Perhaps one of the biggest-ever scandals in the baseball card hobby has come to light over the past month. Cards graded in mint condition by third-party grading companies have been proven to be altered. This fraud has involved some of the most trusted names in the hobby world, Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) — the hobby’s number one grading company — and PWCC Marketplace, a company that brought in over $50 million in eBay sports card sales in 2018.
Card Trimming is Not a New Issue
The trimming of cards in order to make them appear cleaner and more fresh has long been an issue in the hobby. Back in 2013, a 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner, the highest-priced card ever, was proven to be trimmed. ESPN created a 30 for 30 episode on the tribulations of the card. However, the scandal slowly being uncovered over the past month and still under investigation is a systematic business model affecting a myriad of cards from different eras.
The Card Trimming Scandal
The first card to fall under suspicion was a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card listed on eBay. This type of Mantle is the second-most valuable baseball card behind Wagner. After eagle-eyed collectors identified the card as altered, with no description of it being such from PWCC. Collectors demanded the card be pulled immediately from eBay. Word spread through blowoutforums.com, the go-to website for sports card chatter. With pressure mounting, PWCC CEO Brent Huigens admitted the card went through a conservation process. However, Huigens has stated the conservation is different than the sacrilegious alteration he is accused of by many in the collecting community. To nearly all collectors, any alteration of a card’s state is a sin and should not be done no matter the condition. Outside of manufacturer defects, cards that have been altered in any way are not gradable. They often receive an ‘A,’ signifying the card is at least authentic, instead of a 1-10 on the traditional grading scale. This belief in the importance of the unaltered appearance of the object is something shared in other hobbies such a coin, comic book, stamp or even car collecting.
The scandal runs the gamut of cards from high-value current rookies to modest value tobacco cards. The inclusion of even these common tobacco cards as victims of the scandal has shaken the confidence of many collectors who now fear the act of trimming is more widespread than was previously imagined.
The case of trimming has brought the attention of national law enforcement agencies including the FBI and others. Back in 2012, Bill Mastro, convicted trimmer of the aforementioned T206 Honus Wagner was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment in a federal petitionary as well as a fine of $250,000. Mastro was facing up to five years but took a plea deal and cooperated with investigators for other cases. It is likely that the person behind the current slew of trimmed cards could face equal or greater chargers and jail time. PWCC is conducting its own investigation as well as cooperating with law enforcement.
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