Boxes or Binders? Choosing the Right Way to Store Your Sports Cards

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Sports Card Stash

Finding the cards for your personal collection is the easy part. Getting them at a price that you’re happy with can be a little harder. But once you get that rookie card, autograph or last card for that pesky set, how are you going to store it?

The cluttered desk may be the default option for many of us, but that’s probably not the best choice. If you have a shoebox full of loose cards from when your grandparents were kids, you might want to revisit that, too.

The options for sports card storage are numerous, each with their own pros and cons. So what to choose? Here are some things to consider when you’re deciding which sports cards supplies to get.

Budget

No matter what it is that you’re collecting, your budget is always an important place to start. That includes the sports card supplies you might need.

If your budget is limited, you’re not going to put all of your cards in magnetic snap tights. Depending on the size of your collection, pages might be out of the question as well.

Cardboard boxes are the cheapest way to store your cards. Your hobby shop should have them in a variety of sizes ranging from 100 all the way up to several thousand. Even the biggest custom cardboard boxes made specifically for sports cards are affordable when you factor in how many they can hold.

Pages can hold cards in bulk but the cost is significantly higher. A 3,200-count monster box should cost you under $10. A box of 100 nine-pocket pages is probably going to run you somewhere around $20. That’s double the cost for less than one-third of the cards. And that’s not even counting the price of the binder to put the pages in.

Understandably, good storage options for individual cards are the most expensive. Even a box of basic top loaders is going to be significantly more per card than even pages. That jumps even higher for premium holders like those that are sealed magnetically.

Top Loaders

Space

How much room do you have for your cards? Is it a corner of your closet that’s also filled with shirts, dress pants and Christmas decorations? Or are you one of the luck ones with a near-empty basement?

If you’re heavy into set building or busting boxes and live in an apartment, pages probably aren’t going to be much of an option. Instead the bulk route of monster boxes are going to be the likely route by default.

And that’s fine, although a good industrial shelf would be a good way to keep the cards safe from a five-foot stack. A good shelf can also make it easier for you to access your cards when you want to sort through them or grab some trade bait.

If space isn’t an issue, you have more options. You may opt to keep sets separate with a variety of smaller cardboard boxes. You may page everything up and make a library of binders. And if you have space, this probably isn’t going to be much of a consideration in the first place.

Sports Cards 1600 Count Box

How Often Are You Going to Be Looking at Them?

How you enjoy your cards — in the way of looking and handling them — should be another major influence in how you store your cards. If you take them out often or show them off to friends on a regular basis, you’re going to want something that’s easy to pull out and can hold up to being handled.

Top loaders and individual holders are good for this if you’re talking about a few cards at a time. It can work for larger sets too, but it’s easy for things to get mixed up.

Pages are made for looking at. You can flip through a set or collection at your leisure and nothing gets mixed up, misplaced, dropped or knocked over.

If you handle cards regularly, bulk boxes may not be the best choice. Even if you’re careful, it’s easy to get small nicks and basic wear. Penny sleeves may offer a happy medium here, although that adds to the cost and space.

Sports Card Pages

What Are the Cards Worth?

The value of your card collection is another consideration. At the extremes, it’s probably not much of a thought. You’re unlikely to put cards worth hundreds or thousands (or even tens) loose in a box.

Likewise, unless there’s some major sentimental value or you insist on being consistent for all of the cards in you’re personal collection, you’re probably not going to put a 1987 Topps common in a magnetic holder.

But there’s a middle ground in there where the choices might not be so clear. A binder page might not offer the same level of protection as a top loader or something even fancier, but as long as the binder is stored properly, you shouldn’t run into any condition issues. It’d still be wise to keep cards you consider valuable as safe as possible within the parameters of space, cost and handling.

Sports Card Storage Pros and Cons at a Glance

To summarize, here’s a brief look at some of good and bad  things about major sports card storage options.

Pages

• Great for viewing.
• Relatively expensive.
• A large collection can take up a lot of space.
• Not the best protection, although adequate if handled properly.
• Different page types and sizes make it easy to keep cards with different dimensions together.

Top Loaders and Magnetic Holders

• Great card protection.
• Easy to handle cards and look through them.
• Expensive.
• Take up a lot of space.

Cardboard Boxes and Monster Boxes

• Cheap.
• Don’t take up a lot of space considering how many cards they hold.
• Easiest way to have cards get damaged unless other protection is used.

Chances are, you’re going to use a variety of storage options for your cards. I know I do. My favorite sets and the bulk of my personal collection are in pages. But even within those, I have pieces of those collections elsewhere. My John Jaha one-of-ones are in top loaders and magnetic holders. So are key pieces from my Expos collection. And as for the random parts of my card collection, they’re largely packed away in monster boxes so that, hopefully, I can find them when I need them.

What do you use to hold your cards? What do you avoid? Let us know in the comments below or keep the conversation going on Twitter.

