Sports Card Dictionary: 71 Terms You Should Know

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Last Updated On: September 14th, 2023

Welcome to the Sports Card Dictionary, a handy resource for decoding the language of sports card collecting. Whether you’re a long time collector or a newbie, understanding the terminology — and the many trading card abbreviations — is critical for navigating the card hobby.

While we’ve made every attempt to capture the most common terms in this baseball card glossary, if you come across any jargon or concepts that you feel are missing from our resource, please share them in the comments section so we can update this guide.

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

To navigate the Sports Card Dictionary, simply click the letter above corresponding with the beginning letter of the term you’re wanting to learn about (e.g. to learn what “Relic” means, click the letter “R”). At the end of each defined term you can click “Go back to top” to jump back to the letter key directly above.


1 of 1

What is a 1 of 1 card (or 1/1)?

A 1 of 1 card, typically signified as 1/1 or one of one, is a sports card that is one of a kind. That means it is the single produced copy in the world. Sports card collectors often seek 1 of 1 cards due to their exclusivity and scarcity. Some have even sold sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars.

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1st Bowman Card

What is a 1st Bowman card?

According to Topps, a player’s “1st Bowman card” is defined as their first official baseball card and pre-dates the rookie card. The “1st” designation on the card will be located in the top left or top right corner, as shown in the example below. The 1st Bowman card is often released when a baseball prospect is still in the minor leagues, as they work their way to the big leagues.

Many collectors will speculate, or “prospect”, by seeking to buy a player’s 1st Bowman Chrome card (with the metallic shiny finish) early in a player’s career to try and capitalize on the price appreciation as they become well known, and in hopes they go on to have a great MLB career. Recent examples of player’s fitting this description include Jordan Walker, and Elly De La Cruz.

Kyle, at Let’s Talk Wax, provides a video overview of all the nuance between the Bowman products, including Bowman, Bowman Chrome, and Bowman Draft. If you’re still confused after watching Kyle’s material, you’re not alone — it can be daunting to understand the different products, key players’ cards, and how they’re intertwined (if at all).

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Aftermarket Auto

Once a card is first pulled from a pack and then signed by a player in the wild (e.g. at a signing or memorabilia event), it is considered an aftermarket auto. It’s no surprise an aftermarket autograph is typically hard-signed. These are also less favorable to hard-signed, pack-pulled autographs.

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Auth : Authentic

What does auth mean?

The designation “Auth” or “Authentic” is commonly used for cards that have been deemed authentic by sports card grading companies. The encased card is labeled as such to signify having passed authentication by an expert. Collectors will often request a card to be authenticated if they feel it will not score a high numerical grade such as PSA 9 MINT or PSA 10 GEM MINT.

1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57 graded PSA Authentic
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57 graded PSA Authentic

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Auth / Altered : Authentic / Altered

What does authentic altered mean?

A card that is deemed to be authentic but altered will be graded and encased with “Authentic Altered” (or similar) by most grading companies such as SGC, PSA, and BGS. An altered card could be anything from evidence of trimming to improve edges, corners, or centering, recoloring to fix a white corner, or any other modification to a card to improve its condition.

1963 Topps Bob Gibson #415 SGC Authentic Color Added
1963 Topps Bob Gibson #415 SGC Authentic Color Added

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Auto : Autograph

An autographed card is a card that is usually signed by the player or players depicted on the card. There are several different types of autographed cards:

The type of auto can be classified further based on whether they are:

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Base Set

What is a base set card?

A base set refers to the primary or foundational set of cards in a particular sports card release. These cards often include individual players, rookies, teams, or action shots. The base set is the backbone of the product release and is the largest portion of the total card set.

Base set cards are also the most common and widely available. They are often produced in larger quantities compared to other subsets or insert cards within the release. They can vary in size, with some sets consisting of a few dozen cards and others containing hundreds or even thousands of cards.

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BGS : Beckett Grading Services

What does BGS stand for in cards?

Beckett Grading Services, or BGS for short, is one of the top grading companies for sports and trading cards.

Beckett also offers a second grading brand, namely Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG), which handles grading for pre-1981 cards (so 1980 and earlier). Also, they once offered a cost-effective service under a brand called BCCG (Beckett Collector Club Grading), which is no longer in service.

