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New Kids on the Block: CSG and HGA Card Grading

New Kids on the Block: CSG and HGA Card Grading

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This guest post came through our Article Submission Program. Thoughts and opinions are those of the author.

Introduction

It was recently announced that Certified Collectibles Group (CCG) would add a new branch to its relatively large certifiable companies. Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG) will handle their new sports card grading process. To celebrate this new launch, the card selected to be graded first was an iconic 2003-04 Topps Chrome Lebron James, which graded out at 9.5. 

In addition to CSG, Hybrid Grading Approach (HGA) announced earlier this month that they too would be grading cards but doing it almost entirely through computers and programs. “We decided to hire multiple companies to design and implement software that will allow us to scan, analyze, and grade cards without subjectivity,” they posted on their website.

In the sports card grading sphere, there are plenty of grading companies, but when it comes to respectable graders, the list narrows down to basically PSA, BGS, and maybe (still to be determined) SGC. How would CSG and/or HGA fit into this group? Could the market handle this many graders? Could this increase value at PSA? Or could they reach the level and value of PSA themselves?

If you’re not familiar with CCG groups and their new branch CSG, here is how their website describes them. 

“CSG is the latest company to be formed by the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG), which also includes the world’s most respected grading services for coins (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation), paper money (Paper Money Guaranty) and comic books, trading cards, magazines and concert posters (Certified Guaranty Company). Since 1987, the CCG companies have certified more than 60 million collectibles with a combined fair market value of more than $30 billion.”

It’s honestly a pretty impressive rap sheet for certifying just about anything it seems. So it gives the impression that moving into the sports card field will be a reasonably simple task, right? That’s where things can get interesting. 

But before we get into more details there, let’s look at HGA. Hybrid Grading Approach is a new entity entirely. Their website explains what their goal is and how they are approaching the market with a very new and unique tactic. 

“We believe that cards should receive grades based not on who is on the card, the value of the card, or whether or not a grader is having a good or bad day. The cards should be graded solely on the presentation of the card itself. So, we are developing unique software that detects edges for crispness, corners for sharpness, centering for balance, and surfaces free of blemishes; we feel that we will grade your card accurately 100% of the time.”

Obviously, we knew the market was heading into the computer world. Geoff has talked multiple times about how much potential was available there to people who were willing to work out the kinks and details. As someone who has been invested in tech companies for a while, Geoff understands just what this industry could be capable of. Is HGA the answer to bringing the digital age to the sports card industry? Or is it just the first of many new steps/companies that will start coming in and redeveloping the grading process? 

When it’s all said and done though, if you want to be a good grading company, it comes down to basically three things, in my opinion, 1. Trust. How consistent is your grading, and how much of an expert are you? Will you cut corners? 2. Value. It’s all about the money. If you’re a great grader, but your graded encased card doesn’t carry reasonable prices after it’s all said and done… well it really doesn’t matter all that much at the end of the day. 3. I would say, is eye appeal. If you’re in the hobby for the hobby and not for making money, how the card looks after being graded is important. Although not a big deal compared to the other two requirements if you’re an investor, I do believe that how new companies approach the topic of eye appeal in regards to their slabs will determine how much attention they can gather and perhaps interest to follow. 

So let’s break this down. 

#1. Trust

The obvious answer is that a new company will never be able to start off with the trust from the hobby that PSA and BGS have, simply because these two companies have withstood the test of time and still remain the forerunners in sports card grading. While many others have come and gone, or faded due to poor/less legitimate grading, PSA and BGS have gained and kept the hobby’s trust.

CSG made a smart move to ensure quality control and reliability of their new branch by hiring Andy Broome and Westin Reeves, both former graders for Beckett. Together they bring around 30 years of card grading experience to the table for CSG. They combine their grading expertise with some AI to help with the simpler portions of the grading process.

HGA, on the other hand, wants to get rid of people grading cards altogether and switch to computer grading. This would ensure that there is no bias about a card or player and eliminates the potential of possible human error. Cards are all graded on the same scale and price, no matter if it’s a million-dollar card or a $0.10 card. 

#2. Value

Because CSG only started this week, none of their cards are on the market yet. But BGS, PSA, and HGA have all sold cards. For a comparison we took the 2020 Topps Series 2 Luis Robert Rookie card #392. It’s important to note that BGS has not had one of these in BGS 10 sell in the last 30 days so their prices by comparison do not translate as well as if we had data on a 10. 

Brand Grade Price Bids Date

PSA 10 $152.50 12 Feb. 27, 2021

BGS 9.5 $54 24 Feb 21, 2021

HGA 9.5 $138.28 42 Feb. 26, 2021

It’s hard to say if HGA will keep those stats or if the prospect that they’re new will inflate their prices at the start, or if perhaps as time proves them capable, we could see their prices come even with or surpass PSA. 

