The Ins and Outs of Binder Storage
Binders are my ‘go to’ for baseball card storage and there are ways to store nearly everything in them
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is about the storage of my collection. All kinds of options exist including shoe boxes, custom boxes, and simple cardboard boxes designed for cards. Some go for elaborate glass displays or repurposed items, such card catalog displays that were used by libraries. And as I have written before, even things such as cigar boxes are popular.
But, without a doubt, my favorite way to store my cards is with binders.
Now, I didn’t always feel this way. I used to have a much bigger collection consisting of tens of thousands of cards. Binders for that large of a collection might not be practical. But binders are, for me, the easiest way to store my collection while protecting it and being able to easily view cards.
So let’s start with the basics — what kind of binder do you need? Whichever type you buy, I recommend three things in particular.
First and probably most important, you want a sturdy binder that comes with a slipcase. A slipcase is just an outside casing that goes over the binder to protect the three open edges on the top, bottom, and right. Slipcases also allow binders to stand up vertically like the ones shown here that are under my desk.
Second, make sure the binder uses a standard three-ring layout so that regular card pages can be used. There are all sorts of elaborate binders using their own pages but you don’t want to be married to that and be unable to use other types of pages.
Finally, you’ll also want a binder with rings that have three flat edges. Binders with a curved ring on either the left or right are a big no-no since that ring can leave indents to the cards against it when flipping the pages. Avoid those at all costs. If you are storing anything of value, I highly recommend following those simple rules.
There are all sorts of these binders out there but my personal favorite are the Lighthouse Classic Vario G 3″ three-ring binders with the rounded spine. You can use any size you prefer. I opt for the 3″ as it is the largest one of theirs I have seen and allows me to store the most cards. These binders are not cheap but, at about $40 or so a piece (usually cheaper if you buy them in bulk from one seller), not incredibly outrageous, either.
Now that you know what type of binder you’re looking for, let’s talk about the pages.
I’m less finicky here. I generally use the standard BCW or Ultra Pro pages. I’m sure someone could make cases for one over the other but I have no real preference. Both are perfectly fine in my book.
What you’ll want, of course, are pages with openings to fit the specific size of cards you’re storing. The great thing about binder pages is that there are some tailor made to fit smaller pre-war issues, such as tobacco and caramel/candy cards.
Now, aside from the UK-style pages (which use smaller binders), there are two general types of those for the smaller types of pre-war cards. I’m sure there could be more but the standard ones are pages that store either 15 cards or 20 cards. There’s all kinds of debate on which ones to use. I use the 20-card pages because, well, you can hold more cards in a binder. But those offer a bit less protection since cards can come right to the top of the openings or, in some cases, even stick out a wee bit. If you’ve got lower-grade cards, those will often work. But if you are storing raw-mid-grade cards in them, you may want to opt for the 15-card pages to protect the tops a bit more.
And, of course, there are pages with openings of all different sizes. Many people shy away from binders because they don’t believe that larger cards and graded cards can’t be stored in them. But that isn’t the case.
Four-pocket pages with slots for four cards the size of a postcard are popular. These are pretty indispensable. You can use them for postcards, jumbo cards, and even graded cards. And other sizes are available, too.
For example, there are pages with only two openings, which work well for longer, horizontal cards or ink blotters. And if you’re into photos, there are of course pages with one large opening for items up to 8″ X 10″ in size. These work well for really big cards, some supplements, etc. There are also pages with different size openings for coins, pins, and stamps.
With binders, you have the ability to store just about anything that isn’t too large.
Protecting Cards in Pages
One complaint some collectors have of binders is that they don’t feel like they offer enough protection. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t store a condition-sensitive card worth thousands of dollars in a binder. But, when stored properly, binders offer all sorts of protection for raw cards.
First, the most important element that I mentioned earlier is the slipcase. But you can also take further steps to protect cards in pages.
And, as mentioned, binders are fully capable of handling graded cards like these boxing ones I have here. Obviously, the thickness of the slabs cuts into how many a binder can hold. But binders do hold them relatively well.
The best thing to do for more expensive raw cards is to place them inside of a toploader and then use the four-pocket pages. For most cards, I’d recommend the semi-rigid holders as opposed to the thicker harder plastic ones. The thicker ones move around in the opening more and obviously take up more space. If you have a more expensive card and want the added protection, it can make sense to use those. But in general, I prefer the thinner, semi-rigid cases.
One thing you can do to help prevent cards inside cases from sliding around is tape the holder into the binder opening.
That aside, once you’ve got your materials, what kind of order should you use to store your cards in the binder? This is all personal preference.
For sets with card numbers, I put those in order by number. For unnumbered sets, I put them in alphabetical order. For singles, I keep different binders for different types. One for tobacco cards, one for caramel cards, one for strip cards, one for trade cards, etc.
I don’t really have a specific layout for singles and again, do what fits you. The most important thing is to pick a method where you can most easily find the cards you’re looking for.
Binders won’t work for everyone and I fully understand that. If you’re a set collector of post-war stuff with sets of 500+ cards, etc., it’s not probably the best option. And if you’ve got a super small collection of just a few important items and prefer a different display method like a custom box or framed display, I can understand that, too. But for many collectors, they can be a great way to go.