The Big Sort (a Prequel)

As any collector knows, card sorting is a never ending process. During the Junk Wax era, I assumed that I could collect everything and it would always be that way...

By 1994 I had thousands of commons that I absolutely didn’t need or want. That Summer, tens of thousands of commons were given to the neighbor kids to do with as they pleased. As I've continued to collect, the cards would inevitably build up again as I had no real plan or focus to my collection. I had been just keeping everything, until I had to get rid of a bunch. Which I then I did...

I’ve gotten rid of hundreds of thousands of commons over the years. When I moved to Colorado in 1996, all of them eventually came with me. The sheer volume of cards continued to grow until I needed to move back to Minnesota in 2003. The Summer before I moved back, tens of thousands of cards hit the dumpster at my apartment. I didn't have the time, nor the energy, to find a good home for them. They went off to live at the landfill...

Upon moving back to Colorado in 2005, almost none of my cards came with me. That didn't happen until a year later, when I moved into my current apartment (in 2006). Then everything came out to Denver for me to sort out. In early 2007, I worked out a deal at my former local card shop. He knew a guy that was buying bulk commons, at a rate of $100 per 100,000 cards. Sounds like a deal to me!

As far as I know, this guy was taking the bulk commons he was buying, then repackaging them into blocks of 100 cards and selling them around small towns in Wyoming for $5/100. I was told he was making a killing doing this.... Over the next six months, I came up with over 120,000 cards to get rid of.

I used that $100 towards a $250 unopened box of 2006 Bowman Originals. I was really interested in taking one shot at the ultra-high end of collecting. Needless to say, it wasn't my neighborhood to even drive through... That box will be it's own story on here at some point.

When I made the decision to divest myself of multi-bulky Monster Boxes, unfortunately that included a lot of the commons for the three teams I decided to collect. At that time, I wasn't officially collecting them. To this day, a lot of commons I should have and did have are missing from my Twins, Expos and Rockies collections. I tried to be discerning when tossing commons back then, but once you get going, you paint with broad strokes.

After I dumped the 120,000 cards in 2007, I began the practice of simply tossing the cards I didn't want in the trash. I didn't have the room to keep thousands of commons anymore, so why bother keeping them? Without worrying about the bulk of thousands of commons, I began to work on sorting the stuff I wanted to keep...

When I returned to Colorado in 2005, my card buying shifted from unopened boxes to single cards and pre-1982 cards. The card market was shrinking in manufacturers, and I was finding a lot more satisfaction with stuff from the 1960's and 70's, than 2000's. Plus with all attention off that era, I could get those hot rookies I wanted in 1990 for a fraction of the cost today!

So... For the same price, I could get either two packs of Sweet Spot, or a Rickey rookie? 

Searching ebay, I started bidding on lots of 1970's cards because I didn't have that many of them. I was buying cheap singles for a fraction of book value, then buying lots of commons to discover fun cards from before I was looking for them.

In 2011, I decided to have a retro day in card geekdom. I bought a box of 1981 Donruss and a box of 1981 Fleer, then ripped them both in one afternoon. I'd hoped to come close to making complete sets from both boxes, but didn't come close to either. Damn if it wasn't fun! Which was exactly the point!

Until I started the final stage of The Big Sort in 2014, I swore by the law of "book value". Using that as a measuring stick as to how much I care about any given card.

"But Beckett says this Barry Bonds card is worth $3!" 

Ultimately, any given card is only worth what anyone will pay you for it. There are few Bonds cards on the market that I would pay $3 for. And I venture to say there aren't enough card collectors that disagree with me to truly establish his value as being anywhere near that high...

That's a vague, fictional scenario, not involving the above Barry Bonds card... Which is actually a card I really like...


The Album Wall
From 2005-2010, I made it a point to buy extra storage supplies with my cards. Boxes of album pages, multiple three-ring binders and dollars worth of penny sleeves. I decided that I wanted to display my cards in albums, instead of hidden away in boxes. Ironic that everything is hidden away by clutter on that shelf...

One bedroom apartment life... Feel the dream!

At the time I wasn't focused on collecting my three teams, and I still stored every card I kept in the following format: By year, then brand, then number, with added attention paid to book value. I didn't plan of keeping too many complete sets in albums. I had a grander plan for how I wanted my albums formatted. For significant and special sets only!

These are the complete sets that I keep in albums:

1975 Topps  - (missing 2 cards)
1976 SSPC  - (complete)
1978 TCMA Stars of the 1960's  - (complete)
1985 Topps  - (complete)
1989 Upper Deck  - (complete)
1991 Stadium Club  - (complete)
1992 Bowman  - (complete)
1993 Finest  - (complete)
1993 O Pee Chee  - (missing 4 cards)
1995 Bowman  - (complete)
1995 Bowman's Best   - (complete)
1997 Upper Deck  - (includes both mail-in sets, missing 1 common)
2002 UD Authentics - (missing a few cards)

The rest of my complete sets sit on top of the album shelf. I'm not going to list all of those kept up there, but the weight of them have already cased a crack in the plastic...

Looking at everything I had, I decided the albums should become a sort of encyclopedia of my collecting history. Every set for every year would have a certain number of pages. They wouldn't be filled with the most "valuable" according to "Beckett." They would be an accurate representation of each set, and how I collected it.

Using 1992 Fleer Ultra as an example, each page in the set would be a combination of the following:

Major stars
You have three Hall of Famers (Alomar, Maddux & Biggio) and one guy (Bonds) who should have been. Sure was a skinny little chap back in 1991 when this photo was taken....) These are players that got individual price listings in Beckett after the semi-star sub category was created. The major stars usually made the album cut, unless I don't like that card or player. Looking at you Clemens...

