An Introduction to Pokemon TCG CGC Grading

Hello everyone and welcome back to another one of my collecting articles! If you have not read my first article that was published last week, I absolutely recommend doing so and that would also mean you missed my introduction! I am Jimmy Pendarvis, a very experienced Pokemon competitor and collector and I am here to talk about all the different collecting and investing Pokemon topics. Last week I went over all the unexpected gems people might find in their old collection and this week I am going to cover Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) grading as a whole. There are many different options when it comes to card grading and the idea itself can be somewhat intimidating and confusing, but fear not, I am here to help you all out. Once you get a hang of things, which will happen quickly, you will have no issues submitting any of the cards you want to grade! With that being said, I will cover the other grading companies in future articles, but today I am going to focus on the new kid in town, CGC. Without further ado, let’s kick things off with a look at grading as a whole.

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Grading Overall

I would like to start off by saying that there is a huge difference between grading cards with the intent of storing your collection in a safer and more elegant manner and grading cards in an attempt to profit from the service. With that being said, I will have some thoughts for both of those options in this article, but it is definitely a trickier task to determine how to handle things when you are trying to make money.

If you are just trying to encapsulate your cards for the sake of protection and eye appeal, the main choice you must make is what service provides you with the case you like the best. All three main services, CGC, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and Beckett Grading Services (BGS), have some large differences in the appearance and feel of their cases. BGS tends to be described as a larger, bulkier frame. PSA is sort of the middle ground here, as it is not bulky nor the sleekest of the options but offers a highly quality case with a nice appearance. Finally, there is CGC, which offers in my opinion the best-looking case due to the sleekness and nice labeling, but also looks somewhat cheap. When you hold one in your hand, it is a different experience than when you are just looking at it and that feeling is one that is hard to describe.

Now, if you are trying to make money, you do have a slew of options here. This will be covered more in depth later in the article, along with future articles on the other grading companies, but you have a few things that you want to keep in mind when picking a service. These things are:

  • Turnaround times and cost: You obviously want as large of a margin as possible, so you want to keep your cost down. With that being said, there is a balance to find here, because the less you pay, the longer it takes. Some services will be quicker than others on this, but they will have some downsides of their own.
  • Price recognition: Some services are going to have lower sales data and market exposure than others, meaning the cards may take longer to sell or sell at a lower price. Patience is key here, but you also don’t want to sit on all your cards and never actually sell anything.

I would like to wrap this section up by stating that I mainly grade with PSA and have a very large number of cards there now. I do some of this through the Ludkin’s Collectibles middleman service, despite having my own account, due to the discounts they offer on some of the higher end services. I also grade some with CGC, but not nearly as much as PSA. I have completed one reasonably sized submission with them and have another two currently at their facilities.

This is just some insight on my thinking, along with a disclosure of my actions for full transparency. I will offer some positives and negatives for each grading service throughout this article and others in the future, so I want to be clear that I am not trying to shill for any of these companies in the slightest. All thoughts provided are my true beliefs.

CGC Grading – Who Are They?

Due to CGC being the newest competitor to the trading card scene, I wanted to take a quick look at their history and why they should have some respect when it comes to grading. After all, it is not like someone just decided to start grading cards and immediately gained some stake in the trading card world.

The Certified Guaranty Company has been a large contender in the comic book world for twenty years now. This means that they have a lot of experience when it comes to grading – grading trading cards is just an extension to their already very large business. This should give people some faith in them, it shows they were not born yesterday when it comes to collectibles.

The Facts of CGC Grading

Turnaround Time and Cost

These have got to be the two most important factors for people when it comes to grading cards, myself included and it only makes sense for that to be the case. Time to look at how CGC stands up to the competition when it comes to these factors.

For starters, I want to say that there is once again a difference between grading for your personal collection and grading for profit here. If you are just grading for your personal collection, it is likely that your personal preference will make this decision for you. If you are impatient and want the card back quickly, you can pay more money and have the card back faster. With CGC, this will mean using either the standard or express service.

Standard is $20 per card and has an estimated turnaround time of twenty days and express is $30 per card and has an estimated turnaround time of ten days. If you decide to go with a lower service, you are looking at $8 per card and a turn around time of about a month. Two additional things to note, is that you will have to pay an additional $5 per card if you want sub grades, which I highly recommend doing. Not only do they provide detailed information on the condition of the card, but they also make the case look nicer and have a more official vibe.

