Here’s some collecting terminology you may come across.
We know that the intricacies of buying, selling, and collecting cards can seem really complicated sometimes, almost like investing in the stock market. We’ve put together a list of terms and concepts you may come across as you begin to dive further into collecting on Card Ladder. Happy learning!
Different from your traditional paper card stock, acetate is a clear piece of plastic applied to the top of the card that gives it a different gloss and shine appeal. This type of cardstock is popular with Panini Immaculate. Some collectors believe these provide higher quality cards. Acetate surfaces are often more prone to scratching than regular card stock.
An official assessment of a card given by the grading companies when a card has been changed from its original state by a person. This can mean it was trimmed to remove bad edges and corners, colored to cover up whitening, or the patch in a jersey card was swapped out for a higher quality patch. All of these are done with the intention of making the card more valuable which is then fraudulent when selling with the intent to mislead.
A signature of the athlete depicted on the card. “Sticker auto” refers to the athlete signing a sticker that is placed onto the card by the trading card company. Sticker autos are less desirable because the athlete hasn’t handled your card directly. “On-card auto” refers to the autograph actually being on the card directly applied by the athlete meaning they handled your card.
A company or entity that will sell cards on behalf of the seller. The benefit here is the seller doesn’t have to deal with marketing and infrastructure of selling cards themselves. It also becomes a place where buyers can find desirable items all in one place and buy from a reputable seller without the hassle. Examples are PWCC, Heritage and Goldin.
Traditional boxes and within that, packs, of cards that you would open are comprised of mostly base cards that make up the majority of that set release. Each player in the set will have a base card and typically there isn’t anything special about this card. It’s usually plain in nature and they are printed in high volume since most of the packs are comprised of them.
The originators of the pricing guide for sports cards. They are a media publisher of sports card content and now have their own grading service as well.
Beckett Grading Service. They are 1 of the 2 top dogs in the grading card service world. They specialize in grading autograph and patch cards and have more of a stake in modern cards. They provide subgrades unlike their competitors with centering, edges, surface and corners graded out separately. They also offer an autograph grading service alongside the condition grade. Their slabs are much thicker than competitors and have an inner sleeve for more protection.
A perfect grade given by BGS when grading a card’s condition. Perfect 10/10 on every single subgrade. When this happens they use a black colored label on the slab instead of gold or silver.
A packaging configuration for cards, typically reserved for retail distribution through a large store like Wal-Mart. The boxes usually contain randomly inserted packs from different releases and sets.
Similar to Blaster Boxes these are configurations of usually 1-4 packs of cards with some type of bonus card revealed through the packaging. These are also sold at large retail locations.
The concept of opening packs or boxes of cards in a shared group style, usually done on camera. Breaking companies will distribute out portions of a box to be sold to individuals and will open the box for everyone to view it. There are different variations to breaking such as participants paying for a specific team and if players from that team are pulled then it would go to the person who paid for that team. The same can be applied for specific players as well. It’s a more efficient way to get the cards you’re after without having to buy the whole box but also get the thrill of opening boxes.
The actual material of paper used to create the card and it’s thickness.
Grouping of boxes of cards that are typically in ranges from 2-20 boxes depending on the set. It’s a more efficient way for printing companies to distribute larger quantities to distributors and then retail shops will open those and sell as individual boxes.
Taking the concept of breaking and just applying it to the company opening an entire case of cards for others in the group.
Some issued products will offer the promise of a single “hit” or big card amongst an entire case. You’re buying a case of cards with the understanding you’ll at least get 1 big time card that attracts attention and is valuable.
A certain type of pack, usually has more cards, that is typically hung on a pegboard rack with a hanger on its hole punch.
Typically in card collecting there’s always that next card or set that someone is looking to find and complete. They are “chasing” that thing in hopes to complete their collection. Sometimes it’s one specific card that has become the “chase card”.
A complete list of all cards within a given product set including parallels, inserts, etc. These are used for collectors to check off items as they move closer to completing the product.
