Just A Little Trim


No, this isn’t some newly discovered die-cut insert within the 1948 Bowman set.  This is nothing more than a Mike Holovak rookie that is one of many trimmed cards placed up for sale on eBay everyday.  What stands out to me is the fact many sellers know the cards they are selling are trimmed, and clearly state it within the item description.  It surprises me that many collectors bid on cards which are trimmed.  In one way you are obtaining a cosmetically enhanced card, but in another way you could get a card you really want for a much lower price.  I guess it all depends on what type of collector you are.  Personally, I would rather own a damaged card versus owning one that has been improved.  Look on the bright side.  At least the sellers are telling you its trimmed.  As for this Holovak card, whoever did the trimming sure didn’t improve the overall appearance.  

On the flipside, many sellers do trim cards and try to pass them off as if they came from the pack looking in such great condition.  Here are some tips for identifying cards that might be trimmed.

  • Vintage cards are known for showing a lot of damage.  If you find a vintage card that has razor sharp corners and edges, it could be trimmed.  I’m not saying every vintage card that looks to be in great condition is trimmed, but I would look for other signs.
  • If possible, look at the edges of the card.  Most of the time, trimmed cards will have pinched edges where the cutting device made it’s initial cut.  
  • Owning other cards from the same set can help too.  Trimmed cards will slightly be smaller.  Laying a questionable card on top of another card would show you whether or not it was trimmed.
  • The very technology that helps us learn about cards, can hurt too.  Buying vintage cards online allows for anyone to crop a photo just enough to get rid of those rough edges.     

If you have any more tips on spotting trimmed cards, please leave a comment.



I think I have found the best website on the planet that deals with the doctoring of vintage cards.  Its called AlteredCards.com which is operated by Kevin Saucier.  Mr. Saucier has been collecting cards for many years, and has become a card doctor himself trying to warn collectors about doctored cards.  AlteredCards.com covers subjects such as card soaking, detecting bleached cards, card sanding, detecting a rebacked card, aging and toning, detecting colored cards, detecting rebuilt corners, reglossed cards, errors and other alterations.  Here is a piece he wrote on identifying trimmed cards.  Be sure to check out his website for more information.

“How many times a have you sent a card in to be graded only to have it returned as “evidence of trimming” or ever wondered if that certain card with an unbelievable price is actually to good to be true? Many hobbyist have, at one time or another, run into this situation or knows of somebody who has. As the values of cards become increasingly higher there is always a chance that fowl play and unscrupulous characters will have their hands in the mix. This can either be intentional or simply done to appease to the previous owner. Nonetheless a trimmed card has a lower resale value and is generally not held in high regard. With a little education and some basic knowledge, even the beginning collector can recognize a trimmed card quickly and with a large degree of accuracy.

The first test is to see if a card measures-up properly. To find this out you will first need to know the textbook measurement of the particular card you are examining. Most modern era cards vary little to none from the exact manufactures specifications. You can although, have a card that is not trimmed but was just naturally cut a little short. In most cases, this card will not be graded based on the fact it does not meet the correct measurement.

Vintage cards with an emphasis on tobacco era cards can be a little more difficult to ascertain. Since the cutting of cards in the early years of production was not an exact science, many tobacco era cards were cut with little regard to accuracy or consistency; this can be often seen in the very popular T206 series. These were cut with various widths and lengths. A card may be shy of the proper size but still be within the limits of authentication and grading standards. A card could also have been cut larger and be “doctored” to precise measurements. This is where knowing how to identify a trimmed card may come to use. 

There are some key indicators to tell if a card is trimmed:

To truly tell if a card has been trimmed, it must be removed from any holder it is in so the edges can be clearly seen and studied. For most vintage cards the border-edge on a normal card will be slightly rounded and have a light porous appearance. A trimmed or sanded card will be flat and/or very smooth in one or more spots, this is the most common indicator. Usually this can only be seen under slight magnification and desk light. Look at all the edges and corners of the card under a 50+ watt halogen light and a 10x jewelers loupe. A vintage card should be slightly toned (light gray-brown), a trimmed card will magically reveal a very white appearance compared to a naturally toned edge when held under a halogen light. It will be surprisingly evident. Modern cards may have less wear and no toning at all. 

Since most cuts are made with scissors, scalpels or razor blades, a cut card will almost always show signs of tampering. Often times a card that has been cut can reform the original shape in the middle over time…but the corners usually show the initial pinch point, so look for crimped edges and pay close attention to the corners.

Other things to look for include wavy uneven edges, obvious (missed) cut marks when magnified or stray paper strands left over from the cutting utensil. With the card lying on a flat surface, look at both sides from a distance. Some trimmed cards may have a slant cut or flared (bat-eared) corners that are slightly higher than the middle edge. This derives from the person cutting the card trying to avoid the easily identified crimped corners. When scissors are used, the hand has an involuntary tendency to start high and go low for the initial and/or end cut, if ever so slight. 

The best way to learn about card trimming is to do it yourself. Take an inexpensive card, which you suspect has not been tampered with, and study the edges and corners under a light and 10x loupe. This will serve as an example of what a normal card looks like. Next, choose your cutting devise and cut about 1/32 off of any edge. Now study the cut area again under a halogen bulb and magnification, note the differences. Also take a look at the card from a distance, you may see that the cut is crooked, uneven, wavy or shows flared corners. To get a firm understanding of what to look for, it is best to do this with both a modern and vintage card if possible. 

Card doctoring and manipulation has become very sophisticated over the years and you may have a difficult time, at best, in discovering their hidden tricks. Hopefully with the information above you should be able identify the most common forms trimming and be able to make informed purchases on cards you may have previously questioned.”