1. What positive effects from the grading phenomenon can you see in the hobby?
A. I believe there have been several important hobby contributions from the grading industry. First, professional encapsulation is the best method of protecting and preserving cards. Second, due to the large amount of tampered and counterfeit cards currently entering the market, professional grading gives collectors peace of mind when purchasing graded cards, knowing the cards have passed the authentication process of a third-party grader. In addition, professional grading has played a significant role in expanding the hobby’s online marketplace. As more and more consumers choose to purchase cards sight unseen from Internet auctions and online stores, the security of knowing exactly what condition a card is in before making a purchase is immensely important. Grading has even served to bring new collectors into the hobby, as the lower-cost graded cards being sold in retail outlets entice buyers to look into the larger hobby genre.
2. What negative effects can you see?
A. Certainly there are always negatives to any industry if a person looks hard enough, but we believe that the overall effects of grading have been a positive influence on the hobby. It boils down to each individual’s attitude and how he or she chooses to perceive the industry. What one person believes to be a negative, another person views as a positive. There will always be collectors who feel that the higher price point of premium graded cards is a negative, but to other collectors that is exactly why they collect graded cards. This higher price point of high-end graded cards is what most people would label as gradings’ negative influence. To those people I would simply suggest that the grading market is a wide and varied one, and each collector needs to find an appropriate niche. Perhaps they can’t afford to specialize in BGS 9 or 9.5 Rookie Cards, but they can focus on very aesthetically pleasing BGS 8 and 8.5 RC’s for a fraction of the cost.
3. If any, which companies show the best record in terms of delivering a high percentage of mint-near mint-gem-mint cards in their factory packs?
A. This definitely varies on a product-by-product basis, and numerous factors contribute to it: card stock, cutting method, packaging techniques, amount of human handling (such as hand serial-numbered cards), etc. Each company has high points and low points. It tends to be a Catch-22. If a product delivers an unusually high amount of Gem Mint cards, that also removes the rarity associated with high-grade cards in that set and drives the price of those cards lower. On the other hand, condition sensitive sets result in gem mint copies selling for large premiums. There are certainly some sets that have historically proven to grade out higher than others, so collectors looking for better odds at receiving high grades often focus on issues such as 1999 Skybox Molten Metal Football (removing the protective coating on the back), 1999 Bowman Chrome Series 2 Baseball (look out for centering, scratches, and back corners), 2001-02 Topps Pristine Basketball, among others. Keep in mind that there is never a guarantee on any set.
4. What is your take on the new “Pristine” set and the attempt to say that the cards “have never been touched by human hands?”
A. This seems to be an idea borrowed from the numismatic field. “Proof” sets of coins, sonically sealed and released directly from the Mints, have always held high allure for some collectors. So far, however, I have not heard too many collectors express any particular excitement over an “untouched” card. Surely there are those out there who love the idea. From a grading standpoint, though, a card that is “untouched” may still be off-center, scratched, faded, creased, off-register, have dinged corners or notched edges, etc. Grading submitters are much more concerned with how the card will actually grade out. In this particular 2001-02 Topps Pristine Basketball product, however, Topps did a great quality control job on these cards (both the “untouched” sealed cards as well as the other “common” cards in the packs). While a Mint 9 or Gem Mint 9.5 is no guarantee, this product does deliver a very healthy amount of high grade cards.
5. How do you feel about the price guides starting grading services? Doesn’t this affect the pricing of cards graded by other companies? Isn’t this a conflict of interests?
