September 02, 2006

Caring for Your Collection

You know, I never thought I’d leave this much of a gap between posts, but this whole numbering thing has moved way past ‘exercise’ and is now much more of a full-on ‘task’. I am just a little over half-way done; I’ve determined each team’s roster, its manager, the All-Stars, who the rookies are, who the League Leaders are and whether or not the ‘average’ set would include a ‘special subset’ or not. Of these cards, I’ve numbered 361 of them, leaving 237 to go. Just to give you an idea of how I do this (identifying and numbering each card), here’s the brief version of my project:

I wanted to determine if an ‘average’ set could be constructed for a given decade (I chose the 1960s), which would reflect the merit and popularity-based system of numbering that Topps employed in those ten sets (1960 to 1969). I’ve determined the rosters (roughly 22 to 26 players each) of the 20 main teams and included 5-man mini-rosters for the 4 expansion teams (Pilots, Royals, Expos, Padres), based on each player’s service and tenure with that team. I used a minimum of 3 years on any team, and if the player was on more than one team for over 3 years, then I identified him with the team of his longest tenure in the decade (special exceptions were made for the expansion players, like Diego Segui). For example, Orlando Cepeda played on the Giants (1960-66), the Cardinals (1966-68) and the Braves (1969). Though he played nearly 3 full seasons on the Cardinals and helped them win the World Series in 1967 (and won the NL MVP), I have him on the Giants, because that’s the team he was with the longest and therefore is the team he identifies with the most. I think the one major drawback of my ‘tenure-based’ system is that my set does not include any journeymen players (ie those who may have had a 6 or 7 year career in the decade, but played for 4 or more teams).

As for the checklisting for my set, I’ve consulted the checklists for each set from 1960 to 1969, culled and analyzed the numbers of each player, and determined their ‘average’ checklist number for the decade. Some numbers are more exact than others. Anyway, tonight I still have 157 guys on tap to number, so hopefully I can wind this project up soon. I’m going to try to make the full, completed checklist available as a pdf or .xls download.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I should display my collection: boxes in my closet, in random stacks around my apartment, or in pages in a binder? Displaying and caring for cards is one of the biggest topics in the hobby, with Ultra Pro just about cornering the market in mostly-transparent plastic sheets with holograms on them. Admit it, it’s the hologram that gets you first, then it’s the dust-free plastic, and then, late at night just before you decide to load that old 1990 Topps Brewers team set into pages, it’s the smooth, smooth plastic caress against your stubbly cheeks that convinces you Ultra Pro is good enough for your precious cardboard. I’ve been down that road many times and it’s all good: I recommend Ultra Pro. In fact, if you’re serious about showcasing your cards in a binder or you want to teach a kid how to appreciate the high art of baseball cards, I recommend buying Ultra Pro pages by the box. I don’t know how much it costs for a box of 100 pages, but the last time I did it (about 10 years ago) it was around $20 to $25. Paginating a set and running out of pages when you’re knee-deep into it sucks. Don’t be that guy. Buy pages by the box.

For those of you who’ve never bought pages or paginated a set, the standard size (modern) baseball card fits into upright 9-pocket pages. Larger-sized cards, like those from the Topps sets 1952 to 1956, fit into horizontal 6-pocket pages. Of course, I’m sure that Ultra Pro makes about a billion different pocket configurations, so you should look at their web site ( or visit your local hobby shop to determine what’s best for your cards.

