A Collector's Journey
The Dilemma of a Growing Sports Card Collection
by Rich Dyer
Over the past twenty-plus years, I have built a substantial baseball card collection. Prior to that, however, I had not handled a sports card in twenty-five years. Even after a thorough homestead search, my boyhood collection of baseball cards could not be found. I can't blame my mother for their disappearance as she did not throw away anything. Like my father, she was a child of the Great Depression and nothing was discarded if it had any purpose at all. Certainly she would have seen great value in all those Mays, Mantle, Ford, Robinson, Berra, Killebrew, Koufax and Kaline cards that I had stored away in shoe boxes. Most likely, there came a time when I outgrew them and tossed them myself. Therefore, I have built my current collection by starting all over again.
While attending sports card shows with my young boys in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I became reacquainted with that cardboard gold that brought back such vivid memories of the love for baseball I had as a youngster. Playing games on two or three different teams morning, noon, and night was not uncommon in my youth. When we were not playing ball, we had our baseball cards and our own "Voice of Summer," Ernie Harwell, to keep us company on our transistor radios. Still, I was amazed that while at those card shows with my boys I could glance at a Detroit Tigers card from the late 1950s or early 1960s and rattle off the player's name and position without a glance at the print. The first card I bought was a perfect 1957 Topps Frank Lary, the "Yankee Killer" as we called him. When I got home and read on the back of the card that he beat the dreaded Yankees five times the year before, I was hooked on the hobby!
Fortunately, when I started collecting again, focusing primarily on baseball cards from the 1950s through the mid 1970s, I was a stickler for condition and always bought the very best copies I could find and afford. If a seller had several mint condition copies of the same card, I would buy them all with the thought that I could possibly trade the duplicates down the road for cards I needed in similar condition. I learned later that the "art of the deal" in baseball card trading was no longer a practical way to build a collection, only a childhood remembrance of a passing tradition. I tried to put together sets from those years in near mint to mint condition. Although my 1950s sets have never reached over 50%-75% completion, most of my 1960s and 1970s sets are now complete.
After years of collecting, my favorite baseball card set remains the 1950 Bowman. I believe this set represents a clear breakthrough in sports card development and presentation by adding realistic color to cards. The cards, based on photographs that became hand-painted reproductions, are beautiful pieces of art that brought card design and color printing to new heights. Talk about a clean design: the front contains the player, a background, and a white border. No names or words can be found until you flip the card over to find player information. In addition, if you study the backgrounds you get a genuine taste for the ballpark atmosphere of early 1950s baseball.
When card grading came along in the early 1990s, I viewed it with some uncertainty for seven or eight years and then jumped in. I struck gold! The majority of those "best condition" cards I had purchased years earlier, as well as those duplicates that were never traded, received very high grades. The combination of PSA and eBay began to serve as the vehicle for enlarging my collection using investments from earlier years. I have now turned to building sets in PSA Mint 9 condition through the grading of many of my original buys, and also by adding graded mint cards through auctions and, of all things, actually trading on the PSA message boards with other collectors. To this day, I still submit vintage cards I purchased 15-20 years ago. When I get them back, some join my collection while the rest go up for sale and provide financial resources for the purchasing of cards needed to complete my sets. Many of my sets are posted on the Set Registry and, although I do not have a set 100% completed in PSA 9, I am getting close on a few. The journey has been an exciting one; however, as more and more cards are added to my inventory, a new dilemma has presented itself ... what to do with all these cards encapsulated in plastic holders!
Therefore, a question that any serious collector must face is what do you do when your sports card collection starts to outgrow your available space? Do you sort and organize your cards, store them away, display them, protect them, lock them up, trade them, or even start selling them? These are the issues I have been compelled to address now that I have accumulated well over 5,000 different PSA 9 graded baseball cards from 1950 to 1975. This, in addition to all the ungraded sets I have put together for the same years, creates a very serious space problem. Like many advanced collectors, I have been forced to look at my collection not only from hobbyist's point of view (which is one of pure enjoyment), but also from a practical standpoint (which necessitates that I seek protection for my now sizeable investment).
So, how do you protect your investment but at the same time enjoy your collection? First, consider protecting your cards in regard to their condition, safety, and value. A serious collector needs to consider collectables insurance which can be purchased through any number of agents - some of which specialize in this area. For insurance purposes, documenting the extent and value of your graded card collection is much easier now if you register them on the PSA Set Registry. The Registry allows you to record purchase dates, amounts paid, and you can even add scans if you wish. Next, a safe-deposit box at your local financial institution will ensure the safety of your most valuable cards. For a very reasonable fee, you can enjoy both security and peace of mind. The downside of course is that many of your favorite cards may not be accessible at your leisure. Thirdly, a large, fireproof safe provides a secure place for your valuable collectables. I prefer a large, heavy gun safe with maximum fire protection that I have reconfigured the inside of in order to meet my card storage needs. At the advice of a fellow collector, I also keep a safe off my premises in a secure location for a portion of my valuable cards. Lastly, a secure location for the storage of your remaining collection is a necessity. The disclaimer for this article, therefore, is that most of the cards you see in the pictures are not normally on display, but rather secured and protected via one of the examples listed earlier.
