There are many sports card grading companies who offer authentication, grading and tamper-proof encapsulation of almost every type of sports card from the past and present. The use of third party sports card grading companies can make it easier to trade, sell, insure and inventory cards in a manner that is consistent and easily understood by non-collectors as well. There are no specific industry standards for operating a grading company, so the best companies have risen to the top based on customer satisfaction in terms of grading, holder appearance, tamper resistance, consistency, delivery and cost. All of these factors have helped SGC, PSA and Beckett dominate the world of sports card grading companies. The Big Three of grading each have ardent fans for a variety of reasons. A similar business model still gives rise to many differences.
SGC is widely regarded as being the best grader in the vintage card market. It is especially popular among collectors from the 1900s to 1940s. They do grade modern cards as well. SGC is famous for its accuracy and consistency and great customer service. Their holders are routinely voted as the most attractive in the business. Each plastic tamper-proof slab has a custom cut insert to perfectly frame the card. SGC can even cut custom inserts for oddly shaped cards like the late 1800s Scrapps tobacco cards. Their holders are thick and sturdy and made from inert materials. SGC has a tiered pricing structure based on many factors, but there is no membership fee. They offer monthly specials and bulk discounts. SGC also boasts a registry where collectors can display their cards online and track their collection. The grading scale at SGC runs from 10 (worst) to 100 (best). From 10 to 80 the grade increases in 10 point increments. A more refined scale is used from 80 to 100 to further differentiate the top tier cards. SGC proudly graded the Most Expensive Football Card of all time - Bronco Nagurski.
Professional Sports Authenticator
PSA is the oldest and largest by far of the sports card grading companies. Since 1991, PSA has literally graded millions of cards. They are very popular with many collectors and seem to dominate the 1950s to 1980s market. They also grade older and newer cards, of course. The PSA holder is thin and stackable. The inserts used to hold the card have changed through the years, but they have stayed relatively unchanged in recent years. PSA also offers monthly specials and bulk discounts, but does require an upfront membership fee ranging from $49 to $189 a year. A member joining at the higher cost Gold and Platinum levels receives vouchers for free grading submissions. PSA shifted to a half point scale in the last few years and currently grades from a 1 (worst) to 10 (best) in half point increments (e.g. 3, 3.5, 8, 9.5). PSA is the sports card company that has graded several of the most valuable baseball cards in history including the infamous T206 Honus Wagner.
Beckett Grading Services
BGS is the newest arrival to the sports card grading market, but not new to the world of sports cards. Dr. James Beckett founded the company and wrote his ubiquitous price guides which are still being used today. Beckett Grading is highly regarded among collectors of cards from the 1990s to the present. Beckett has arguably the sturdiest holder of all of the Big Three grading companies, but some collectors do not like the archival inner sleeve method they use to house the card inside the holder. Beckett offers monthly specials and discounts for bulk orders, but their pricing structure is the most complicated of the Big Three. Within Beckett, they have different sub-sections like Beckett Grading, Beckett Vintage, Beckett Collectors Club and others. BGS uses a half point scale similar to PSA for most of its services. Beckett graded one of the highest priced basketball cards of all time - the Michael Jordan rookie card.
SGC, PSA and Beckett all accept submissions by mail and are routinely set up at major card shows where grading can be done in person. There are strengths and weaknesses with all three. A collector wishing to choose among the various sports card grading companies should invest in a few graded cards by purchasing some inexpensive examples from each company from a local shop or online. This is the best way to get comfortable with the look and feel of the holder and to gain a better understanding of how these sports card grading companies arrive at the grades on the labels. Determine what type of cards you are most interested in and really read about what benefits each company offers to collectors. You may be interested in registry competition or hobby publications, but you may just be interested in forums and getting cards graded at a low cost. If you are interested in selling cards online The sports card grading companies listed above are financially viable and should be around for a long time. You are safe with any of them, it simply comes down to taste and your collecting goals.