grade card

Trading card

A trading card (or collectible card) is a small card, usually made out of cardboard or thick paper, which usually contains an image of a certain person (fictional or real) and a short description of the picture, along with other text (statistics, attacks, or trivia). There is wide variation among different types of cards as to the configuration of objects, the content on the card, and even the material used to make the card.

Trading cards are traditionally associated with sports; baseball cards are especially well-known. Cards dealing with other subjects are often considered a separate category from sports cards, known as non-sports trading cards. These often feature cartoons, comic book characters, television series, or movie stills.

As with playing cards, which they generally resemble, trading cards are often used to play various games. In the 1990s, cards designed specifically for playing games became popular enough to develop into a distinct category of collectible card games. These tend to use either fantasy subjects or sports as the basis for gameplay.


From approximately 1887 to 1901, small cloth strips were circulated with the names of baseball players on them. These original cards were very rare, and are worth up to 800 USD today.

From 1902 to 1935, printed cardboard baseball cards originated as gimmicks distributed with tobacco products, bubble gum, and other snacks (similar to prizes in cereal boxes today). During this period, there was wide variation in the production of cards, mostly because the style was new and distributors had not yet decided on a particular style. Many cards also had rare flaws and misprints because manufacturers were still experimenting with different production methods.

After 1936, most of the card manufacturers had decided on a certain style, and most cards remained the same. The cards themselves ceased to be packaged along with other products and became a product in their own right.

Today, the development of the Internet has given rise to various online communities, through which members can trade collectible cards with each other. Cards are often bought and sold via eBay and other online retail sources.


The value of a trading card depends on a combination of the subject's popularity, the scarcity of the card, and the card's condition. In some cases, especially with older cards that preceded the advent of card collecting as a widespread hobby, they have become collectors' items of considerable value. In recent years, many sports cards have not necessarily been appreciated as much in value due to mass production, although some manufacturers have used limited editions and smaller print runs to boost value.


  • Cards – usually the standard baseball size of 2.5 in. by 3.5 in., but 'widevision' cards are of the tall historically-basketball size.
  • Packs – the original wrapper with base and insert cards within, often called 'wax packs', typically with two to eight cards per pack. Today the packs are usually plastic or foil wrap.
  • Wrappers – the original pack cover, often with collectible variations.
  • Retail Cards – cards, packs, boxes, and cases sold to the public, typically via large retail stores, such as K-mart or Wal-Mart.
  • Hobby Cards – items sold mainly to collectors, through stores that deal exclusively in collectible cards. Usually contains some items not included in the retail offerings.
  • Blister Packs – factory plastic bubble pack of cards or packs, for retail peg-hanger sales.
  • Rack Packs – factory packs of unwrapped cards, for retail peg-hanger sales.
  • Tins – factory metal can, typically filled with cards or packs, often with inserts.
  • Boxes – original manufacturer's container of multiple packs, often 24 packs per box.
  • Cases – factory-sealed crate filled with card boxes, often six to twelve card boxes per case. Often 24 packs per box.
  • Common Cards – also known as base cards. Nonrare cards that form the main set (for example Cards 1–200).
  • Parallel Cards – usually a modification of the main set of base cards which contains extra foil stamping, hologram stamping and are often seen one per pack up to one per 36 packs.
  • Insert Cards – also known as chase cards. Nonrare to rare cards that are randomly inserted into packs at various ratios like 1 per 24 packs for example. An Insert Card is often different from the main set, contains a different number on the back such as SS01 to SS10, etc.
  • Promo Cards – cards that are distributed, typically in advance, by the manufacturer to enhance sales.
  • Redemption Cards – special cards that come in packs that are mailed (posted) to the manufacturer for a special card or some other gift.
  • Sketch Cards – insert cards that feature near-one-of-a-kind artists sketches.
  • Autograph Cards – printed insert cards that also bear an original cast or artist signature.
  • Swatch Cards – insert cards that feature a mounted swatch of cloth, such as from a sports player's jersey or an actor's costume.
  • Box Topper Cards – cards that are included in a factory sealed box.
  • Chase Cards – card or cards included as a bonus in a factory sealed case.
  • Oversized Cards – any base, common, insert, or other cards not of standard or widevision size.
  • Unreleased Cards – cards printed by the manufacturer, but not officially distributed for a variety of reasons. Often leaked to the public, sometimes improperly. Not to be confused with promo cards.
  • Base Sets – a complete set of base cards for a particular card series.
  • Insert Sets – a complete set of a particular class of inserts, often called a 'subset'.
  • Master Sets – not well defined; often a base set and all readily available insert sets; typically does not include promos, mail-in cards, sketch, or autograph cards.
  • Factory Sets – card sets, typically complete base sets, sorted and sold from the factory.
  • Uncut Sheets – sheets of uncut base, insert, promo, or other cards.
  • 9-Up Sheets – uncut sheets of nine cards, usually promos.
  • Sell Sheets – also 'ad slicks'. Usually one page, but increasingly fold-outs, distributed by the manufacturers to card distributors, in advance, to enhance case sales.

Condition descriptors

  • Mint condition - A perfect card; no printing imperfections or damage whatsoever.
  • Near Mint/Pack Fresh/Factory Fresh – Numerous terms which refer to, with slight variation, the same thing: a collector's grade card. There may be a minor production imperfection or very slight damage from handling or storage, but you have to look carefully to notice. These terms refer to cards in, more or less, the same condition they were in when they left the factory.
  • Mint/Near Mint - At least near mint. A shorthand for collectors and sellers that do not single out their mint cards but simply deal in anything that is at least near mint.
  • Excellent – A nearly perfect card, with a bent corner or other minor imperfection.
  • Fine/Very Good – An otherwise good card with inconspicuous errors which are not easily visible, but can be seen on close inspection.
  • Good – A card with small amounts of writing on it, poor centering, a mild crease, or worn (but present) corners.
  • Fair – A damaged card, with damage such as bad creases or completely worn-off corners.
  • Poor – A seriously damaged card with little value, except if it is extremely rare or limited-edition.

Companies that produce or have produced trading cards

Categories of trading cards

Sports cards

Non-sports cards

These are several examples of trading cards. For a complete list, see List of collectible card games.

Movie and television cards

''Please see the article "List of collectible card games" for a complete list.


See also

Search another word or see grade cardon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature