Sports Card Dictionary, Glossary, and Acronym Guide

Collecting sports card and memorabilia can be a fun and rewarding hobby. However, for those who may be new or wanting to start out it could seem overwhelming on where to start. Here is a helpful sports card dictionary for both newcomers and seasoned veterans that defines and explains some of the most commonly used terms and slang words used by collectors. You need to be able to talk the talk before you can walk the walk.



Acetate – A transparent plastic often used as a special set of card or case.

Auto ­­- shortened term for autograph.

Autograph (AU) – means the card/memorabilia was personally signed by the player.



Base – see common.

BCCG – stands for Beckett Common Card Grading. A subdivision of Beckett, they provide the cheapest option of card grading at the loss of quality. A card graded 10 by BCCG may not necessarily get the same grade of 10 even by the normal Beckett Grading Service.   Considered one of the four big grading companies.

BeckettA well-known publisher of sports card price guides and grader. The first Beckett price guide was published in 1979. Beckett’s guide is the most popular and most respected price guide on the market. Most collectors will base the value of their cards from the most up to date version of these books. (See Book Value and BGS).

*BGS also includes the two subdivisions of BGS including BCCG and BVG.

BGS – short for Beckett Grading Services, a professional grading card service, part of the big four.

Big Four – The big four refers to the four biggest, most collected, and respected grading services for sports cards today. Be wary of any other grading companies or cards graded by companies that are not part of the big four. The big four consist of BGS*, GAI, PSA, and SGC.   You can find each grading company in this article.

BIN (BIN Price) – abbreviation for Buy It Now. Almost exclusive to eBay, it is the price that, if paid, you will automatically receive the item and cancel out any auction or bids for the same item. BIN prices have to be at least 20% higher than the auction price. You may see BIN Steal. It is a deceptive term to convince you the BIN price is a steal.   Often a seller may list much higher prices for “similar” cards. However, unless you are paying for a service, there is no way to verify the sales price or date of these similar cards.

Blaster Box – Blaster Box refers to the box of cards that can be purchased, usually in retail stores like Wal-Mart and Target.   For around $20, you can find 8 packs of cards inside. Blaster Boxes usually come with either a bonus pack or a pack that contains special colored cards only available to blaster boxes.

Booklet – a type of card that folds and opens to make a little booklet. Booklets are always hits. After opening a booklet usually one side will display an autograph of one or multiple players, and the other will feature more autographs of players, pieces of game used memorabilia, or both.

Book Value (BV) – Also known as books or book price. It is the price or amount that a price guide such as Beckett’s has a certain card listed as. Often most dealers and some collectors will sell cards at this price.

Bowman A well-known card manufacturer that began production in 1948 and stopped in 1955. Topps, who owns Bowman, brought them back in 1989 and have kept them going. Bowman is often considered the true/premier rookie card of most players and especially modern day players, while their vintage cards are also highly sought after. Bowman also produces Bowman Chrome, Platinum, and Sterling which are other sets. Bowman Chrome is the most collected and sought after of modern Bowman products.

Box Break – Most collectors cannot afford to purchase boxes of cards for themselves. Instead they might participate in a box break, where they split the cost of the box with other collectors and get assigned certain teams or divisions.   The box of cards will be opened and the contents divided amongst those who bought into the break. If one person bought into an NFL break and got the Patriots while another person got the Colts, every card of a Patriots player will go to the person who has the Patriots while all Colts cards go to the person with the Colts, regardless of how good, valuable, rare, or poor those cards are. A case break is larger scale box break, where multiple boxes are broke.

BVG – Short for Beckett Vintage Grading, a division of Beckett Grading Services that specializes in vintage and old sports cards. In order to use BVG the card must have been printed prior to 1981. Anything printed in 1981 or after can be graded with BGS or BCCG.



Cello Pack – A form of card packaging that was wrapped in a transparent packaging, much like cellophane. Cello packs that have a star player visible, especially on the front, are collectable, and carry a premium over that of the price of the single card.