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Blaster or Blaster Box

What’s a blaster box?

Blasters will normally contain a handful of sealed card packs and possibly unique inserts or parallels in addition to those found in sister products. A smaller sealed box of cards, a blaster box is a low-cost alternative to purchasing full-sized hobby or retail boxes. They can typically be found at Walmart, Target, and Walgreens retail stores.

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BMWT : Bubble Mailer With Tracking

What does BMWT stand for?

Commonly referenced in card listings on eBay or Facebook, (e.g. “Add $5 BMWT”), BMWT is a shorthand way of saying the card will be shipped in a bubble mailer with tracking.

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Box Break or Break

What is a box break?

Collectors join a box break to open a sealed box or case of sports cards together, and the contents are shared and distributed among the group based on the order or slot a given collector received when buying into the break. Participants purchase slots or teams in advance, where each slot or team corresponds to a portion of the cards within the box or case.

As a group activity, the cost of the product is shared amongst the collectors who bought into the break, so it’s much cheaper than individually buying a box of cards.

Box breaks are often completed by a “breaker”, or simply a company that specializes in organizing and hosting box breaks. Participants watch live — whether online or in person — as each pack of cards is opened one at a time. Typically other collectors will also watch the break for fun, even though they don’t have any skin in the game.

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Buyback Auto

What is a buyback auto?

A special type of pack-pulled auto, a buyback auto is an autographed card where the original card was pack-pulled, and then re-purchased by the card manufacturer to then have a player sign it in the after market. If you’re keeping up, this essentially means the card was slapped with an aftermarket autograph, but then re-inserted into card packs as a random insert dubbed a “buyback” autograph.

2001 Upper Deck Michael Jordan Buy-back Auto '98 Upper Deck 1 of 1
2001 Upper Deck Michael Jordan Buyback Auto ’98 Upper Deck 1 of 1

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Cello Pack (or Box)

What is a cello pack of cards?

A cello box contains multiple cello packs of cards that are usually sealed in cellophane wrappers (hence the name cello) and sold as individual packs. The cellophane is a transparent packaging allowing collectors to see the front and back of packs without opening them.

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What does coin mean in sports cards?

A common practice in online marketplaces such as Facebook groups, coining is the practice of placing a handwritten post-it-note or other piece of paper with your name, and the current date, next to a sports card that you have for sale. This is normally requested by buyers as a means to prove that the card is owned by the seller and in hand. That said, with the advancement of photoshop and other online tools, it’s not very hard to fake a coin — so do your due diligence before buying a card online.

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Comp (or Comps)

What does comps mean in sports cards?

Sports card collectors often use the word comp as an abbreviation for the word “comparable” or “comparison.” It refers to comparing the value of a specific sports card in the same grade or overall condition (e.g. 2018 Shohei Ohtani Bowman Chrome RC Auto in BGS 9.5 grade would be comped against the same card in the same grade, or close enough and adjusted in price accordingly). Collectors use comps to gauge the approximate value of a card they are interested in buying or selling.

Example sales comps of 2018 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani Blue Refractor Auto BGS 9.5, ordered most recent first (via CardLadder)
Example sales comps of 2018 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani Blue Refractor Auto BGS 9.5, ordered most recent first (via CardLadder)

Comps are especially useful if they are of recent card sales — the more recent the better. One caveat is extremely rare cards, like 1 of 1s; if the comp is relatively old, it’s not uncommon for the buyer and seller to cautiously still use it as a basis in negotiating a current market value (and what could possibly become the next comp/sale).

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Cut auto

A cut autograph is one that is literally cut from an existing signed artifact and then embedded into or onto a sports card. The cut auto can come from any number of things including a bank check, post card, letter, or even a player contract.

2017 Topps Dynasty Cut Signatures Honus Wagner Auto 1 of 1 PSA 10
2017 Topps Dynasty Cut Signatures Honus Wagner Auto 1 of 1 PSA 10

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Error Card

An error card is a card with a printing or production mistake that results in a variation from the intended design. Error cards can include incorrect player information or stats, one intended player on the front along with an entirely different player’s information on the back, and vice versa, misspelled or missing names, and other production snafus. Error cards are can be highly collectible due to their quirky nature. This Frank Thomas No Name on Front Error is one of the most popular, born out of the Junk Wax Era.