If you don’t want to buy a 3-ring binder and some pages, then you’re a cheapskate and your loved ones probably don’t expect much from you on their birthdays or around the holidays. That said, boxes in a closet aren’t all bad. There are specially-designed cardboard boxes that can store 300, 600, 800 or more cards like a vending box. They don’t cost very much, and they’re good for stacking (especially for those of us with collections that populate well over 150,000). Of course, if you don’t want to splurge on the 2 bucks it costs for a sportscard box, there’s always the prospect of a shoebox, or if you don’t have the cash for kicks, there’s the recipe box standby. Here’s how that works: see where your mother/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/coworker/neighbor keeps their little flip-open box of recipes. I bet it’s somewhere in the kitchen. Now, when they’re not looking, steal the box, dump out all the recipes and keep your prized cards in there. I would recommend slipping a rubber band around the stack of recipes (perhaps even the very same rubber band that kept all your cards together) and hiding the recipe box somewhere in your room. Then, methodically swipe hard, uncooked macaroni elbows from the kitchen (and a bottle of glue), and garishly adorn the recipe box with said items. When it’s completely covered (and unrecognizable…see where I’m going with this?), take it out of its secret hiding spot and use it to proudly showcase your cards. When your friends ask why you’re showing them your baseball cards in a ridiculous macaroni-covered recipe box, tell them you made it at summer camp when you were a kid. And try not to make eye contact with your mother/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/coworker/
neighbor when you say this. He/She can usually tell when you’re lying—you’re a horrible liar. My advice would be to spend the goddamned $1.95 on a stupid 800-count cardboard box.

Pages, boxes, what am I forgetting? Toploaders! Right. Toploaders give the impression that your cards are valuable (when they are, in fact, most likely not). They are the prerequisite for dealers at card shows, so don’t be fooled: just because that Topps Archive Gaylord Perry’s in a toploader does not mean it’s valuable. It still costs less than doing a load of laundry. But toploaders are great for cards, because if you have all your cards loose in a shoebox (like me), they prevent the corners from nicking. A toploader is really two pieces of hard plastic with just enough space for a card to slip inside. It’s lightweight, good for transporting your priceless/worthless possessions to card shows and begging dealers to buy them, and it’s also great for stacking. Here’s what it’s not:

1) A toploader is not the same thing as a screwdown case. Card storage products are generally named for how a card relates to them. To use a toploader, you load a card in at the top. To use a screwdown case, you put the card between the two pieces of hard plastic and, with a screwdriver, screw the two pieces together, trapping the card between. See the screwdown case example pictured.

2) A toploader is not recommended for the transport of cards to a card grading service. Professional graders generally ask for the card to arrive in a flimsier hard plastic sleeve. I’m not entirely sure why this is.

3) A toploader is not a good surface to affix Scotch tape.

4) The plastic used in cheaper quality toploaders is prone to discoloration if left in the sun.

5) They bend if under a lot of weight. The frame withstands weight but the two ‘window’ pieces of plastic do not.

6) The plastic used is not always smooth, requiring the use of a soft sleeve for the card, and lots of banging to get the card down in there.

7) And then, when you inevitably want to get the card out of there, well, it’s a hassle.

8) A toploader is not good for those who want their cards to survive with perfect corners. Corners will most likely be damaged.

9) I now understand why professional graders do not like toploaders.

Top loaders and soft sleeves are good for beginners and seasoned collectors alike. As long as you know what you’re in for and what to expect, everything should be good.

Collecting can be fun. Hell, it is fun. If it’s something you enjoy but you don’t know how to justify your obsession to those you care about, displaying your cards—either in binders, boxes or a stack of toploaders—is a great way to start.


RightOnPeachtree said...

I've been going through this myself. I have 2 5000 card boxes and 2 3500 card boxes. Then, I have a bunch of complete sets in their own boxes. I'm going to put the non-complete-set cards in big boxes by year and brand (sorted by number within these categories). I'm thinking I'm just going to put my oldest cards in 9-card paged binders. Maybe starting with 1976 and before. I may use toploaders for the better of the post-1976 cards, but still keep them sorted in the large boxes.

I collected as a kid and only recently starting buying some more cards. It's not as much fun, though. I think they've ruined it by having so many sets. I think I'm done buying cards now. I just want to organize what I've got and put them up for safe keeping. But having them so disorganized is driving me nuts right now.

MinisterofSports said...

I share your passion for collecting cards. I have been collecting for about 38 years and it still a thrill to open a pack of cards! Rev.HB

Anonymous said...

I have thousands of commons in nmt condition from early 90's,yes i know they were overprinted. My question is this,would it be feasible to trade blocks of commons to set builders for one or two equal value cards so I can concentrate on the sets i want to fill?