Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How We Grade Baseball Cards and Other Sports Cards at Dean’s Cards

As a baseball card collector, I know that there is nothing more disappointing then buying a baseball card and then finding out the quality is not as good as promised. That's why at Dean's Cards we use the Grading Standards of PSA as the minimum baseline for grading the cards in our inventory. But we go much further than PSA standards -- we take into account a card's "eye appeal." Other grading companies, such as PSA do not always take "eye appeal" into account when grading cards. As a baseball card collector myself, I tend to be a bit more critical of a card's eye appeal than the professional grading companies.

Even if a card meets all of PSA's technical requirements for a particular grade, we also require that it have an overall look that represents that grade. For example, we tend to be more critical of cards that are blurry, dull, have diamond-cut (crooked) images or possess rough-cut edges. Collectors who are accustomed to purchasing ungraded cards from other vendors, are usually amazed at our tough grading standards. It is quite common for Dean's Cards to be graded one to three grades lower than similar raw cards (graded by the seller) that are sold online.
Dean with graded cards. Click here to learn about grading baseball and other sports cards.
Our Dean's Cards website shows the actual scans of the vintage cards that are listed online. Even with a huge image of the card that you are viewing, scans can sometimes be deceptive. By grading our cards conservatively, you can be assured that the cards you order from Dean's Cards will meet (and possibly exceed) your expectations. This practice is simply good business from our point of view.

If a card should fail to meet your expectations for any reason, please return it for a full refund. The reasoning behind this is simple: If you pay to have your card graded and encased and it is over-graded, you are probably happy. If you buy a card from us and it is over-graded, you are not happy.

Until 2012, we did not have scans of our vintage card inventory online. Before the scans, we had to exceed grading expectations, in order to avoid the business expense (as well as the customer frustration) of returned cards. Even though we now have (huge) actual images of our vintage cards, we have not relaxed our tough standards.
Elana, Dean's Cards purchasing manager, inspects a set of vintage baseball cards. Click here if you have vintage baseball cards from 1869-1969 that you would like to sell to Dean's Cards for top dollar.
Another difference that we have from PSA graded cards is that Dean's Cards does not use qualifiers on cards with flaws, such as OC (off center) or ST (stained). Dean's Cards will simply have a lower grade after taking that card's flaw into consideration. For example, a card that would grade PSA 8 (OC) would most likely be graded a Dean's Cards 6.

To further increase our quality, we ask our customers to report cards that appear to be graded too easy (or too tough) so that we can review the card and possibly adjust the grade.

Our goal for your Dean's Cards purchase is the exact same goal as we have when we buy cards -- we want you to be completely satisfied with the card you receive and never have to be hassled with returning unwanted cards for replacements. Our entire staff will do everything that we possibly can to exceed your expectations on the first try. No mistakes and no excuses. Your time is too valuable and your business is greatly appreciated.

Click here if you have vintage baseball cards to sell -- 1869-1969.

Overview of Our Tough Sports Cards Grading Standards

Near Mint/Mint
Near Mint/Mint or Dean's Cards 8 is our top grade for vintage cards. Depending on the issue, 1% to 5% of post World War II vintage cards grade this high. To quote PSA Grading Standards: "A NM-MT 8 is a super high-end card that appears Mint 9 at first glance, but upon closer inspection, the card can exhibit the following: a very slight wax stain on reverse, slightest fraying at one or two corners, a minor printing imperfection, and/or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 65/35 to 70/30 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse."

Near Mint

To quote PSA: "A NM 7 is a card with just a slight surface wear visible upon close inspection. There may be slight fraying on some corners. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. A minor printing blemish is acceptable. Slight wax staining is acceptable on the back of the card only. Most of the original gloss is retained. Centering must be approximately 70/30 to 75/25 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the back."


"A EX-MT 6 card may have visible surface wear or a printing defect which does not detract from its overall appeal. A very light scratch may be detected only upon close inspection. Corners may have slightly graduated fraying. Picture focus may be slightly out-of-register. Card may show some loss of original gloss, may have minor wax stain on reverse, may exhibit very slight notching on edges and may also show some off-whiteness on borders. Centering must be 80/20 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse."  * Taken from PSA's website.