1990 Topps #414 Frank Thomas No Name On Front Error Rookie Card PSA 5
Infamous Error Card: 1990 Topps #414 Frank Thomas No Name On Front Rookie Card PSA 5

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Flip (or Flipping)

When flipping cards, buyers — or speculators — purchase a card with the hopes of quickly selling it at a higher price to make a profit. The sports cards market can be highly volatile, especially for specific players based on their performance, injury, seasonality, or even at a trade deadline. A card flipper can take advantage of a dip in the market by purchasing the card of a player that has fallen out of favor (e.g. due to injury, or off-season), and sell the card at a higher price when the demand for the player returns again.

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FOTL : First Off The Line

What does FOTL mean?

FOTL, or First Off the Line, is commonly used by sports card manufacturers when releasing a special version of product before the official release date. Typically, FOTL products offer exclusive parallels or inserts that are not available in retail or hobby boxes.

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Game Used

What is a game used swatch?

In sports cards, any piece of clothing or equipment that is used by a player in an actual game is considered to be game used. A game used swatch, or patch, would normally refer to a small piece of a player’s jersey, for example an NBA game jersey, or MLB uniform. That said, there are many additional forms of game used material within sports cards, including game used gloves, caps, balls, bats, and even cleats, to name a few.

Keep in mind some cards may be labeled as game used, but there’s no guarantee the piece of memorabilia is game used by the particular player pictured on the card. Depending on the card brand, and the sneaky language on the back of the card, be sure to do your due diligence if this is an important buying consideration. That said, brands like Topps Dynasty do a good job of using game used relics of the player pictured, and in some instances include a sticker on the patch to indicate it is MLB authenticated, too. Using the code on the sticker, you can do a look-up to see what actual game the patch was used in.

Topps Dynasty Mike Trout Game Used Patch Auto with MLB auth sticker code
Topps Dynasty Mike Trout Game Used Patch Auto with MLB auth sticker code

The following game used patch card of Mike Trout bears the MLB authentication program sticker with the code VT024320 — upon using the look-up tool mentioned above, the Trout patch ties to a Giants at Angels game that took place in 2020.

MLB authentication of memorabilia results of Topps Dynasty Mike Trout Game Used Patch Auto
MLB authentication of memorabilia results of Topps Dynasty Mike Trout Game Used Patch Auto

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Game Worn

What does game worn mean?

Just as with game used cards above, which we recommend reading for more context, a game worn sports card may contain any piece of player jersey or other gear, such as shoes, gloves, hats, and pants, that has been worn by a player for a game, however not specifically used in a game.

A game worn relic is not guaranteed to be worn by the player pictured on the card either. Be sure to read the language typically located on the back of the card for more clarity, however card companies do a good job of obfuscating the language with each passing product release.

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What does it mean to grade a card?

When grading a card, you are enlisting the help of a sports card grading company to authenticate and rate the physical condition of the card by reviewing imperfections such as corner damage, surface or edge issues, and off-centering.

Most grading companies charge a fee for their service with pricing tiered based on speed of service, the type of card, such as standard size, tall boy, or patch autograph, and the value of the card. PSA, SGC, and BGS are considered top-tier services, while other more affordable companies will grade cards without breaking the bank but don’t carry as much cachet in the hobby.

The condition grading scale can differ from company to company, although most will grade on a scale of 1 through 10, with the lower number being a poor grade, and a 10 considered Gem Mint or Pristine condition (as with BGS and SGC). Also, a card can be deemed solely Authentic, or Authentic/Altered with no numerical grade. Check out PSA’s grading scale as a good example from a premier grading company.

Example of PSA 10 Gem Mint card: 1990 Fleer All-Stars Michael Jordan #5
Example of PSA 10 Gem Mint card: 1990 Fleer All-Stars Michael Jordan #5

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Hard Signed

What does hard signed mean?

A hard-signed autographed card is one where the player actually signed the card itself (also known as an on-card auto). An alternative to a hard-signed auto is a sticker auto.

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HOF : Hall of Fame

What does HOF mean in baseball cards?

