Recently we heard an argument by an authority in the industry that getting your footy cards professionally graded will NOT increase their value. They stated cards are graded to establish POPs (populations/number of cards that exist in that condition) but since footy cards are already numbered, POPs are irrelevant.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but our hobby is much more than just modern numbered cards. One of the great things I love about collecting footy cards is the variety of options for people to explore; numbered, non-numbered, modern, vintage, with new releases coming out every few months as well as releases existing from over a century ago!

Card Grading has multiple benefits

The argument that footy card grading is pointless because the cards are already numbered, is dubious at best. Not only does it take a narrow view that only numbered cards are important in the hobby, but it also assumes that modern collectors aren’t concerned with condition.

If you’re looking to buy a card of a high end player numbered to 50, there is a risk when buying a raw card that it may have scratches, dings or other blemishes that may not be visible in a photo. If it was graded, a collector could have 100% confidence of the condition – something that is very important when shelling out 4 figures on a card.

graded afl cards

While a POP report isn’t crucial for these numbered cards (since we already know their scarcity), the role a POP report can play in vintage cards is unquestionable. We’ve seen in the US, different copies of a vintage card can vary drastically in price depending on the grade. A 1969 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) rookie graded PSA 3 sells for around $1500. A copy graded PSA 8 is currently over $16,000 in auction, with 44 bids and 6 days remaining. That’s because of the 3800+ copies graded by PSA, only 169 are in that condition, and only 19 graded higher than that!

1969 topps lew alcindor rookie card graded psa 8

Condition is king

The arguments are strong for grading modern footy cards cards, but they are even stronger when it comes to vintage. While the old Scanlens cards in the 1970’s and 80’s were produced in high quantities, they came out in a time before penny sleeves and top loaders. They were also used in “flicking” games in the schoolyard – not exactly given the best of care to say the least. On top of this, the printing of these cards were so poor back in the day that cards came out of the packet with defects, such as bad centering and gum residue.

Hence, very few of these cards have made it into the 21st century without wear in tear.

As such, to find these cards in immaculate condition is a rarity these days, with the nicer condition cards attracting a significant premium. Professional grading vintage footy cards not only helps establish the number of cards in each condition tier, but takes the guess work out of the equation for sellers and buyers alike. While some old school hobbyists are fantastic at grading footy cards, it is subjective at best and not consistent across different people. A professionally graded card tells you exactly what you own (or are looking at buying) and in time, the scarcity of that card – as POP reports become more common in our hobby.

When a 1986 Gary Ablett Scanlens rookie sold for $550 over summer, there was speculation it was a dodgy deal to manipulate the market or somebody got caught up in the hype of “rookie cards” and paid a stupid price. Yes, there are thousands of copies of this card, but the one being sold was immaculate – almost unheard of in the mid-80s due to the green, blue and black borders that whitened easily. So, despite the card itself being plentiful, the card in such condition is incredibly rare. Was it market manipulation? No. Was it someone caught up in the hype? No. How do we know? Because we bought the card.

1986 scanlens gary ablett rookie graded

In the last 5 years, we haven’t seen another copy as nice. Ablett is debatably the greatest ever, and his Scanlens rookie is an iconic card. To own one of the best copies of this card was a calculated rational decision, with the card now sitting as one of the favourites in our collection. It may not reach the $10,000 mark like Kareem’s rookie, but when we look back in 5, 10, 20 years, we’re betting $550 will look like a bargain.

To see commentators in the industry make fun of (and even question) purchases of this card for $300, $400, $500 is disappointing, and shows a lack of awareness when it comes to condition – and the vintage market itself. Yet seeing Supremacy “rookie cards” of unproven players selling for hundreds of dollars, just because of their scarcity, is seemingly fine.

At Footy Card Guide, we love both modern and vintage cards. And we encourage collectors to follow their passion, collect how they want and enjoy doing it. We consider ourselves a neutral and impartial guide in the hobby, but don’t mind getting a bit feisty in order to shed light on the whole story.