeter September Farewell Auction. Please write info@smalltraditions.com or call 303.832.1975 for more information and to reserve premium space for your collectible treasures today.

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Record-Breaking Results in Small Traditions Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction

jeter mirror gold photo 2

January 7, 2014 — Denver-based Auction firm Small Traditions LLC recently concluded its Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction on Saturday January 4th, and the results were nothing short of breath-taking, with record-setting prices realized for any cards produced after 1969 and graded PSA 9 Mint and PSA 7 NM. In addition to dozens of other staggering sales, a PSA 9 Mint 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold #100 Derek Jeter Rookie Card, one of just thirty copies in existence, sold for a staggering $13,479, making it one of the most expensive PSA 9 Mint-graded baseball cards in the hobby, and a 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s #16 Cal Ripken Jr. Rookie Card fetched a record $12,307.

ripken wbtv psa 7 frontAccording to vintagecardprices.com, only a handful of post-1950s baseball cards have ever realized higher prices in the grade of PSA 9 Mint than the rare Mirror Gold Derek Jeter, including the famous trio from the condition sensitive 1962 Topps set — Roger Maris at about $27,000, Sandy Koufax at about $15,000 (but once for as high as $66,000) and Mickey Mantle at $17,500 — plus a record-setting 1963 Topps Pete Rose Rookie Card at $14,044, a record-setting 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan Rookie Card at $15,986, and finally the infamous 1969 Topps Mickey White Name Variation, a Pop 4 in PSA 9 condition, which has fetched between $13,500 and $17,000 the few times it has surfaced over the last decade. That’s some pretty high-class company for baseball’s newest member of the elite 3,000-hit club.

Mantle7As for the record-breaking PSA 7 NM 1980 WBTV Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card, we have to go back to Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps high-number to find a more expensive card in the grade. One of the most famous baseball cards ever produced, a PSA 7 NM 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle runs anywhere between $26,000 and $42,000, with the highest prices paid for nicely centered copies. And before the The Mick’s iconic ’52 Topps card, we have to go all the back to the 1930s to a find a more expensive PSA 7 NM, with the scarce 1933 Goudey #106 Nap Lajoie card realizing about $35,000. Of course, Babe Ruth is also featured in the classic 1933 Goudey set, on four different cards in fact, but only two of those famous four Ruths command higher price tags than the 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s Ripken RC in PSA 7 NM condition, including the 1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth yellow back, which runs anywhere from $14,000 to $26,000, and the 1933 Goudey #149 Babe Ruth red back, which costs about $13,000. The other two Ruths,  the #144 full body pose and #181 green back, average about $8,500 and $6,800 in PSA 7 NM condition, respectively.  And so baseball’s “Iron Man” continues to set records. 14995a_lg

In addition to these historical sales, a number of other significant hobby masterpieces also realized strong final prices in Small Traditions’ Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction. A 1979 Topps #18 Wayne Gretzky Blank Back Rookie Card graded BVG 9.5 Gem Mint led the pack at $12,983, while a BVG 9 Mint example of The Great One’s O-Pee-Chee rookie realized a near record at $5,275. The only 1968 Topps #5 NL Home Run Leaders card graded PSA 10 Gem Mint realized $3,810, while a 1983 O-Pee-Chee #83 Ryne Sandberg brought $1,290, and a pair of Bo Jackson 1987 McDag Auburn Tigers Greats cards fetched $2,931. One of the hobby’s finest 1984 Topps #63 John Elway RCs graded BGS 10 Pristine sold for $6,154, and a 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC gretzky bgs 9.5 blank back frontshattered recent eBay sales figures for the card with a final price tag of $4,982. With its extremely detailed descriptions and high-resolution scans, that seemed to be the theme of Small Traditions’ most recent monthly auction, with strong prices and happy consignors across the board. Returning to Jeter and Ripken, a 1992 Little Sun Derek Jeter Autograph RC graded PSA 10 Gem Mint brought in $6,447, and a 1982 Fleer Test Cal Ripken Jr. RC graded PSA Authentic sold for $2,580, both records for public sales (a PSA 10 1992 Little Sun Jeter Autograph sold privately last summer for a whopping $15,000).