HOF signifies a player that was elected into the Hall of Fame. Often you will see eBay listings with “HOF” in the title to signify the trading card up for auction is of a hall of fame player. It’s common to setup searches with the acronym HOF in the search terms to narrow the results to only the best players. Obviously any searches that do not have the term in them will also be filtered out, so we recommend to use this approach sparingly.

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What is a holo card?

A holo (or holographic) typically refers to a shiny or refractor-like card with a chrome finish, usually more rare than base set cards. In general, the sports card industry will interchangeably use the terms refractor, prizm, prizm silver, and holo (but less so). The Panini Donruss Optic brand of sports cards popularized the use of holo to distinguish between base set cards and refractors. Pokemon trading cards also use the term holo, and even reverse holo.

Example of a Holo: 2017 Donruss Optic Holo Prizm #177 Patrick Mahomes PSA 10
Example of a Holo: 2017 Donruss Optic Holo Prizm #177 Patrick Mahomes PSA 10

If you’re looking for the definition of Hologram, see the section below.

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A hologram card (not to be confused with holo) is a shiny, reflective card that will exhibit an effect or player action when tilted at different angles. Debuting in the early 90s by Upper Deck and several other card brands, hologram cards were produced throughout the decade although never really caught fire.

1991 Upper Deck Award Winner Hologram Michael Jordan #AW4 PSA 10

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Holy Grail (or grail)

A holy grail card, or simply grail, is what collectors refer to as an extremely rare or highly sought-after card that would be at the peak of their collection. It is usually a card that is valuable, rare, and sometimes outside of their current budget. A few examples of grail cards might be a Jordan Fleer RC or high-end insert, a rare autographed card, 1 of 1, or a game used patch or bat.

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What are inserts in sports cards?

Inserts are special cards randomly inserted into sports cards packs that differ from the base set of a given product. The odds of finding an insert card will normally range from one per pack, box, case (of boxes), or have super tough odds such as finding one in thousands of packs. Wikipedia does a great job defining the several different types further, so we won’t beat this one to death.

Many of Michael Jordan’s most valuable cards are actually inserts.

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ISO : In Search Of

What does ISO mean in baseball cards?

ISO is synonymous with WTB (want to buy) and LTB (looking to buy). Commonly used in Facebook groups or online communities like Discord, collectors will post that they are ISO — or in search of — a particular card or player. They are looking to either buy or trade for the card, and at times will post multiple cards they own as cards available for trade.

For example, if a collector is looking for Kobe Bryant’s 1996 Topps Chrome Rookie, they can post a picture of the card along with the words “ISO Kobe Chrome RC in PSA 9 or better, pic for attention not mine”.

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Junk Wax Era

The Junk Wax Era refers to a period beginning in 1986, and ending in 1993, when sports cards were massively overproduced by card brands such as Topps, Fleer, Donruss, and Upper Deck. The over-saturation of the market led to a significant decrease in the value of sports cards, contributing to a decline in the card market in the mid-90s.

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What is a card lot?

A card lot is a group or collection of sports cards that are sold together as a single group. A card lot typically contains multiple cards varying in quantity, for example, a rookie lot of 20 Ja Morant rookies, or an Upper Deck Jordan lot of 30 cards.

Lots are a convenient way for collectors to sell many similar cards at once. They are also a great way for buyers to invest in a given player, or get a jump start on completing a set.

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LTB : Looking To Buy

What does LTB mean on discord or facebook groups?

See ISO.

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Manufactured Patch

What is a manufactured patch card?

A manufactured patch card refers to a type of card that includes a decorative patch or emblem that is not directly taken from an actual game used or worn jersey. Instead, these patches are created and designed by the card manufacturer to mimic patches found on jerseys. They are usually integrated into the design of the card and can add an aesthetic appeal or uniqueness to the card.

The following Stephen Curry rookie card is a manufactured patch card, with a real autograph. The back of the card (not shown) simply states that the autograph is guaranteed by Panini, but no mention of the patch.

Example of manufactured patch: 2009 Stephen Curry Rookies and Stars Patch Auto #136
Example of manufactured patch: 2009 Stephen Curry Rookies and Stars Patch Auto #136

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MC : Miscut

What does MC mean in PSA grading?

Displayed on a PSA graded card slab as “(MC)” to the right of the numerical grade, a card that is severely miscut by the card manufacturer will be labeled as such when graded by PSA. The MC qualifier will be used at their discretion when they feel a card is substantially miscut relative to the norm for a given card.

