Odd Cuts and Gum Stains

Baseball cards and other sports cards are always in danger of being damaged. They are naturally fragile products, since most — especially the older, more valuable cards — are made of pressed paper and ink. Everyone knows paper is fragile: it bends, absorbs liquid and is subject to any number of indignities.

For example, the square edges of cards can get nicked. You may find an odd fold or crease in the card. If the cards are old enough or haven’t been protected well enough, you may see cards with humidity stains, thumb prints, food stains or even cup ring stains!

Packaged Problems

Then there are the cards that were imperfect from the start. Card companies still sell baseball cards that are imperfect. They print cards in vast sheets. Those sheets are cut into individual cards that go into packs. While they’re better at it now, years ago, those cuts weren’t always accurate, leaving cards that are the right size, but with cuts that are past the normal borders.

Back in the days when companies sold baseball cards with tobacco or bubble gum, many cards — well, one per pack, at least — came out of the package with stains. Gum stains are the most common type of packaging stain, but you may also find cards with glue stains, smeared ink or a double image.

Intentional Manipulation

Unscrupulous dealers or individuals may try to alter a card’s appearance when they sell baseball cards to deceive buyers. Some of the ways that people purposefully manipulate sports cards include:

  • Fixing corners, to make them sharper
  • Bleaching, to hide stains or other marks
  • Restoring color, to make the card look less worn
  • Removing stains, to improve its appearance using chemicals
  • Cutting edges, to clean up the corners and edges to make the card look cleaner

Most manipulations leave trace evidence that the fix was made. Corners or edges look as if they haven’t aged with the rest of the card. Bleach leaves a funny smell. New color doesn’t match the original and bleeds. Grading experts can usually tell when a card has been doctored. Whether you buy or sell baseball cards, have the card authenticated by a professional service. Then you’ll know its true value.

What to Do About Defects

All sports cards are rated 1 to 10, which reflects the condition of the card. A PR-FR-1 grade means the card is poor to fair in quality, with worn edges, scratches or stains. On the other end of the scale is a GEM-MT-10 rating or gem mint, which is a card in perfect condition.

If you’re looking to sell baseball cards, defects decrease the value of your cards. Every defect, whether print-related or age-related, reduces the value of the card — and doesn’t matter if the card depicts Hank Aaron or Paul Zuvella. You’d best accept the card condition as it is, because trying to fix the problems can destroy any value your cards have.

Leave Them Alone!

Every defect drops a card’s grade two points or more, depending on the defect. An otherwise perfect card that was printed off-center (a packaged problem) will never be graded as a GEM-MT-10. You can say the same for a clean-looking card that shows evidence of cut edges.

While new technologies have emerged that purport to make undetectable card repairs, they haven’t been embraced by all card collecting hobbyists. You risk any value your card holds if you subject it to any kind of repair. Before you sell baseball cards, just keep them clean and properly stored to protect them — that’s the most you should do.