A metallic-like trading card stock originally developed by Topps. You’ll see that same card stock technology on cards like Prizm and optic. It has this metallic, chrome finish to the surface.
Check out my cards. It’s an online marketplace to buy and sell your cards. They are a central hub to store your cards as well. The company will handle scanning your cards and putting them into your library where you can easily market and sell to other collectors and set your price. COMC will charge you a fee for each card with this service. It’s typically done with bulk cards as it’s a more efficient way to sell cards and have someone else buy them for their library and ship out when there’s enough volume to make sense.
Another term for base card. A card you typically see a lot of when opening packs and boxes.
The attributes of a card and what separates it from other of the same card. Often times condition can add high multipliers to the value of the card because of eye appeal and scarcity of that item in a “better condition”. Grading companies grade cards on a scale of condition 1-10. Specific condition issues that can arise are off-centering, bends, creases, surface scratches, chipping on the edges, soft corners, etc.
The process of removing a card from a graded slab or cracking the card out. This is done when the collector wants the card in its raw form or isn’t happy with the grade designation and wants to have it regraded without the bias or have a different company grade the card without the bias.
Signature that is on a piece of paper or “cut” from another document. It’s like an athlete that would sign a piece of a paper for someone vs on a traditional memorabilia item like a ball or card. Sometimes companies will place autographs on paper and cut out just the section of the paper with the auto and place it into memorabilia.
This is a person within the hobby that primarily sells and buys cards and typically does it as a job. It’s usually thought of as the person who sets up at shows but today dealers are set up virtually on eBay. The distinction between them and collector is their primary objective is to make money as opposed to building a collection. Everything in their collection is typically for sale.
Type of card that is not in the traditional rectangle shape. It will have areas of the rectangle card cut out to give it a unique look. It’s typically reserved for inserts as a way to stand out from the other cards in the product.
A wholesale specialist serving as a middleman between the manufacturer and the retailer. They typically provide marketing support, sales promotions and other incentives to help drive product sales along the distribution chain.
The act of altering a card.
Commonly regarded as the main place to purchase trading cards because of its centralized location and ease of access.
Feature of a card where an image is pressed onto the card, leaving an indentation and the feeling of depth because the image is raised on the surface of the card. A popular example is on 1998 Playmakers Theatre.
Piece of material worn by the athlete during some event, usually a photo shoot or organized event just for the purposes of wearing the apparel.
Some defects such as ink print dots can show up on cards that reduce the condition grade of the card but were there from the factory and not introduced by the owner.
Trading card company that is no longer in existence. They were well known for 1986 Fleer set featuring the “official” Michael Jordan rookie card. They also were crucial to the success of the late 90s basketball cards with their acquisition of Skybox.
Shiny, metallic like accents on a card’s surface giving it more visual appeal.
Online community based around discussions in the hobby and also can serve as a place to facilitate buying and selling cards.
This refers to a piece of material actually worn or used by an athlete during a game and parts of that material are placed into the card, usually a piece of jersey.
This is reserved for what is considered the “best” condition. PSA reserves this for a perfect 10 score and BGS uses it for 9.5/10.
The process of evaluating a card’s condition on a scale, usually done by a 3rd party professional company such as PSA, BGS or SGC. When a card is graded it will be placed into a hard plastic slab for protection and will have a label attached depicting the details of the card and it’s grade. Grading increases confidence in buying/selling of the card since both parties know what to expect and cards with higher grades bring higher values.
Higher value card or perceived high value card that usually refers to someone getting the card out of a pack or box.
Box of packs of cards that was designed specifically for the distribution through approved retailers and card shops. Hobby boxes are generally considered to be better than retail boxes because they will have more desirable cards exclusive to their boxes. For example with Panini Prizm you can only find the most desirable gold prizm in hobby boxes and not retail. This also encourages collectors to buy cards from their local card shops to support the hobby.