#3. Eye Appeal

Now, again, I don’t think this is a make or break item like the other two, but I do think the eye appeal of a slab is important to the buyer. If you’re going to make a display wall or something of that nature to show off your personal collection to your friends, the slab will be important. 

PSA and CSG took a very similar approach. White background with black lettering and red (PSA) or green (CSG) border. BGS has, in my opinion, the classiest label, with a brass background with black ink. But HGA took an entirely different approach. They customize their background color to match the jersey colors of the player on the card. It is a bit more modern and unique but could be useful when quickly searching through your stack of slabs. The design was “okay” to me at first, but after getting on Ebay and looking at more pictures of the labels, they are really growing on me. 

(Label examples copied with permission from HGA)

HGA full Slab 

BONUS. Price and Time

The final thought you might have is comparing prices of these companies and wait times before you submit. To make it easier for you here are the recent prices so you can compare. Do note that these are prices according to today (3/1/21), and they could change by the time you read this article. (All photos are taken directly from their websites)

PSA (Updated their pricing on 3/1/21)

(Also look at the backlog of completed submissions here. Skip down to section 4 on the page.)

BGS

CSG

HGA

I think it’s also important to note that PSA and BGS have noted a major backlog and their times are not accurate. BGS isn’t even putting up wait times at the moment. (Sports Card Investor does have a PSA submission service that is drastically cutting the wait time of PSA returns. Check it out here) Again, CSG is so new we really have no clue what their turnaround is, and we can only assume that their website is correct. HGA is advertising “Where ten days mean ten days.” In a recent video on Youtube, a gentleman shows an HGA unboxing, and he got his card back nine days faster than expected. Check it out here.

Ultimately as crazy as the market is right now, I believe we will see a major influx of grading companies and other sports card services. But I think it will be interesting to watch how these two newcomers will perform. Also, with PSA now under new private ownership, perhaps we will see it work more Artificial Intelligence into their grading, correct their backlog, and who knows what else. Just as the card market is always 

varying, there are a lot of variables for the new and established grading companies alike.

Editor’s comment: We would love to hear your thoughts about this subject; grading companies has always been a hot subject across the hobby for some time now. Have you used the new grading companies and what do you think about them? What do you think grading will be like a year from now, same slow turnarounds and some sketchy grading, or has it adjusted and modernized it’s approach?

📈 Do you want to track your card collection and maximize your profit? Then you need Market Movers, the hobby’s most powerful pricing database and market intelligence platform. Find out more here!

View Comments (15)
  • Great article and I enjoyed reading the insight on the new company CSG! To regards with HGA their slabs look awesome but it’s difficult to get your cards graded by them. Currently they have a lottery system for Thursday and Friday, but most recently they just limited it to 5 cards per person. This will help collectors get a chance to get slabbed but HGA! My favorite part about HGA is their customer service being honest with customers and upfront.

    • I also like that HGA has a really slick system to submit your orders, check status, and see your collection all in one place and electronically.

  • Very good article. I definitely agree that Trust is a major factor. Unfortunately for these companies, that comes with time. Until they have built a reputation, they are going to be stay lower on the grading totem pole. I think they might build some trust if they crossed over cards they grade high and show it really is equivalent to a PSA 10 or a BGS 9.5 (or Black Label) without making collectors pay for it themselves. I think they really boost the Trust if they do it with a 7 or 8 and show that PSA/BGS is equivalent (or ‘easier’) on tough cards. I also agree that Value is important, but I think it’s going to take some very high numbers to show real comparison. A $150 Luis Robert is too easily manipulated and a low cost for any of the marketing departments for any of these newcomers. I’m not accusing anyone of shilling, but a $150 card isn’t going to give me confidence when Goldin Auctions has already come out and said they will only accept PSA/BGS/SGC for auction. You want trust and value? What is Goldin Auctions looking for to add one of these newcomers to their acceptable list?

  • Problem with HGA is the random positioning , I have been trying to place an order for two weeks now and my position number was so high the first week That I had no chance of getting in before the 1600 card limit was filled . Now into the second week my position number is even higher than the first week , and even though the limit is 2000 I still can’t get in to place an order . The whole set up is stupid !

  • I’ve been with Jeoff from day one I’ve been collecting w my brother from 6 to 56 now. I m from the coal region in Pa and have probably thee most diverse collection. Just an I’m about to start sell my start getting my cards graded something new happens but something old still has a hold on advancing and believe me if it wasn’t for Geoff and his team the hobby wouldnt even be close to where it is today.So I’m an overhead now and I handed my reins over to Geoff and his team…I also had successful businesses when I was a young buck. Not to put pressure on YOU GEOFF. Follow Geoff and be willing to take some sacrifices Hes the rite guy at the rite time..David

  • Look at the HGA screenshot in this article.

