How Gem is your BGS 9.5?
Updated: May 16
When it comes to grading, everyone has their company of choice. One reason people choose BGS (Beckett Grading Services) over PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) is their use of sub-grades. These “subs” give a collector some insight into why their card received its overall grade, something that's not always obvious without them. But they also allow collectors to recognize more definitive tiers within a grade.
Once you have seen enough graded cards, it becomes obvious that there are weak and strong examples at every numerical grade. For example, two Bobby Orr rookie cards that have been graded PSA 4 can look drastically different. Without sub-grades it can be difficult to understand why.
I recently acquired a BGS 9.5 (Gem Mint) copy of Jaromir Jagr's 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Premier rookie card. I was specifically looking for a “True Gem” copy, one with all sub-grades of 9.5. Once I had the card in hand, I started to think about where it ranked within the population of BGS 9.5s. The subs allowed me to figure this out by providing a way to analyze the different tiers within the Gem Mint grade.
For my card, the total sub-grade score (what I will refer to as the TSS) is 38. That is simply the sum of the four 9.5 subs. But the minimum TSS required for a BGS 9.5 is actually lower, at 37.5. This is the tier that I will refer to as Minimum Gem, or Min Gem. These cards always have three subs of 9.5 and one of 9, in any combination.
On the other end of the Gem Mint spectrum is a card that misses out on a BGS 10 (Pristine) grade by just a half point on any sub. Think about a card with subs of 10, 10, 9.5, and 9.5. That card has an overall TSS of 39. I'll refer to this tier as Near Pristine.
You can see where this is going.
After my full analysis, here is the tiered view I came up with for the entire BGS 9.5 population of the Jagr Premier rookie card:
A couple of comments on the table above, just so everyone understands my approach. First, if a Gem Mint card has no sub-grades (something that can be requested when submitting to BGS), there is simply not enough information to score it any higher than minimum, so the 12 cards in the population without subs were included in the Min Gem tier. Second, because the hobby views True Gem versions of a card with some distinction, I separated those cards into their own tier, one higher than cards with the same TSS but with mixed subs.
It should come as no surprise that the majority of BGS 9.5 cards fall into the Min Gem tier, 64.1% in this case.
So how does my True Gem card rank within the population? From the analysis above, you can see there are only 109 cards with a higher TSS within the BGS 9.5 grade. That's pretty good. If you include the 33 BGS 10 (Pristine) cards in the population, there are only 142 cards with a higher grade than mine. (Note that there are no BGS 10 black labels - all sub-grades of 10 - for this card.)
I have mainly stuck to PSA-graded cards for my personal collection, but I can see the appeal of sub-grades, like BGS provides. I really like the additional insight they provide, but they can certainly complicate things a bit more, especially if you are a buyer or seller looking for recent comparable sales.