Top Sales from Small Traditions Inaugural December Premium Holiday Auction:

  • 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold #100 Derek Jeter RC PSA 9 Mint   $13,479
  • 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s #16 Cal Ripken Jr. RC PSA 7 NM                $12,307
  • 1979 Topps #18 Wayne Gretzky Blank Back RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint   $12,893
  • 1992 Little Sun High School Autographs Derek Jeter RC PSA 10        $6,447
  • 1984 Topps #63 John Elway RC BGS 10 Pristine                                 $6,154
  • 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18 Wayne Gretzky RC BGS 9 Mint                        $5,275
  • 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint                       $4,982
  • 1996 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Kobe Bryant RC BGS 9.5         $4,982
  • 1968 Topps #5 NL Home Run Leaders PSA 10 Gem Mint                   $3,810
  • 1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA 4 VG-EX                          $3,224
  • 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Century Marks Derek Jeter PSA 10    $2,814
  • 1986 Fleer Stickers #8 Michael Jordan RC PSA 10 Gem Mint             $2,697
  • 1997 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractors Derek Jeter Auto PSA 10      $2,697
  • 2009 Bowman Sterling Gold Refs Mike Trout Auto RC BGS 10           $2,697
  • 1982 Fleer Test Issue Cal Ripken Jr. RC PSA Authentic                      $2,580
  • 1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint                            $2,462
  • 1963 Topps #537 Pete Rose RC PSA 8 NM-MT                                   $2,228

1984 topps elway bgs 10 front   mj 9.5 rc bert front   rice bgs 9.5 front

18_8950b_lg   ripken psa front   jeter little sun deer psa 10 front

Free Grading with PSA and BGS on Items Valued Over $100

Unique within the industry, Small Traditions also offers free grading with PSA and BGS on cards valued above $100 and free authentication with PSA/DNA and JSA on autographs valued above $200. Most of the items in its Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction, in fact, were graded by Small Traditions at no cost to its consignors. The company is currently seeking consignments for its January, February and March Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions, and it will be returning to its exclusive 100-Lot Premium Auction format in April to mark the beginning of the 2014 MLB season. Please call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com for more information.

Small Traditions Delivers Big Results In Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11 Auction

August 7, 2013

6061a_lgDenver-based auction firm, Small Traditions LLC, successfully concluded its 11th consecutive Monthly Masterpieces Plus auction late Saturday night from the 38th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, and the results were big. “Our favorite motto is ‘Small Traditions, Big Results,’” said company founder, Dave Thorn, a former teacher and research writer for catalog auction companies like Mile High and Goodwin and Co. “We say it often, usually to motivate us through the long days and nights that go into preparing each of our auctions, but it’s encouraging to see so many of our realized prices standing behind those words.”

After concluding the company’s largest-ever auction in June, consisting of nearly 1,200 lots and 10,000 bids, and then preparing6072a_lg free consignor graded card submissions for last week’s National in Chicago and also next week’s East Coast National in New York, the company faced a serious challenge in pulling off its Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11. Thorn admitted that he had reservations about conducting the auction from Chicago on the last night of The National, the country’s largest and most attended sports collectibles show. However, the gamble appears to have paid off. The hobby’s newest and fastest growing auction company realized exceptionally strong results for the popular products around which it appears to have generated a niche, including graded rookie cards, autographs, oddball items, and, most notably, Derek Jeter cards.

5928a_lgA 2002 Bowman Chrome Joe Mauer Gold Refractor Autograph BGS 9 RC Rookie Card sold for $1,367, and a 1967 Dexter Press Roberto Clemente PSA 9 card sold for $1,242. A 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas Rookie Card and a 1991 Bowman Chipper Jones Rookie Card, both graded BGS 10 Pristine for their respective consignors at no cost, each sold for $846, strong prices for items from the so-called junk era of the early 1990s. But that’s nothing new for Small Traditions, one of the hobby’s leading sellers of ultra high-grade cards from the modern period, that is, the 1980s through today. A quick search of the company’s Results for these years from its first eleven auctions displays extraordinary price tags, and yet Small Traditions continues to also realize premium prices for high-grade cards from the 50s and 60s, such as these 1951 Topps Team Cards and 1955 Topps PSA Mint 9s from its recent auction.