Lastly, but not something that should be overlooked, are the maximum values for each tier. Once you get to dealing with some higher end cards, you will outgrow some of the lower service levels, forcing you to pick some of the higher-level service levels. This does cost more money, but also means a faster turn around time and full protection of your card.

Now that I have gone into detail about some of the current costs and turnaround times with CGC, I will provide some quick bullet points that affect my decision making when choosing a service level.

  • Value of the card: Not only do you have maximum value levels for each tier, which can force your hand when it comes to picking a service level but paying for a faster turn around time can help free up some capital in a shorter period if need be.
  • Trajectory of a card: If you think a card has the potential to increase in value over time, choosing a slower turn around time and saving money is generally the right call, since you won’t want to sell it quickly anyways. On the other side of the coin, if you think a card has the potential to decrease over time, paying for a faster turn around time could help improve your situation. You will have the opportunity to sell it faster, meaning you are less likely to lose money if the card has a negative trajectory.
  • Cards you already have in your possession or being graded: If you already have a few of a card ready to sell, or you have some currently being graded, you should be in no real rush to get an additional copy back in a quick manner. If you got it back, you would not be selling it anyways, so you should probably pick a slower turn around time for it and save the money.

I am sure there are some other factors to keep in mind and ones of personal preference, but these are the major factors that pop into my mind.

How to Go About It

When I say this, I do mean considering the turnaround time and cost as described above, but before you even get to those choices, you have a much bigger choice to make. With that being said, I believe it is a simple one and I will break that down for you right now.

If you are going to be grading a couple cards here and there, it doesn’t really make sense to pay all the money for a yearly membership, does it? CGC is the cheapest membership of the three grading companies when you get the cheapest one, but you are still paying a minimum of $25 to do so. On top of that, a lot of the service levels have a card minimum, meaning you might have trouble submitting cards even after you have a membership. Taking that into account, it is best to look at other options if this describes you.

In my mind, only one other option exists and that is Ludkin’s Collectibles. Ludkin’s Collectibles is a grading middleman service that handles PSA and CGC submissions. Their North American representative, Charlie Hurlocker, could not be more of a stand-up guy. He is highly respected in the hobby, has an incredible collection of his own and works relentlessly to improve the experience that Ludkin’s offers. Their rates are very competitive with ones that the companies offer themselves and as I stated earlier in the article, can actually be cheaper in some cases, even for those with memberships!

Now, if you are going to be grading on a relatively consistent basis, or just like the idea of doing this yourself, getting a membership is going to be a good idea. With CGC, the higher the membership you get, the cheaper each submission will be for you, meaning the membership will eventually pay for itself. I went with the elite membership because I know I will get use out of it and I liked the benefits it had to offer. That is not a requirement by any means, though and you should select the one that has the benefits that fit you the best. This ranges from the previously mentioned $25 membership all the way up to elite, with two other options in between. The best membership option will vary for each person, so I recommend just looking at the cost and benefits of each and deciding for yourself.

Advantages and Disadvantages of CGC

As I said before, each grading company has their ups and downs and these are some of the more significant points that come to mind when I think about CGC grading. Though I am sure people out there have their own thoughts and personal preferences, these points should cover the general public opinion as well.

  • Faster turn around times than their competitors due to the other options running severely behind schedule. This comes with comparable pricing as well and significantly cheaper if you decide to not get the sub grades.
  • Despite being new, many collectors consider CGC to be the most accurate grading service. I personally believe this will become a more popular thought as time passes and CGC establish themselves in the hobby.
  • Lack of price recognition due to their service being relatively new, which makes selling the cards a slightly longer process and leaves potential for the cards to be worth slightly less.
  • They are new to the game, so mistakes with casing and other details are more likely. I have experienced some of these myself.

Those bullet points on the pros and cons of CGC are going to wrap up this article! If you can’t already tell, I think that CGC is a great option for grading cards, especially for people new to the grading game. They offer a faster turn around time and competitive pricing, making it a smoother experience for a lot of customers. The other grading companies have their own appeal as well and I will be discussing them in future articles.

This is just my second article here at ChannelFireball! I have been having an incredible time writing these and getting to share my thoughts with you all. If you have any questions when it comes to grading, feel free to comment down below or hit me up on Twitter. Additionally, if you have any future article topic suggestions, I am open to hearing your thoughts. As I said before, I do have quite a long list of ideas, but I am willing and able to add to it. I’ll be back next week with another article, but until then, I hope everyone enjoys the world of Pokemon and the holiday season.


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