Leaching on Rick Leach

Rick Leach

“Graybeards” — like myself — may remember when the nine-pocket, plastic storage pages first emerged on the scene. I discovered them in the early ‘80s and couldn’t wait to transfer my collection from boxes to binders. As with many innovative products, there are always kinks to be worked out. In this case, the type of plastic used (Polyvinyl chloride or PVC) was not ideal.

At risk of being eviscerated by chemistry experts in the vast blogosphere, I will attempt to explain what happens to PVC pages over time. Plasticizing agents (phthalates) — which makes PVC plastic soft and pliable — tend to leach out over time. This results in an oily film on the page that can adhere to the cards and may pull ink off when the card is removed. Additionally, the pages become stiff, wrinkled and stick together. Essentially, PVC plastic is returning to its normal, rigid state. Hard sleeves are usually made from PVC plastic and are fine for long term storage.

I recently acquired a complete 1981 Fleer set in pages. Perhaps the reason this set sold so cheaply was the undisclosed fact that the pages were PVC. I don’t see any obvious discoloration or damage to the cards, but of course this set is notorious for having dark, blurry photos to start with.

PVC Side-load

If leaching chemicals wasn’t quirky enough, the early pages were side-loaders.   The first two rows required pushing cards in from the right and the last row from the left. Cards tended to spill out, so top- loaders soon became standard.

Modern Side-loader

By the way, side-loaders are still available. I found this out by purchasing two boxes without stopping to read the small print. The modern pages are tighter, so the cards don’t move. It is difficult to load them after decades of putting cards in from the top. The side-loaders are a solution for the odd sized disc cards, since they fit in with only a small edge sticking out, though they tend to slide out.

Odd Page Sizes

Another oddity associated with the early pages was the variation in size. The differing dimensions offered by various companies could result in a mishmash of pages in a single binder. Plus, the three ring holes didn’t always line up.

Fleer Stickers 2

I still have a few cards and stickers in PVC pages. For instance, my early ‘70s Fleer stickers are still entombed in PVC, since the sticky nature of the pages may pull the stickers loose from the backing. Also, I recently discovered some miscellaneous Mariners singles from the ‘90s still in PVC.

We should all sing the praises of Ultra Pro and their standard sized pages made from non-leaching polyethylene. Remember, we all enjoy “better collecting through chemistry.”


Author: Tim Jenkins

Sports memorablilia collector with Seattle teams emphasis. HOF autographs, baseball cards and much more. Teacher for over 30 years. Attended games at 35 different MLB parks.

6 thoughts on “Leaching on Rick Leach”

      1. I know I cut up sheets into “penny sleeves.” As njwv says below, the binder holes would rip and the sheet would then be basically useless as a sheet. I am almost certain that Beckett or some other magazine of the day made the suggestion to cut up sheets into single card sleeves.


  1. As a junk wax kid, I remember when Ultra Pro came out and quickly killed all the other sheets (all my childhood UltraPros say “patent pending”). I never had any PVC sheets ruin cards (aside from my own problems catching a corner when inserting cards in) but I remember the binder holes frequently ripping. I also found that a few of my older cards are now encased in hardened PVC sheets that settled after years of being stored in an upright binder. The cards are fine (thankfully the sheets settled so the cards can come out rather than locking everything in).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At one point in the early 2010s my parents had a jewelry store and would buy non-jewelry store things to list on eBay during down time. Every now and then they would get someone with cards.

      I don’t know how Ultra Pro sheets would do sitting in a storage unit in Florida, but PVC sheets … no good. I don’t know if you all remember those 4-pocket sheet pre-made binders (almost like mini photo albums), but I think most of those were made with PVC sheets.

      There are two times in my life that I have thrown out large quantities of cards (I have a tub of junk wax era cards that are creased or otherwise badly damaged – that’s how much I don’t like throwing them out). When I was very young I threw out what I think was a 1978 Topps Reggie Jackson record breaker because we were moving. I distinctly remember my dad (who is not a card collector) asking me why I threw it out, which I think is the reason I don’t throw much out.

      The first time I threw out a big stack of cards was when I spilled water all over a stack of 2000 Pacific Paramount cards and … I don’t know, the coating and water mixed together was not good. The second time was when I was going through a lot my parents bought. Most stuff was fine. The stuff in those 4-pocket binders was not savable. I tried to salvage as much as I could, but at the end of the day a 1987 Topps Wally Backman with half the front torn off wasn’t really worth the effort of pulling it out of the PVC sheets. The cards were so nasty that I felt like they would contaminate even the creased and rounded corner cards in the tub.

      Liked by 1 person

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