The most impressive sales, however, came from the Derek Jeter market. Despite the Yankee Captain’s inactivity this season, demand for Derek’s collectibles has remained strong, a good indicator that demand will be even stronger when the 39 year old returns to play. According to Thorn, “Jeter has entered that rarefied air of sport nobility, with other world famous players like Michael Jordan and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth, in which demand for his collectibles will always be strong, always rising. Even if Jeter never played another game,” continued Thorn, “he’ll be remembered as one of the most accomplished and beloved players, ever, and those heavily invested in his collectibles should expect serious spikes in demand when Jeter retires and then again when he enters the Hall of Fame. But for now, I think most fans are hoping Jete can teach himself to stop playing like a 20-year old and tough out another 3 or 4 years of play, taking aim at becoming baseball’s third-ever player to join the 4,000 hit club, behind Ty Cobb and Pete Rose.”

5728a_lgWhile a 1996 Select Certified Blue Parallel Pop 2 PSA 10 RC brought in $1,655 in Thorn’s most recent auction, and a handful of other rookie cards topped $1,000 in bids, what was most surprising about many of the Jeter sales from Small Traditions Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11 auction was that some of the strongest prices came from non-rookie card material. Among many other record prices, a 1997 Topps Gallery Peter Max Autograph Insert Pop 1 PSA 10 sold for $3,554, a 1997 Pinnacle Certified Mirror Gold PSA 9 sold for $1,504, a 1999 Skybox Molten Metal Titanium Fusion Pop 2 PSA 10 earned $1,242, and a 1999 Fleer Brilliants Gold Pop 1 PSA 10 brought $1,129. Thorn attributes much of his company’s success in the Jeter market to the strong core of Jeter collectors in his rapidly growing customer base and to the work he puts into JeterCards.com, but the math behind the big sales is pretty basic as well. The latter three cards listed above, for example, were produced in extremely limited print runs of just 40, 30, 50, and 99 total copies made, respectively, and Michael Jordan cards from some of the same brands and low-numbered insert sets from the late 1990s have been consistently selling for $5,000 to even $10,000 for years.

5710a_lg“I’ve been encouraging my Jeter customers to learn more about the late 1990s insert market because, just like the Jordan market, I think that’s where we’ll see the strongest numbers in the future.” According to Thorn, there are only so many Jeter rookie cards—about 330 different ones, to be more specific—and late 90s insert cards number in the 1,000s and encompass the Yankees so-called dynasty years of 1996 to 2000, and they’re also some of the rarest and prettiest cards ever made. “It’s the perfect storm,” says Thorn. “Younger collectors might not think anything special of cards numbered to 50 or 100, since you can pull one from just about every single wax pack these days, but it was a different story in the 1990s, when the manufacturers first developed the concept.

5881a_lgThe problem is,” continued Thorn, “this is also the period when baseball cards, a very simple collectible until that time, became incredibly confusing, with multiple parallels and various tiers of print runs, some as low as 20, 10, 5, even 1.” Thorn insists that for all the quality cards from the late 1990s in the market, there are 1,000 times more junk cards that scrupulous dealers will try to push on uninformed customers. “It happens every day on eBay,” he says. “Just because a card is a Pop 3 PSA 10, for now, doesn’t mean it is necessarily rare. More likely, the card is just so common and insignificant that no one has graded very many. So some sellers will try to charge $300 for a card like this, when any Joe could easily buy 30 raw copies and grade 20 of them Gem Mint, all for the same price.”

5884a_lgAs such, Thorn stresses caution and knowledge when shopping for late 1990s Jeter cards, and he encourages collectors to learn as much as possible before clicking the Buy-It-Now button on eBay. “I hate to see collectors I know paying absurd prices for common cards when they can purchase a PSA 10 card numbered to 100 in our no reserve auctions for the same price. In his final remarks, Thorn concluded that “the Jeter market is a true community. Most of the bigger Jeter collectors and dealers know each other, and most are very friendly and happy to share the information they’ve collected over the years. For most collectors, in fact, figuring out that information has been just as fun and challenging as collecting the actual cards. Got a question? All you have to do is ask. Start by contacting advanced collectors on the PSA Set Registry, try the Collectors Universe and Freedom Cardboard forums, or call or write Small Traditions. You’ll be glad you did.”

An alternative to eBay and to other high-priced auction services, Small Traditions conducts monthly internet auctions with $1 starting bids, no reserves, and free shipping on single graded card lots, whether you win one or 101 of them. Small Traditions also offers a 0% sellers fee for consignors plus free grading with PSA and BGS for cards valued over $100, and it is the only auction company in the hobby to offer both free selling and free grading services. Call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com to learn more and to see if your cards qualify. Currently, the company is aggressively seeking rare vintage and modern single graded card consignments for its August 31, September 28, and October (Nov. 2) auctions.

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