When the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum made arrangements to include some highly valuable trading cards in its new “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit, they knew they’d have to be well protected—not just from theft but from the impact of being on display for thousands of visitors each month. Part of a permanent display, the group of ‘holy grail’ cards includes a T206 Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank, a Babe Ruth rookie card, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle and others that will be on display in Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.
The Hall is displaying the cards in specially designed cases using VariGuard SmartGlass, an electronically powered dimmable glass that guards against permanent damage from exposure to light. Never before used to preserve and protect trading cards, the exhibit switches between states of fully-transparent glass and a 99.5% light-blocking state – all at the push of a button.
The Challenge – Conservation vs. Exhibition
Most people know that exposure to UV radiation causes fading damage to many items including baseball cards, and UV-blocking glass is typically used in museums. However, visible light (the light we can see) also damages substantially, and exposure to too much light causes irreversible and permanent fading and other damage. Museums often keep delicate items in storage and out of public view in an effort to conserve them—not exactly an ideal scenario.
When the Hall’s visitors push one of ten buttons on the case that holds the cards, the glass instantly changes – from blocking over 99.5% of light passing through and striking the cards – to transparent, allowing the card to be seen. The only time the “Holy Grail” cards are exposed to light are when they are actually being viewed by Museum visitors. The glass also blocks more than 99.5% of UV radiation full-time, according to the manufacturer. The process allows for the collection to be displayed while at the same time providing the necessary protection against damage from light.
From a bicycle wheel you can spin to hear the ‘clicking sound’ of cards in the spokes to pull-out cases of all types of vintage cards, the Shoebox Treasures exhibit is meant to be interactive and the holy grail cards are no exception.
When in the light-blocking state, visitors cannot see what is behind the glass, which conceals the item “fostering anticipation and speculation” according to the the manufacturer. Then, when the visitor presses a button, the glass instantly becomes transparent, revealing the card to the visitor.
“These rare and valuable cards will only be exposed to light when a visitor is actually looking at them, ensuring that the cards will be preserved for future generations of baseball fans,” said Erik Strohl, Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections at the Hall.
Special glass may soon be available to private collectors
Those who hold quality collections may soon have the same type of protection available to them. SmartGlass was presented at the HOF’s Collection Care and Conservation Workshop where Co-Founder Mike LaPoint indicated his company was working toward making it more readily available, using the same technology.
“We’re very close to offering new VariGuard SmartGlass display cases and picture frames designed for private collectors. People can protect their own items from fading and other damage, yet view them anytime – and they can also dramatically reveal their items to their guests.”
The ‘holy grail’ cards on display include:
T206 Honus Wagner
T206 Eddie Plank
1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle
1949 Leaf Jackie Robinson
1914 Cracker Jack Christy Mathewson
1934 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie
1923 Maple Crispette Casey Stengel
1954 Bowman Ted Williams
1870 Peck & Snyder New York Mutuals
A few more photos of the Shoebox Treasures exhibit are in a gallery below. All photos are courtesy Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.