Hobby boxes often include more desirable cards you can’t find in retail boxes found at big box stores. These cards are exclusive to these boxes.
Printing technology that creates a 3-D effect of the player that can move depending on the angle you are viewing the card. This is commonly seen in SPx cards from the 90s.
A box or pack that contains nothing but hit cards. This can also be a term used when someone opening packs is getting significantly better results than the average.
When a player signs an autograph it’s usually just their name but sometimes they will inscribe a more personal piece of writing such as their nickname in quotes.
Non-base and non-parallel card that stands out from the main cards from the set. It usually has a unique name and design. 90s basketball is famous for this with several popular cards coming from the insert concept.
Card featuring a piece of jersey from the athlete. The jersey can either be game-worn or event-worn. There are different qualities of jersey, usually based on how many different colors or what part of the jersey is visible in the card.
Hobby exclusive pack that is significantly larger than packs you would find inside boxes. They often contain 50 cards or more.
This term is commonly used to refer to the era of cards between vintage and modern when popularity of cards spiked and companies were over-producing cards. It was comprised almost exclusively of base cards so no cards were rare or difficult to obtain so once demand dropped, prices plummeted. There are even jokes about how much physical volume exists from this time frame they printed so much. It took place from mid 80s to mid 90s.
Used to describe an important card in a set. Owning that card would legitimize a collector’s collection of that set.
Card companies need to obtain licenses from the major sports leagues in order to have the rights to produce cards depicting it’s players. It used to be that multiple companies had a license to produce cards like Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck but for football and basketball right now Panini owns exclusive rights so companies like Upper Deck are relegated to printing cards with athletes in street clothes or college uniforms.
A term used to describe a release for a short time or fewer cards printed to create scarcity and value.
Generally an auction term referring to selling multiple cards in one listing. It implies the buyer would be getting a discounted deal on buying multiple cards at once to reduce stress on the seller. It rarely includes high dollar items that can have standalone value. Some buyers look to buy lots off sellers hoping to find that rare gem.
A hard plastic case for an individual card where the two sides are held together by a single magnetic piece. These usually make the display of a card nicer while offering strong protection.
The company or entity that actually designs and produces trading cards. I.E. Upper Deck, Topps, Panini, etc.
An entire print run from a product release including parallels, inserts, base and autographs.
A card that includes a piece of player material such as a venue item, shoelace or other random piece. It’s also called a relic card.
Card printed with material that resembles actual metal. This become popular with Metal Universe from Skybox in the late 90s.
This term is used in the scope of grading to say that you only want a card entered into the system and slabbed if it meets minimum requirements for the grade you want. Often times collectors will request minimum gem mint grades because they only want it encapsulated if it were in perfect condition.
Term used to describe a card of high quality condition. A card with minimal to no defects. Also a slang term for nice card.
Era of cards after the junk era. With modern cards you usually think of jersey cards, autographs, parallels with multiple sets and products to choose from. Condition is less of an issue because the cards are often graded right out of the packs.
Slang term for the hit card that was pulled that provides a level of hype and energy around the card.
Annual event called the National Sports Collectors Convention, regarded as the biggest and best trading card and memorabilia show in the world. It began in 1989 and rotates between a few select cities each year.
The unique identifier to a card that is usually on the back of the card describing where that player falls in the list from the set. For an insert you’ll see something like 4 of 20 meaning there are 20 players in that insert set. For the base set you’ll just see the number.
A card that is unique in that it doesn’t really fit into any category like jersey, autograph, parallel, etc. An example would be a special release from a non sports company depicting an athlete.
The card has an autograph from the athlete that is physically on the surface of the card and not placed onto the card from a sticker. This is far more desirable.
The only card of that kind in existence. When you have serial numbered cards it’s usually card XX/XX implying there are other copies but if it’s the only copy it’s 1/1. It has a unique place in the hobby because these cards are obviously as rare as it can get but judging value is difficult. For player collectors these are cards that make you stand out against others.