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MK : Marks

What does MK mean in PSA grading?

MK is a PSA grading qualifier which refers to “Marks”, or plainly any trading card exhibiting writing of any kind, ink, or similar impressions due to writing, will be labeled as “(MK)” to the right of the numerical grade on the PSA-graded slab.

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NFS : Not For Sale

What does NFS mean on discord or facebook groups?

The acronym NFS is widely used in trading card forums to

declare a card as not-for-sale. For example, collectors may share that they purchased or received a card in the mail, and mention it is NFS as to ensure other collectors don’t get carried away trying to buy or trade for the card.

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NNO : No Number

The abbreviation NNO is most commonly used by collectors, grading companies, and auction houses to signify that a sports card has no number. Most cards have a number on the back and are part of a complete set that can be organized in numerical or alphabetical order. However, some late additions to a set like the 1985 Star Gatorade Charles Barkley, or other rare additions may not have a number and will be referenced as NNO in price guides or listings elsewhere.

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OC : Off-Center

What does OC mean in PSA grading?

One of the most commonly used PSA grading qualifiers, OC stands for “Off-Center”, which is to say that PSA deemed a card significantly off-centered during the grading process.

PSA uses the OC qualifier as opposed to significantly reducing the numerical grade for the card if, for example, it’s otherwise a fairly high-grade card outside of the centering issue.

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OF : Out of Focus

What does OF mean in PSA grading?

OF is a PSA grading qualifier that stands for “Out of Focus”, meaning that when PSA examined the card during grading, the card exhibited unusual focus issues for the grade. For example, if the card didn’t print well at manufacturing time and as a result is abnormally blurry, it would receive an “(OF)” qualifier beside the numerical grade when examined and encased by PSA grading company.

PSA Example of Out of Focus (OF) Qualifier Grade.  Joe Nossek 1966 Topps #22 card graded PSA 8 (OF)
PSA 8 (OF) graded card example

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On Card Auto

What is an on card autograph?

See Hard Signed.

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Pack Pulled

What does pack pulled mean?

A pack-pulled card is one that was indeed pulled from a wax pack of cards. Conversely, if the card was, for example, taken out of a Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine, or handed out at ballparks, it would not be considered pack-pulled.

Similarly, a pack-pulled autograph is one that was originally signed before it was inserted into, and subsequently pulled from, a card pack.

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In sports cards, paper usually refers to the base version of a card that is printed on paper stock, not a chrome or glossy finish. Collectors will commonly refer to the Bowman baseball card brand as Bowman paper, or simply Bowman, versus the chrome version which is called Bowman Chrome.

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What is a parallel baseball card?

A parallel card is an alternate version of a base card within a particular set. Parallel cards are usually produced in limited quantities, with distinct designs or attributes that differentiate them from the base set. There are several types of parallel cards, such as refractors and Credentials from the ’90s, prizms, and holos, including colored versions such as blue, green, red, black, and gold. Collectors love serially numbered parallels, where a specific quantity is produced and stamped on each card to signify its place within the print run (e.g. 14 of 100).

In the example below, on the left is the Giannis Antetokounmpo Silver Prizm, or simply Prizm, which is a shiny parallel version of the more subdued base card on the right. It is not a numbered parallel, but as mentioned above parallels are usually printed in limited quantities. There are 4,688 graded base versions of the Giannis rookie in the PSA pop report, as compared with just 187 of the Silver Prizm parallel.

Silver Prizm (left) vs. Base 2013 Panini Prizm #290 Giannis Antetokounmpo RC PSA 10
Silver Prizm (left) vs. Base 2013 Panini Prizm #290 Giannis Antetokounmpo RC PSA 10

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PC : Personal Collection or Person Collect

What does PC mean in card collecting?

When a collector PC’s a given player, they personally collect the player, or “person collect” them specifically. It’s a shorthand way of saying that they collect the player the most, and normally acquire the players’ cards as opposed to selling or trading them away.

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PD : Print Defect

What does PD mean in PSA grading?

More common with pre-2000 or vintage cards, PD is a PSA grading qualifier that stands for “Print Defect”. PSA uses the PD qualifier when grading a card that contains a defect such as dots or “snow”, or other common defects caused at the time of printing.

