In another article on this site I detail the general things that card grading companies look for when deciding exactly how much your pride and joy should be worth on the open market. While you might not always agree with their final decision, you can improve your chances of getting a better grading by storing and handling your trading cards the right way. Even if you aren’t interested in having cards graded, it’s certainly good to keep the cards that you’ve spent so much time and money on in the best shape possible.
No Bare Fingers
If at all possible, try to avoid touching your new cards with bare fingers. Our skin produces oil and moisture that immediately start tarnishing cards in various ways. Some cards you might not care about when it comes to bare-handed handling, but when opening sealed packs you have no idea what to expect. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just some white cotton gloves. Don’t use latex, since these are often coated in one substance or another.
The Humble Penny Sleeve
Card sleeves come in all sizes and qualities, but the humble, flimsy penny sleeve is where card preservation starts. I wouldn’t recommend these as the only protection, but your card should at least be in one of these from day one. It’s also common for collectors to use penny sleeves as the first layer of protection; they then put those sleeved cards into something else, doubling the layers.
Buy Stiffer, Thicker Sleeves
If you’re going to be using certain cards for play rather than storing them, you should invest in thicker sleeves that don’t bend as much. While a penny sleeve will protect the surface of a card, sleeves meant for play help keep the edges and corners of the card sharp and prevent creases. They also make it easier to pick them up from a table, sort, and shuffle; all without causing wear and tear. It’s not worth getting such a sleeve for every single one of your cards, but the ones that are worth something and, of course, those you actually play with, can all benefit.
Get Decent Deck Boxes for Travel and Play
Even if your whole deck is clad in a good quality set of play sleeves, that doesn’t mean you can just chuck them in a bag. A good deck box will make sure none of the cards get lost or fall about during transport. These are usually made from a rigid material with a lid that can be secured. You don’t usually need more than one or two of them. Cards can be moved from storage to your deck boxes and back as needed.
Top Loaders, Magnetic, and Screw-down Cases for Valuable Cards
In your collection there might at some point be a number of truly valuable cards – ones worth hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars. If you send them for grading they’ll be encapsulated safely. If you’re holding on to a card that might be worth something one day or don’t feel ready to go through with encapsulation, then there are other options.
Top-loader cases let you slide the card into a plastic case from, well, the top. It’s a good idea to put the card into a penny sleeve first, since the slot at the top still leaves a place for moisture and other impurities to enter. Screw-down cases are the ultimate protection. The card goes into the plastic case and it’s then sealed tight with pressure from a screw. Magnetic cases that do the same thing have begun to take over from screw-downs and are more elegant.
Use Binders or Card Boxes
Those high-end protective cases only protect one card at a time, though. With the exception of a few special cards, most of your card collection will be just fine in mass storage. There are two main forms of this. You can get card boxes that have internal dividers about the width of a card, which means you can stack them upright and when the box is closed they can’t fall around. Boxes like these are great for long-term storage and you can stack then in a shelf or closet. The downside is that they aren’t very convenient for managing your collection or finding specific cards. If you have all the cards in the box cataloged and you definitely aren’t going to need them for long periods of time, then this is a good option.
Another common choice is using a binder with sheets of card pockets. This is great for keeping large numbers of cards in one place. At the same time you can easily organize them and find what you are looking for. Just note the size of the pockets and how many cards can go in one sheet to be sure your cards will fit.
In the case of both folders and card boxes, it’s still a good idea to put them all into penny sleeves before storing them.
Store Them Above Ground and High Up
You never know what could happen over the many years some cards are stored. A flood or busted water pipe can destroy a fortune in cards quickly. So don’t store them in the lower parts of your home such as in the basement. Store them above ground and preferably on an upper shelf of a closet or something similar, so even if you have flooding the cards will be safe.
Store Them Somewhere Dark, Dry, and Cool
The conditions of the environment you store your cards in is very important. Humidity – the amount of moisture in the air – is very important. You don’t want to keep the cards in a place with high humidity since over time the card stock will absorb water from the air. This will damage the cards, making their edges curl and otherwise ruining them. Heat and humidity go together, so the storage place also shouldn’t go through severe temperature changes. Inside a closet in a room that doesn’t get much direct sunlight is a good start. The cards themselves should not be exposed to light of any kind for long periods of time. Keeping them in a box or folder is the only safe bet to prevent fading and deterioration.
Figure Out an Organizing Principle
While you may think your collection is small and manageable right now, before you know it you could have thousands of cards in your possession. That’s why it’s important to decide on a system for organizing your cards early on, before things become unmanageable.
How that works is largely up to what makes sense to you and how the cards themselves are actually used. For example, if we are talking about Magic the Gathering cards, there are a number of ways that would make sense. First, you might divide the cards by mana color; then by year and finally by type. It doesn’t matter how you decide to arrange your cards, as long as you can find what you need easily. If you are using a binder, you might want to write numbers on the pouches, making it easy to locate a specific card.
Use a Computer to Catalog Your Cards
You can use a spreadsheet or online deck management tool to keep a record of every card you have. If you created physical location numbers for your cards you should include them in the entry for each one. Thanks to smartphones it’s easier than ever to tag the cards as you file them away. You can even take a photo of each one for later use.
Deal with Duplicate and Unwanted Cards
It’s also a good idea to keep any duplicate cards, or ones that you want to trade, separate. These cards are the ones you are most likely to need quick access to, so designate a separate box or binder to prevent you from getting rid of the wrong cards!
It does seem like a pity to stick your cards in a place where they’ll be safe, since no one will ever see them. While you can’t do it for your entire collection, you might want to consider framing the cards you love the most, are the most rare, or are otherwise special. This way, even if you aren’t playing with them they can still function as decoration.
Passing It On to Your Kids
How long you want to preserve your cards is up to you, but you should plan ahead. Are you going to pass them on to your kids? What happens to your collection after you die? Should cards be sold? If you think of your collection as part of your valuables, then you should have a plan in place for them. Although, I’d personally like the fruits of my labor to be enjoyed while I’m still around. Hey, what can I say?