A group of cards packaged for sale, usually multiple packs are in a box.
The practice of searching through retail boxes at big box stores attempting to find the pack with the hit, rendering the other packs less valuable. This is highly frowned upon.
This is a variation to the base card in any given set. Often times the imagery on the parallel will be the same but it will have a different color scheme or some other distinguishing quality. Panini is known for creating large amounts of colored parallels (gold, green, blue, starburst, etc). Other types of parallels are refractors, rubies, precious metal gems and prizm.
Term used to describe the cut-out piece of jersey placed into a card. The more visually appealing the patch (ie the more colors and texture including parts of the name or logo) the more valuable. They are often described in how many colors are present (3-color patch).
Thin plastic pocket to place your card used as the first level of protection. It’s usually a fairly tight fit for the card and doesn’t obstruct your view of the card very much. They basically cost 1c a piece.
This refers to group of cards for a collector that are not for sale. It is a card that is collected with the intention of keeping long term. It fits into a category from which the collector collects and it has personal value to them.
And this refers to a collector who collects one specific player. Collectors can have multiple player collections but the assumption here is that the collector is willing to purchase any card depicting that player.
The population of a given card in that specific grade from a company. If there are 100 Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer RC’s in a PSA 5 grade you would say it’s POP 100. You can also say it’s POP 100 with X higher meaning the number of cards total in a higher grade than the 5.
Used as a point in time to divide eras of cards.
The amount of copies of a given card produced by the manufacturer.
Phrase coined by the card company Panini. It’s their version of the Chrome card. It is an product of Panini and they even use the Prizm term to describe their parallels (silver prizm, gold prizm). That is synonymous with the Topps term of “Refractor”.
Grading company. They are most known for grading of vintage cards but their popularity with modern cards is increasing. They offer a slim slab with a plain red and white label. Their grading scale is 1-10 with 0.5 increments up until 8.5 with no offering of a 9.5.
A card that has been taken out of a pack. It’s often used in the context of showing off a card that somebody “pulled” from a pack themselves.
This relates to the grading of a card. If a card has a “qualifier” it means that a card will meet specifications for every attribute of a grading criteria except for one. For example if a card has very bad centering but is otherwise in mint condition it can be graded as PSA 9 (OC) or off centering as the qualifier.
The complete set of all parallels of a specific player card. In modern cards there are often several different parallels with all different colors so if you are able to obtain every color you could conceivably create a rainbow.
Common term used to describe the scarcity of a card. Rare cards are always more desirable because they are harder to find and falls within the laws of supply and demand. This term can also be used to unfairly hype the value of a card to generate interest.
A card that is not graded. Most cards come in this form but with the growth of grading cards this is actually more rare to see in higher value cards. Some collectors prefer to collect only raw cards because that is the state they were originally intended to be collected.
Beckett offers this service to grade a card at a cheaper rate without encapsulating it but with the promise that you can send it to Beckett for encapsulation at that designated grade. This is common at shows where encapsulating a card isn’t feasible. It also can be desirable for the owner who doesn’t want to commit to having a card slabbed if they wish to keep the card raw if it doesn’t meet their requirements for a grade assignment.
Method of selling a single card where the seller sells a number of slots into the card and randomly selects one of those slots. It’s a form of gambling. If a given card is worth $90 the seller could razz it for $100 by creating 10 slots for $10 so the buyer has a chance at getting the card for only $10.
The practice of fraudulently coloring a card to hide imperfections and physical damage.
Practice of trading card companies placing a piece of paper as a substitute to the real card in the pack with the promise that it will be replaced by the company in the future. This usually happens when a player hasn’t returned autographed cards back to the trading card company before distribution of a product. Redemptions have been known to take a long time to actually receive the real card because you’re at the mercy of the athlete signing that card.