Certificate of Authenticity (COA) – Also known as a Letter of Authenticity (LOA) – A statement guaranteeing the validity of an item as genuine, game used, and/or the autograph on the item is real. COAs are usually printed on a piece of paper or thin cardboard and contain a promise to the items authenticity, signed by an authenticator, company, or witness to the signing. Sometimes they come with a notary as well. Never purchase an item without a COA unless you trust the seller’s story of how they obtained the item or their reputation.

Checklist (CL) – A list of cards in any one set or series. Checklists can be found in books and price guides, although the term is more commonly used for checklist cards, which are often included in sports card sets. These are intended as aids for collectors and commonly include small boxes that can be checked when the card is obtained. For this reason, many vintage checklists are of great value if found free of markings.

Common – also known as a base – a term used to describe a card that is not a rookie, semi-star, superstar, insert, die cut, autographed, numbered, or memorabilia card. These are the least expensive cards in a set, easiest to obtain, and least desirable.  There is nothing special about the card to make it stand out.

Cut Signature (Cut, Cut Sig) – An autographed card where the autograph is not on the card rather it is “cut” from something else. Cut Signatures are often cut from an item that has already been signed by the player such as another card, cover of a publication, photograph, letter, check, or notebook on which it was originally signed. Cut signatures are often used to provide autographs of players who have since passed and cannot sign the card directly (such as Babe Ruth). Cut signatures are much rarer than normal autographed cards.


Dealer A person who buys and sells collectibles professionally for a profit. Dealers are usually very knowledgeable about their products and most of their items have legitimate COAs.Die-Cut – A card with part of its stock partially cut. Instead of a normal rectangle shape like most cards, these will have curves or unusual shapes. Sometimes the die cut allows one or more parts of the card to be folded or removed.  After removal or appropriate folding, the remaining part of the card can frequently be made to stand up, reveal another hidden card, or change the appearance of the card to another image.


Ding – A term used to describe the damage on the corner of a card. A ding is commonly caused by dropping or mishandling a card. A card with a ding (or dinged corner) is greatly devalued from the same card without a ding.


eBay – One of the largest marketplaces for buying and selling sports cards/memorabilia. Like most places, you can find great deals or get burned if you are not careful. Check a user’s feedback if you are hesitant to conduct business with them.

eBay 1/1 (eBay one of one) ­– a made up term used to deceive buyers and help the seller get views. The idea is that if a card is numbered (i.e. 21/99) that no other card can be printed 21/99, therefore it is a unique one of a kind item. Do not be fooled. There are 99 copies of that card. Try not to buy from sellers who promote their products as eBay 1/1. See true 1/1.

Error Card (ERR) – A card that contains a mistake or error. An error card may have an incorrect photo, a misspelled name, or incorrect statistical information. Error cards will only be worth more money if the mistake was corrected by the manufacturer, which seldom happens. If the corrected card was printed in lower quantities than the error card that corrected card will be worth more.

Event Worn: Event worn is a confusing term that may mislead some collectors.   Most GU cards and memorabilia are game worn or used, meaning the player actually wore that in a professional game of their respective sport. However, some cards contain event worn, which means the player did indeed wear it, but not necessarily played a game in it. Often event worn jerseys come from draft nights, award ceremonies, or photo shoots. Event worn is less desirable than game worn.

EX –
Short for Excellent. Refers to the condition of the card. See Grade.

EX-MT – Short for Excellent – Mint refers to the condition of the card. See Grade.


Facsimile Signature Also known as Facsimile autograph. A stamped or printed reproduction of an autograph as might appear on a baseball card, photograph, souvenir baseball, bat, glove or any product endorsed by a player of note. Facsimile autographs are not real autographs but copies of the autograph.

Factory Set – An entire set of cards that was packaged by the manufacturer for sale to the public. These sets usually include a distinct box with a security seal or inner-packing to secure the cards and a commemorative card exclusive to the factory set. Factory sets are generally worth more than completing the same set by hand through various packs.

FOIL – Foil embossed stamp on card, may cover the entire card or a part of it.

FS – abbreviation that means For Sale. Most commonly seen on Twitter.

FT – abbreviation that means For Trade.   Most commonly seen on Twitter.

FS/FT­ – means the card is both for sale or trade depending on what you offer the seller. Most commonly seen on Twitter.


