In his latest column, DJGigabyte discusses the idea behind the phrase “Buy the card, not the grade”.
“Buy the card, not the grade.” It’s a phrase you may hear often if you jump into the world of graded card collecting, but what exactly does it mean? Why are people using it? Is it a hard and fast rule you need to follow at all times?
Disclaimer: We’ve discussed this briefly on Instagram before, this article is topical just now after a PSA 10 1st Edition Charizard sold for $250,000 and has come under scrutiny due to the condition on closer inspection. The listing for that card can be found here.
The phrase crops up during discussions of whether a card is correctly graded, usually a discussion of whether a PSA 10 is a weak 10 or should be a strong 9. There is currently a large increase in the amount of technology coming into grading, with CGC using new technology to verify cards like the ProtoStoise and the non-holo Base 2 Charizard, and PSA recently acquiring Genamint Inc. One of the main purposes of this technology is to improve both the accuracy and consistency of grading, reducing the chances of a card receiving an incorrect grade. However, no amount of technology is ever going to make grading 100% consistent.
Every card that goes through a grading company is going to be judged by a human at some point, and that human is likely going to need to make a judgement call. This is where the variance comes from. No matter how much training people have, how much experience they have around cards, things can never be fully consistent, either from person to person or just day to day. Even the staff at Ludkins Collectables will be the first to admit that they can not predict PSA grades with total accuracy, and they see more cards in a week than most of us will see in a lifetime.
This variance is what leads to discussions of “strong” and “weak” cards of a certain grade. Within the grade of PSA 10, the “strong” cards will generally be cards with no visible imperfections, nothing that you can easily see that would have any reason to lower the grade, whereas a “weak” card would have some detail that would allow an argument to be made for it possibly receiving a lower grade, and it is entirely possible that on a different day or with a different grader, the card may have received a 9. (By the same measure, some cards that received a 9 may have received a 10 if circumstances were different).
This is where the phrase “Buy the card, not the grade” comes into play. Ultimately, your collection should be focused on you and what you enjoy having. If you are looking at a PSA 10 copy of a card that you want, but you feel like the copy is borderline and could have been a 9 you have to decide whether you are okay with that. Look at the card itself and decide whether you would both be fine paying the PSA 10 price for it and be fine with it being in your collection. If you aren’t happy with both of those points, you probably shouldn’t buy the card. You can consider looking to find a “strong” 9 which will likely be a similar quality but lower price, or just waiting until you’re able to find the strong 10 that you’re looking for.
So, what would be some reasons to ignore the rule? If we aren’t buying the grade, is there even a reason to use grading companies at all? Well, of course, grading has huge benefits outside of the actual grade. Authentication and protection of the card to name a few. Also, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule of “buy the card, not the grade”. If you follow me on YouTube or Instagram you’ll likely have seen some or all of my PSA 10 Vaporeon collection.
I know that there are cards within my collection that would be considered “weak” 10’s or that could easily have been 9’s on a different day. But personally, when it comes to my Vaporeons, I like knowing that they have received the highest possible grade, and I enjoy having all of the grades match. When working on another subset of my collection, I may end up going a different route and going for PSA 9 copies of cards instead. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.
The main lesson to take away from this, make sure you are going to be happy with what you are buying. If you find yourself needing to confirm with others or get outside approval that a card is a “true 10”, then it may not be the card for you.
Dan Norton – DJGigabyte
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