At PSA’s discretion, the qualifier is used as opposed to significantly reducing the numerical grade for the card if, for example, it’s otherwise a fairly high-grade card outside of the defect. Read PSA’s article for a full picture of the PD qualifier.

Example of PSA PD qualifier: 1987 Fleer Michael Jordan #59 graded PSA 9 MINT (PD) due to print circle left of head.
Example of PSA PD qualifier: 1987 Fleer Michael Jordan with print circle left of head

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Player Worn

What does player worn mean?

A player worn (or sometimes “player used”) sports card is a card embedded with a small piece of sports memorabilia that is player worn, as the name suggests. The piece of memorabilia may have been worn during a photo shoot or other special event, and can include anything from a warm-up or practice jersey, jacket, or shirt, or other gear, such as shoes, gloves, hats, and pants. There is no rule that states anything labeled “player worn” cannot be a game-related piece, however it’s more likely a card manufacturer would label it game worn or game used.

A player worn relic is not guaranteed to be worn by the player pictured on the card either. Be sure to read the language typically located on the back of the card for more clarity, if any.

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Pop : Population (or Population Report)

What does pop mean in sports cards?

Pop — or sometimes pop report, or population report — refers to the number of graded cards for a given player or set in a card grading company’s database. The pop report is commonly referenced by collectors to understand how rare a card is in a specific condition, or how many times a card has been graded historically.

Auction house listings may list a card and mention something akin to “pop 2, none higher”, which means the card listed for sale only has two copies in the given grade, and no card has been graded any higher at that point in time. For example, if a Stephen Curry rookie card is listed as a PSA 9 Mint pop 2, none higher, the seller is indicating the card is one of only two copies that exist in PSA 9 Mint condition, and no PSA 10’s exist.

The following links point to the population reports for some of the biggest names in grading:

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PSA : Professional Sports Authenticator

What does PSA stand for in cards?

Professional Sports Authenticator, or PSA for short, is arguably the most popular card grading company for sports and trading cards, sealed packs of cards, and even sports game tickets.

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PWE: Plain White Envelope

What does PWE shipping mean?

PWE shipping, or plain white envelope, refers to the use of a standard white envelope for shipping a baseball card. It’s a common, affordable method for shipping a single card or two of lower value. Many collectors use the eBay standard envelope program in this regard, or simply bubble mailers.

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What is a PSA qualifier?

PSA will occasionally grade a card and label it with a qualifier if the imperfection is noteworthy and could impact the numerical grade substantially. There is plenty of nuance to the process, but as with the Jordan Sticker example below, if a card is in Mint condition in every way except the centering is way off, it could receive a PSA 9 Mint grade with “(OC)” qualifier, for Off-Center. Any graded card that receives a qualifier will show in the “Q” total on the psa pop report.

"Q" count reflects all cards that received a qualifier in grading via PSA
“Q” count reflects all cards that received a qualifier in grading via PSA

Qualifiers can include MK (Marks), MC (Miscut), OC (Off Center), ST (Stain), PD (Print Defect), and OF (Out of Focus).

Be sure to read PSA’s policy change from 2021, as it highlights some of the nuance of how qualifiers are assigned, and whether they are required or optional.

1989 Fleer Sticker Michael Jordan #3 PSA 9(OC) MINT with Off-Center qualifier
1989 Fleer Sticker Michael Jordan #3 PSA 9(OC) MINT with Off-Center qualifier

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What does raw mean in baseball cards?

A raw card refers to a sports card that is in its original, ungraded condition (e.g. pulled from a pack). Many collectors buy and sell raw cards without ever having them professionally graded, while some others will purchase and grade them in hopes to receive high grades and flip the cards for a profit.

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What is a razz in cards?

A razz is the process of raffling a sports card to multiple collectors who purchase a position into the razz based on the market value of the card. For example, if a card is generally worth $3,000, a razz could be offered for $100 a slot and sold up to 30 participants, with some choosing to buy more than one entry. A randomizer would be used to pick a number from 1 to 30 in this example, to choose the winner of the razz.

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RC : Rookie Card

What is a rookie card?

