Buying Graded Cards, What to Look For - PSA, BGS, or SGC ?
When buying graded cards, or sending raw cards in to be graded, it can be hard to know which grading company is the best one to choose. It can also be hard just to understand what all the grades mean. In this article I will explain the grading structure for the Big 3 grading companies (PSA, BGS, SGC) as well as go into detail about which each one offers to the buyer in terms of value. In my opinion, when looking at graded cards from a company other than the Big 3, and possibly HGC or CSG, I would not pay the same price I pay for PSA or even BGS and SGC graded cards. This is no disrespect to these companies, but in this hobby, we have seen too many grading companies come and go to trust a card in a different company’s holder other than one of the three mentioned. Below I have put together a chart that compares how each of the Big 3 grading companies grade and what these grades are referred to by name.
PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators)
PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators) has a strong reputation in the graded collectibles market and has been operating in the space since 1991. Since then, the company has undergone sweeping changes. Some of the most noticeable being the owner of the company, who is currently avid sports cards collector and hobby enthusiast named Nat Turner, and the rigor that they began to grade with in recent years. If you were to look at old-graded PSA cards compared to new ones, especially vintage cards, you will begin to notice that not all grades were created equal, even at the same company. Below are two cards that were given the same grade, but the Wilt on the left looks undoubtedly better than the right one (sharper corners, better centering, and print) and it is in-fact the newer grade.
All grading companies have old-graded cards that may not display as well as a newly graded one of the same grade, but for PSA this is a big issue to consider because it can vastly change the value and perception of a card. One way to identify an old card is by the difference in the holder, but if the serial number starts with a one or zero, that is another indicator the grade is old.
In addition to a much tougher approach on grading in recent years, PSA was routinely viewed by collectors as the preferred grading option and now continues to be by a wide margin. Given their popularity and large volume of traffic, PSA is not accepting any low-end or mid-end cards for grading right now, but their current graded cards on the market remain the best options when looking for the specific card you want in a company’s holder. They represent the company that has long been a stable, professional force in the industry. Although, with such respect from the hobby, there comes a heftier price when choosing to buy the card you want in a PSA holder. For example, on August 11, 2021, a 2019 Zion Base Prizm PSA 10 sold for $399, a BGS 9.5 sold for $200 the next day, and an SGC 10 sold for $250 on July 30, 2021 (Prices courtesy of 130point.com). As you can see, when you buy a PSA card, you are paying for what is perceived to be the more precise grade and most stable company. PSA graded cards are also stored in a detailed, easily accessible database on their website, making it simple to see what the population is of a graded card. This can be performed by looking up a card or simply scanning its barcode with your phone camera on the PSA app. Below is an example of the user-friendly population database PSA uses.
In conclusion, I would personally strive to buy most cards, especially modern cards(Patch Autos are difficult to find in PSA 10), I purchase in a PSA 10 case because they have long stood as the most accurate grading option and have held a strong reputation in the industry for three decades now. They have also put together the most forward-thought plan for the hobby, introducing technology into the grading process and into their slabs and website, something the BGS and SGC have yet to do.
- Most reputable company on the market
- Graded PSA cards retain value more consistently
- New technology that is ahead of other graders
- Expensive to buy a PSA graded card in comparison to other companies
- Old-graded PSA cards were not graded with the same rigor
BGS and BVG (Beckett Grading Services & Beckett Vintage Grading)
Beckett Grading Services has been in the graded collectibles industry for nearly as long as PSA. Beckett was originally a card pricing guide created by Dr. James Beckett, but it transformed into a grading company in 1999. Since its inception, it has long been touted as a worthy company of assessing grades to all types of trading cards. The most unique quality that most BGS slabs possess is subgrades that breakdown why a card was assigned a certain overall grade(Corners, Edges, Surface, and Centering). Unfortunately, BVG graded cards, or vintage cards graded by Beckett from 1980 and prior, are no longer assigned subgrades due to internal decisions. In addition, not all modern cards graded by BGS have subgrades because they cost extra money, but these subgrades are able to shine light on what the grader saw when they graded the card and aid the collector in assessing the condition of the card from afar. In turn, this makes the overall BGS grade of a card more transparent than at a company like PSA or SGC, where they do not tell you why something graded lower or higher than expected, they just give you the grade the grader felt it deserved on that day.