GAI – Short for Global Authentication Inc., a professional grading company, part of the Big Four.Game Used Cards (GU)- A card that has a piece of game used memorabilia embedded into the card such as a jersey, bat, stick, equipment, or ball. These are often thicker than regular issue cards.GEM Mint – the highest grade a card can get. Almost means perfect condition. See grade below.

Grade – A description of the condition of a sports card or sports memorabilia item. The higher the grade, the more desirable, and consequently, the more valuable the item. Nearly all valuable sports cards are graded using the 10 Point Grading Scale established by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA).     However BGS and GAI use half grades (9, 9.5, 10) while PSA only uses whole numbers 1- 10. SGC uses a scale of 100 instead of 10, however they use multiples of 10 between 10 and 100. (a 80 by SGC is similar to a grade of 8 by another grading company)     SGC also uses half grades (80, 85, 90). Grading usually goes Poor/Fair (1), Good (2), Very Good (3), Very Good-Excellent (4), Excellent (5), Excellent/Near Mint (6), Near Mint (7), Near Mint/Mint (8), Mint (9), GEM Mint (10). Gem mint is virtually a perfect card and as if it just came off the card manufacturing printing press.



High End – short for High End Product – High End is a slang term used to denote very expensive cards, sets, or packs. Often high end cards will feature some of the biggest names in sports such as Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, etc. These cards will feature very large or colorful patches, autographs, super low numbering, or a combination. High end packs/sets will cost $100 or more a pack, some as high as $1,200. Every card in these packs will be autographed, GU, or both.

High Series – Also known as a high number series or high number, a high series contains baseball cards from the last series distributed for a set in a given year. They were often released after the baseball season, when interest for baseball was waning. Therefore, these cards were often printed or distributed in smaller amounts than those of the preceding series. Compared with low series cards, high series are worth significantly more.

Hits – slang term for anything pulled of value from a pack of cards, box, break, auction, or other form of buying or acquiring cards.   While the term is commonly limited to autographed and/or game used cards, it can also be used to describe rookies, inserts, die cuts, numbered, or any other card that is not a common or base card.

Hobby (The Hobby) – slang term for collecting sports cards and/or memorabilia.


In the Game (ITG) ­– In The Game is a card manufacturer that specializes in hockey cards. They focus on patch and GU cards while also offering prospect cards on most players in minor league hockey leagues and autographed.

Insert A word that describes cards added to a regular pack to help increase sales. Inserts will stand out from the normal set of cards by appearing significantly different. They usually highlight a group of star players or positions. Inserts can only be found in packs randomly or purchasing them from someone who found them. Best way to tell if you have an insert is to look on the back of the card where a set number would be (often top left or right corner). Normal cards will be a number (i.e. 213). Inserts will have a letter or two followed by a dash and a low number (often under 25) or the initials of the player . For example an insert’s set number might read GB-6 or if it was of Derek Jeter GB – DJ.


Jersey Cards – A card that has a piece, patch, or swatch of a game used jersey embedded into the card. See Game Used card.

JSA – abbreviation for James Spence Authentication.   JSA is the most reputable and largest authenticating company in the world. Most collectors trust and look for a COA or LOA from JSA when dealing with memorabilia.


Key Cards – The most expensive, desirable, or important cards in a set.


Low End – short for low end products – short end products are the cheapest offering the sports card and memorabilia market has to offer. You get what you pay for, so the odds of finding something of value are slim to none. These may be damaged card, low grades, autographs of lesser known players, or lacking COAs.


Memorabilia Card – see game used cards.

Mid End – short for mid end products – mid end products are significantly more expensive than low end but much cheaper than high end.   The odds and success rate of finding something of value is also the middle of low and high end. The quality of mid end products may be semi star players or star players with minor but noticeable damage.

Mini – a small card. Mini cards are exact replicas of normal sports cards; they are just printed with smaller dimensions. They are harder to find than their normal size counterparts but will have identical printing and markings of the normal card.

Mint (MT) – one of the best grades or conditions a card can get. See Grade.

Multi-Player Card – A single card depicting two or more players on it either on the same team or different teams. Although very rare, they can be from two different sports too.   However, these are not team cards which depict a whole or entire team.

