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Card "conservation" and "alteration"


Active member
Sep 9, 2011
If you have a vintage card with a stain or pencil mark, etc and take it out without trimming or the like, is it conservation or alteration?

I think I'm ok with this and kind of agree with pwcc.

PWCC stance:

Later this month we will publish our Marketplace Tenets which, among other things, touches on the differences between alteration and conservation. Until then, I will summarize why this card is still live in our auction.

In our view, there's a difference between conservation and alteration. Conservation is any act which returns a card closer to its as-manufactured condition and does not render the card artificially different from the as-manufactured state. Removal of dirt, glue, pencil marks, wax, etc. are good examples of conservation, so long as it's done in a way that doesn't affect the natural properties of a card.

Alteration is very different from conservation in that it generally involves the addition of a foreign matter to a card (i.e. recoloring or corner rebuilding) or the removal of material (i.e. trimming, erasing print, etc).

The ‘52 Mantle in question shows no signs of alteration based on these definitions, so it is an acceptable asset to be sold on the marketplace.

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Well-known member
Aug 7, 2008
For reference, there's a long thread on BO about a 52 Mantle that was heavily restored and is/was being sold by PWCC.

It's interesting that this debate is finally happening. I used to be pretty involved in comics and CGC grading (basically the PSA of comics), and that hobby went through this several years ago. Restoration has long been practiced in comics, where color is redone, brittle paper replaced, staple pops fixed, holes filled in, handwriting removed, etc. Really advanced people, professional museum-curator types, can really do a lot for a book, including removing acid from the cheap paper that would cause them all to go to dust in a century or two. While this is important because there are a lot of rare books out there that simply would not exist in decent grade, and would continue to deteriorate, collectors deem it necessary to disclose that such work was done on a book. A good restoration can make a book go from Fine to Near-Mint, probably the equivalent of bringing a card from a PSA 4 to PSA 8. CGC would note restored comics on the slab, making it clearly visible with flips of a different color from the standard (red vs blue, IIRC), so you didn't have to read the label's 6-point print to know a book was restored.

A few years there was a debate about "pressing." As comics are fairly fragile paper that gets more brittle over time, it is easy for them to acquire bends, dings, and creases that don't break the color of the printed ink, but still are considered flaws when grading. A process was developed to literally reflatten the paper under great pressure. The community at large seemed to come down on the side of that being restoration, and should be disclosed when such a book is sold. However, CGC decided that merely pressing a book, where no material is added, no touch-ups for color or ink, nothing was cleaned, etc., were NOT considered restoration, and so would not be tagged as such on their slabs. This was the subject of heated debate on their boards, as most collectors, rightly IMHO, consider that sort of repair a major change to the state of the object, and against the spirit of the hobby and the value placed on books being in their original state. And in fact this now appears to be a service CGC actually offers along with their grading. That seems hugely self-serving and corrupt, IMHO.

Now this has come to cards, and probably has been around for a while. If this sort of stuff catches on majorly, it's going to be a huge deal. As noted in the BO thread, using distilled water to lift dirt off a card, or allowing it to become malleable and reshape corners is a real issue, potentially. Certainly the subject Mantle card looks a whole lot better than it did originally, but I would not consider it a true 4.5, the same as a card that's been maintained at that level for 67 years.
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Randy Shields

Well-known member
Aug 20, 2008
^ Excellent and informative post. I've read the posts about the '52 Mantle and I entirely agree with you. Something appears to have happened between the Consignor and Heritage somehow. And I'm not a huge vintage guy at all but I'm trying to educate myself more and wish I'd have changed over from Modern to Vintage years ago. It's so much more low maintenance then trying to follow guys literally by the day or by the hour.
I think we'll get some varying opinions here though on this subject.

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Well-known member
Sep 24, 2016
Mystic, CT
Honestly I don't care, I like my vintage well loved. I have a 1909 cy young that's so beat it barely counts as a card but it's one of my favorites. I understand with grading being such a huge deal why this is a hot topic but to me I don't care.
If it we're up to me though if anything is done to the card, that makes it altered and should be designated as such, whether it's trimming, coloring or cleaning.
Ultimately though I have no horse in this race. I'll keep buying vintage that has pencil marks and corners so fuzzy they look like felt.

Brewer Andy

Active member
Aug 10, 2008
This is honestly a topic I have not thought much about. In honesty, most of the restorations you describe would not bother me much as most of it implies a “cleaning” process where nothing original is removed (trimmed) or added. If you pull a hot chrome card from a pack and buff off any finger prints or minuscule debris before grading are you restoring it? I truly know nothing about the world of antiques (especially literary books and furniture) or fine art where these things happen frequently. Are restorations generally more apparent on such things?

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Active member
Aug 7, 2008
As long as they don’t physically alter the makeup of the card, I see no issue with it. We used to take women’s panty hose to remove wax stains. Not that big of a deal as long as you don’t start trimming or recoloring cards

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