Grades for cards

Vexing!  We remember a 1964 debate within the United States Supreme Court when Justice Stewart was asked to define hard-core pornography.   His reply was classic, and used to this day in so many situations:  “I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so, but I know it when I see it.”  And that is exactly how we feel about grading postcards.


We decided early not to follow one convention, that of calling an unused card “mint.”  To us, this suggests “as-new,” and even though cards may deserve this description, here’s the problem:  they change.  A card can look great when we classify it, and despite the best storage conditions, three or four years later we see it and think–wow, that’s not Grade 2 any more.  So what to do, and where is Justice Stewart when we need him?


We settled on five grades, and to the best of our ability the conditions for each of those grades are listed in the “Grading” section.  Grade 5 is easy:  it’s a terrible card, just worth being a space-filler, and probably only for someone who desperately wanted that particular card until a better one comes along.  If you see a card listed as Grade 5, keep your hopes and expectations low.


Grade 4 is not too hard either, and it usually represents what the card isn’t, as much as what it is.  It isn’t perfect, it doesn’t have just a minor blemish, it isn’t just an ordinarily used card that travelled from place to place and got battered a little bit.  Something happened to it.  Maybe too much extra writing.  Maybe too much postmark ink on the front.  But something.


Grade 3 is the kind of card that–if you see it–looks to be in ordinary condition but probably has one thing that causes it to be downgraded.  Usually that means extra writing, or one out of two stamps is torn or missing.  These things happen, but the card is basically OK.


Grade 2 is our troublesome category, but then again one of the easier ones to assign.  It’s usually because a card wasn’t quite good enough to be Grade 1.  Maybe it has aged more than usual–for its age!  Maybe a small crease, usually postal, that you might not even see.  But here’s the problem:  a Grade 1 card can downgrade itself to Grade 2 during storage, so before we send a card out, we now confirm to the buyer that it is as it was described.


Grade 1 should be easy, right?  Wrong.  We–and you–shouldn’t expect a 1912 postcard to look brand new in 2012.  Like we say somewhere else, cards age like people do.  If there are no significant extra marks, and we feel that it would be hard to find a better example of this card at this age, we give it Grade 1.  And we give all buyers the right to ask us for a high-resolution scan of both sides of any card before they buy.  There shouldn’t be any dispute any more.


We looked at many other websites’ grading systems.  Quite a few don’t bother too much with this, probably for the same reasons we just mentioned.  They say a card is “used” or “unused.”  We don’t think that’s enough.  We cope with cards of one country that were sent from a different country, no matter the physical condition.  We deal with cards that weren’t mailed the normal way, but maybe in an envelope or even hand-delivered.  We don’t downgrade a card because it has an airmail label.  (People collect those, too.)


So that’s the story.  Oh, no, not yet, one more thing:  grading sometimes correlates with price, but not always.  A Grade 2 or 3 card may still command a higher price due to scarcity or rarity or whatever.  But relax, a Grade 5 card isn’t going to be too expensive.  Something for everyone!