Mylar – A type of plastic from which many card holders, cases, penny sleeves, top loaders, plastic sheets, and other protection devices are made.


National – Also known as “The National.” Short for the National Sports Collector Convention. It is the largest most attended sports memorabilia show held annually in different parts of the United States.

NM – Short for Near Mint. See Grade.

NM-MT – Short for Near Mint-Mint. See Grade.

Notching – A card-grading term used to describe indentations along the edge of a card, sometimes caused by wrapping a rubber band around a stack of cards. Under no circumstances should a rubber band be used to keep cards together. Notching decreases a card’s value and potential grade.

Numbered (#, #’d, #ed) – Numbering refers to a card company putting a serial number on the card. Often they do this on inserts, game used cards, autographed cards, or other high end cards. They will stamp a fraction on the card usually in gold or silver foiling. The top number is the one in the print you have, while the bottom is how many exist in the world and were printed.   For example, a card numbered 67/99 means you have card 67 out of the possible 99 that were produced.   Numbered cards are rare and highly collected. The rarest you can have is 1/1 meaning it is the only one in the world.


Oddball – Any object that normally wouldn’t be affiliated with sports or athletes yet has their likeness, image, name, or autograph on it. Examples could include an autographed beer can, a Wheaties Box or other food product with a player’s likeness or image on it, or a sports card issued by a fast food chain or non-sports related company.

Off Center – A term most commonly used with cards. It means the normal image or text of the card is not perfectly centered from the edges. A perfectly centered card would be 50/50 from the edge while an off centered card could be 30/70.

O-Pee-Chee – A division of the Upper Deck Company located in Canada that manufactures hockey cards.   However, in the 60s and early 70s O-Pee-Chee was its own company and manufactured cards of all sports with a focus on hockey. The vintage O-Pee-Chees are rare and desirable.


Pack – a group of cards sealed by the manufacturer for retail sale. Most packs contain 9 cards, while some can go as low as 1 and some as high as 32.

Pack Searcher – a name given to a dishonest person who will spend an unusual amount of time in a card aisle or with a box of cards going through the packs. They may squeeze the packs; open them slightly to look inside or even weigh packs by hand or digital scale. They only care about themselves as they are looking for the packs with the hits and leave nothing for honest collectors. GU cards typically weigh more than non-GU cards, so by weighing the packs, a pack searcher will buy the heavier packs believing the odds of a hit are greater in those.

Panini – Panini is one of the largest card manufactures in the world. They offer products for all sports and different sets, ranging from low to high end quality. Panini is known for some of its lavish high end offerings, patch cards, and World Cup stickers.

Parallel – A card that is similar in design to its common counterpart but offers a distinguishing quality. Most commons feature a white or grey border, where a parallel might offer another color such as green, purple, yellow. See Refractor and rainbow.

Patch – A term used to describe a GU card containing a piece of authentic jersey. Often a patch will contain 3 or more colors in it. The more colors, the more valuable.

Penny Sleeve – Penny sleeve refers to a soft plastic sleeve that is placed over a card to protect it from dings and notches. A pack of 100 is usually $1.00 hence the name.   Often a card goes in a penny sleeve then a top loader. See top loader.

Postwar – Refers to any card produced or manufactured after WWII.

Prewar – Refers to any card produced or manufactured before WWII.

Printing Plate – A printing plate is a soft metallic plate about the same size as a card that used in the production of a card.  It is the plate that stamps the stock to create other cards.  Card companies will insert printing plates as a form of hits and may come autographed, with a piece of relic, and/or as a rookie.  Printing plates always come stamped on the back as a 1/1 and a truly one of a kind collectible.  There are four printing plates used per card, each representing a different color: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow.  Printing plates will be white washed with a tint of their respective color on the face and the image is a negative/reserve of the card it made.  Printing plates are easier to find than true 1/1s but still exceptionally rare.  They are less collectibles than actual cards most of the times.  Approximate odds are about 1 in 3,000 packs depending on the brand.   See true 1/1.

Prismatic (PRISM) – A glossy or bright design that refracts or disperses light. See Refractor.

