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Pokémon Cards Are Surging. So Is Hate Toward Graders

Jun 13th 2021

The business of grading Pokémon cards can be lucrative, time-consuming, and rife with furious, virulent abuse.

This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.

When Peter Graham noticed that people were going nuts for Pokémon cards again—that grown men were sweeping packs into their shopping trolleys and pulling out guns to fend off Weedle-crazed muggers; that Logan Paul had paid $150,000 for a single Charizard card, the one he wore around his neck before fighting Floyd Mayweather—he thought of his childhood.

Graham, who is 30 and speaks with the controlled affability of a salesman, remembered how he used to zip through the playground, clutching an elastic band full of cards. And like the more worldly kids back then—the ones who ended every school day with the best trades—he saw this new craze as a business opportunity. And so he entered a new world. A world where he spends 12 happy hours a day examining and talking about Pokémon cards. And a world where his days are sometimes filled with furious, virulent abuse.

A Pokémon card’s condition is determined by its grading—this is the process by which a card is certified as real, rated on a scale of 1 to 10, and sealed in a transparent box known as a slab, protected for all eternity against sticky fingers and the elements. Grading is a billion-dollar industry dominated by three American players—PSA, Beckett, and CGC—and a good rating from one of these big firms can send a card’s value soaring.

As Pokémon cards bubble like NFTs or house prices, the major grading companies cannot keep up with demand. According to Vice, companies have hired hundreds of new staff to deal with “an avalanche of cardboard”—half a million cards a week—but they’ve still had to stop taking submissions. Collectors who get through wait more than a year to get their cards back, while staff work thousands of hours of overtime.

Graham was shocked by this state of affairs, and by the gulf in value between graded and ungraded cards. “I just couldn’t get my head around it,” he says. “Who are these people that are put in a position of power to make these decisions?” If Graham was the smart kid on the playground, then these three companies were the bullies.

So, using the profits from his Pokémon card delivery service, Pokéclub, and (after a discussion with his partner) the money he was saving for a home, he bought the right machinery—the cases, packs, labels, the ultrasonic welding machine—rented an office, and founded Pokégrade. But the grading industry is, he says, toxic. “I’ve been called a fraud. I’ve been called a crook. I’ve been called swear words,” he says. “Honestly, I’ve had it all.”

Read the complete article here.

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