Grading Guide/Glossary Of Terms
Using a system of grading codes based on those established by price guides such as Beckett, Tuff Stuff, Sports Collector’s Digest, bidders can determine the approximate condition of items offered by interpreting the following grades:
MINT (MT) - while we rarely use this grade, occasionally it can be found for items that we appraise as appearing nearly perfect to the naked eye. With respect to cards, it would be defined as one with 50/50 centering all around, razor-sharp corners, a photo that is well-registered and completely focused, and no visible imperfections on card front or back.
NEAR MINT-MINT (NRMT/MT) - is qualified by at least 60/40 centering, only the slightest hint of corner wear upon close inspection, and may have a barely visible print spot, lack of intense color, or a slight focus imperfection.
NEAR MINT (NRMT) - card displays at least 70/30 centering, may have a visible slight touch of corner wear all around, and/or a few slightly visible print spots, a lack of intense color, or a slight focus imperfection.
EXCELLENT-MINT (EXMT) - centering equivalent to NRMT (70/30), but 2 or 3 corners display an obvious "fuzzy" quality. Essentially, a card that would have been deemed NRMT if not for the corner wear being more apparent. May have a barely visible print spot, a lack of intense color, or a slight focus imperfection.
EXCELLENT (EX) - all four corners show visible signs of wear, but are not rounded. Centering at least 80/20. May have a visible print spot, a lack of intense color, or a slight focus imperfection.
VERY GOOD (VG) - centering is 80/20, but corners are rounded. Surface wrinkle or light crease acceptable for this grade.
FAIR TO GOOD - in this grade, card has rounded corners and defects such as scuffing, pinholes, loss of gloss, multiple creases. In general, a markedly worn card.
All-Star Card (AS) - usually a subset card picturing a player who participated in the previous season’s all-star game. Topps created these in their 1958 High Number issue and has continued the practice fairly regularly to date. Such cards are usually designated in price guides with the abbreviation of AS.
Assorted - a general mix of cards or items, usually of only one sport, and containing multiples of some.
Auction - items put up for public sale to the highest bidder. In the past, auctions were conducted either "live," by mail, phone. The majority of auctions today take place on the Internet and there is scarcely a collector that is not aware of eBay, the most visible of all the web auction sites.
Auction Catalog - a document listing the items in an auction. Usually some description with emphasis on condition is included. Authentication - verification that an item (card, autograph) is genuine. Most "game-used" material inserts have a written declaration of authenticity on the reverse. Authorized Issue - card or memorabilia item that has been properly licensed. If the item is of a player, his written permission must be given in order for it to be considered authorized.
Bazooka - a subsidiary of Topps Confection Co. and the name attributed to a bubble gum. The Bazooka name has been used to issue cards since the 1950’s. Black Sox - a nickname given to the Chicago White Sox following the 1919 World Series which resulted in the most famous scandal in baseball history. Eight players from the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the series against the Cincinnati Reds. Details of the scandal and the extent to which each man was involved have always been unclear. It was, however, front-page news across the country and, despite being acquitted of criminal charges, the players were banned from professional baseball for life. The eight men included the great "Shoeless" Joe Jackson; pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams; infielders Buck Weaver, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, Fred McMullin, and Charles "Swede" Risberg; and outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch.
Blank Back - a card in which nothing is printed on the back. In general, these are not found upon opening a pack. Cards with aberrations are as a rule discarded during quality control before packaging. Most often, these are as as a result of the sheet/sheets not being printed on the back. Later, they are cut up and somehow find their way into the hobby.
Blanket - a term used for a collectible item of the 1910’s consisting of a piece of fabric that sometimes featured baseball players.The piece came wrapped around a cigarette pack.
Blue Back - in 1951, the background used for one of the two Topps’ major issues.
Border - the part of the card that surrounds the photo in the middle. As a rule, the most common color is white. Black-bordered cards, due to chipping, are probably the most susceptible to showing wear.
Bowman - a card manufacturer of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Bought out by Topps, the Bowman name was picked up again in 1989. The brand name has extended into other issues such as Bowman Chrome, Bowman’s Best, Bowman’s Draft Picks.
Break - a term used by collectors, store owners or dealers indicating the opening of a pack, box, or case.
Break Value or Breakdown Value - indicates the total book value of each card added up individually. The BreAK Value of a set is usually way more than the value of the complete set.
