The tragedy of the commons

Those who have visited the memorabilia room (checks with fiancee…okay, GUEST ROOM) at our house know most of my best cards live on the wall. Though there’s some variety to my methods, I most often use top loaders to provide at least some protection of the actual cardboard. This new T205 Brooklyn display (thanks to David at Cigar Box Cards) is a good example.

While the cards are just sitting loose on the “shelves” each is in not only a tobacco size top loader but a penny sleeve as well. I took a similar approach to my Dodger team sets from 1956 and 1957, where cards were first put in sleeves and top loaders before being glued into the frame.

Sometime about a month ago I got to thinking about how even though my main collecting interest is vintage cards the Dodger fan in me really needed a card display honoring the 1988 World Series team. Not being the 1910s or the 1950s I naturally had several choices for sets to draw from: Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Score at the very least, and plenty of others if I was okay focusing mainly on stars. Mix and match approaches were possible as well.

Ultimately I decided on 24 cards from the 1989 Topps set, complemented by four cards from the under-the-radar World Series subset unique to the O-Pee-Chee release.

Unfortunately, a funny thing happened to me when I bought my frame, carefully measured to ensure enough room for four rows of 28 cards. They didn’t fit, at least not with the top loaders on them. The best I could do was six rows of three and way too much white space to look good.

Then a strange and foreign thought crossed my mind. Did I even need the top loaders? Did I even need any protection for the cards at all? After all, we were talking about $6 maximum worth of cards. The obvious solution was simply to glue the cards in directly. Besides solving the sizing problem, there would also be less glare in avoiding extra layers of plastic between cardboard and eyeball.

There was only one problem.

I couldn’t do it!

“I will not fire on innocent people!”

I couldn’t destroy perfectly good baseball cards, no matter how worthless they were. I reached out to my fellow collectors online and realized I wasn’t alone. Yes, some collectors said, “do it!” but most offered suggestions for other methods that would keep the cards intact.

Ultimately I decided that I needed to do it. I needed to not be crazy about a $6 stack of cards. I needed to realize that gluing some cheap cards to a picture frame didn’t make me a bad person or bad collector.

I was that kid standing at the end of the diving board over a cold pool, one step from doing what needed to happen but unable to budge. And then I jumped. And not just any jump. I jumped the shark.

I headed to my magazine shelf and grabbed a Sports Illustrated issue I’d been saving in plastic for more than 30 years. My stomach turned. My throat was dry. I cut off the cover and glued it down.

The process was agonizing for me, but I really liked how the final product turned out. A funny thing that hit me when it was over was that the new design probably could have fit the top loaders after all. Still, less glare, so I’ll call it a win. And really, what did I lose besides a few dollars worth of cards and my baseball card collecting soul?

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

11 thoughts on “The tragedy of the commons”

  1. Maybe I’m missing something, but couldn’t you have put them in penny sleeves and glued those on? Looks great, though…


    1. Yes, that was suggested by some other guys too before I made up my mind. The more I thought about it though the more I wanted to NOT worry so much about a stack of cards worth so little.


  2. The struggle whether to devalue nearly worthless junk wax cards is simply transcendent for anyone who collects personally important tokens of devotion. I love the resulting display and its modern folk art ethos is resplendent, especially in that the team no longer featured Steve Garvey.


  3. Those displays both look great. Is the Brooklyn one homemade? I’d love to do something like that.

    I understand the hesitation to put glue to a card. It’s essentially the same “do no harm” mentality that is why I have box after box after box of duplicate commons. One of the things I hate the most is when someone younger than me says “I know you collect cards. Here is a shoebox-full I found a my parents house.” It has happened to me several times and inevitably it is a hodgepodge of late-80s or 90s cards that are probably worth $5 in total. And they just sit in my basement because (unlike almost anything besides sports memorabilia) I can’t bring myself to toss them.


  4. The Brooklyn one was made by David at Cigar Box Cards. He’s @CardsCigarbox on Twitter. You can also click the link in this post to see his collecting story and some of the other pieces he’s made.


  5. I guess all of us share your hesitation about the glue and frustration about a lack of proper display cases, but what you did does look really nice. Ultimately, having these cards on display and the pleasure you get from looking at them has to be worth it.


  6. Jason,

    Of course, I am horrified that glue was applied to cards, no matter that they were commons, but what’s done is done. I respect that you had to do some soul searching before applying the dip.

    Anyway, here are some unsolicited suggestions should the situation recur.

    1) Most home copiers have excellent scanner capabilities nowadays. I have scanned cards, put them safely away, and then used the scanned image for presentation purposes. The naked eye cannot tell the difference between a scanned card and the real thing.

    2) For actual cards I have successfully used photo mount vinyl corners which do not damage the cards at all.

    3) If one simply must glue, I have used several brands of sticky mounting putty in lieu of actual glue to apply blowups of cards to the wall. I have not used it on actual cards but see no reason why it would not work. It’s not as clean as vinyl corners but still lacks the permanence of glue. Scotch’s entry is simply called Removable Mounting Putty. UHU Tack is another brand.

    BTW, that Scioscia card is a real beauty.

    Have a great holiday season


    1. Am starting to think the 1989 Topps set is one of their best. The whole junk wax thing made me lose my appreciation for so many sets from the era, but the cards have aged well. I don’t love the All-Star design, which is why I pulled the Gibson/Hershiser AS cards at the last minute. Everything else though is really solid. Three other great looking cards here are the Mike Davis, Mike Marshall, and Alejandro Pena.


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