The condition of a collectible is one of the most hotly debated and important factors in determining its value. What constitutes “Mint” versus “near mint” and everything below is a matter of opinion, but your opinion might be vastly influenced by whether you are buying or selling. What one person considers “mint” may have many very tiny, but still important imperfections that would upset a buyer who paid full price. Of course, you may also want to have high-ticket items in your collection graded for insurance purposes.
The tough part comes with newer items that are designated as collectible right from the factory. Collectors should expect a perfect item in these cases, but even in a perfect world, a tiny bit of wear and imperfection is normal. How much and what kind of wear is the sticking point.
Collectibles grading services can take some of the opinion out of the mix by attaching their unbiased expert opinion to an item.
We did a recent article outlining some of the terms people use to list specifiic imperfections on packaging, but that’s only part of the package in grading. An honest accounting of flaws big or little is crucial for the buyer to determine how much they are willing to spend. For high end items such as vintage comic books or extremely rare variants of action figures or diecast cars, it can make sense to have a professional grading service chime in with their opinion.
In most cases, you will need to send the item to the company, so there is a tiny bit of risk, although the packages should be insured both ways. Some companies may offer on the spot appraisals as well, even setting up at collector conventions and such.
Authenticity is part of the game in collectible appraisals. For an item that is no longer sealed, there’s all kind of possibility for fraud, including faked variants, repairs, or reproduction elements. Some grading services won’t offer grades on such things because the company’s reputation is on the line with each assessment they perform. With a grade from a reputable service and a price guide in hand, a collector should have a good sense of an item’s value.
CGA, Collectible Grading Authority, is one of the most prominent services in the business. CGA actually has four separate divisions, for grading Action figures, collectible dolls, video game equipment, and diecast. For each of these services, you ship the item to them, insured, and they will grade it in the flesh.
As you may have figured out, this is not free, so this kind of service is not for $5 Hot Wheels cars or $10 action figures. CGA does offer different types of authentication and grading, such as for new items that are easily documented, or vintage items that may have some provenance. CGA can also assess hand-buillt prototypes, pre-production loose toys, and other oddities.
For vintage sports equipment and uniforms, Grey Flannel Auctions offers an interesting new service. GFA is a leading consignment auction house for such items and have earned a reputation for their honest assessment of items up for sale. They recently teamed up with Uni-Watch.com, a daily blog about sports uniforms, to offer an appraisal service for sports memorabilia. It’s not technically a grading service, but instead an overall assessment of the value in their expert opinion. Sports gear is a collectible corner where wear and tear and repairs can actually make a game-used item more interesting and/or valuable if it’s an important piece. Best of all, there’s no charge or obligation, although if the item is perceived to be worth less than $250, they will not do an appraisal. You can learn more here.
For other specific collectibles, there are dedicated services available (if we are missing a service let us know and we will add it!).
- Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), www.ngccoin.com
- Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) www.pcgs.com
- American Numismatic Association Certification Service (ANACS), www.anacs.com
- Independent Coin Graders (ICG), www.icgcoin.com
- The Comic Doctor, www.thecomicdoctor.com
- CSA Comics, www.csacomics.com
- CGC, Certified Guaranty Company, www.certifiedguaranty.com
Stamps (Where “F,” Fine, outranks “A,” Average!)
- The Philatelic Foundation, www.philatelicfoundation.org
- Collector Archive Services, www.collectorarchive.com
- Various toys including Lego Minifigs, ukgraders.co.uk
In each case, you’ll want to do some research to make sure these companies have a reputation for honest respected grading, and also for taking care of your valuable collectibles while in their possessions. In other words, make sure your grading service makes the grade as well.
If you’ve used any another collectibles grading companies, let us know in the comments.