Deciding When To Grade A 1/1 Sports Card Is More Complicated Than It Seems – Here’s Why

March 17, 2023

For most cards, it’s a no-brainer. If the card is valuable and the condition is good, you should grade it. Of course, every card is different, but generally speaking, grading adds to the value of cards. The slabs also keep them from sustaining damage and lessening in value as a result.

But 1/1 cards are a little bit different. We already know what the population is on this card. There is one of them, Einstein. But that doesn’t mean these cards are never worth grading. Here is the complete answer to the question: should you grade a 1/1 sports card?

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What makes 1/1 sports cards special?

When we say to someone, you are one in a million, that sounds like a great compliment. The trouble is, in a world of 8 billion people, that means there are eight thousand of that person. That means we have a high pop count. Literally.

But a 1/1 card is absolutely unique. Sure, they might be pretty darn similar to the /10 version. But it still has that 1/1 sign on it, and there is no arguing. And the coolest and most infuriating thing about the one-of-a-kind card is how hard it is to price.

Of course, you can compare it to similar cards to get a general ballpark. But ultimately, there are no truly convincing comps. Therefore, the buyer and seller must come up with some educated guess they can live with.

Therefore, it is unclear if there is any point in grading one of these cards. After all, a grade is intended for comparison purposes. And with a 1/1, there is literally nothing to compare you can compare your card with.

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The arguments against grading a 1/1 sports card

We associate high grades with high value. But it’s essential to also keep in mind why grades exist in the first place. Cards are graded to differentiate like units into categories of importance. So, for example, when we have over 90,000 Ken Griffey Jr 1989 Upper Deck Star Rookie cards.

Ok, 94,277, to be exact. We need grading to create some scarcity for those PSA 10. There are only 4,065 PSA 10s of that item. And the difference in value becomes readily apparent. The most recent PSA 9 went for $197, while a PSA 10 sold for $7,600.

But with 1/1 cards, the scarcity is already there. You know that you are getting a one-of-a-kind. In essence, you already have something more than a PSA 10. There can be thousands of gem cards for a specific card (especially a base one). But never more than 1 of your 1/1 cards.

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What if the 1/1 gets a low grade?

Of course, you have the question of the grade. About half of ultra-modern cards gem at PSA nowadays. Once cards get older, that starts to plummet. So, you are certainly not guaranteed that your card will earn a PSA 10. What if the grader gets super jealous at your Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. RPA and gives you an 8?

It is hard to see how a PSA 9 or lower helps your one-of-a-kind card. It makes a very unique card seem somehow ordinary. It can even scare off high-end buyers who may want to grade the card. They may prefer to spend big bucks on a potential perfect 10 or a graded gem.

One user on Blowout Forums posted: “Unless you know it’s coming back a guaranteed 10, you’re going to leave money on the table when selling. Because nobody wants a 1/1 in anything less than a 10 or 9.5, at minimum.”

I’m not sure that NOBODY wants one. I will take a LeBron logoman off your hands with a PSA 9. But dfwsoccer01 does make a good point.

But that is not a fatal argument against grading. First, only send in your 1/1 card if you think there is a good chance it will gem. Second, if it comes back a PSA 9, or god forbid, an 8, you are not out of options. Just use our handy dandy guide to breaking cards out of slabs. It is not difficult, and the chances of damaging your card are minimal.

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The arguments for grading a 1/1 sports card

Did we convince you not to grade your 1/1? Then wait! There are some compelling reasons to grade as well.

There is very little chance that a PSA 10 will harm the sale price of your card. After all, even the purists who dislike slabs can break them out of their plastic prison. Meanwhile, there are collectors for whom grading is essential. And when you have a genuinely high-value card, the problem isn’t the card’s value on paper.

It is more about finding the right buyer willing to shell out tens of thousands. And you don’t want to miss out just to save some bucks on grading. So, by getting the grade, you are expanding your market and possibly raising the value somewhat.

Another advantage to grading is that it confirms the card’s authenticity, at least in theory. There are plenty of fake slabs out there. But with the recent installation of PSA hologram technology, that problem is becoming less severe. And the more significant the outlay on a specific card, the more the buyer will want to guarantee they are getting the real thing.

Then there is the question of protection. You are going to want to keep that 1/1 looking sharp. Graded or not, if there is an obvious flaw, buyers will notice and be reluctant to pull the trigger.

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The added liquidity of graded cards

Finally, graded cards are easier to sell, not only because many collectors prefer them. To avoid tricky questions of authenticity and grade quality, many of the primary card markets nowadays only sell graded.

For example, MySlabs, PC Sportscards, and PWCC. And that is the general direction of the hobby in general. There is reason to believe this trend will accelerate. Many sellers are now pairing up with graders.

For example, Goldin and PSA have recently teamed up. So, it may be far more difficult to sell off your ungraded cards in the future, whether they are 1/1 or otherwise.

