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Is PSA Grading Sports Cards Tougher in 2021? Watch Before You Ship Off Your Next Submission

June 03, 2021 5 min read

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Is PSA grading cards much tougher in 2021 than in year’s past?  Before I jump into the data, I want to tell you a quick story that I think most of you have probably experienced with PSA.  Got my latest submission back from them, an 80 card 45-day turnaround that took about a year to get back. 

About 1/4 of the cards were of the same exact one, LeBron James 2018 Panini Revolution.  When I got it back, the 1st 18 were PSA 9s, last 5 were PSA 10s.  When you get your cards back from PSA, they send them back to you in the same order you sent them in.  That’s how they make sure you get the cards you sent in back.

But to have 18 9s in a row, the statistically odds of that happening aren’t very great.  Also, on a modern card getting 78% PSA 9s is just odd.

This begs the question, is PSA grading cards tougher now?  And if they are, how does that affect our strategy going forward?

Collectors Universe (PSA’s parent company) purchased Genamint in April of 2021, which according to their website is an automated machine grading, valuation and provenance of sports cards, coins, stamps, comics, art and more.

While I am not sure if PSA was using Genamint on these particular cards, this no doubt will make getting 10s much more difficult.

Before I jump into how this affects our strategy going forward, I want to share with you some interesting statistics from gemmint.com, which is the PSA submission group I use.  Jared Landress from there was kind enough to share some statistics on recent PSA submissions he got back.

Please note, the dates I am going to mention in just a minute are from when the grades popped, not from when they were submitted.

Here is the data from gemmint.com.

For cards from a 2021 set, the % of cards submitted that received a PSA 10 in May was 37.5%, PSA 9 62.5%.  This of course is the only submission data for 2021 cards since there has only been 6 months so far this year to submit and receive cards back.

For cards from a 2020 set, from January-May 2021 grading in 4/5 submissions the PSA 10 rate got harder and harder.  From 64.38% in January down to 38.85% in May.  The PSA 9 rate in same time frame went from 30.82% to 53.08%

2019 cards stayed steady from January to April and then had a huge drop off in May at 25.98% PSA 10 rate, right after the purchase of Genamint in late April.

2018 cards hit an a low this year in May as well at 33.45% PSA 10 rate, down from a high of 56.96% in April.

As you can see, it isn’t just one year that was graded tougher.

Sample size was roughly 3,000 cards per month which is what Jared said he receives back from PSA on average each month.

Why is this happening?  Here were 2 of Jared’s points.  He has been around the sports card hobby for a long time and always has some interesting insights.

#1 Graders are seeing the same cards over and over again and causing them to look for certain things they missed before.

#2 A guess on his part is although PSA hasn’t publicly stated so, for ultra-modern cards they have started using automation and AI.  He did bring up a good point that PSA wouldn’t buy a company of this size without at least having a test run with the software.  Was that test run done in late March or early April thus contributing to the big drop off in PSA 10s?

Is this the “new normal” for PSA grading?  Will PSA 10s be tougher to get?

If they are using this new software already my guess is yes.   If we can’t get as many PSA 10s as we did in the past, how does this affect our strategy going forward?

First off, what PSA does if and when they re open in July could change some of this.  For example, if their lowest submission price is $100 that will affect what people do.  But for this example, let’s assume they drop their pricing back to what it was before they closed down.

Cards currently graded as PSA 10s will almost certainly increase in value due to tougher grading, especially cards with a low pop or are #d. 

Historically tough to grade cards, ones with a low PSA 10% will also increase in price.  Also, with those tough to grade cards, most likely see a price jump in PSA 9s as we can assume most historically tough to grade cards coming out will potentially be 8s or lower with new software.  If you can’t afford a PSA 10 of a tough to grade card, picking up an affordable PSA 9 might not be a bad idea.

PSA 9s for modern cards, if priced right, could also be solid pickups given that a PSA 9 might be the new norm.

For ungraded cards, you are going to have to really only be sending in cards to PSA that you are 10/10 confident that it is going to be a 10.  Really going to have to study that surface and make sure it is perfectly centered. 

Which ones to send in will be determined by PSAs grading cost and what PSA 10s sell for on that card.  Still TBD as we do not have PSA’s re opening pricing yet.

While yes, PSA is currently king of all grading card companies, I see people gravitating away from them for a few reasons.  1.) People want 10s on their cards.  While yes, a PSA 9 can sell well, an SGC or even a CSG 10 might start carrying more weight.  2.) People want to get their cards back fast.  My experience with SGC and CSG so far has been they do just that.  3.) People want cheap grading.  Again, all depends on what PSA’s new pricing will be, but I find it hard to imagine they will not be the most expensive grading service on the block.

BGS 9.5 graded cards I would anticipate a nice bump from them.  I would think most people would prefer a BGS 9.5 over a PSA 9.

Lastly, SGC or CSG 10s may see a little bit of an increase.  Not as much as the BGS 9.5 as Beckett is still #2 behind PSA, but people like those 10s.

One interesting note is will PSA in the future mark slabs that have been graded with the new technology.  What if a card such as the Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer gets a PSA 10 graded with the new technology? Will that make it more valuable than a PSA 10 that was graded without it?  I would think so, especially if that card passes the eye test with perfect centering.


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