A rookie card refers to the first officially licensed sports card(s) produced for a player during their rookie season, or sometimes within the first few years of their rookie debut; 1986 Fleer Basketball contains the rookie cards of many players several years into their playing careers.

Rookie cards are a cornerstone of the sports card market, and are highly sought after by collectors as they signify the beginning of an athlete’s career at the highest level in sports.

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What is a refractor card?

A refractor card is a shiny or reflective parallel with a chrome finish, usually more rare than base set cards. Debuting in 1993 with Topps Finest baseball and basketball, refractors are a staple of sports cards and are always highly popular and collectible.

Example of refractor: 1993 Topps Finest #1 Michael Jordan Refractor PSA 10
Example of refractor: 1993 Topps Finest #1 Michael Jordan Refractor PSA 10

In general, the sports card industry will interchangeably use the terms refractor, prizm, prizm silver, and less frequently, holo.

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What is a relic baseball card?

The term relic is loosely used to refer to a sports card that contains a piece of equipment or memorabilia typically associated with an athlete or event. The memorabilia is embedded right into a window on the card. Relics can include pieces of game used or player worn jerseys, bats, gloves, balls, helmets, shoes, and even pieces of an NBA court or stadium seats.

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Rookie Card

See RC.

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RP : Reprint

What does RP stand for in baseball cards?

A reprint, or signified as RP for short, refers to the reproduction of a previously released card. Reprints are usually produced for popular or historically important cards with a similar look and design of the original card. Reprints are not considered the same as the original cards in terms of value, rarity, and collectability.

Example of reprint: 1996 Topps NBA Stars Michael Jordan Star XRC Reprint PSA 8
Example of reprint: 1996 Topps NBA Stars Michael Jordan Star XRC Reprint PSA 8

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RPA : Rookie Patch Auto

What does RPA stand for in sports cards?

An RPA, or rookie patch auto, is a popular type of rookie card that is particularly collectible and highly sought after because it combines three unique elements: a rookie card, with a game used or player worn patch, and an autograph to boot.

While rookie patch autos debuted in the late 90’s, they took off in popularity with the launch of Upper Deck’s higher-end basketball product called Exquisite Collection, in conjunction with the arrival of #1 prospect LeBron James.

RPA example 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection #78 LeBron James Rookie Patch autograph #12/23 BGS 8.5
RPA example 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection #78 LeBron James Rookie Patch autograph #12/23 BGS 8.5

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Serial Numbered

What is a serial numbered card?

A serial numbered card is a sports card that has a unique number stamped or printed directly on the card. The number indicates the card’s place within a total (but usually limited) print run.

The serial number typically appears on the front or back of the card, such as “32/100” or “24/50.” The first number represents the specific card’s number within the total number of cards produced, while the second number signifies the total quantity of cards in the print run.

Serial numbered cards are highly collectible, with one of one cards even more desirable given their uniqueness and scarcity. In general, the lower the serial number, the rarer the card, and likely the higher the value assigned by the marketplace.

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What does slab mean in cards?

A slab, or card slab, normally refers to a graded card encapsulated in a “slab” by a card grading company. A card that is not graded (slabbed) is considered raw otherwise.

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SP : Short Print

What is a short print card?

A short print card, or SP, refers to a card that is produced in lower quantities than the regular or base cards in a particular set. There is no blanket rule that states how many cards in a production run makes it a short print, or for that matter, a super short print (SSP), or even a super super short print (SSSP or sometimes called Ultra SP). In general, the different SP designations indicate the relative scarcity of certain cards compared to the more common cards in the set.

Card manufacturers purposefully distribute short prints at a lower ratio, making them more challenging to find and collect. They can be different designs, variants, or particular players in a given set that differentiate them from the more widely available cards.

If you’re wondering how to tell whether a card meets the criteria of a short print card, card manufacturers don’t make it necessarily easy. Ryan, at BallCard Genius, details the unique numbers on the back of some cards which could lead you in the right direction. That said, a quick hack is to search eBay by the card year, brand, and unique card number to see if any listings specify whether the card is SP or otherwise — essentially we’re hoping someone else has done the research already.

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SSP (or SSSP) : Super Short Print (or Super Super Short Print)

What does SSP mean in cards?

See Short Print.

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ST : Stain

What does ST mean in PSA grading?