Cabinet Card - an oversized trading card, typically issued just after the turn of the 20th Century (i.e. circa 1910-1915) featuring detailed paintings. There were many cabinet cards issued in the early days of baseball cards; however, the T3 set is the only one that many collectors can realistically hope to complete. Called "cabinet cards" because of their large size, the T3 Turkey Reds were available only by sending in coupons found in packages of cigarettes. As premiums, the cards were awarded as an incentive for consumers to keep smoking Turkey Red, Fez and Old Mill cigarettes. In order to get a single card, coupons needed to be sent from several cigarette packs, which accounts for the general scarcity of cabinet cards, and the Turkey Reds are no exception. It required ten coupons from Turkey Red or 25 coupons from Fez or Old Mill.
Card Show - a gathering of collectors and dealers under one roof looking to buy/sell/trade sports cards and memorabilia. "The National" is the largest of card shows and is held annually in a major metropolitan area.
Card Stock - the material a card is printed on, which is usually paper-based.
Cello - a type of card pack whose wrapper is plastic and see-through. In most cases the top and bottom card may be identified. Those packs that have not been opened and have a major star’s card showing have a premium.
Centering - a numerical reference to the borders of a card and how they measure to each other. A card is considered "perfectly-centered" with a "50/50" designation, both side-to-side and top-to-bottom. As the one number increases and the other number decreases, the centering begins to deteriorate. i.e.- a card that is registered 90/10 is considered "extremely off-center." The InterNet’s Baseball Card store uses these abbreviated version to desribe centering. L>R is left-to-right. T>B is top-to-bottom. i.e.- a card 60/40 L>R is off-center with 60% at the left border showing and 40% at the right border. The combination of numbers MUST ALWAYS add up to 100.
Certificate Of Authenticity - a document that is used to verify the legitimacy of a collectible. In reality, it is worthless, unless it shares a counterfeit- proof serially-numbered hologram that is attached to the item, and the certificate bears the signature of a notary public, or written verification by the manufacturer.
Checklists - cards which either numerically, or alphabetically list cards in a particular set. Since many checklists prior to 1980 (when collectors became condition-sensitive) were marked, those UNMARKED hold a premium.
Chipping - a condition in which the edges of a card expose the card stock beneath the printing. It is usually in the form of fine flaking and found around all four borders. Dark-colored print is the most problematic.
Collation - term has two definitions: 1) the act of having put cards in a systematic order. i.e.- assembled by year, player, team, condition, numerically, etc. (2) the distribution of cards per unopened box
Common - any card which is not short-printed, an insert, a bonus card, or has an insertion ratio. In short, the cards that comprise the manufacturer’s basic set.
Complete Set - all the cards from an issue collated as one unit. There are two types of complete sets: 1) only the basic set, 2) the basic set, plus all short-printed cards.
Condition - the physical appearance of a card/collectible. Centering, corner wear, photo clarity, edges, the presence of foreign material, signs of misuse are the critical components. Along with rarity/scarcity, it is a major factor in determining the value of a card or collectible.
Counterfeit - an illegitimate and unlicensed reproduction that applies to cards, photos, autographs, memorabilia, etc.
Crease - an obvious paper wrinkle defect usually caused by bending the card [i.e.- the result of being tortured on a rear-wheel bicycle spoke during the early ‘50s and ‘60s].
Dealer - a person whose business it is to make a profit by the buying and selling of sports cards and memorabilia. Most collectors, at some time or other, could be classified as dealers in that they enlarge their personal collection by selling duplicate or or unwanted cards enabling them purchase cards for their collection.
Die-Cut - an insert/parallel card that differs from the basic card by a process of the manufacturer "cutting" portions of the card revealing a special design. Recent issues may also be individually and serially-numbered.
Donruss - one of the major card manufacturers from 1981 until 1998. Company ceased production and in 2001 rights to the name were obtained by Playoff, which up until acquisition had produced only football cards.
Error Card - essentially, a card with a wrong player photo, inaccurate bio, or any characteristic that separates it from correctivity. Baseball card history is rich with such mutations. Anything from the 1957 Topps "reversed negative" picturing Hank Aaron in his opposite batting stance, to the infamous 1983 Fleer Billy Ripken "obscenity" card which depicted a not-so-politically correct 4-letter word at the end of his bat handle.
Extended Set - defined as a set issued after a company’s original release to "update" the regular set and include players traded to another team and shown in their current uniform, or rookie cards of players featured in a single-photo.
Facsimile Autograph - a simulated autograph printed on a card designed to show what the player’s actual signature looks like. These are NOT the player’s "real" autograph.
Factory Set - a complete set in a special box and wrapped with a protective covering produced by the manufacturer, usually with a unique seal and sold directly to dealers or card shop owners and not available through the usual retail outlets.
Grade - the physical condition assigned to a card, either by a price guide, or through the assessment made by sellers.
Graded Card - a card which has been assessed for condition by an independent source and given a ranking, with 10 being the best. The card is then placed in a hermetically-sealed plastic holder with the grade designation and player name, card company, card number, and serial number printed on the encasement.
