How & Why to Catalog Your Collection !
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2007 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine

I'm not a very organized person, except when it comes to one thing: My card storage. This anal habit of indexing and organizing them came about because of the mounting frustration I was experiencing every time I tried to locate a card. The more I collected, the harder it was to locate anything among the growing clutter. You see, finding a needle in a haystack is actually easy when the "stack" consists of only a few straws. But when you start to have a real pile, it's quite different. Once your card collection starts filling several dozen binders, locating any given card can become a daunting task!

So I decided something had to change. I could quit collecting and sell everything, or I could organize it all. Since the first choice is blasphemy among collectors, I had to come up with an organization plan.

All collectors usually face this dilemma sooner or later, or they drive themselves crazy searching for stuff they know they already have. For this reason--and a few others I'll mention later-- I thought I'd discuss methods that can help cure your chaotic card crisis!

Suggestion #1 is to avoid being overwhelmed by it all. You do this by reducing the size of your task. Don't sit down to organize all your cards, just index ONE binder per day. That way it's not hard and it will eventually get done. I had almost 300 sets to catalog and it was depressing to contemplate, but cataloging one binder (4 to 5 sets) a day was simple enough that I did it without breaking a sweat.

Now I'm sure there are different ways to organize that would work equally well for most people. What I'm about to describe is only one system, but it's one that I can vouch for personally because it works well for me.

Suggestion #2: Reconsider how you store your binders for maximum protection of your cards. I noticed that my plastic pages were beginning to sag in the binders and that the last card in each page was beginning to bend as it rested against the shelf. This was particularly a problem with stickers, since they are not cardboard but thin sticker-paper with no reinforcement. (A few of the thinner cards looked like they were in trouble, too.) So I decided to store all my binders with the spine facing up, rather than vertically with the spine facing out. I should emphasize that this does not mean storing the binders flat, but rather, rotated 90 degrees.

Typically, when you face a bookshelf, the spines of the books face you. That is not the situation with my binder bookcase. Since I turned all the binders 90 degrees, they now rest on the long edge of each binder cover (not the spine, but the opposite edge). The spine is now facing up, and it's the top of the plastic sheets that are facing outward. This stops the last card in the bottom row (card #9 of each page) from bending as the pages sag. Storing the binders "spine side up" basically lets the sheets hang down from all three rings with an equal amount of stress, rather than hanging out horizontally away from the spine. The old way causes more stress the further out from the spine each page hangs (due to the angle), and can result in most of the weight of the page resting on the bottom corner of the last card.

Keep in mind, you want to make sure your plastic pages don't extend beyond the outer binder, or else the weight of the sheet will be on cards #3, #6 and #9 of each page! (It hasn't been a problem with any of my standard 9 pocket sleeves, but other size sleeves might be an issue.) You also need to use stiff binders (not the cheap flimsy plastic ones that bend easily).

You could also avoid the corner card damage by storing your binders flat, but that increases the risk that the sheets in the front or back of the binder will get pinched between the binder covers and the metal rings. If that happens, the cards closest to the ring (cards #1, 4, and 7) can get creased when pressure is placed on the binder. That happened once with my Horrors of War binder and I my near mint #1 card was creased, along with cards 4 & 7. That was about a $300   "whoops" moment.

The truth is, one needs to be careful about pinching the pages regardless of how they store their cards. Don't overstuff a binder with too many pages. Always close it carefully and make sure no sheets are getting crushed between the metal rings and outer cover. Take it from someone who wasn't careful once and still regrets it!

There's another benefit about storing the binders spine side up that I should mention: It shaved two inches off the vertical space required for each shelf, allowing me to fit an extra shelf in the bookcase and store more binders in it overall. Sweet!

Suggestion #3: Number each binder. I gave each binder a number written on white tape, which I stuck on the spine. Of course, I can't see the spine as easily as before, because now it's facing upward. But all I need to see is the number, and I have that taped to the very top of the spine on the edge closest to me, so I can still spot the numbers of all the binders except the ones on the top shelf (since they are above my head.) However, I compensate for this minor problem by also writing a number on white tape and sticking it on the SHELF below each binder. They're in numerical order, so it's fast and easy to locate each one.

Suggestion #4: List all your sets alphabetically in an index. (This is the most time consuming but important part.) I did it on the computer so I can insert future sets and make a clean print out. How much information you want to include for each set is up to you. The set title is essential, but I also include the manufacture and date of each set, the overall condition, how many are in the set, the estimated resale value, and most importantly, THE BINDER NUMBER!

This allows me or anyone else to quickly find any given set by looking up the name, spotting the binder number and going straight to it. That's assuming you can find the index. I hide mine as an added security measure (along with installing a fence, keeping two Great Danes, and running an alarm system-- not that I'm paranoid). I don't want to assist any thieves in figuring out which sets are worthwhile and which ones are not. I do, however, want my family to know this information. That's why I gave them a copy of the index and it included the manufacture name and date info (plus the set's condition), so they have what they need to list it all on eBay after I'm gone. (I've also stored a backup copy with my will. It's a cheap way to prevent one of my few assets from being wasted.)

This brings up another reason it's important to organize your collection. When you finally go to non-sports heaven (or sports card hell), do you want your family to sell your collection at a garage sale for $5 per binder? If so, please contact me and provide your name, age, and address. I'll subscribe to your local paper and eagerly read the funeral notices. But seriously, big collections can represent a substantial investment. If you don't want your survivors to throw away that investment, you need to provide a way for them to find and identify each set, and determine its basic value (to avoid getting ripped off). If you can't help them, who will?

I would encourage every collector to at least identify for your family which sets are not to be sent to Goodwill along with your old clothes! You can skip indexing the cheap stuff if you want, but there is no sense in giving your most valuable collections to total strangers for pennies on the dollar, when the people you love might need it to pay for your funeral, medical bills, the kid's college, or-- as in one instance I know of-- $100K down on a new house!

Suggestion #5: Take photos of your collection to assist any insurance claims. Of all the people who had their houses robbed, burned down, flooded, or hit by tornadoes, none of them expected it to happen when it did. If you've cataloged your collection and included the condition and book value of each set, you've gone a long way in providing the information you need to make an insurance claim. But you should also take pictures of the collection, as well as talk to your agent ahead of time and make sure it's included in the coverage. Then store a copy of the pictures and your card index in a separate safe place. (A cheap digital camera can take hundreds of pictures and store it all on a CD for just a few dollars.)   It might cost a little more to add trading cards to your specific policy, but it's free to call and find out. Murphy's law states that if you prepare for such an accident, it will probably never happen, but if you don't prepare for it...

Well, that's my card storage story and I'm sticking to it. I currently have 75 binders of cards and its still growing. I know there are bigger collectors out there who will read that and say, "75? That's NOTHING!"   If you're one of them, I hope you've already cataloged your cards, because the earlier you start, the easier it is!


The Non-Sports Trading Card Article Index