Seasoned collectors know how critical it is to take the time to store, insure, and protect the cards in their collections. In many cases, the way you store your sports cards can have a significant impact on the condition of those cards, thus impacting their future value.
Many of us who are new to sports cards, or even just a few years in, can benefit from learning about the various ways to maintain the integrity of your cards.
We’ll review proper card maintenance for raw cards, graded cards, collections, and insurance with links to industry-standard recommended products.
When PSA suspended operations earlier this year, many sports card enthusiasts found themselves needing to store raw cards properly for a longer period of time. Grading cards can be a fun way for newer collectors to build value in their collections and work toward acquiring expensive cards.
However, if they aren’t properly handled and stored, it can be easy to cause damage to a card that would bring it down from a Gem Mint PSA 10 grade to a PSA 9.
In order to prevent damage to these cards, you need four products to keep them safe:
- Penny Sleeves
- Top Loaders
- Painters Tape
- Team Bags
Ultra Pro penny sleeves is a common brand carried by local sports card shops and easily found online. For most cards, the standard size, 2 5/8″ x 3 5/8″, is the right fit. There are premium versions of the product, but the standard plastic sleeve will protect the card’s corners and surface.
If you want to take extra care while inserting a raw card into a penny sleeve, you can cut one of the top corners and insert the card from the cut corner to avoid scratches. Sometimes a card “catches” one of the corners and can scratch the surface or cause damage to the corner of a card. Fingerprints will negatively impact the grade of a card, so it’s important to wipe the card down and then insert them by holding its edges instead of the surface.
Any microfiber cloth will work to remove debris and fingerprints, but don’t press too hard, because you can scratch a card.
Ultra Pro also offers toploaders in a regular 3” x 4” size that will work for most cards (you can buy thicker ones for patch and patch auto cards).
Top loaders add an extra layer of protection for your cards to prevent bending or tearing while in storage. It’s important to handle your penny-sleeved card with care when inserting it into a top loader.
It’s recommended that you avoid pushing a sleeved card into a top loader. Instead, slightly insert the card and tap the top loader on a table. The sleeved card will “fall in” and avoid any scratches or damage.
Once your card is sleeved and secured in a top loader, you can take additional steps to protect them by sealing the top loader with a piece of painter’s tape.
Typically, painter’s tape is added when shipping a card to avoid it falling out of a top loader and to prevent dust from getting into the sleeve.
This isn’t a critical step in protecting your raw cards, especially if you use a team bag (covered next) but can add additional protection. It’s important not to use scotch tape, as it can be difficult to remove.
After you have a raw card sleeved, in a top loader, secured with painter’s tape, the next step is to insert the card into a team bag and seal.
Ultra Pro also sells team bags that work well for raw cards in top loaders:
Team Bags provide protection from dust, condensation, water, dirt, etc.
There are multiple ways to store raw cards after they’ve been protected. BCW offers Super Vault Box Storage, which is commonly found at sports card stores. Once a card is protected following the steps above, you can store them in a shoebox or a box from an old package.
After you have properly stored your raw cards and have decided to send them in for grading, you will receive them in a plastic graded slab that offers protection for the card.
It’s important to secure your slabs in a graded card sleeve as this can help prevent the slab itself from scratching. Ultra Pro also sells these and they can be found on eBay, Amazon, or directly from Ultra Pro:
If you have expensive cards, or are worried about damage from light, you can order a SlabGuard, which offers UV protection and another layer of plastic to protect your card.
Pro Tip: putting autograph cards directly in sunlight for extended periods of time can fade the auto or cause them to disappear all together!
There are also products in the market to help protect individual slabs from humidity – these are typically used for refractor cards that develop a green hue with humidity. Slab savers are affordable and can be worth it if you have an expensive or condition-sensitive card.
Now that you’ve protected your graded cards, you’ll want a way to store them safely in one place.
There are a few options for safe storage whether it’s at home or with a company that stores cards for you.
For most hobby enthusiasts, a $28 Apache Watertight Protective Hardcase with a customizable foam insert is a great way to store cards at home:
The case is water and dust proof, easy to transport and is pre-drilled for two padlocks.
The pick-apart foam insert in the Apache 3000 allows you to shape the foam to your cards and provides enough room for medium-size collections. There are also larger cases that you can purchase.
If you have a larger collection or one that is very valuable, you can also purchase a traditional safe.
Sentry Safe is a popular brand that comes in multiple sizes. If you have expensive wax products, this is also a great option for storage.
If you have valuable graded sports cards, but don’t want to carry the risk of storing those cards with the products listed above, you can choose to store the cards with a company like PWCC, which offers storage and consignment services.
PWCC offers storage, insurance, a digital portfolio of your stored cards, and consignment services when needed. An added benefit to the vault storage is that it is located in Oregon, which means that you do not pay sales tax on new purchases that are sent directly to the vault.
There are companies that offer insurance policies for your sports card collections and are likely a worthwhile investment to protect your assets from theft, damage, mail loss, etc whether you are storing them at home or in a public storage facility.
Collect Insure specializes in the collectable market and the process is straightforward. I have personally used their services after being recommended by multiple collectors. There are alternatives like American Collectors that offer similar services.
You can estimate the value of your collection and get a free quote to compare services and pricing. The insurance plans are affordable and offer peace of mind if you have a budding collection that’s been growing in value.