Another interesting thing Beckett does that PSA does not do is offer more premium grades than Gem Mint for its modern cards. Beckett’s first grade above Gem Mint is called BGS 10 Pristine and signifies three perfect 10 subgrades out of 4, along with a 9.5 subgrade. The highest, and most rare, grade you can receive from any grading company is the Beckett Black Label 10, which is a perfect 10 on all 4 subgrades. These premium 10 graded cards even outsell the same cards in a PSA 10. As stated before, Zion’s 2019 Base Prizm PSA 10 price on August 11,2021, was $399, His last BGS 10 Pristine sale was for $1700 on July 31, and his last Black Label 10 sale of the same card was $10,000 on June 1!!(Again, Thanks to 130point.com) As you can see, these ultra-rare grades place an extra premium on whatever cards find their way into one of those elusive Pristine or Black Label holders.
An aspect to consider when looking at BGS or BVG graded cards is the rigor with which they grade on cards Gem Mint and below. From personal experience, specifically on patch autograph cards I submitted to PSA then BGS, I have learned that BGS grades a card more leniently than PSA. I have also found the same to be true about BVG compared to PSA and SGC. I personally sent BGS a PSA 7 Connor McDavid Patch auto, and it came back a BGS 8.5. The same happened with a Jack Eichel that turned from a PSA 7.5 into a BGS 9, as well as some less notable hockey cards. This is not to say that Beckett does a bad job of grading their cards or that they do not grade consistently. This is more just a heads up for collectors and buyers when comparing the quality of two of the same cards that are graded by two different companies. Beckett also does not have any barcodes or elaborate database on their website that is easy to navigate like PSA. Below is Beckett’s version of their own population database.
There is nothing overtly wrong with Beckett’s database, but with more places to mess up at, it can be confusing to new users. In conclusion, I would say there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a BGS graded card, but you have to be aware that given the current way they operate in comparison to PSA, BGS does not hold nearly the same reputation to collectors that PSA does. This is also true due to all the little details described such as their more lenient grading and aging interface for their site and operations like grading.
- Subgrades offer huge value in helping assess a true value for a card
- Pristine and Black Label grades offer a rarer, more attractive option for collectors
- Beckett offers a fairly strong reputation in the industry
- Cards are graded more leniently by BGS than they are at PSA, or even SGC
- Beckett runs their services on an older site
- Cards do not return the same value that PSA cards do of the same grade
SGC (Sportscard Guarantee Corporation)
SGC grading (Sportscard Guarantee Corporation) is another long tenured company in the space of collectibles, having been around since 1998. It was not until recently that SGC gained any traction in the grading space. With strong marketing campaigns and bold promises during the peak of new entrants to the hobby last year, SGC was able to take a seat at the table with the two big giants in the grading space, PSA and Beckett. SGC offers collectors the ability to send cards in for grading at a cheaper cost than PSA or Beckett, while still getting a comparable level of service to the two. In my opinion and experience, I believe that SGC actually grades cards more harshly than Beckett does at grades Gem Mint and below. SGC also offers a more premium grade above a Gem Mint 10, similar to Beckett. SGC’s version of this is called a SGC 10 Gold. These cards often go for more than PSA 10’s as well. For example, Zion’s 2019 Prizm Base last sold for $610 on June 1, 2021, in an SGC 10 Gold holder.
One downside to SGC’s grading system is their 9.5 Mint+ grade they assess. It does not fall under the category of quite a Gem Mint card like a PSA 10 or BGS 9.5 or a SGC regular 10 even, but it is supposed to be better than a card given a 9 Mint grade. This grade overall does not make much sense and in turn it leaves collectors in the hobby confused as to what to think about it. I think SGC would have been better served using a model similar to that of BGS, which would in turn give their Gold 10 graded cards a more premium feel.
Another downside to SGC graded cards is one that customers of Beckett also experience, which is an aging interface that they currently run their grading services and population database on. The biggest complaint I have about their website is that compared to both PSA and BGS, SGC’s population database is much more difficult to use for retrieving population counts on a card. Below is SGC’s version of their own population database.
As you can see, it is not nearly as easy to digest as PSA’s or even Beckett’s database. SGC also has, in my opinion, the least attractive and professional case out of the three companies. In conclusion, I do not think there is anything wrong with buying SGC graded cards or sending cards to SGC because they play their role in the market extremely well. They offer the lowest grading price of the three and are the only company accepting submissions currently for low to mid-end cards. They also had the fasted turnaround time for cards being graded before the other two companies shut down as well. With this in mind, SGC is the perfect grading company for lower and mid-end cards that need to be flipped in the short-term. They grade cheap and fast, and their grades produce solid after-market value(see PSA section on Zion Prizm prices).
- Offer the lowest card grading price & only company grading low/mid-tier cards right now
- Grade cards with a rigor comparable to PSA
- SGC Gold 10 offers a more premium collectible to hobbyists
- Smallest, least established company of the three
- Slowest, least professional web interface of the three companies
- Least professional slabs of the three.
- Only company giving out 9.5/Mint+ grades, creates confusion about how to value it