Protecting your sports card investment is more than just “important”. It’s probably just as critical as the purchase of the card itself. What good is a valuable item if its condition deteriorates? Baseball cards from decades ago or football cards from last week – they all need to be treated with a little more respect than tossing them in a shoebox in the attic. We’re not saying that if you find a Christy Mathewson card tossed into a cardboard box in your grandpa’s attic that you shouldn’t immediately plan a celebration party and book your next vacation. We’re just saying that you might need to skip the Cristal and keep your trip within driving distance.
1. “Let There Be Light” Correction. Let There Be NO Light.
Sunlight, specifically UV light, will be the death of them. If you’ve got a mint 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio, don’t display it in a case on your coffee table or have it framed to hang on the wall near your bay window so you and your friends can gaze at it in admiration. Joe will be behind the glass hissing like a vampire munching on garlic bread at a sunny picnic.
UV light causes irreversible damage cumulatively, leading to bleaching and even more brittle cards over time. Sunlight is the strongest source of UV light, and while direct sunlight is the worst, even ambient sunlight can cause damage. It is possible to take a note from fine art galleries and museums and make sure than anything displayed in a frame is behind conservation glass. That should filter out about 98% of UV rays. Still, though, UV rays and possible heat exposure will have some effect over time on the condition of sports cards, so continue be selective with placement. Avoid being near windows. Artificial light, like from incandescent lights in your home, produce very small amounts of UV light but no where near as much as the sun. Just be mindful of it for particularly valuable cards.
2. Use Protection
Be safe, and always keep your cards in a protective sleeve or case. There are lots of different options on the market starting with “penny sleeves” that actually don’t even cost a whole penny. These are thin plastic sleeves that your sports cards should slide snuggly into. They provide some protection against scuffs and scratches, but not bends.
The next step up is top-loaders. These are heavier sleeves that you slide the card into that offer increased protection, but again, cards can be bent. Often, people will put the card inside a penny sleeve, then inside a top-loader. The key thing to look for with both of these sleeves is that you only use ones that are acid-free to prevent them causing breakdown of the ink or discoloration of the paper over time.
From there, for stability can you step up to some substantial protection for your investment by placing each card in a sturdy one-screw, four-screw, or magnetic holder. The catch here is that some collectors have had their cards damaged by these because of the pressured contact on the cards themselves over a long period of time. If you choose to go with these, be sure to not tighten the screws too much.
Again, to reference fine art tactics, think of storing your most valuable sports cards in a way that doesn’t allow much contact with the card to prevent either discoloring or pressure-related dents or ink damage. Fine art is matted for this reason, and there are a few card case options on the market that follow the idea by holding cards securely by their corners or edges inside a sturdy case. For example, SGC is a grading company that also sells their own “museum quality” cases for this purpose.
3. Location Matters
Whether you’ve got a shoebox of penny-sleeved, low value cards or something that rivals the value of your first-born (kidding, kidding), consider the location of where you store your sports cards. Heat, light, and humidity are the enemies. Attics and damp basements are your worst bets. Garages aren’t good either. Sturdy storage in a closet or cabinet is great because it will control light exposure in a temperature control, low-humidity environment. And by all means, keep your valuable sports and baseball cards away from young children.