Beckett defined a group of players in the mid 1990's that were above commons, but not collected heavily enough to warrant an individual price listing. Which made sense... The sheer volume of sets on the market -even by the mid 1990's- took up so many pages, that you didn't need to list out 75 different cards that all book for 30 cents. Cuts down on a lot of space... Joe Carter and Curt Schilling are good representatives of Semi-Stars.

Inserts, Parallels, Game Used and Autographs
For each set, I would include a sampling of whatever insert cards could be found in packs. Unless they are of a higher end variety, those go into card guards or other storage methods, and are boxed separately. This page isn't a good example of that.

Players I Collect
This is a loose definition... Players I like is better... Outside of my three teams, I don't have a whole lot of players today that I chase. It was different in the junk wax era.... On this page, that player would be New York Mets relief pitcher Jeff Innis.

Cool Photos
This is also rather subjective and self explanatory... Common players on a photo I think is cool. If I like it, it goes in the album! Mackey Sasser? I like cards of catchers wearing the tools of ignorance. Tommy Greene? I like the outfield wall of Veteran's Stadium behind him.

And of course, some pages like this one have to be added to really pound home the tone of the times...

When first starting the big sort, I pulled out the valuable singles from the gigantic pile of possible album material, then placed that stuff in it's own storage boxes, separate from all the rest.

This box comprised small sets and singles with book value of between $8-$30. I'd planned on keeping these. (Aren't my custom "year" tabs made from old top loaders neat?) Anything with a book value of more than $30, went to a different storage location.

The biggest obstacle in sorting all these cards, was trying to find places to stash thousands of them as they were being sorted... Even now that I'm pretty close to done, I've still got far more cards sitting around than I want. It's hard to keep a massive collection going when you live with your significant other in a cramped one bedroom apartment...

Once I had finished putting the albums together (all 72 of them), I had this large stack of leftovers in my living room. This was everything not placed in pages, now sorted by teams. Up next was to decide from these seven boxes, what I wanted to keep, and want I wanted to get rid of. Bear in mind that most of this stuff isn't commons. This was stuff that I didn’t want to just dump in the trash, but I don’t necessarily want to keep it around either...

The singles I ended up keeping, all were slipped into penny sleeves and filed into different Monster Boxes. To separate the teams in these boxes, I used some compressed foam board and made a set of color coded team dividers. I based their design on how a regular vendor in the Minneapolis card show circuit during the Junk Wax Era, displayed his cards. And these were fun to make!

There! It almost looks like 1992 at the Earle Brown Center in Brooklyn Center!


Team Albums
The last part of The Big Sort was getting my team binders set up. I knew there would be a set for the Twins and a set for the Expos, but I hadn't decided on making any Rockies albums yet.

While putting these together, I noticed how incomplete my team sets are. I placed one of each card in pages, then sleeved the duplicates that I want to keep. Putting cards into the pages and liking how they all looked, I momentarily debated undoing all my recently put together albums and redoing them all by team... Yeah... No...

Happy with the end result of 7 albums of Twins cards and 5 albums of Expos cards, so I made custom binder tags for each. They sure look nicer than my piece-of-paper-taped-to-the-spine ID tags that I made for my sorted by year card binders. And I still have a bunch of empty pages left, so let's do the Rockies after all!

Yeah, they look good! But I didn't even fill three albums. I had tossed so many Rockies cards over the years, now I couldn't come close to even one team set after 1993... So there is some work to do here. I mean, how can I possibly remember all the terrible baseball I watched in the late 1990's with only two 1999 Neifi Perez cards?

For now, all three teams duplicates rest sleeved in these boxes, sorted by player or year. That may change once I refine my organization. Or I come up with some accurate want lists...

But there just isn't enough hours left in my day...

The Sell Boxes
After I pulled everything out that I wanted to keep from what remained of a 30 plus year collection, I still ended up with five Monster Boxes of cards... I want to either sell or trade all of this. These boxes contain cards from the 1970's through 2016. Most are star cards, semi-stars, rookies, chromes, inserts, parallels and other stuff that has moderate value (with a few commons here and there). It's not all $3 per card type value like a book says, but this is stuff people collect. All sorted into teams, with most of the Twins, Expos and Rockies removed.

The box on the bottom shelf, labelled "Commons 1973-1988" is one I plan on keeping.

Let me also make note of that sweet shelf those Monster Boxes are comfortably resting on. In 1998, I drew up some pans for a shelf on wheels, that would hold six Monster Boxes. My dad was a welder, and he put this together for me. It's stable, durable and is perfect for boxes this size and weight.

I wish I had another...

So if anyone reading this is looking for some low level stars and inserts, spanning the junk wax era through the last year or so, I've got a presorted bank of cards ready to go. I'm not opposed to trading from my sleeved "keep" boxes or albums if I've got something you are looking for.

I'm looking to add any and all Twins, Rockies or Expos cards that I don't have. But I'm not going to be helpful and provide a list of what I'm looking for right now... I will get to making one!


If you read my take on 2017 cards from my last post, I mentioned that it was part 2. Which would make this the prequel.... Both stories got way out of control long, so I had to split them into two separate stories.

My planned transition was going to be along the lines of:

Now that my collection was under control and manageable, would the new 2017 cards force a change to that plan? Because the new 2017's were going to be all so very awesome and innovative that I would forego eating in order to buy them all the time?

The answer is...

At least my bed is cleared off now...


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