Crossover Grading with Mr. Hockey
Updated: May 16
Never cross Gordie Howe! That would have been good advice back in the day. Well, I just did, from BVG to PSA.
If there was one Gordie Howe card I've always wanted to own, it was his 1954-55 Topps card. I'm sure most people would prefer his 1951-52 Parkhurst card, which is considered his RC, even though Howe had been playing in the NHL since 1946. I'm just not a fan of that set, despite its historical significance. But the 1954-55 Topps set - the company's first hockey release - is an absolute masterpiece. So, when I had a chance to trade for this card, I jumped at it!
The Topps Standard
The first Topps set created the standard for hockey cards that would be used for years to come. We now take it for granted that the front of a card will include a player's name and position, along with a team name or logo. And we expect the back of the card to include the player's biographical and statistical information. But it was Topps that first included all of those elements in its design.
I grew up in Canada in the 1980s, collecting O-Pee-Chee hockey cards, and the designs used for those sets all followed the basic template established by Topps in 1954. Other design elements would be introduced over the years, most notably the career totals line in the statistical summary. Yearly statistics for a player's entire career would also come later, though that was used for some sets and not others.
Notice the "T.C.G. printed in U.S.A." copyright on the back of the Howe card, just above the blade of the hockey stick (“T.C.G.” for Topps Chewing Gum). The Topps-OPC licensing agreement that existed for more than 35 years did not begin until 1957, and from 1957 to 1967, Topps hockey cards were printed and distributed in Canada.
Licensing restrictions limited the first Topps hockey set to the the four American-based NHL teams: Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. The license to produce cards for the two Canadian-based teams, Montreal and Toronto, belonged to Parkhurst, the Canadian card manufacturer. This remained the case until the 1964-65 Topps set.
Gordie Howe played an incredible 25 seasons for Detroit, from 1946-47 to 1970-71. He was 18-years-old when he started with the Red Wings and 43 when he finished. He excelled in hockey's toughest era, leading Detroit to four Stanley Cups. In a 13-year span (1950-51 to 1962-63), Howe won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer six times, and the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player six times.
A great article about Howe's career - written at the time of his passing in 2016 - can be found over at The Hockey Writers.
When I started following hockey, Gordie Howe was the NHL's all-time leading scorer, a position he held for almost thirty years: from January 16th, 1960, when he reached 947 career points to pass Maurice Richard, until October 15th, 1989, when Gretzky scored his 1,851st point to pass Howe's career mark of 1,850.
Gretzky's pursuit of Howe's career points mark linked the two players for years. But they were also linked through the World Hockey Association (WHA). After a two-year break, Howe returned to professional hockey in 1973 to play six seasons in the WHA. It was a 1978-79 WHA game between Howe's New England Whalers and Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers that gave us the photo used on Gretzky's RC, shown below.
Check out this interview with Steve Babineau, who took the now famous Gretzky photo. He thought he was being sent to photograph Gordie Howe!
When the NHL absorbed four WHA teams prior to the 1979-80 season, it gave Howe the opportunity to play in one final NHL season at age 51. Howe's last NHL season would be Gretzky's first.
The copy of Howe's 1954-55 Topps card that I traded for is shown below. Graded a 5.5 (Excellent+) by Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG), this card is in amazing shape, with great colour and overall eye-appeal. The top two corners are weak, particularly the top-left corner, more noticeable on the back of the card. Though not obvious at first glance, this card is also somewhat diamond-cut.
Notice the bottom-right corner in the image below, where layers of the cardboard have been folded back. This corresponds to the weak top-left corner on the front of the card.
So, why do I care about getting this card - already nicely graded and encased by BVG - graded again? It’s really about consistency. I have roughly 20 cards that I consider the key cards of my collection, and they have all been graded by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator). I have nothing against Beckett, but I would love to have this Howe card in a PSA holder to match the rest of my collection.
Submitting an already-slabbed card to PSA for grading falls into their category of crossover grading. In this case, I would be crossing over from BVG to PSA. It can be risky to do this, even among the top three grading companies: PSA, Beckett, and SGC (Sportscard Guarantee Corporation).
Every company has different grading standards, so there's a pretty good chance the grade on your card will change. In my case, I fully expect that my BVG 5.5 will translate into a lower numerical grade from PSA (more on this below), but I'm okay with that. PSA-graded cards are still the most sought-after in the market, so I'm not too worried about the card losing any future value.