"On EX 5 cards, very minor rounding of the corners is becoming evident. Surface wear or printing defects are more visible. There may be minor chipping on edges. Loss of original gloss will be more apparent. Focus of picture may be slightly out-of-register. Several light scratches may be visible upon close inspection, but do not detract from the appeal of the card. Card may show some off-whiteness of borders. Centering must be 85/15 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the back."

Very Good/Excellent

A VG-EX 4 card's corners may be slightly rounded. Surface wear is noticeable but modest. The card may have light scuffing or light scratches. Some original gloss will be retained. Borders may be slightly off-white. A light crease may be visible.

Very Good

"A VG 3 card reveals some rounding of the corners, though not extreme. Some surface wear will be apparent, along with possible light scuffing or light scratches. Focus may be somewhat off-register and edges may exhibit noticeable wear. Much, but not all, of the card's original gloss will be lost. Borders may be somewhat yellowed and/or discolored. A crease may be visible. Printing defects are possible. Slight stain may show on obverse and wax staining on reverse may be more prominent." *Taken from the PSA Grading Standards page.

A Dean's Cards VG 3 card is considered an "off-grade" card. Please remember that "Very Good" is a grading term and not an adjective! While several creases may be present in this grade, these cards will have other positive attibutes to make up for these flaws. The 1957 Klu (pictured above) is an example of a very weak Dean's Cards VG 3. Most will have a bit better eye appeal. This grade can also have pen marks on the back of the card. A card that has been trimmed or altered can be graded as high as VG 3, but we will clearly state this in the title of the card, if we suspect tampering.


"A Good (2) card's corners show accelerated rounding and surface wear is starting to become obvious. A good card may have scratching, scuffing, light staining, or chipping of enamel on obverse. There may be several creases. Original gloss may be completely absent. Card may show considerable discoloration.", as stated by PSA.

A card graded Dean's Cards 2 GOOD is not good. It is downright LOUSY! For that reason, a GOOD card sells for only 10% or less of it's price in in NEAR MINT condition. It may have four rounded corners and multiple creases. They may also have a small amount of writing on the front or back of the card. Cards that grade "GOOD" are the lowest grade that we usually carry for post-war common players. The exception is a few Super Star Cards. These cards are very worn. If you are looking for nice condition cards, please do not buy this grade!

Fair and Poor

PSA states that "A Fair 1.5 card's corners will show extreme wear, possibly affecting framing of the picture. The surface of the card will show advanced stages of wear, including scuffing, scratching, pitting, chipping and staining. The picture will possibly be quite out-of-register and the borders may have become brown and dirty. The card may have one or more heavy creases. In order to achieve a Fair grade, a card must be fully intact. Even though the card may be heavily worn, it cannot achieve this grade if it is missing solid pieces of the card as a result of a major tear, etc. This would include damage such as the removal of the back layer of the card or an entire corner."

"A Poor 1 will exhibit many of the same qualities of a PSA Fair 1.5 but the defects may have advanced to such a serious stage that the eye appeal of the card has nearly vanished in its entirety. A Poor card may be missing one or two small pieces, exhibit major creasing that nearly breaks through all the layers of cardboard or it may contain extreme discoloration or dirtiness throughout that may make it difficult to identify the issue or content of the card on either the front or back. A card of this nature may also show noticeable warping or another type of destructive defect."

A card that has one or more severe defects. Cards with this grade are in REALLY, REALLY BAD condition.  Fair or Poor cards may have been altered by trimming or cutting or may have significant paper loss. Pen marks or writing can be on the front of the card. A POOR card is a "1" on a 10 point scale. usually only sells Pre-War and star cards in Poor condition.

Dean Hanley, founder and owner of, is considered one of the foremost experts on the subject of vintage sports cards and has a regular column in the Sports Collectors Digest and publishes articles on his blog. Dean has also written two books on vintage sports cards: The Bubble Gum Card War: The Great Bowman & Topps Sets from 1948 to 1955 and Before There Was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards.

Click here if you have vintage baseball cards to sell -- 1869-1969.

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