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A question of aesthetics of slabbed cards

The smaller the population, the less influence the grade has on value. So, there is certainly less of an impetus to grade. If so, a lot of the question comes down to looks. Do you like your fancy cards slabbed, or do you prefer to see them breathe-free?

That is a question you have to answer for yourself. Many card purists say, “buy the card, not the grade.” But for others, the look of a slabbed card is more pleasing. Where do you stand? How you feel about that question may provide all the answers you need.

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The numbers

As we have noted, comparing prices for 1/1 cards is difficult. The reasons are glaringly obvious. Unless the same card has been sold both graded and ungraded, you can’t make an oranges-to-oranges comparison.

Even if you find those (and it’s hard, believe me), they are usually a long time apart. And therefore, the market could be responsible for the lion’s share of the value differential.

But I did my best here. I tried to bring similar (though by definition not identical) 1/1s sold within the same time frame. So here are the comparisons in question:

PSA Graded 1/1 CardComparable Raw Card
2021 Panini Prizm Kyle Trask Black Finite RPA (PSA 9) – $3,500.2021 Panini Playbook Kyle Trask NFL Shield Nike Swoosh RPA 1/1 – $2,500.
2020 Topps Transcendent Derek Jeter Platinum On-Card Auto 1/1 (PSA 10) – $2,521.2021 Topps Sterling Derek Jeter Jumbo K Auto 1/1 – $2,151.
2021 Flawless Trevor Lawrence RPA 1/1 (PSA 9) – $10,951.2021 National Treasures Trevor Lawrence RPA 1/1 – $7,200.

As we said, these are not exact comparisons, and you can speculate on reasons for the price gaps in each of these cards. But the trend here is clear.

Similar 1/1 cards are selling for a considerable premium if they have the PSA 9 or PSA 10 tag. Obviously, the card itself is doing the heavy lifting. But the gap can be between 15%-35% in favor of the high-graded versions of the cards.

So…should you grade a 1/1 sports card?

It isn’t easy to obtain comparative data on 1/1 cards, whether graded or not. By definition, there is only one, so it becomes difficult to look at graded versions versus non-graded.

The larger the population for a card, the stronger the argument for slabbing and grading it. As long as the card maintains enough value to warrant grading.

However, even if it’s a very low-numbered card, there is an impetus to grade it anyway. Because if you have the only PSA 10 of a card, that is a strong selling point.

Even if there are only 5 others out there, it seems like a good idea to grade it if the condition is good.

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When not to grade a 1/1 sports card?

Here is the bottom line. If your card confirms both of these criteria, do not grade your 1/1:

  • You do not think the card has a chance to the gem.
  • You plan to keep the card for your own collection.

If you do not believe the card in question will obtain a grade over 9.5 BGS or a PSA 10, don’t bother grading your 1/1 card. Yes, there is convenience and an element of protection in grading. However, it is unlikely to be worth the lower value of the card. Your PSA 8 1/1 will almost certainly sell for a lower price than the raw version.

If your card does fall into one of these categories, and you still want to slab your card: keep in mind that there is always another option aside from regular grading. For example, you can send the card to PSA to be authenticated without receiving a numerical grade.

And here is another factor to consider. The more inarguable the card’s value, the less need for a grade. What do I mean? If you have a 1/1 Luka Doncic Logoman, it honestly doesn’t matter if it’s a PSA 10 or raw.

Everyone intrinsically knows it’s a banger, and you will clean up either way. But if you have a say in 2016 National Treasures Andy Dalton 1/1, a PSA 10 slab can’t hurt the value.

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When to grade a 1/1 sports card

If your card falls into the following categories, you will want to grade it:

  • It looks like it has an excellent chance to gem or at least get a PSA 9.
  • You plan to sell it.

Since many leading card platforms today only sell graded cards, slabbing them helps with liquidity. That, along with the protection, and the fact that many collectors prefer graded cards, means that grading a PSA 10 candidate card is usually the right move.  

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Final thoughts on grading 1/1 sports cards

Some people will tell you that grading a 1/1 is just a question of your personal preference. But it isn’t that simple. In this article, we tried to guide you on when to grade and not to grade your 1/1 card. Unfortunately, the numbers tend to favor 1/1 cards that have been graded and receive a 9 or a 10.

If your card isn’t likely to gem or get a PSA 9, grading it is a bad idea. In fact, if your card comes back with an 8 or 7, you might want to consider breaking it out of the slab. And if you wish to have it slabbed anyway, consider getting it authenticated. But this is not an iron law. Keep in mind that a Patrick Mahomes 1/1 NFL shield card sold for $4.3 million. And it was a BGS 8.5. So when the card is big enough, it doesn’t matter.

And it’s good to remember that 1/1 isn’t one size fits all. Some of them are absolutely massive cards. They can often speak for themselves, whether graded or not. Meanwhile, the less gargantuan variety may need some assistance in the form of a high grade. So, think carefully before grading your 1/1 pride and joy.

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