Prospect Card – a prospect card is usually the first card ever made of a player. It is sometimes considered a rookie card, however the player is usually a prospect and still in the minor league system or college. Bowman almost has a monopoly on this market, while ITG has a similar control on the hockey prospect leagues.

PSA abbreviation for Professional Sports Authenticator. PSA was the first widely accepted grading service and set the standard for the graded card industry. Today they are arguably the largest and most respected grading service available for sports cards and memorabilia.

PSA/DNA – PSA offers its own authentication service called PSA/DNA. It is the main competitor of JSA and most collectors will trust or ask for a COA from PSA/DNA.

Pull – slang term/synonym for a hit.  Typically a pull refers to the cards of value that were found inside a factory sealed pack of cards and pulled out of that pack.  See hits.

Puzzle Card – A sports card whose back contains a part of a picture which, when joined correctly with other puzzle cards, forms the completed picture. Puzzle cards were also early forms of inserts in the 80s and were puzzle pieces designed to be punched out and make a giant puzzle of a player.



Rack Pack – Packs designed for retail sale and to hang from store displays or racks. In the 80s these were clear packs usually contain three panels of cards, with superstars showing in the front.     Today, this could refer to a jumbo pack that contains 32 or 64 cards in it or a pack of cards that contains 3 sealed packs of cards and a bonus retail exclusive pack.Rainbow – Short for completing the rainbow – Most sets will feature refractors to collect alongside the common base card.     Completing the rainbow means you have collected every available refractor as well as the common of the same player or card. Most rainbows will feature 8 – 10 cards while some can be as low as 4.   Some refractors will be numbered 1/1, /5, or /10 so it becomes increasing difficult to find as the numbers get lower. See Refractor.

Rare – A card or series of cards of very limited availability.  Keep in mind that “rare” is a subjective term frequently used indiscriminately to hype value. For example, most cards numbered out of 99 are not considered rare by most collectors or dealers.

Raw – any card that is not graded.

Relic – see Game used card. However a relic does not necessarily have to refer to a jersey card. It could also be a piece of stick, bat, ball, or other non-jersey/uniform equipment or accessory.

Redemption/ Redemption Card – A program/ card that allows the collector to redeem a code online in return for a hit or high end card.  Often this printed on a normal cardstock and will feature the player’s name, sport, and what makes the card special (i.e. autographed, patch). Part of this is to protect these cards from damage through the shipping, handling, and pack choosing process. Another is for security, to thwart pack searchers as well as prevent people from buying thick packs and leaving small ones for honest buyers.

Refractor – A card that has a chrome reflective service. Refractors will look identical to their common base counterpart except that their border will feature a different color. Refractors are rarer than commons and come in a variety of colors.   Refractors can be numbered, autographed, GU, or any combination of the three. Refractors make up a rainbow.

Reprint – A card that is a reproduction of an original, usually more expensive card or set.

Rookie Card (RC) – A rookie card refers to a card that was produced of that player during the player’s first year at the major league level. Rookie card will be donated with an RC on the front or the word rookie. A player can have one rookie card or several depending on how good he is, demand, when he debuts, and the access the card companies have to him.   Some collectors consider prospect cards rookies, therefore it is a rookie card even though the card does not have the RC logo on it. See true rookie card.


SASE – acronym for Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope. See Through The Mail Autograph.

SGC – Short for Sportscard Guaranty Corporation, a professional sports card grading company part of the big four. They are the only grading company in the big four that uses a scale of 10 -100 instead of 1-10. However, they increase my multiples of 5 and 10 between 10 and 100.

Short Print (SP) – A card that is printed in lesser numbers than the other cards in the same set. Generally, short prints have a print run of half that of the other cards. All numbered cards are short prints however not all short prints have to be numbered.   For example, Topps Heritage short prints all cards with a set number at or above 425 to one in three packs.   However, none of these cards are numbered. See Numbered and Variation.


Slabbed – slang term to describe a card that is graded or being graded. See Grade.

Slabbing – slang term for the process of grading a card. See Grade.

Stock – The cardboard or paper on which the card is printed.

