How to grade baseball cards

I frequently get asked how to grade baseball cards. I really think this is a job best left to a professional, but I’ve collected the guidelines below that professionals use.

Some people assign numeric values to these grades, and sometimes you’ll find mid grades. For example, if a card is a little too good for one grade but falls just short of the next grade up, a grader might add a plus to the grade, grading it EX-MT+.

Note that printing and cutting quality go into the grade, not just wear. Even if it’s not the owner’s fault, many cards fall short of mint.

Also keep in mind there’s no kind of curve. Even if the card is from 1889, if it has flaws, it’s not mint. Even if the card is brand new out of the pack, if it has flaws, it’s not mint.

Mint. Perfection. Very few cards actually make this grade. If you think you have a card that’s mint, and it’s a star card, get it graded.

Near Mint to Mint (NM-MT). A truly exceptional card. Centering is 60/40 or better. The corners are nearly flawless.

Near Mint (NM). A beautiful card. Centering is 75/25 or better with sharp corners. It can have minor wear on no more than two corners. The card is in focus and free of print lines. This is a card that falls just short of perfection.

Excellent to Mint (EX-MT). Still a nice high grade card. Centering is 80/20 or better. Corners have minor to moderate wear, but are still relatively sharp and card has overall nice appearance.

Excellent (EX). A solid mid-grade card. Centering must be 90/10 or Better. Corners can have moderate wear. An excellent-grade card has no rounding or creasing or major problems.

Very Good-to-Excellent (VG-EX). These are the nicest of the low grade cards. A VG-EX card can’t be miscut. It may have a crease, but the crease must be small and/or not be visible on both sides of the paper. The corners can be slightly rounded. No major creases or any intentional damage can be on this card.

Very Good (VG). Still a decent low grade card. No intentional damage on the card. There can be a major crease or multiple small creases, but there is not a crease the destroys the eye appeal of the card. Card can be miscut if otherwise nice.

Good-to-Very Good (G-VG). Card can have multiple creases. There can be pen or pencil on the back, but not the front. The card is not destroyed, but has major problems. If there is intentional damage, this is the highest grade a card can attain.

Good (G). There may be back damage, multiple creasing, pen or pencil on the front or back of the card. The card is intact, but by no means an attractive card.

Fair (F). Cards in this condition are usually used as a filler card, to complete a set until the collector can find a nicer replacement. A card in this condition is almost completely worn out. It can have creases throughout, and major back damage.

Poor (P). This is the lowest grade you can assign a card. This is just to say you have the card. The major difference between a poor card and a fair card is missing pieces. The difference between “completely worn out” and “almost completely worn out” can be subjective. Because a card in this condition is worth a fraction of what a high-grade card is worth, buying a poor-condition card can be the only way to afford major superstars in some cases.

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