Type of parallel that refracts or disperses light. They are very shiny and attractive in quality. The phrase was coined by Topps and they own the rights to it which is why Panini came up with Prizm. Refractors are quickly becoming some of the most popular and desirable parallels. The first refractors were with Topps Finest in 1993 for basketball and really took off in 1996 with the first release of Topps Chrome for Kobe Bryant’s rookie year.
PSA built this feature into their grading service where you could register the cards you have graded with PSA into a database. This can be used to track completion percentages towards sets, player collections and can also be used as a way to rank collectors for competition.
A card that has been reproduced from an original card. This happens with highly popular cards or sets so card companies can produce revenue a second time. This is not to be confused with a counterfeit card because these are licensed releases by the trading card companies. They are often far less desirable even if they look similar.
Cards packaged for distribution and sale at large box companies like Wal-Mart.
Card parallels that you can only find in retail packs and boxes.
A card with the first licensed product depicting a given player. This often causes confusion with the Michael Jordan rookie card because it was released in 1986 but his rookie year was 1984. 1986 was the first officially licensed product from Fleer of Michael Jordan. It’s referred to as the “true rookie card”. Rookie cards are usually the most desired cards for any player as it distinguishes itself from other years as being their first and is a representation of a time when that player had potential in their career. Many collectors only collect rookie cards.
Rookie card that contains both a piece of jersey and an autograph from a player’s rookie year. These are widely considered to be the best card of a given player. The first RPA was with the 2003 Exquisite release featuring LeBron James and his rookie year. There are several variations of an RPA within each product release but the “true” RPA is usually the most desirable and is the main staple in that player’s list of cards. It’s usually numbered to /99.
This refers to the market in which collectors and buying and selling with each other after a card has been pulled from a pack.
In an auction setting this is when a bid is placed on a card without the intention of purchasing the card in order to manipulate the value. This usually happens when an owner has another copy of the card at auction and wants to raise the value of their copy. Also, it’s actually bidding on your own card that is in consignment with someone else. This can also be done through a proxy or friend to bid for you.
Base set card that is printed in lesser quantity than other cards in the set. This is a tactic used to drive interest in the product around a specific card. This term is often used improperly to describe any rare card that has a low print run.
The encapsulation of a card by the grading company. It offers the highest amount of protection for a card.
An autograph that is applied to a sticker by the athlete and then applied to the card by the trading card company. This is a more efficient way for autographs to get onto cards for both the athlete and companies but are far less desirable because the athlete hasn’t actually touched the card and it looks less appealing.
A collector who is literally attempting to obtain EVERY card of a single player. Everything from oddball to 1/1s and beyond.
A type of refractor that is shiny like a refractor but has unique gold swirl pattern. These are usually 1/1s and considered the best parallel.
Small plastic bag with a sealed strip. These usually hold a card in a toploader or several cards grouped together. It’s often used for shipping cards.
Stiffer piece of plastic container for a card where the card slides in from the top. It offers a more advanced layer of protection than a sleeve.
Two collectors exchanging cards, usually of equal value. Often times it’s so each collector can fill out a set.
Card manufacturers print out cards in large sheets before they are cut into individual cards and placed into packs.
A card that is similar to the original card but has some subtle difference sometimes with coloring, background, writing or correcting of an error.
Term used to reference cards before a certain era, usually before the junk era. Cards from this time are much more limited to 1 or 2 cards for each player each year and grading condition really comes into play when determining value and rarity since there’s only 1 card to choose from. This term is kind of a moving target because as new generations enter the hobby the concept of vintage may differ to them.
A collector’s list of cards they want to complete their collection whether it be for a player collection, some set or just a card that they desire.
Generic term for sealed packs or boxes. Cards are no longer sealed into wax but the term has stuck around.
The representation of a single card that a collector dreams of having in their collection that seemingly is impossible to get because of either price or inability to find.
A type of refractor card that is shiny like a refractor but has a checkered X pattern on the surface.
Grading companies use this to categorize a card from a player’s rookie year but not part of the standard set.