Condition Sensitive: Centered with lower grade, or off-center and higher grade?
I love vintage cards, and loving old cards often means you have to decide how bad of a condition you are willing to accept in order to add one of the prized pieces to your collection. Because let’s face it, good condition vintage usually means spending good money.
When dealing with mid to lower grade cards — those that usually fit into most collectors budgets — there are lots of factors to consider. What types of “damage” to a card are you willing to tolerate: Creases? Writing? Bent corners? Torn corners? Layered corners? Minor paper loss? Glue or gum Stains? And so forth.
Each collector has different things they’ll tolerate. For a long time my one and one standing rule was: I must be able to see the players face. I broke this rule once when I obtained my first 1948 Bowman Stan Musial rookie. The card had surface damage on Musial’s face, making it pretty hard to display without giving it the stink eye. I eventually moved that Musial and upgraded to a much more presentable copy.
This game of upgrading or changing a card for a different version of the same card is one that some collectors partake in quite a bit. I do it infrequently, but I’m always looking to better the collection, whether it be by adding a missing piece, or growing aesthetically. I’m an opportunist, if you will.
Such was the case recently when I logged into eBay and found a gorgeous looking 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie card. The card was professionally graded by Beckett Vintage Grading and was actually graded lower than the BVG 4 I had sitting in my display case. I was very much content with the Koufax already in my collection, a card I acquired a decade ago when I shifted gears in terms of my hobby focus. The one draw back for me on the 4 was always the centering. It wasn’t horrible, but it was off. This is a classic problem with the 1955 sets. The cards are horizontal and the bottom border typically seems to be shorter than the top.
I like sharp corners. I like smooth surfaces. But above all, I really enjoy a centered baseball card. And so when the lesser-grade Koufax popped up on eBay with a Buy It Now that seemed more than reasonable, I decided I had to snag it and at least compare the cards in person. It made really ponder which of the two Koufax rookies would stay and which would hit the market. I don’t need both.
And so I pondered: Do I keep the centered copy with slightly lesser desirable corners, or the one with better corners and worse centering? Obviously the one with better corners and higher grade would probably sell for more on the open market.
I posed the question to Twitter followers without specifying which card. A total of 84 people made a selection in the poll and the results weren’t completely skewed, but the majority did say they prefer centered vintage with softer corners over off-center cards with better corners.
The poll results definitely leaned in the direction I feel, and after comparing the two cards in person — even in their respective BVG cases — I do feel that the lesser grade with better centering is best for me at this point. I mean, when I walk past my wall-mounted display case, a centered Koufax pops out at me more than one that is slightly off-center.
What are your thoughts on condition when it comes to vintage cards? What defects are you willing to tolerate? What damages take precedent when you go about purchasing a vintage card for your collection?