Displayed on a PSA graded card slab as “(ST)” next to the numerical grade, a card that is stained will be labeled as such when graded by PSA. As with most PSA qualifiers, the ST qualifier will be used at their discretion versus simply adjusting the numerical grade of the card to reflect the flaw.

Example of a PSA (ST) stained grade
Example of a PSA (ST) stained grade

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Sticker Auto

The opposite of a hard-signed auto, a sticker auto is one where the player signed a sheet of stickers that are then sent to the card manufacturer to peel and stick to a sports card before insertion into card packs. These are typically less favorable than hard-signed autographs.

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One of the most coveted types of sports cards in the hobby, a superfractor refers to an extremely rare and parallel version of a base or autographed card. They are typically labeled with a 1-of-1 serial number or designation, indicating that only one copy of that particular card exists. Superfractors are primarily associated with Topps brands, however that doesn’t stop other card companies from producing their own versions of 1-of-1 cards.

Example of a Superfractor: 2011 Bowman Chrome Superfractor Francisco Lindor Rookie Card Auto 1/1 PSA 9
Example of a Superfractor: 2011 Bowman Chrome Superfractor Francisco Lindor Rookie Card Auto 1/1 PSA 9

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Tall Boy

What is a tall boy card?

A tall boy card is a specific type of oversized card that is larger in size compared to standard trading cards. Tall boy cards debuted in 1964 with the Topps Hockey card set, with Football and Basketball to follow in subsequent years. According to PWCC, tall boy cards are the same width as standard cards at 2 1/2″, although they are taller in height at 4 11/16th”.

BCW, a premier brand in sports card protection, offers several different card holders tailored for tall boy cards.

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Trade (or Trading)

Trading is one of the most fundamental aspects of the sports card hobby. Outside of buying and selling cards, trading allows collectors to acquire new cards by parting ways with cards they no longer wish to hold onto. Collectors tytpically communicate with each another to discuss the specific cards they are interested in trading for, and offer cards they are willing to trade in return. The conversation will usually involve assessing the value of the cards being traded to ensure a fair trade for both sides.

Trades can occur at local or national card shows, on social media such as Facebook groups, online groups like Discord, or even dedicated trading platforms. Once the terms of the trade are agreed upon, collectors ship the cards to complete the transaction.

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What does true mean in sports cards?

The word true comes up in different contexts in the sports card vernacular. In reference to rookie cards, the hobby will generally form a consensus around a player’s “true rookie” in the event they have multiple cards with different variants in the same set. This doesn’t mean the other cards are not rookie cards as well, just that the rookie that gets the most adoration, and by extension more value, will be referred to as the true rookie.

One example of the true rookie vernacular is with National Treasures Rookie Patch Autographs: typically the vertical version serially numbered to 99 copies is considered true. The other horizontal or vertical variants — even in lower print runs — get relegated to 2nd tier status.

Similarly in Bowman Chrome baseball, it is common for collectors to reference refractors as “true” blue, orange, or red, for example. As Topps (who owns the Bowman brand) has introduced different parallels over the years such as “Red Wave”, “Orange Shimmer”, and “Blue Shimmer”, the card collecting hobby has put more emphasis on the true red, true orange, and true blue refractors. They sell for higher values, and are considerably more sought after by collectors.

It is important to keep in mind there is no actual designation of the “true” status on any given card. It is not listed on a card checklist, or on a graded card slab. It is simply common language used in the community — and reflected in card prices — after consensus forms around a player’s card.

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What is a sports card variant?

Sports card brands like Topps Update will often create variants (variations) of a player in the same set in addition to the base card. They usually feature a different picture than the primary base card, and will commonly be a short print, or super short print card as well.


WTB : Want To Buy

What does WTB mean on discord or facebook groups?

See ISO.

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XRC : Extended Rookie Card

What is an XRC card?

XRC, or extended rookie card, is normally designated for a player’s licensed rookie card that is released in an untraditional way, such as the infamous Michael Jordan XRC from 1984 Star Basketball, or in an extended card set, like Topps Traded Baseball from the 80’s.

According to Fandom, beginning in 1981 Topps Traded was released as a stand-alone set typically at the end of the baseball season, and included traded players and any rookies that did not make it into the flagship Topps product. Those rookies became known as XRCs.

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