Superfractor ­ – Often considered one of the rarest and hardest cards to acquire in the hobby, a superfractor is a type of refractor that is numbered and short printed 1/1, making it the only one in the world or a true 1/1.   Superfractors are almost always printed with a gold border and prism. Not every card company produces a superfractor for their sets. Superfractors are needed to complete a rainbow and are the most difficult and expensive to get. Approximate odds are 1 in 30,000 packs of cards but vary by card company. Good luck. See true 1/1.

Super Short Print (SSP) – A super short print is a short print that is exceptionally rare or difficult to find/pull.  Typically when an SSP is numbered, the bottom number does not exceed /10, though some collectors go has high as /25.  See short print and true 1/1.


T-206 (Tobacco Card) – The first sports cards to ever be produced.   It composed of about 500 small cards issued in various packs of cigarettes from 1909-1912. This set contains dozens of cards depicting Hall-Of-Fame players of the day. The 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner is the most valuable baseball card in the world.

T.C.G. – abbreviation for Topps Chewing Gum Company, which is the technical name for Topps. Every Topps card will have T.C. G. somewhere in the fine print on it. See Topps.

Through the Mail Autograph (TTM) – any autograph that was acquired through the mail. The most common way is to include two cards of the player, a handwritten note asking for an autograph and explaining how much you admire them, address to that player at his home stadium and include a SASE. While success rates vary for different people and players, a general rule of thumb is that the more famous or collectible the player, the harder it is to get a TTM auto from them.

Top Loader – the most common case/ card protector.   It is a hard plastic case made from mylar that protects the card from scratches, dings, notches, bends, creases, drops, liquids, and almost any other hazard. Often a card is put in a penny sleeve then a top loader. You may need to tape the open end to prevent the card from sliding out.

Topps The most recognized sports card manufacturer. They are most well-known for the 1952 Topps set, and post-war cards. Today, Topps still dominates the market, with Topps Chrome, Topps Finest, and its Bowman products. Topps does not print basketball or hockey cards with any regularly or consistency today they are leaders in baseball and football cards.

True 1/1 – A true 1/1 is any card or collectible that is numbered 1/1, making it the only version or print in existence.  There can never be more than one version of a true 1/1.  A true 1/1 does not necessarily have to include game used material or autographs on it nor does it have to be only of star players.  A true 1/1 is the rarest of cards to find or collect.  However, not all true 1/1s are necessarily superfractors or printing plates but all superfractors and printing plates are true 1/1s.  True 1/1s are hard to value as there is nothing really to reference or compare them to for a price.  It ultimately comes down what a seller is willing to accept and a buyer willing to pay or trade. However, the fame of the player and whether or not the card contains other collectible attributes (such as an autograph) usually drives up the price.

TV – abbreviation for Trade Value. It is the value of a card one wants met when trading cards.   For example, if someone wants to trade card with a TV of $20, they expect the card that they will receive in the trade to be worth at least $20. TV is almost always higher than the sale price usually by $10-$20 however can be has high as twice the sale price. Most commonly used on Twitter.


Upper Deck– Upper Deck is one of the biggest card manufacturer and second to Topps. They are widely known for breaking Topps monopoly on post war cards in 1989 and producing the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card the same year. Today, Upper Deck offers cards for all sports, mostly focusing on every sport but baseball. They have an exclusive deal to be the only provider of autographed cards from Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Wayne Gretzky.


Variation – variation (VAR) – A card that is different, usually subtly, from its more common counterpart in any set. Variations started out as error cards that were corrected by the manufacturers, while other variations might be as simple as a color change in the background of the card.  Today, most variation cards are done intentionally. The most common variations will feature a candid image of a player in place of an action shot, a change of uniform such as throwback or retro uniform, or the base card might feature a player on offensive while the variation will feature the player on defense.   Many variation cards are extremely rare, whether the variation was done accidentally or intentionally and are very valuable. Variations are almost never numbered but are some of the rarest forms of short prints and most variations are super short prints.

VG -Short for Very Good, see graded.

VG-EX – Short for Very Good -Excellent, see graded.

Vintage – A term usually intended to indicate an item was issued or produced quite some time ago. Aged or of older origin. Most vintage cards and memorabilia were used or produced in or before 1980.   Cards or memorabilia produced in 1981 or later are considered modern.






Main Image Credit: