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Curation the Key to a Lasting Sports Memorabilia Collection

by Rob Bertrand (02/11/14).

This collection is properly curated. Items are protected, out of humidity and off the ground. This protects value and is great to look at.

Collectors of sports memorabilia should know that acquiring a treasured item to add to their prized collection is just half of the process; curating is the other.

Curating a collection encompasses many aspects: organizing, insuring, storing and displaying items so as to protect their physical condition and preserving them in a manner that provides maximum enjoyment.

Organizing and insuring a collection is a topic in and of itself, and we’ll save that for a later day. Truth is many of you are already exercising best practices when it comes to those elements of curating.

Storage, display and preservation are aspects of curating that require a bit more discipline and understanding to implement them properly.

Once divided between the major categories of vintage (or antique) and modern (most sports-memorabilia dealers and experts separate those eras at about 1970 to 1975), there are typically three subcategories under which sports memorabilia fall: store model, game-used and autographed.

While there is much overlap—game-used or store-model pieces can be autographed, as well—storage and preservation tactics with items require unique attention.

In general, the environment in which to house, store or display sports memorabilia is an interior space that exhibits the following characteristics:

• Low relative humidity (not to exceed 35 percent);
• Regulated temperature (between 67 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit);
• Lack of exposure to direct sunlight.

This circular display is a great way to preserve a single baseball—just keep it out of direct sunlight.

Controlling these environmental factors will go a long way in preserving the life, condition and value of your collection.

Humidity, in particular, can quickly turn priceless pieces of sports memorabilia into worthless garbage. Mold, mildew and rot are all consequences of excessive humidity. Humidity can be specifically damaging to collectible memorabilia made of paper, like yearbooks, scorecards, photographs and the like.

Conversely, store a vintage baseball glove in too dry a space and the leather will dry out and crack.

If you store or display your collection in a basement office, den or man-cave, it would be a prudent and worthwhile investment to purchase a high-capacity dehumidifier and moisture sensors. These sensors come in several different types and can provide instant notification of flooding caused by ground seepage and plumbing issues.

It’s also for these very reasons that no memorabilia should ever be stored directly on the floor of a basement environment, regardless of the age and quality of the house and whether the memorabilia itself is housed in a protective display case.

Autographs can be very susceptible to deterioration and fading as a result of direct sunlight. Even indirect sunlight, over time, will cause autographs to fade—even when they are displayed in UV-resistant holders or cases.

Obviously there is no sense displaying a collection you can’t share because it has been housed in a darkened room. However, there are some steps you can take to prolong the condition of your autographed memorabilia while still being able to actually see, read and share them as a collection.

Reputable manufacturers like UltraPro and BCW offer a wide range of PVC-free, UV-resistant display cases for all types of memorabilia.

The first thing to consider is the location in the house or office itself. South- and west-facing rooms provide the maximum amount of sunlight to penetrate the room, whereas east and north allow the least. So, if at all possible, pick a room in your home or building that faces these autograph-friendly directions.

Did you know that even artificial light is a factor attributable to fading autographs? It’s true, but once again, you can’t live in the dark, so keep these things in mind. Don’t store or display your collection in a room that relies solely on overhead lighting unless it can be housed and displayed on something like a bookcase, credenza or curio that can provide some type of natural cover or shade.

Make sure your any lamps you use have shades that provide some glare protection, and never use a bulb larger than the recommended wattage. Better yet, try to make due with a smaller one.

With the era of specialization we live in today, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are myriad options when it comes to the manner in which memorabilia can be displayed. You name the item, and there are probably several different types of cases available, all with UV-resistant materials.

So whether you have a store-model Babe Ruth glove, a game-used Chipper Jones jersey or a Masters Tournament program signed by Tiger Woods, there is a holder available that will attractively display and, more importantly, protect the item’s value.

Glass is preferable to plastic for display cases, but if you must use plastic, make sure it’s not a knock-off.

Many of these display cases and holders will be found made of UV-resistant glass or plastic. Glass offers superior protection with the added benefit of not having any chemical dissipation, as is common in some plastics.

While glass display cases are significantly more expensive, they offer superior protection to plastic and in the grand scheme of things, money you’ve spent on a $1,000 autographed bat, only to stick in a $10 bat tube, just doesn’t make any sense.

While plastic cases and holders can be found free of PVCs and with UV coating, these types of holders and cases are more likely to knock-off models. The two primary manufactures of hobby-friendly products are UltraPro and BCW.

So if you currently have your collection stored in an attic or basement, take action now to insure its future value and move it. If your autographed baseball collection is sitting proudly on your desk as the setting sun’s rays cascade over your shoulders, move them. If your game-used item is sitting unprotected on a bookshelf, put it in a proper case and spend the extra money for an engraved nameplate describing the details—date, game and opponent.

You’ve put valuable time money and energy into your collection. Don’t let it go to waste. Properly curate your collection today.


Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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