A. This is certainly a common question, and to be fair, it can also be asked the other way (as other grading services have subsequently started price guides). Beckett has always sought to be involved in the hobby in a myriad of ways, offering a variety of services to hobbyists. Be it the online Beckett Marketplace as a means of connecting collectors and dealers, the price guides, an editorial/hobby news source, grading, or auctions, we have been instrumental as a third party in fostering hobby growth. In pricing cards, there was always an assumption of condition in that process. Long before BGS began, it was necessary to think in grading terms to accurately reflect card values. In building BGS, we simply brought more objectivity and integrity to carrying that process farther out. Long before any professional grading services existed, Jim Beckett helped objectify the grading scale (Mint, Near Mint, Excellent, Very Good, etc.) that all grading services later based their grades upon. Over the past quarter-century, Beckett has built a reputation of carrying out business with integrity. This same ethic was a key factor in starting the grading division. For Beckett to have acted questionably in any way in starting the grading business would have not only stunted BGS’ growth, but would have endangered all of Beckett’s business. Then, as now, we would have had everything to lose and nothing to gain by acting unethically. In looking over BGS’ history, it took very little time for our cards to begin commanding higher prices on the secondary market, due largely to the perception that we were slightly more stringent and thorough in our grading. Our price guides took note of this, but maintained a cautious approach to pricing BGS cards differently in the magazines. Eventually, it became so widespread in the hobby for BGS cards to garner higher premiums, that for our price guides to ignore it would have been irresponsible reporting. Critics who claim BGS cards sell for more because we price them higher are quite simply putting the cart before the horse. BGS cards achieved these premium prices before our price guides ever began reporting it. Our competitor’s publications have also reported the same results. Pricing and Grading are distinctly separate departments, and each will continue to abide by a high standard of integrity and truthfulness.
6. What are the hottest cards in terms of numbers of submissions for grading in MLB? NBA? NFL?
A. All-time, probably the three top cards submitted to BGS have been the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. RC, 1994 SP Alex Rodriguez RC, and 2001 Upper Deck Tiger Woods RC. Otherwise, Barry Bonds has been the highest volume player over the past year. Despite his frequent injuries, Griffey is still a popular submission, with players such as Randy Johnson and Derek Jeter seeing decent activity. Aside from that, it tends to be focused more on hot prospects, with players like Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Mark Prior, and Kaz Ishii seeing a lot of action. In football, the hotter prospects are several young QBs, led by Michael Vick, David Carr, Joey Harrington, and Quincy Carter. Very hot, and bound to get even more so, are the RCs of Emmitt Smith, as he approaches the rushing title this season. Kobe Bryant is the most highly submitted basketball “veteran”, with more recent high-end RCs such as Pau Gasol, Jason Richardson, and Shane Battier also doing well. Iyla Kovalchuk leads a great crop of young prospects in the NHL, while vets such as Yzerman are pretty steady.
7. What fringe sport (USFL, WNBA, WWF, CFL?) has a significant number of cards being submitted?
A. Certainly the 2001 Upper Deck Tiger Woods RC remains one of our highest submission cards. Occasionally we do see some of the other sports/leagues, with boxing and tennis being areas of strong interest.
8. What do you think is BGS’s strong point that makes it more desirable than the rest of the grading companies?
A. Beckett has done well as an innovator within the Grading field. Our Report Card continues to be a major drawing card. Collectors want to know why their cards graded the way they did, and with BGS and BVG, simply turning the holder over will point out the strengths and weaknesses of the card. We were the first to offer an On-Time guarantee. Our slab is extremely strong (and unlike some slabs, ours cannot be peeled apart and re-glued) and the inner sleeve provides the best possible protection. A strong online presence, including a free population report and graded card lookup (by serial number), have been well-received. Beckett Vintage Grading, rolled out less than a year ago, has altered the paradigm by treating vintage cards differently than modern cards, taking the technology of the times into account. Certainly, there is a value difference as well, with Beckett Graded cards selling for higher premiums.
9. What makes BGS different or set them apart from the rest of the grading companies? In other words, what’s unique about BGS?
A. In general, this was covered in question #8.
10. Could you explain the purpose and advantage of the plastic sleeve inside the holder?
A. In offering our Graded Card Review service at shows (examining other grading companies’ cards to determine what the BGS grade would be), one of the most disturbing trends we have witnessed is the number of graded cards being damaged by inefficient slabs. Because a major reason for grading a card is to ensure its long-term protection, Beckett carefully designed our holder to offer the safest “home” possible for a card. By sealing the card in an archival-safe inner sleeve, the card is held securely in the holder and is free from the damaging effects of being knocked against the inner sides of the holder.
11. Is there anything you would like to add about BGS for the readers to know?
A. Emotions can run high in our hobby. There are collectors who passionately argue for and against grading, for and against price guides, for and against any controversial hobby issues. Open communication and interaction is good for the hobby. We want to assure readers that, with nearly 25 years in the hobby, we are committed to this industry for the long haul.