PSA Debuts New Improved Slabs

PSA recently announced forthcoming enhancements to their slabs, which has me thinking about preservation in general. In their own words, the new PSA slab features the following:

  • Medical-grade plastic composition—an industry first.

  • 20% heavier with identical exterior dimensions.

  • Ultra impermeable to heat, humidity, water, and UV light.

  • Extra protective against micro-scratches and surface scuffs.

  • No mylar, no movement, no unwanted Newton Ring illusions.

“This new polymer is more shatter-resistant, more resistant to UV damage from the sun, and even more scratch-resistant,” PSA Mechanical Engineering Manager Brian Alvey said. “The overall dimensions of these new holders will be identical to what PSA used before the update, but the in-hand feel is significantly more premium.”

Frankly, you don’t often hear graders touting the UV resistance of their slabs. Perhaps it’s a liability issue–how strong is the UV protection? If it’s now improved, what was it previously? How long does it last? What chemicals are in their plastics? Are slabs safe for storage and preservation of cardboard over the long term? So many questions! We can’t answer them all, but this announcement is a good time to think about preservation basics in general.

Preservation for the Long Haul

Your sports card collection might be your passion, but for many of us–especially post-COVID, our collections are assets that require some special considerations in terms of display and storage. And even if your collection isn’t high value, you still want to preserve it, right? Even if your high-dollar collection is insured, your policy likely does not cover damage at home–fading from UV damage, moisture or water damage, etc.

Most of us want to display our collections in some fashion. Personally, I don’t understand using “vault” services and never even seeing or touching what I own! Maybe that’s because most of my cards are not going to change my tax bracket. Displaying sports cards is not merely about showcasing them, however. It’s also about protecting them from potential harm. In this quick guide, we delve into the some of the basic considerations of safely displaying and storing sports cards to prevent damage and to maintain their present condition.

1. UV Light: The Silent Assassin

UV light poses one of the most significant threats to the longevity of sports cards. Overexposure to UV rays can lead to fading, discoloration, and deterioration of card quality over time. To combat this silent assassin, it’s important to avoid displaying cards in direct sunlight. But many don’t know–even indirect natural light can destroy cards over time, as can regular incandescent light bulbs! Find a location with little to no natural lighting. Basement rooms can work well, but then we have moisture as a concern. Upstairs, try to choose a north-facing room, and get some light-blocking blinds and curtains. Opt for 100% LED lighting, which emits minimal UV radiation and provides a safe environment for displaying your collection.

Many display cases on eBay and Amazon tout 100% UV protection, but there is no standard seal of approval to back their claims.

2. LED Lighting: Shedding Light on the Ideal Display Solution

There are some other benefits to LED lights. LED lighting not only minimizes UV exposure but also offers energy efficiency and longevity compared to traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. Convince your significant other to let you invest the savings in more baseball cards!

When setting up your display area, ensure that LED lights are strategically positioned to illuminate your cards without subjecting them to excessive heat or glare. This careful arrangement not only enhances visibility but also safeguards against potential damage. Personally, I use strip lights intended for under-cabinet applications–this is more than enough light for the cards and emits almost no heat.

3. The Dilemma of Slabs: Safety vs. Accessibility

We tend to think of grading and encapsulating cards as a protective measure. And most likely we are right–all acrylic offers some measure of UV protection for some period of time. But I do find it interesting that grading companies don’t exactly tout the safety of their slabs. Why is this? Are slabs safe?

While encapsulating sports cards in plastic slabs offers a layer of protection against physical wear and tear, it also raises concerns regarding long-term preservation and accessibility. The practice of slabbing, popularized by grading companies like PSA and Beckett, provides a standardized assessment of a card’s condition, but it also seals it away from direct contact and inspection. I don’t know about you, but I like the look and feel of raw cards!

Interestingly, the Hall of Fame removes cards from slabs upon receipt. There are many reasons for this (for one, slabbed cards take up more storage space). But ultimately, their experts decided that since the exact chemical composition of graded card slabs is not disclosed, the safest measure is to remove them. They aren’t saying that slabs aren’t safe–just that there are unknowns and they prefer going with preservation industry standards.

4. Mylar vs. Polypropylene: Choosing the Right Sleeves

When it comes to protecting individual cards within your collection, the choice between Mylar and polypropylene sleeves can significantly impact their longevity.

Mylar sleeves, made from a polyester film, offer superior clarity and durability, making them ideal for long-term storage and display. Even though they are expensive I’m surprised supply companies don’t market it more as a premium sleeve option.

On the other hand, polypropylene sleeves provide a more budget-friendly option while still offering adequate protection against scratches and handling. “Penny sleeves” are typically polypropylene, which is chemically inert, safe, and cheap.

Whichever option you choose, ensure that the sleeves fit snugly and are free from contaminants that could potentially damage your cards. Also make sure they are the correct size–I cringe when I see 1952-1956 Topps with the top corners exposed because the sleeve is too small! Shop for vintage-sized sleeves in this case.

5. Humidity Control: Safeguarding Against Moisture Damage

Humidity poses a significant threat to sports cards, as excess moisture can lead to mold growth, warping, and deterioration of any paper-based materials. The first thing to consider is your own climate (both outside and inside). I live in the Midwest, where it is relatively dry, and during humid times of the year, we’re running the air conditioner, which lowers the inside humidity levels. My parents are in FLorida–where mitigating humidity is a big industry!

To minimize this risk, invest in a quality safe or storage solution equipped with humidity control. If you’re not going that route, then use desiccants, silica gel packs, or electronic dehumidifiers to help regulate moisture levels within the safe. This creates an optimal environment for preserving your collection. Additionally, periodically monitor humidity levels and inspect your cards for any signs of moisture damage to address issues promptly.

In a basement display room, invest in a dehumidifier (while house or a freestanding unit) and monitor humidity levels. Obviously, store your cards off of the ground in case of flooding or sump pump failure.

6. Dust, Smoke, and Other Contaminants

Cards can be ruined by other common household contaminants. In addition to light and moisture, it is crucial to prevent dust and smoke damage, both of which can cause significant damage. To shield your collection from these hazards, opt for archival-quality storage solutions such as acid-free boxes or binders specifically designed for card preservation. Archival boxes provide a protective barrier against dust and smoke and create no new unwanted hazards from contact with cheap acid-based products.

If your cards are in albums, be especially careful of dust in the home. It can seep into the openings in the top of album sleeves, leaving a value-killing line or stain across the top of your cards. However you store or display your cards, regularly inspecting your storage area and using other preventive measures such as air filtration systems or protective covers can help maintain condition.

Conclusion: Preserving for the Future

Baseball cards are history, and history is meant to be preserved. By adopting some basic best practices for displaying and safeguarding your collection, you can ensure that your cards retain their value and appeal for generations to come. From minimizing UV exposure and selecting the right lighting to choosing quality sleeves and controlling humidity levels, every precaution counts in your preservation mission. So, whether you’re showing off a million dollars of a hundred dollars worth of cards and collectibles, it’s worth planning for the long-term preservation of your cherished cards. At any level, i’s an investment worth protecting. And hey, if you want to stay tuned in to the latest vintage sports card news, events, and promotions, please Join Cardhound today!