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

20 comments

  1. Kerry 29 November, 2016 at 18:03

    Good story. I have 30+ 3-ring binders with 45-60 pages each, whether I am keeping or trading. Yes, a bit costly for the binders and pages, but I really detest going through boxes (I am down to 2 5,000-card boxes and 1 2,500-card box). The binders are easy to label and keep in order of years, and can be shelved to stay off the floor in case of flooding.

  2. Daryl Powell 29 November, 2016 at 18:36

    When I build a set, I put them in pages and binders. For cards of my favorite team and players, I buy mini binders for those cards. All others go into cardboard boxes

  3. Kin Kinsley 29 November, 2016 at 19:02

    Years ago, I got rid of binders and sheets. However, I’m now into my late 30s and the nostalgia bug has hit me. I’m working on some sets from my youth and putting them into binders.

    Something not mentioned that can be a factor as well is what “kind” of cards someone is collecting. If it’s something from 2005(ish) or before, sheets can be an option. However, with thick cards becoming the rage in the last decade, those things just won’t go into pages. I’d prefer to have my Andrew Shaw collection in a binder, but cards from The Cup, Championship Rings cards and also a stick card from Luxury Suite make this something that I cannot do.

  4. Dylan Horn 30 November, 2016 at 03:37

    I think no matter how you store your cards, their going to take up a lot of space. Personally I have a few monster boxes full of miscellaneous I put away and never looked again. For an old PC I once had, their all in monster boxes penny sleaved and top loaded. My current and only PC their going in binders and pages and constinently gone through as I get cards for it, they go in a thousand card box and when it fills I pick up more pages and another binder then go though and carefully arrange them. Game used, manufactured and autos are all penny sleaved and top loaded. Everything else is monster boxed, sets and trade bait. I would greatly advise against shoe boxes

  5. Richard 30 November, 2016 at 12:00

    For sets I typically penny sleeve each card and they go into a box. Key cards are placed in semi rigit holders too.
    For expensive cards, every card ends up in either a rigid or a hard case. Sometimes they are graded.

  6. casey krakowski 30 November, 2016 at 16:12

    I hate how you put more bad stuff for the pages and top-loaders and magnetic holders but you only put one bad thing for the cardboard boxes as if you were trying to push people to buy more cardboard boxes then their preferred choice of how they want to store their cards.

    • Ryan Cracknell 30 November, 2016 at 16:24

      You’re reading into it. The bullet points are merely there to summarize. There’s about 1,000 words before it that draw out the various aspects. There’s also a paragraph below where I discuss myself how I use all three. It’s a personal decision. And for many, the number of bullet points won’t tell the whole story. If protection is the most important, it wouldn’t matter how many “pros” cardboard boxes had. They’re not the best fit for that collector. Likewise, someone with a closet full of sets may not want to spend the money required to page them all.

      I’m all for collectors doing what’s best for them and their collection.

  7. Mike Christen 30 November, 2016 at 21:40

    I have a 25,000 card team collection. Every card is toploaded and sorted by player in super shoe boxes. Don’t regret the cost because they are easy to handle/show and well protected.

  8. steven r gross 2 December, 2016 at 04:12

    I put all my cards in a penny sleeve, in a toploader and then a team bag. Then they are all stored in ridged cardboard boxes. I love what I collect, I feel this is gona keep them well protected.

  9. Jon K 2 December, 2016 at 14:30

    Although it is expensive, but I use the ‘catalog rack’. Basically I combined all the binders pages into one long horizontal rack. I now can walk up and flip pages without needing to pull out one binder at a time from my shelf. I also put sheet divider tabs in between to categorize.

  10. Jason 2 December, 2016 at 14:55

    My storage system is varied based on the intent of what I collect. Cards I’m willing to trade are mostly in monster boxes, organized by brand. In there, cards less than $1 each are stored together in team bags or graded card sleeves. $1-5 cards are in penny sleeves, and anything more valuable goes in a top loader.

    For my vintage team sets and favorite player collections, I use binders, but put every card in a penny sleeve first. Higher value cards, and pre-1955 team set cards go into a top-loader or magnetic holder, I keep these and graded cards in 4-pocket pages. This makes the cards I do look at from time to time, a lot more accessible, and lets me look at the parallels/rainbow of a given card all at once.

    I think of it as similar to keeping photos in albums or shoe boxes. Albums are for what you want to look through from time to time, and shoe boxes are for the ones you go through every few years for fun.

  11. Leo 5 December, 2016 at 09:54

    Fun Article, thanks.

    I am a player collector and I store all my cards in the following fashion:

    1 – Penny Sleeve
    2 – Top Loader (based on thickness of card)
    3 – Sorted into labeled Monster Boxes by Player.

    It is very easy to access my cards when I want to look through them and I am not worried about nicking corners or other minor problems. Used to like pages but found the top row of cards would inch up and eventually get damaged.

  12. IamNotArobot 7 December, 2016 at 11:52

    My personal collection that I have catalogued is in binders (by year/set); the un-catalogued cards are in boxes until they get added to the database. I display several hundred of the cards in shadowboxes and scrapbook page frames (usually in sleeves or top loaders.) Cards to trade are sorted by team and stored in boxes. I use sleeves, top loaders and rigid holders when required.