Gum Stain - card in which the bubble gum inserted in the pack has tainted the card. Usually found on the card reverse.
High Numbers - vintage cards were issued in the ‘50s-‘70s in a series. During the baseball season, the largest number of cards were made. As the schedule progressed into September, when there would be less interest in baseball cards , Topps for one, specifically decreased production and hence much less product was available. As a result, a scarcity-factor was created and a premium holds for these first type of "short-printed" cards.
Inserts - special randomly-inserted cards which are not part of the regular set. Many modern inserts are sequentially-numbered and rarer than the card sets into which they are inserted.
Kellogg’s - card manufacturer that included cards in their cereal boxes in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Very "condition-sensitive" due to the plastic covering which caused cards to develop cracks or become warped over a short period of time.
Lot - a grouping of cards or items . Also, short for an "auction lot" which may only specify a "single" item.
O-Pee-Chee - a subsidiary of Topps, this card issue was produced specifically for distribution in Canada.
Post - a cereal company, that during the ‘60s manufactured boxes with "cut-out" cards as an incentive to buy the product.
Promotional Card - generally referred to as cards issued to show what the product will look like on release and intended to help spur future sales. Often called a "promo" card.
Rack Pack - designed for supermarkets, major toy chain and drug stores in the ‘70s and ‘80s, these consisted of mostly the equivalent of three packs, either in wax packs, or without wrapper. In some cases, one could see the top and bottom card in each cards. Those with stars/rookies have an added premium.
Rarity - the degree of difficulty to obtain. The rarer an item the greater the value.
Recolored - a card/collectible altered to make it look better than it really is. The biggest target probably being 1971 Topps baseball. Usually touched up on the corners with a Black Sharpie Marker.
Reprint - cards issued to reproduce the originals. With the current trend of vintage reprints, the new versions have a distinguishing characteristic evidenced by numbering.
Restored - a card or piece of memorabilia which someone has tried to return to a "like-new" condition. A restored card is considered to be of very little value.
Rookie Card - any league-licensed, widely distributed card to feature a player in his first year of trading cards.
Series - a group of cards within an issue deliberately split up by the manufacturer to distribute at different times of the year. (i.e.- vintage 1st series cards 1-100 were released in April and 2nd series cards 101-200 were released in July, etc.).
Short Print (SP) - a card printed to a lesser quantity than other cards in a set. Many recent short prints are also individually & serially-numbered.
Stain - a physical alteration to an item caused by a substance and not intended to be on it. The most common stains to baseball cards are caused by wax from the wrapper, gum, or water.
Standard Size Card - Cards that measure 2 ½" by 3 ½". Of particular importance to note when purchasing expensive cards. Some cards may be trimmed by the seller because of a border or corner flaw. Always measure with a steel ruler to make sure specifications are exact.
Starter/Partial Set - a collection of same issue cards designed to give a collector the beginnings of a set.
Team Set - a group of cards featuring all the issues of the players of a particular team from the same release.
Test Issue - a preliminary offering issued as a test to see if a product would be accepted by collectors.
Tobacco Card - typically from the early 1900s, these were cards issued with tobacco products. The most famous of which is the "T-206" Honus Wagner card.
Topps - one of the most historically-rich card manufacturers for baseball, football, basketball and hockey cards. Topps has been issuing cards since the early 1950s to the present. Considered to be "The Real One" by most hobbyists.
Traded/Update Set - a set issued after the original issue primarily featuring rookies or players who were traded since the original issue came out.
Trimmed Card - a card reduced in size from when it was issued, usually to hide an imperfection such as damaged edges or corners. Trimmed cards have very little value, since they are considered a deception.
Unauthorized Issue - a card release which is not licensed by a league, a player’s association, or by a player.
Uncut Sheet - a complete sheet of a grouping of cards before it is cut into individual units.
Upper Deck - a major card manufacturer since 1989 to the present that issues cards cards in all four major sports.
Variation - a card that was printed by the manufacturer in two or more different ways.
Vending Box - cards issued in bulk by the card manufacturer in original form without being in any sort of a pack. Historically, they were offered by Topps direct to store owners for the purpose of collation into complete sets or player/team lots.
Vintage Cards - in general, items issued prior to 1979. Most commonly, those from 1930 to 1973 [afterwhich, cards were issued all at one time, as opposed to in a series].
Wax - a universal collecting term for factory-sealed packs or boxes. The term "wax" most often refers to sealed material that was originally released in the early 1990's or back -- a time when packs were wrapped and sealed in wax paper wrappers. It can casually reference modern era packs or boxes that no longer use actual wax paper.