Grade The Condition of the Card
The grade of a card is determined by weighing the condition or quality of four basic aspects of the card. Sometimes, it's easy to grade a card because one aspect is defective, and it's generally recognized that if that particular aspect is defective in a certain way, the card should get a certain grade. Other times it is harder to grade a card, since the relative condition of several aspects of the card must be taken into account. In most cases, a card is graded based upon its worst feature. If other features of the card are particularly good, the grade of the card might lift a little, and if several of the card's features are bad, it might lower a bit.
Cards are graded by four aspects, these are: corners, edges, surface and centering.
Centering is a major factor in the grade of vintage cards. The presses of the time did not hold registration like modern presses do and almost all cards had an unprinted border around them. Modern presses hold registration very well and most are bleed printed meaning the printing goes right off the edge of the card. For these modern cards centering is not a factor.
There are, unfortunately, several different grading scales; however, they are similar enough to keep confusion to a minimum. The 10 point grading scale is the standard that all the scales are based on.
The 10 point Grading Scale:
Poor (P) or Fair (F) 1: A card that has seen serious abuse or has a hole in it.
Good (G) 2: This grade is usually the result of heavy corner rounding, surface wear or creases. Any card with writing on it falls in this category. (Writing other than an autograph of course).
Very Good (VG) 3: A card that looks good from a distance, but on closer inspection several defects can be seen without magnification. This is the highest rating possible on a creased card.
Very Good / Excellent (VGEX) 4: This is the highest grade that a card can have with a small wrinkle. A wrinkle is a crease that can be seen on only one side of the card.
Excellent (EX) 5: This grade is for cards that look really good, but show some wear.
Excellent / Mint (EXMT) 6: A card that looks mint, but upon close examination defects can be seen without magnification.
Near Mint (NM) 7: A card that looks mint, but upon examination with magnification, defects can be seen usually on edges and corners. This grade is often given to cards that are new right out of the packages. This is the best grade I would assume any "raw" card is in unless it has been professionally graded higher. Many sellers will tell you the card they are selling is a higher grade, but unless the card is professionally graded higher, that is just so much seller verbiage. I would always assume any new card right out of the package is Near Mint when making a buying decision. I would be a bit skeptical of any dealer who tells you his new raw card is better than Near Mint. The best dealers describe new raw cards as Near Mint. When collecting autographed non-sports cards you should strive for all your cards to be Near Mint or better.
Near Mint / Mint (NMMT) 8: A card that looks mint, but upon examination with strong magnification and bright light, very small defects can be detected usually on edges and corners. This is another grade common to new cards right out of the package and professionally graded. Grades higher than Near Mint / Mint are rare. The main reason a new card is not mint is that the cutting blades leave marks on the edges and corners. To consistently get mint cards the blades would have to be sharpened often and the surface of the blades polished to avoid any blade marks.
Mint (MT) 9: Mint basically means very nearly prefect in every regard.
Gem Mint or Perfect (GEM) 10: A mint card with extra appeal. This usually means a brighter than usual surface.
Some graders give in between grades like NM+ to indicate these are cards at the higher end of the grade.
Professional grading companies are service companies that provide consistent and impartial grading of cards. Professional grading has changed the card market tremendously. The cards have become commodities and it is possible to buy and sell them sight-unseen with much more confidence. Professionally graded cards command good prices, because people will trust a professional grade and are often willing to pay more for these cards. It is now true that if someone is trying to sell a non-graded premium card, people will wonder why it isn't professionally graded. There is the concern that if it is not professionally graded, there might be something wrong with it. This is a special concern with autographed base cards that were autographed after distribution from the card company where the possibility of a forgery exists. Professional grading virtually eliminates that risk. The rather small premium paid for professionally graded cards is generally well worth it. PSA/DNA offers a special autograph authentication service for cards and most other autographed items.
Just as a point of interest, comic books and coins use a system of grading that is very similar to the one used for cards. Comic books and coins can also be professionally graded in much the same way that cards are. Miniature figures use a scale with 5 grades. They are Poor, Fair, Good, Near Mint, Mint. Other collections use a condition "C" scale that rates condition on a 1 to 9 scale. Poor = C1 or C2, Fair = C3 or C4, Good = C5 or C6, Near Mint = C7 or C8, Mint = C9. As you can see except for the words used, the "C" scale is about the same as the scale used for trading cards. Some other collectibles can be professionally graded using holograph labels although authentication is more common than actual grading.
by George V. Schubel