  13. Andre 14 December, 2016 at 21:32

    I’m a team & player collector. My main choice is Binders.
    For those concerned about Thick Cards… Try the 4 Pocket Pages. I can usually keep 2 cards per Pocket. The pairings have to be of similar thickness… If one is slightly thicker, I out it on top. So the cards fit with the long side Horizontal rather than Vertical. Long Book Cards usually do well in 3 Pocket Pages, the type that has 3 strips across as opposed to 1 top & 2 Lower. Sometimes a bit of tape is needed in the corners to make sure the 3 pocket cards are secure but not always.
    @Kin Kinsley, it might be worth a try, see how you like it. There’s no stress on the cards at all. Sometimes you might have to balance the weight if a page, that may also just be a preference of mine.

  14. Michael 10 September, 2017 at 10:38

    I will give you guys some advice, if you allow me to.

    If you put your cards in monster boxes, they will start to deform and curve. Then, they will be worth less. I see so many cards in bad shape and I always joke with the collector that he must not like those damaged cards, because he obviously put them in monster boxes.

    Why collect supposedly valuable cards and then not store them in a penny sleeve and top loader? If a card is not worth protecting, don’t own it. Don’t buy it. Get rid of it. Only keep cards that are worth putting in a top loader.

    Btw, you will get more for the same card if you present it to a buyer in a top loader. Same card, same everything. But, put it in a top loader and you can sell it for at least 2x its value as opposed to keep it in raw form in a huge box.

    And another thing, if you spend 20 years collecting 30,000 plus cards and then you try to sell those cards in bunches, you will lose money on your card collection. The trick is to buy and sell as you go along, so you never have too much inventory and you never have too much eagerness to own so many cards in such a short period of time.

    Think about it: If you are eager to buy alot of cards, and then after 20 years, you are eager to sell alot of cards, you will pay alot to acquire said cards and you will receive very litte when selling said cards.

    I also see collectors spend tens of thousands over the years acquiring cards and then get pennies and fractions of what they paid for the cards when it they try to sell huge lots of their collections all at once.

    No wonder so many people lose money selling cards. They do the opposite of everything that would bring them more money.

    Remember:

    1. Store your cards in top loaders – no exceptions.
    2. Don’t keep cards that aren’t worth a top loader
    3. Don’t acquire too many cards in a short time.
    4. Don’t sell too many cards in a short period of time.

    Oh, I almost forgot. If you are going to pay $100 for a Mitch Marner rookie card, best to sell it within 18 months to a highr bidder as such cards won’t hold their value after a decade or two down the road.

    I laugh when I see people paying 5x more for a Matthew Tkachuck rookie card than they are willing to pay for an 70s Sittler card that is graded. No wonder they lose money trading cards.

    No disrespect intended. Just trying to help others with some tough love.

    Regards

    • Ryan Cracknell 13 September, 2017 at 09:57

      @Michael 1) If one takes care of how they store the monster box and how they place the cards in them, they do not cause damage. 2) Folks collect many different ways and for different reasons. Many are not concerned strictly about value, future or current. They buy what they like and makes them happy. The “investment” side is just one of several in the hobby. I personally have lots of cards that are not “Top Loader worthy”. Some of my favorite cards are worth pennies (if that). And many of these I enjoy more than cards in my collection that are “magnetic one touch worthy.”

  15. Deco 24 January, 2018 at 04:09

    What kind of boxes do you use to store one touch holders? I want to have my one touch holders and toploaders mixed into the same boxes but I don’t know if any boxes fit the one touch holders and I’m not keeping my holders in the 25ct boxes they come in.

  16. Jeff Robinson 22 March, 2018 at 13:01

    Best way for a ” just collector”, never sell ? Been in and out since the mid 60’s, as a kid, 100,000 + cards. All of mine are pre-1995, most, ’80’..backwards.
    I’ve began to set-build, knocking off the ’60s, ’70s & ’80’ I began back in the day. Penny sleeping all I can, 9 pocket sheets/binders for sets & monster boxes for the rest.
    Top-loaders for HOF and Cardsaver 1’s ( w/Penny sleeves).
    Taking ideas, from you guys, putting some to apply for me..
    Slow, but getting there !

  17. Steve Wolfe 9 April, 2018 at 18:17

    I personally dislike top loaders. Dislike might be too weak a word. If I guy an item at a show in a top loader I swap it to a card saver 1 or 4 when I get it home. Ready to go for grading and storage.

    For my non-graded sets, mostly vintage football, I use Card Saver 1’s in both graded card boxes and binders. While assembling a set, I store them in card saver 1’s in graded card boxes. Once I complete the set, I place the Card Saver 1’s into a perfect fit sleeve and into an ultra pro platinum 4 pocket page. For the most valuable sets I place the pages into an Archival Methods D-ring binder with slip cover, otherwise a D-ring binder without slip cover. I also store my graded items exactly the same way.

    I don’t buy packs so I don’t have thousands of cards laying around to have to store. I agree with the above to sell items and periodically review and clean out the collection to manage it’s size and focus. But to each their own. :)

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