Over the years, I have enjoyed developing methods for safely storing and, to some degree, displaying my collection. There are of course a number of graded card storage boxes, both cardboard and wooden, which are available for purchase. I prefer the PSA black storage boxes that can handle 60+ graded cards for the majority of my collection; however, for my older cards, I use wooden art supplies storage boxes that I have converted for graded card storage.
I keep my 1968 to 1975 sets in the PSA black storage boxes. You can identify the components of your collection by creating labels to place on the ends. Using the Microsoft labels tool, I developed labels that include a scanned picture of a card from that specific box. For a complete set such as the 1974 Topps baseball, for example, you would need eleven boxes. You can also display cards on top of or beside the boxes using plastic graded card mounts.
Shelving units for storing your graded card boxes are available in a multitude of sizes, styles, and strengths. Boxes of graded cards can place a lot of weight on a shelf, so consider this when making your selection. I chose to buy units of shelves that I could put together in a variety of shapes, heights, and widths. In this way you can accommodate different space configurations where your cards can be stored. I have collector friends who simply use basic wooden shelves that are strong and durable.
For years, I looked for a wooden box that would hold PSA-graded cards, and as mentioned earlier, I found an art supplies wooden storage box from a national hobby and craft store that fit the bill with some transformation on my part. After converting one of these boxes, over 140 graded cards fit nicely, protected by a felt lining. I am able to complete the conversion process in a little over an hour. I simply remove all the interior compartments in the box, move the middle divider to the back, and cut three dividers from wood that slide easily from the front to the back. This creates four rows in which to place graded cards. I then cut and glue felt on the top, bottom, and sides of the box as well as on the dividers. The final result is a very nice wooden storage box with a handle on top. I add an old brass label holder to the front of each box that identifies the year(s) of the cards stored inside. My graded cards from 1950 to 1967 are kept in these boxes.
If you are into displaying parts of your collection, there are a multitude of display cases that can be purchased at hobby and craft stores. I have had to find a way to add shelves to them and, when done, they can be very attractive. Fortunately, my good neighbor John has great woodworking skills and has helped me in this endeavor. You obviously need to concern yourself with safety and security issues when you display parts of your collection as well as the issue of the room environment and potential light damage. I have a few display cases for graded material that I put out now and then when friends want to see parts of my collection, mostly for Salada and Topps baseball coins. I also have some display cases permanently located in what my family calls the "Baseball Room," but only for items that do not have great value and are merely neat and interesting to look at. These are mostly Detroit Tigers memorabilia that I have collected over the years.
What have I learned during my collector's journey? Well, I've learned that there is enjoyment as well as pitfalls along the way. There are great people to become acquainted with, great "finds" still to be found, and a lot of lessons to learn. My advice to all collectors is to study and learn as much as you can about trading cards before you start investing a lot of money. Being wise and knowledgeable pays big dividends. There is so much to know about cards, especially vintage material, in terms of printing techniques, series production runs, print roller marks, card registration and coloration, paper stock, gloss, sheet cutting techniques, variations, etc. that will serve you well as you build your collection. There are major differences when comparing the look of a mint card from 1956 to one from say 2012, and if you do not know what to look for, many great cards can slip through your hands. Know the unethical card enhancing techniques applied by those who practice card alteration, and remember that in this day and age a beautiful looking vintage card that has not been graded probably needs a thorough examination prior to purchase. Read lots of articles, join collectors' message boards, and seek out experts in the hobby. Numerous legendary sports card experts and dealers have taken the time to answer my questions and share information with me even though we had never met before. Let's face it, those of us who have card collecting in our blood will talk endlessly about our hobby with anyone who will listen.
Finally, find ways to enjoy this great hobby! Each spring I host an "Opening Day" baseball celebration party when the MLB season starts. About thirty to forty friends attend, wearing their favorite baseball apparel. We swap baseball stories, enjoy hot dogs, chips, brats, and beer, watch the first game of the season, and, of course, check out the "Baseball Room." What started as a gathering of ten die-hard Detroit Tiger fans has grown to include spouses, kids, and grandkids. I give away prizes of player jersey shirts and cards to keep them coming back. Card collecting is a great hobby, and finding a way to celebrate the sport as well as the cards and memorabilia it generates makes for a terrific time.
Rich Dyer resides in Michigan with his wife Mary Kay. Three adult children are now located throughout the country but have been trained to give their dad eBay gift cards for Christmas and birthdays instead of socks and ties. Granddaughter Madelyn, although only one, is already showing signs of being a five-tool player. Rich is a Director of Curriculum and Instruction for a local school district. He earned a Ph.D. from Michigan State University and remains an avid Spartan football fan with season's tickets.
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