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Sunday, 29th March 2009
Making the
Grade

T here comes a point in everyone's collecting career when you stop to assess what you have purchased.

However why just keep buying from dealers like me? I can think of five good reasons why you should buy from dealers, but if you can't I have not done my job properly, so lets crash on.

Everyone gets out into the real world every so often, even me, and eventually you will come across a pile of cigarette cards in a shoebox. The price is on them so do you buy 'em?

Well if they are cheap enough buy them.

Invariably though they are not this cheap anymore and so you have to make some sort of decision. If you carry catalogue knowledge about in your head then all well and good.

Few people do and lets face it if you do, get out more.

So what's left:

Condition that's what.

Grading cards is something of an art in itself but before I flounce about in artistic tantrum claiming divine knowledge handed down through the male line of an ancient line of mystics lets finally cut to the chase.

I have seen some very dubious claims as to what a card in VG condition looks like. In fact it beggars belief and this is from people that are prepared to show scans of these cards so Lord knows what they consider a card in lower grades are if Very Good have rounded corners and creases. This relaxed attitude to grading is found more in the smaller dealers. As long as they are prepared to sell them cheap enough no real harm done. You pays your money and makes your choice.

So let me at least set my stall out as to the standard UK grading system as described by Franklyn Cards. If anyone has any strong views on card grades drop me a line, always happy to hear from you.

Consider this card Excellent. It comes from Players, Dogs Heads by Beigel an unissued set. It never got into the packet. (Note the black border is my invention to highlight the edges of the card). The poor definition of the text is a reproduction problem not a card defect. Not the very sharp corners and the fact that the card is as white as the day it was made. Anyone that has collected these white background cards will know just what a problem they are. PS, I never call a card Mint or even Near-Mint. I leave that to other people.
Consider this card Very Good. It would be VG+ but for 'foxing' which is occurring on the reverse of the card. Note the corners are still sharp on this card. Generally the card is going to show signs of being handled and the corners will be softer than a card in Excellent condition. Cards in this condition are likely to have spent most of the time in a specialized album (not stuck in I cannot add to hastily) which can mean the corner of the cards have some slight marking where the card was mounted.
Now we are the Good stage of things I would describe it as Good- but as the old saying goes, a good card is hard to find. Again the back of the card will show more dirt than the front because of the uniformity of colour. The edges of the card can now be seen as rounded in some instances by the naked eye. Actually the card illustrated is at the lower threshold of good but the computer monitor is not really the place to distinguish the sort of fine details you can determine when you actually see the cards.

The sets I supply fall into the range of Good-Very Good (although I always err towards the side of Very-Good.) I always err on the side of being conservative in my gradings and I always will.

Note that none of the above cards have creases or folds in them. Such cards rarely have a place in the ratings of Good and above.

Conditions below Good should not really interest us too much but here is an example of a card that has seen better days. Again it was a white background which is always difficult to keep clean (especially over the hundred years of this cards existence, it comes from the first set of cards Wills, printed. Don't let anyone tell you there is no possibility of cards looking better than this after 100 years, they are simply wrong. I only ever supply then in G-VG). It would have to be considered Fair as you have to give a bit of room for Poor which would most certainly be this card bent in half.

I give a no quibble money back guarantee on that the cards I send you are going to be G-VG. I could push the point and say my cards are excellent and not give a money back guarantee but that is not the way I do business. I lose a few orders a month for taking this position but when I get comments like the one below on an almost daily basis, I stand by my decision.

Cards arrived this a.m. very happy with same, it certainly puts the other cards I received in perspective. Your quality cards are certainly just that , quality, I therefore would like to show my appreciation by ordering the following from you...
Terry O.

Hopefully this has given you some better idea of condition and what I am talking about at least, even if nobody agrees with me. These are my gradings which are fairly standard. Most other reputable dealers follow these sort of guidelines.

I better underline the fact that cards which have been stuck down really do have very limited collector appeal. They are still just as nice, the albums are well made and no information is lost. It is just part of the market that the price drops dramatically on cards stuck in albums.

A set of cards really does have to be judged as a total experience rather than a sum of parts (I knew my Psychology qualifications would come in useful one day. I was hoping it would be good for two but I suspect it wont be.) Before I go and have an artistic flounce about the room; rules are there to be broken. Once I was at an auction and there was a Taddy's Clown for sale. Just a single card, it had been torn from a book (badly torn from a book.) I suppose it was fortunate it survived at all, you really would have too know what you were looking at before you kept it. However it was described well enough and it sold for about £200/$350. Being a rare card the price was a lot higher than could be expected for such a card. In Vg condition the card is worth £650/$1150. Any 'normal' card in that condition would only be good for throwing against the wall.

So get looking into that box of oddments and get grading them.

Size.

People often ask me exactly how big are the cards and it used to be pretty easy, they are as big as they appear on the screen. This is true when everyone basically had a screen 800 x 600 but time marches on (as John Lee Hooker has just told me) and now larger screen resolutions have becoming quite common and this effects all manner of things including the size of the images.

The actual table of sizes is below for you all but to give you an idea, imagine five cigarettes side by side in a packet and that is the basic size of a standard card. Often people can relate to this measure better than all the dry old stuff.

Note these cards are for British cigarette card issues, which is what dominates this site.

Description Size in Centimetres Size in Inches Additional comments
Normal (no code for these on this site) 3.7 x 7.1 1 7/16 x 2 13/16 There are cards which vary a little from this size but not enough to introduce you to another two sizes one slightly smaller, one slightly larger because it makes hardly a jot of difference
Large Size (L) 6.3 x 8.2 1 15/16 x 3 3/16
Extra Large (X) 6.3 x 9.9 1 15/16 x 3 14/16
Other measures
Gallaher did things a bit differently and the standard size cards for them are not like other standard cards. 3.9 x 6.4 1 8/16 x 2 8/16 I have not given these cards a different prefix as the fact is all Gallaher cards are this size unless otherwise stated.

These sizes cover 80% of all the cards you are going to see but where there are any significant differences in cards you are asking about I will let you know.