How the Trading Card Hobby Can Fix its Authentication Problem

The boom in the trading card hobby has brought to light real problems in authentication. Boardroom has some possible solutions.

There is a serious issue in the hobby that needs to be discussed.

Authenticity is arguably the most important element when it comes to collecting. Whether it’s the cards you’re trading for or the personality of your favorite breaker, authenticity ensures the trust of the hobbyist. Unfortunately, the hobby we all know and love has an authentication problem.

The trading card hobby has been under a microscope as popularity has exploded over the past couple of years. In that time, we’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars pour into it, with surprising instances of swapping patches, grading companies making low-effort mistakes, and arguably the most valuable case of a collectible card game turning out to be fake (sorry, Logan Paul). So what can we do about it?

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Re-Grade the Grading Companies

With the rising popularity of trading cards, the grading companies such as PSA, BGS, and SGC have been overwhelmed, opening the door for newcomers. Those new grading companies have had their own issues but the big players such as “the Big 3” have made their own mistakes.

PSA recently returned a 22-card order, stating that each card possessed evidence of trimming — a practice in which a card is cut to appear more centered. The hobbyist claims 85% of his cards were pack-fresh and was charged $2,500.

PSA isn’t the only grading company making these kinds of mistakes. Another well-known problem is in swapping out patches and cleaning autographs. Three-color patches are sought-after more than single-color patches and hobbyists know that BGS doesn’t authenticate the patch, but does autographs (this will be important later). Kevin Durant’s RPA from the Upper Deck Exquisite set is infamous for patches getting swapped out and sent into grading by BGS. You can see all the patch swaps here.

An important aspect to grade a card is grading an athlete’s signature. A 10 is the highest a user can get and it’s relatively easy compared to a card’s condition. The autograph essentially has to be completely on the card, not sliding off, and has no visible streaks. Juan Soto’s 2016 Bowman Superfractor 1/1 auto had just that. His auto went off the card and was originally graded a BGS 9 and 9 on the auto grade. The card was then sent off to PSA after the auto was cleaned and received a PSA 10, but no grade on the auto. Eventually, the grade of the card was changed to “Authentic Altered.”

Trading card grading is a subjective practice. There have been numerous additional cases of crossing over grades as low as an 8 to a 10. A solution the grading companies can adopt is to have a universal standard to grading and a shared database. That way, each grading company can know if a particular card is getting crossed-over. Also, it can provide insights to what cards are possibly left to be hit out of the set. According to the pop reports, there have been eight Zion Williamson Courtside Gold Disco Prizm out of 2019-20 Panini Select (#/10) graded, which means there are still two left to be graded in unopened packs. 

What can Panini, Topps, and Others Do?

Trading card companies have done a lot since counterfeit cards ran wild in the 90s and early 2000s, but there’s a lot they can still do to lift the hobby into the future in other areas. The most valuable action Panini, Topps, and others can make is to educate the grading companies and hobbyists. The other is to provide certification of cases for those who like to hold sealed wax.

“That card is off-centered” is something we hear all the time and hobbyists believe that every card should come out perfect from a pack. With more cards being printed, that’s not likely to happen. While there have been some terribly off-center cards printed the past couple of years, Panini, Topps, and others can provide guidelines or printing standards of their cards for customers. That way you won’t have situations where someone asks for a replacement because their card is barely centered left to right and the flaw isn’t visible to the average eye.

In addition, the trading card companies can provide “master sets” or photos of how cards are supposed to look. This will give grading companies a standard to live by rather than just an educated guess on where a rookie shield is supposed to go, how long the design on a die-cut card is supposed to be, or what patch is on each card. This’ll bring more value and trust into the card manufacturers and grading services.

When it comes to sealed wax, brands can provide a certificate of authenticity, whether it’s through an email or an NFT. Panini already has a blockchain in place where it provides a digital asset with a physical card. Brands could implement a similar method for sealed wax to promote buying cases over one box. This could also prevent a future fiasco similar to what happened to Logan Paul earlier the year with Pokemon.

Whatever ultimately happens next, we need to see some action to address the authenticity problem. The hobby is growing, but with it, so does the responsibility of the powers that be.

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