Or more specifically, how my collection has grown and refocused as told though organization. Marc posted his version last week and, rather than dropping an extensive comment on his blog I figured this was something that was better to write here.
I never went through a shoebox phase. Basically, as soon as I got into collecting cards I received a Hygrade Baseball Card Collectors kit.* I previously thought that this was a 1986 Christmas present but upon further reflection it must’ve been for my birthday the following year. In 1986, despite having gone to my first game, I was still collecting Garbage Pail Kids and hadn’t yet made the leap into baseball cards. That would come with spring, the start of the new season, and the release of that 1987 Topps set which so many people my age still love.
*This album but it came with a set of Baseball’s Greatest cards, a few fun reprints with information about the originals on the back, a bunch of 9-pocket pages and an informational booklet.
Looking back on it now, that Hygrade kit was probably a pre-emptive strike from my mom who wanted to keep me organized and prevent cards from being strewn all over the house. I did the exact same thing with my kids. As soon as they got stacks of cards I set them up with binders and taught them to keep everything organized.* Yes they have a problem putting the binders away. But that’s because they’re always looking through them and I shudder to think about how much worse would things would be if they kept cards loose in boxes.
*I didn’t prescribe a method pf paging, I just told them to page everything lest it get lost or stepped on.
Bindering, while a good way of consolidating and viewing a collection, also forced me to pick an order and discouraged re-sorting. So the order I picked with my first binder ended up being my default order for the next 8 years. Everything ended up being sorted first by brand, then by year, then by set, then by card number. Yup, I was a by-the-number kid even though I wasn’t even building sets* and was super diligent about resorting everything into the correct order after each new card acquisition.
*Just a pack or two from every release I could find. As I’ve stated before, this wasn’t bad in 1987 (or going back to 1980) but became untenable by 1994.
As I started to get more into collecting I began to have distinct binders for each year of flagships—leaving my original binder (eventually two binders) to consist of my one per year project, assorted pre-1987 cards which rarely amounted to more than a pack’s worth,* oddballs, and inserts. Sets were bindered separately as well. Eventually I realized that in order to avoid re-sorting everything whenever I got new cards I should keep a given year’s collected flagship in an empty factory set box until that year was over and then page everything all at once. I stuck with this method until I abandoned the hobby in 1994.**
*Though I did end up with a significant number of 1986 Topps—which is why it’s a set I’m trying to build now.
**My 1994 cards are still in their box sorted by brand/set/number. I never even bothered to page them after the strike.
The only big wrinkle to this method was my autograph collecting. I pulled those cards out of their respective binders and stored them in a separate autograph binder. I didn’t organize them there though so they ended up in a roughly autobiographical order which indicates when I acquired the signature. This was a blessing in disguise since as I scanned those last year I was able to create notes on when and where I got them all.
Also, non-standard card sizes all ended up in a binder of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, mini-9, 12, and 20 pocket pages. In many ways this miscellaneous binder ended up being the most fun one to look through since it literally consists of random stuff organized by size.
When I went to college and moved out of my parents’, all those binders ended up in bankers boxes. So for the past decades they’ve been stored flat or rings-up. Things look good and I’ve enjoyed going back through them and pulling things for my new collection whenever I visit my folks. One of these days I’ll bring them all over to my house and re-sort as much as possible but there are a lot of logistic hurdles to figure out first.
With my new collection I’m still an inveterate binderer. I like flipping through and looking at my cards. Boxes are fine for cold storage but they don’t invite me to use them. Since I have more money now I no longer feel the need to use every pocket and can instead think about page breaks and empty slots within the binder. This makes sorting new acquisitions into the collection easier and encourages me to think about entire binder each time I get new cards.
As a result I’ve completely rethought about my organization and refocused my collection so it reflects my current interests. Instead of trying to get everything—an activity that was never possible but at least plausible when I was little—I’m focusing on projects. I realized that all those binders organized by year or set weren’t the kind of thing I ended up looking at unless I was pulling cards for an autograph trip. My project binders though are interesting. I like revisiting them and they’re the kind of thing that would tell someone else about me besides “he still collects baseball cards.”
Right now I’ve got two Stanford binders organized alphabetically by last name, then by year (biased toward Topps as the card of record but not exclusively reliant on it) One is A–L, the other M–Z* and I’m always adding new cards to both as having currently-active players means there’s always new cards to get. I’m hoping Alex Blandino, Jeremy Bleich, and Austin Slater get a bit of 2018 set love before this year is out since right now it’s mainly just Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty.
*Jack McDowell and Mike Mussina need to counterbalance players like Bob Boone and Jeffrey Hammonds in the almost-super-collector department but it’s nice to have Mark Marquess on the top page of one binder too.
I’ve also working on four Giants binders now. This started off as one but keeps overflowing into new binders. right now things are broken down roughly by decade: vintage (pre-1980s), 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. I should eventually break those into eras* instead of decades but right now these create four roughly-equal binders. YEs this means I’m super short on 2000–present cards but I’m also still learning about what the heck was going on in the hobby those years. Also it’s clear that the biggest change since 2000 is that only a few sets each year are relevant to my interests and that while the others are fun to have exemplars from, they’re not the kind of thing worth seeking.
*Something like New York, Willie Mays in San Francisco, Willie McCovey and his return, Crazy Crab years, Humm Baby, Dusty and Barry, etc.
The biggest thing about the new organization is the mental discipline to not get sidetracked by things just to have them. I have focused want lists for a reason. I have well-defined projects for a reason. It’s nice to have random things that are related to those projects but they’re not worth seeking out and I probably won’t be looking through them after I get them. And the key here is creating binders that I’ll want to look through again.
The vintage and 1980s binders? Lots of fun.
The first half of the 1990s? Also fun.
The 2000s binder? A work in progress which will move from WTF to fun as I focus on World Series teams.
The rest of the projects I’m working on fit in smaller binders. One binder has a bunch of mini-projects: action photos, moves/expansion, spanish-language, 1964 old timers, photographers, etc. The other is all oddballs. I enjoy both of these binders a bunch since they’re so varied with what they contain.
Everything else I have is actually boxed up. Some of them are sets I’m building (will binder those eventually and re-sort to be a better representation of the season). The rest are random cards from the past 20 years that I’ve come across. Many of those are going out on maildays. I haven’t organized yet beyond by-year since I’m also using them as a primer for what I missed but I’ll eventually sort those by team for trade purposes.