Several recent discussions have focused on the specifics of baseball card grading. What I find most interesting and of greatest concern to collectors is the amount of time spent grading each baseball card. How long does it take to grade a modern card compared to a vintage card...do some cards take longer to examine than others?
My many years of hobby experience at major conventions across the country and time spent meticulously examining many of the hobby's largest accumulations of cards has led me to believe that some issues DO indeed take longer than others to properly grade. Examples would be years that have inconsistent cutting patterns (multi-directional striations) and greater size variation. Of course, seasoned collectors know that many types of cards would be included in this group -- everything from T206s to 1933 Goudeys to 1955 Bowman baseball. My belief is that many pre-war issues also involve greater time and care in examination due to the type of cardstock as well as more narrowed cross-sections.
Professional card doctors (and amateurs) have been active in this hobby for well over a decade. Some of the earliest alterations consisted of power-erasing the inner images on some chronically off-centered cards (e.g., 1957-58 basketball, 1958 & 1959 baseball) in order to make them appear better centered. Other alterations included experimentation with re-glossing, flattening and re-cutting cards, and bleaching. In the early grading years (1991 to 1995) many of these alterations were missed simply because graders didn't know what to look for and had not yet developed the proper expertise to carefully examine all aspects of a card. Later, however, the technical and educational capacity to detect alterations improved to the point where card doctoring was no longer viable on a widespread basis. Astute graders were able to distinguish amongst such things as Topps Presentation issues, cards from vending, and mere chop jobs. And the introduction of UV analysis made foreign fibers and substances readily apparent to the trained eye.
In the last year, this hobby has again seen a rather abrupt increase in sports card alterations. My firm belief is that the card doctors know that grading has become a highly competitive endeavor and that some companies no longer have the expertise or spend the proper amount of time grading. Grading companies that were once focused on liberating the collector now seem to be most concerned with liberating the collector from his wallet in an all-out, cost-cutting effort to increase profits.
A good example of this phenomenon would be an article in the January 2003 VCBC where the claim is made that one company graded "over 158,000 cards" in September of 2002. Doing the math and assuming that each of this company's 12 current graders only looks at each card once, that works out to 43.7 seconds per card (given a standard 40 hour work week). Now, if the claim is true that at least 2 graders look at every card and in some cases 3, then we're down to even less than 43.7 seconds (36.5 seconds/card in the case of 3 graders). I don't know about everyone else, but I'm not real comfortable with those numbers, especially considering that they assume full employee attendance and 100% efficiency rates.
Davalillo is exactly right. Collectors need to start asking the difficult (and for some, uncomfortable) questions. Let's improve our hobby and eliminate the doubt and deceit that is introduced every time card doctors gain a firm foothold. Let's hold grading companies to a higher standard where efficiency rates and profit margins are SECONDARY to accurate and consistent grading. And if some companies can't or simply refuse to meet those standards, then I urge collectors to take their business elsewhere. Trust should be consistently earned, not something that is negligently given away due to apathy or inconvenience. Let's look past the empty and often meaningless rhetoric by some company executives and explore the REAL issues that will once again make the COLLECTORS the central focus of our great hobby, not the grading companies.