    Did you notice how HGA went from 10 days to 10 BUSINESS days over the last week?

    They have also limited submissions to 5 cards per order, and the demand is so high that there are thousands of people trying to gain one of these coveted slots just to submit 5 cards.

    This is important, because their “Volume Discounts” no longer apply since each order is limited to 5 cards.

    • Not only has it changed to 10 business days but that time frame doesn’t start until HGA scans your submission into their system.

  • I’d like to see more companies come into the market like this. It would be nice to have a little customer service when handling our investments. PSA call log is impossible to get on. Every day I try to call about a 21 card submission that is nowhere to be found and I can’t get a call in. They have a two week response time to emails. Why aren’t they working weekends? That’s California for you.

  • I appreciate the article. Thank you for bringing to light some of the newer companies as well as also covering the older companies as well. The neglect toward SGC as a legitimate grading company is interesting to me. They came about in the same time frame as BGS and PSA, have long had a great reputation as a grading company, especially with vintage. And honestly, while no one really sells for as much as PSA, they typically match or exceed BGS sold prices. SGC did admittedly stumble last year and certainly made mistakes and dropped the ball. No question. They had there share of failures and were not able to meet demand (like PSA and BGS were unable to). But they made significant strides to scale operations and completely get rid of their back log. At the time this article was written, their turnaround times were 2 weeks. They are still presently maintaining that pace as of today. Some may not like their slabs; others scoff at the typically lower sales (again, BGS fails miserably compared to PSA as well), and others can’t let go of the disappointment from last year – those are all fair. But to virtually ignore them in this article and not recognize their solid place in the market is disappointing.

  • I’ve used CSG. Great customer service, nice clean slabs, and smooth process and fair turnaround time depending what you choose.

    They are #1 in the comic space with 30 billion in sales, they have a bright future in the card grading industry.

    I highly recommend them.

  • I was all ready to submit a large bulk order to PSA, even with the lengthy processing times, and then they significantly upped their prices. I was reading more and more about CSG and they seem to be a very reputable company, especially for being so new to the game. I have just submitted 90 cards at the bulk level (60 day turn-around) and 2 cards at the economy level (40 day turn-around).

    I am aware that the sale values on any CSG graded cards may not live up to PSA in the immediate future, but they will surely increase a bunch from the raw card value, and will be protected much better. As an Elite Member the cost was $7.20/card for bulk grading, which is almost $13/card cheaper than PSA currently, and I should get my graded cards back 5-6 months sooner.

    To me, the decision to switch to CSG over PSA was a no brainer, especially for bulk card grading.

  • Also switched to CSG from PSA.
    PSA is $100 per card with 5+ months turn around, who knows where the market for a certain player will be in 5 months…
    CSG is $15 for 40 days.
    That’s an $85 dollar difference per card. For most cards, that $85 is not going to be made up by using PSA instead.
    No brainer!

  • CSG just sent back my economy order of 12 cards they got March 9. They completed all 12 April 1 and posted results and high quality pictures and mailed them back to me. That’s almost as fast as PSA got back to me on a question I had about an order I sent in 6 months ago. CSG eBay auction prices are mixed so far and well below PSA (not sure about other auctions etc) but if you’re not a flipper and hold them awhile the gap hopefully will close. HGA has several submissions from me but too early to see what their turnaround is.

  • I also collect comic books so I am familiar with CSG due to their affiliation with CGC. In the comic book collecting world, CGC is king. I like HGA’s approach of computer grading to remove subjectivity but I am not a big fan of their labels. My favorite grading company is still BGS. I like how the BGS slab presents due to the label. BGS has a black label, gold label for 10 that is not black label and 9.5, a silver label for 9 and 8.5, and a regular label for anything lower than that. I also prefer the thicker slab of BGS compared to the thin slab of PSA because I feel that it can protect the card better. Finally, I like how BGS shows the sublabels on its cards. It proves that not all cards at the same grade level are made equal. Some people might consider centering to be the most important criteria while it may be corners, edges, or surface for others. I respect PSA but I noticed that they are less strict than BGS when it comes to centering, which is the most important subgrade for me. However, I have slabs from BGS, PSA, and SGC since all three are reputable companies in my opinion. But more competition from newcomers such as CSG and HGA are good for the hobby in my opinion. Hopefully, this will mean lower prices, more options, and reduced wait times (due to spreading out the demand).

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