View Full Version : Lionel Carter on grading cards, 1973

02-11-2016, 12:05 AM
I just posted this as a comment in the "Grading Older Cards" thread, but it's interesting enough that I figured I would also post it as its own thread so more people might see it. The original thread is about whether older cards (e.g. T206) should be graded according to different standards than newer cards.

This is an issue that has been argued in the hobby for decades. The third-party grading companies were created to solve it, and while they have done a lot to reduce confusion, they have not made the issue go away, as this thread shows.

In the olden days (the 1980s and earlier), card grading was very subjective and based primarily on eye appeal. In old hobby publications from the 70s, you see people complaining that they bought a card described as EX, but it had a big crease or something. Even as recently as 20 years ago, you would see cards described in ads as "EX-MT but with pinhole". I think most of us can figure out what that card would look like -- a clean, uncreased card with sharp corners but a pinhole at the top -- but a TPG today would give that card a 1, maybe a 2 tops. The TPGs assign their grades systematically, deducting for flaws such as creases, worn corners, paper loss, etc. (Well, it's supposed to be systematic, but we all know they make mistakes and there's an element of subjectivity.) It doesn't matter how old the card is (at least in theory) or what set it's from; if it has certain flaws, its grade will be reduced.

A card's technical grade tells you what flaws it has, but it doesn't necessarily say anything about its eye appeal, and the desirability of cards at different technical grades varies hugely depending on the age of the card. There are very few PSA 7-8-9 T206s out there, and they command a huge premium over PSA 4s and 5s, let alone 1s and 2s. But there are many more T206s in those lower grades, and plenty of collectors are happy to own them, so there's a healthy market for them and lots of them still get graded by the TPGs. On the other hand, for most card sets since 1980, there are tons of PSA 7-8-9-10 cards out there, and anything below that won't have much value, and few of them get graded by the TPGs.

Below are two articles from 1973 that illustrate how long this exact conversation has been going on. The first, by Cooper Long, was in The Ballcard Collector #94 (March 1973). He describes getting a bunch of cards that had been described as EX-MT, but some of them had writing on the front. He suggests that there should be uniform guidelines for grading cards, but also says that, of course, you can't grade a T206 the same as a 1972 Topps; you have to take its age into account. Three issues later in Ballcard Collector #97 (April 1973 #2), Lionel Carter replied to Long, strongly disagreeing that age should have any impact on a card's grade. As he so often was, Carter was ahead of his time, anticipating the way most collectors (and the TPGs) think about card condition today.


02-11-2016, 12:37 AM
Some very prescient statements by Mr. Carter.............

02-11-2016, 05:51 AM
Mr. Carter is correct. Grading should be constant across the decades (centuries?). An EX 1972 Topps and an EX T3 SHOULD be equally excellent. The grading should not waiver. No quarter should be given to the ravages of time. What does change, what SHOULD be variable, if anything, is a collector's acceptance of flaws. Collecting an EX/MT set of Psychedelic Tombstone Topps '72s is an attainable, affordable goal. If you hold out for EX/MT in 100+ year old cards, you will have lots of time to think about your next purchase....:D