Ever since baseball cards were created, storage for them has always been a factor in their care. Early collectors often glued their cards into scrapbooks or kept them in boxes (hint: boxes were a better idea). Later, collectors often kept their cards together with rubber bands. Looking back, not such a great idea, obviously. As collectors became more sophisticated, so did their storage methods. Binders with plastic sheets/pages became popular as did plastic cases such as screwdowns and toploaders. And of course, the emergence of third-party grading companies such as PSA, SGC, and Beckett have given collectors more options. But while hard plastic cases and encapsulated graded cards might be your best bet for expensive cards, binders remain a great alternative for vintage collectors.
Binders are Ideal for Low-Grade Cards
Binders are what many collectors used as children when most of us cared less about the condition of our cards. Accidents can happen if not using a binder properly. Many of us have heard tales of drinks near binders that have spilled and damaged cards inside. And most of us have seen that person at a card show flipping haphazardly through a binder, nonsensically dragging the left borders of the cards on the inside against the metal rings. But if used properly, binders can make great storage options.
Whenever I’m asked for ideas on how to store cards, I generally suggest that binders are best used for lower-grade cards. You can store high-grade cards in binders, too (we’ll get there in a minute), but they’re especially good options for low grade cards where condition is less of a factor. If you’re a high-grade collector where even minor corner dings bother you, they may not be the right fit.
The best thing I love about binder storage is the amount of bang for your buck, so to speak. Using 15-pocket or 20-pocket pages, one can comfortably fit anywhere from about 750-1,000 ungraded tobacco cards into 3″ binders. If I had them stored individually in toploaders, I’d have to use a shoebox (or two) full of them and also wouldn’t be able to easily see many of them at once. Binders are quick, effortless, and make cards extremely accessible.
What About High-Grade Cards?
Now, is it a great idea to stick your raw mid-grade Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman in an unprotected page and put it in a binder? Not really. Binders aren’t great options for high-grade cards if they’re not very protected. It’s easy for even experienced collectors to ding a corner or an edge when placing a card inside of a page and you probably shouldn’t be doing that with raw four-figure cards.
But where collectors often err is assuming that binders aren’t logical options for cards where condition is of the utmost importance. There are a few tricks of the trade that can make using a binder for almost any card possible.
If you’re storing high-grade cards in a binder, putting them inside of a toploader is one option. Mini toploaders can be used with standard 9-pocket pages for things like tobacco or caramel cards. Bigger issues can work, too, with a bit of creativity. For standard cards that won’t fit into a standard 9-pocket page with a toploader, you can always change to a page type to one that’s more suitable. For example, 4-pocket pages are great for storing cards in toploaders as well as graded cards. And if you’re using semi-rigid cases that are thinner, you can fit even more pages into a binder.
Same goes for larger issues, like 5″ x 7″ photos or even 8″ x 10″ photos. You can use 8″ x 10″ toploaders inside of a single-pocket page for those. If you’re a big fan of the protection toploaders or other cases offer, many will fit inside of plastic pages and give you the best of both worlds. You may need to tape the tops of the pages if you have cards inside plastic cases to keep them from falling out and that is one option to help keep your cards secure.
When looking for the right type of binder, I don’t generally recommend ones that are flimsy. If you’re just looking for a way to store your childhood 1989 Topps collection, sure, that works. But if you’ve got something a little more valuable, you should make sure they’re well protected. If there’s one thing I can’t recommend enough it’s not to skimp on the quality of a binder for nice cards. Quality doesn’t always correlate to price but it often does. You can find them cheaper, but it isn’t uncommon to spend $40 or more on a good binder.
One thing your binder should probably have is a slipcase. Those are the exterior coverings that a binder slides into and they protect the unbound sides of a binder so that the pages aren’t showing. They will give you a little added protection. Each binder and slipcase is usually unique so it’s not best to buy a binder first and then try to look for a slipcase that fits. Your best bet will be to buy a binder with a matching slipcase.
Also, look for a binder with flat metal rings on all three sides (left, top, and right). Those are better than the binders that have a partially-round or completely round ring. Round edges can eat into the left side of the cards closest to them and leave damaging imprints or creases. And along those lines, when viewing the binders, tugging gently on the pages away from the rings as you flip the pages can help you avoid damaging the cards closest to the ring.
In addition, buy the appropriate binder for your purpose. Unless they’re all graded cards, you don’t need a 3″ binder for storing a 50-card set. The same is true if you plan to store a large set in a binder. If you want to get them all into one binder, make sure they will adequately fit.
When storing them, most collectors prefer that they lie flat. If they have slip cases, standing them up is an option as well since the bottom is entirely flat. And always keep them away from potential hazards, out of the reach of children, etc.
As always, make sure your cards are well protected. Accidents can still happen inside of binders, even when cards are protected. But if you exercise care, you can keep issues to a minimum. In the process, you’ll also have a great way to view and transport cards relatively easily.