Another risk with crossover grading, particularly going from Beckett to PSA, is the risk of a Beckett-graded card being identified by PSA as sheet-cut. Yes, all cards were cut from a sheet at some point, but the term is used to describe a card that was cut from a sheet years after its original release, usually with superior cutting technology than was available at the time of its original release. Beckett has no issues grading sheet-cut cards, while PSA refuses to grade them. Worse, Beckett does not identify sheet-cut cards on their labels. This has been a major point of contention with some top-end hockey cards in the market, especially low-population vintage cards with a grade of BVG 10 (Pristine). There is a reason those cards are not inside PSA holders.
To guard against massive disappointment, PSA asks you to specify a minimum grade for your crossover submission. If PSA finds your card to not meet the specified minimum grade, they will leave the card in the original slab. (You will, however, still get charged for the grading service.) Since I want my Howe to end up in a PSA slab, regardless of the grade, I specified a minimum grade of PSA 1 (Poor).
Crossover grading is much less risky than, say, cracking the card from its original slab on your own, then submitting it as a raw card for regular grading. This is an approach some collectors use to remove any bias or influence of the original grade from the grading process at the new company, but I was not willing to risk cracking the BVG case.
Predicting the Grade
Now for the fun part: trying to figure out what grade PSA will give my Howe card. I'm going to base my prediction on two cards I already own: a 1966-67 Topps Bobby Orr RC (PSA 3), and a 1979-80 OPC Wayne Gretzky RC (PSA 5), both shown below.
The PSA 3 Orr has a number of issues, including soft corners, multiple creases, and some minor paper loss. The top-right corner on the back of the card has some layers of paper folded back, like the weakest corner of my Howe card, but even worse. The Howe card is in far nicer condition than the Orr, so I'm confident it will grade higher than a PSA 3.
The main issue with the PSA 5 Gretzky is its slightly rounded corners. It has no creasing of any kind, and none of the corners are folded in any way. The Howe card is also crease-free, but its corners are weaker than those of the Gretzky card, so I expect it to grade less than a PSA 5.
That leaves three possible grades for my Howe card:
PSA 3.5 (VG+),
PSA 4 (VG-EX), or
PSA 4.5 (VG-EX+)
My guess is the final grade will be PSA 4 (VG-EX), but with grading, you just never know.
Up until now, I have done all my PSA submissions through a third-party, so this was the first time I went through PSA directly. After a relatively painless PSA submission process, I mailed my Howe card on February 8, thankfully before they stopped taking any more submissions! At the time, crossover grading fell into the "Regular" grading service level, and cost $50 US. Of course, there were additional costs to consider, most significantly the $46 US return shipping fee for 1-5 cards. Below is a timeline of my submission, followed by a breakdown of costs.
Feb 8, 2021: Card Mailed to PSA
Feb 16, 2021: Card Received by PSA (Canada Post Tracking)
Feb 18, 2021: PSA "We received your package" email
Mar 9, 2021: PSA "Thank you for your PSA order" email
Mar 10, 2021: PSA "Please review your order" email
Apr 22, 2021: PSA "Your PSA grades are available" email
Apr 22, 2021: Credit card charged by PSA
Apr 23, 2021: PSA "Your PSA order has shipped" email
Apr 28, 2021: Card delivered by Fedex
Communication from PSA throughout the process was awesome. I got an email notification every step of the way. I particularly liked that the "Thank you for your PSA order" email gave me a chance to verify that the card had been identified and entered into their system correctly. I thought this was a really good check for them to do.
Shipping to PSA (Tracked Packet): $20.12 CDN
Grading + Return Shipping: $124.47 CDN ($96 US)
Customs (Fedex): $20.88
Total: $165.47 CDN
Granted, submitting a single card for grading was not the most cost-effective approach I could have taken. But, given the card, I thought it was money well spent. And, as I said earlier, there's nothing wrong with having this card in a PSA holder. After all, there are currently less than 700 PSA-graded copies of this card.
Overall, I was very pleased with the grading experience.
And now for the most important part: the card itself!
Here is my Howe card in its shiny new PSA slab. As expected, the card received a grade of PSA 4 (VG-EX). It's nice to be right sometimes!
Regardless of the slab or the grade, this card is an amazing addition to my collection.