Strang: How a scandal unfolded and shaped the battle for card collecting’s soul

From Katie Strang at The Athletic on May 22, 2020, with mention of SABR members Keith Olbermann and Jeff Katz:

Unlike the world of fine art, where conservation and restoration allow for more tactile manipulation, in the card-collecting world the act of altering or “trimming” a card is sacrilege. While there exists some ambiguity about the extent to which one can legitimately clean a card without changing it materially, any effort to alter a card to maximize its value — by bleaching it, removing blemishes, or “trimming” the edges to make it appear cleaner, sharper and, consequently, more valuable is a cardinal sin. In some cases, it’s a federal crime.

The internet helped fuel the surging interest in cards, which allowed third-party sellers and consigners to make remote transactions simple and seamless. The resulting infusion of cash made card-selling and collecting big business, and that helped open the door to fraud.

Compounding the matter was the emergence of professional card grading companies. Before behemoths like PSA and Beckett entered the marketplace, cards were separated into four tiers to indicate quality. Now there are 1-10 grades with several permutations even within those grades that allow for variance (such as “eye appeal,” which is highly subjective). Potential sellers can pay to send a card to a grading agency, which will then evaluate the card and provide a numerical designation. That dictates its market value. And while this can be a valuable tool to help assess pricing and investment, it can incentivize fraudulent actors.

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Originally published: May 22, 2020. Last Updated: May 22, 2020.