Grading cards is big business. A person pulls a worthless Unlimited Edition Legendary Collection reprint of an old Legend of Blue-Eyes card. They love to head online and ask if they should get that bad boy graded. After all, maybe they’ll be able to sell it later and make money. Who needs to invest in stocks when you have trading cards? Cards probably won’t sell at those mark-ups, but they can dream. Grading companies will charge an arm and a leg to stick your precious cardboard in plastic slabs with ugly labels. They’ll come up with excuses like “centering” to justify giving a 7.5 on a perfectly mint condition card, keeping the amount of 10s low.
You won’t be able to remove your cards from these plastic steel traps. You'll helplessly watch the card shuffle around in there. It takes edge damage, rendering the arbitrary number it was given even less meaning. The plastic is placed over the cards using heavy machinery that vibrates at super fast speeds.
But did you know that these plastic prisons weren’t the first solution that these grading companies came up with? Turns out they had tried a few other card storage methods first. Then eventually settling on the unappealing bricks they use today. When they’re not grading fakes, they have a lot of time to think about where to put things.
1- Sticky Back Plastic
A classic crafting staple. Sticky Back Plastic envelops the content inside on all sides. This keeps them locked away in sticky backed preservation for all time. Sure, you can’t really take the card out of it after, but the graders don’t care about that anyway. However, as any arts and crafts dabbler may know, placing sticky back plastic over something is time consuming. You have to very carefully release the sticky film over the card, making sure to avoid any bubbles and creases. However, unless you have the skills of a master surgeon, those bubbles and creases are inevitable. You don’t get a do over. Taking the sticky off is likely going to pull the card apart, putting the grade in the minus numbers.
Then you have to cut down the sticky sheet with a scalpel or paper guillotine. Be careful you don’t cut it wrong. Because of all of this, the use of sticky back plastic was not sufficient to preserve these cards. Not worth the time or the hassle.
2- Encased in Amber
Perhaps we need a more retro way of keeping these cards safe for eternity. Simply encasing the cards in a sticky Amber resin that solidifies over the cards to protect them. Then millions of years later, scientists can extract the trading card DNA from inside like a mosquito. This leads to the creation of monstrous beasts. Imagine having some sort of park filled with Ultimate Conductor Tyrannos in real life. There’s no way that could go wrong.
After you wait for it to dry, the main issue here is that the shapes aren’t really practical for storage. It’ll be a big lump of solidified resin. This is even more unwieldy than the plastic slabs. Where are you going to put the label that tells you what unneeded number is assigned to it? In addition, you probably won’t be able to read the cards very well, with a big orangey tint covering it all up. It's also covered up by likely imperfections and bubbles in the resin too.
3- Under Pillow
A good place to keep something safe and secure is under your pillow. Just get the card and put it right near to where you head goes, so you’re always aware of where it is. However, the companies realised this wouldn’t be sustainable when cards started going missing. Turns out the tooth fairy was mistaking white-bordered cards like Synchro Monsters for really big teeth. A quarter would be left in return. That wasn’t nearly enough to get the margins these companies want. And what do you mean the tooth fairy isn’t real?! It’s real enough for the purposes of this bit.
Also, it turns out if you put a card under your pillow, you might end up squishing it with your head. How are they going to keep the cards in good condition with only the protection of a pillow?
4- Penny Sleeves
A cheap solution that was considered was just sticking them in soft sleeves, AKA penny sleeves. Why spring for the good stuff when you can just put them in the most basic storage available? That’ll free up loads of money up to fund their drug habits and whatnot. They could even shove their little gross labels inside of the sleeves with it. However, it maybe still has the problem of not really keeping cards particularly safe. It’s better than no sleeve at all. Though when someone nicks the edge of their favourite Super Rare from Circuit Break, perhaps it’s an insufficient protection method.
Maybe the greatest place to protect a card is put somewhere nobody would ever go. This would keep it absolutely pristine within the lands where no one wishes to tread upon. Thusly, the next place considered was just sticking the cards in Ohio. Nobody would want to go there. However, the graders realised the logical errors of this scenario. If they wanted to take cards to somewhere nobody would go, they would have to go to said place. Then if someone wanted to retrieve the cards to actually look at them, they would have to actually go there. The travel costs would be a complete waste of money. There would be absolutely nothing else to do there besides huffing fumes from errant mushroom clouds.
6- On Display in a Hidden Cellar
Okay, so the next idea is to put the cards in a location that is technically feasible to visit. However, still someplace mostly untouched that most would not consider going to. Thereby leaving the cards unblemished as long as possible.
They put the cards on display in a cellar. The lights are probably gone. It’s in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.
That’d keep the card protected. I think we’ve finally struck gold here. Although, come to think of it, maybe that’s still not enough. It won’t display the cards in a meaningful way for people to look at. A locked cabinet in a dark cellar isn’t see through like a plastic block. It also only has so much space available. Plus the potential leopard may scare away the customers, maybe even more than the grading prices. Debatable which is scarier.
7- Fire Alarm Switch
Perhaps it would be better to put it somewhere that’s properly on display where people can see. The companies were inching closer to the idea of a see through container at this point. However, instead of making new ones, they could put it inside of existing transparent things. Either behind glass or plastic, they could stick them inside a fire alarm switch. It’s already stuck to the wall too, which is easy to look at. Maybe there’s an axe or a flare gun inside of the case too. It says ‘Break in case of emergency’. Though that all might detract from the card too much. Then people are going to break them during the emergency, which could be dangerous. Broken only to find someone’s prized Dark Magician in the way of the switch. That isn’t helpful when trying to evacuate a building.
8- Screw-down Holder
Nahhhh, that’d be too reasonable. A case where you can actually take the cards in and out at your leisure. Holds the cards firmly and safely in place. Doesn’t look as aesthetically unappealing. That sounds way too logical for a grading company to consider sending cards in one of those. They want the card to be stuck in its location forever, like someone signing their life away. Normal collectors put their cards in Screw-down Holders, but graded cards aren’t for regular collectors. These are for the big speculators. They just know their Reserved List ‘Morinfens’ and sun-bleached ‘Master Kyonshees’ will be worth more than two bucks one day. If you suggest normal card storage methods, people might actually use their eyes to judge the worth of a card. Why do that instead of your unnecessary super electron microscope?
There was a recent discovery of a great location to store lots of trading cards. Put them in a landfill! Just put boxes upon boxes worth of your sweet cardboard crack in a bit of prime real estate. Plenty of people are now storing their Magic the Gathering 30th Anniversary official proxies right where they belong. Even those lucky enough to pull a copy of ‘Purelace’.
That said, anyone could probably waltz into the dump and take the cards with them, so it’s not exactly secure. Still, if it’s good enough for LGSes to store their cards here, it should be good enough for the grading companies. Getting your card graded; putting it in a landfill, about the same thing.
10- Hanging in the Louvre
Maybe the landfill is a little low rent? How about displaying your cards’ special 9.5 status in the most premium location imaginable. Hanging them in the most famous art museum. Right next to classics like the Mona Lisa and the original Yugioh manga. It may be hard to read the card with the velvet rope stopping you from getting close enough. But the grade number is in a large font and that’s all that matters anyway. It’s about that value, not the love of trading cards. Unfortunately, your cards are now at the mercy of environmental ‘activists’. They definitely aren’t some sort of psi-ops. Throwing poop or something at them, to make a gesture that in no way actually helps any good causes. Also, there’s also only so much space available to hang these cards. It probably costs a lot too, so it’s not an effective long term solution there either.
As you can see, there have been plenty of good ideas fielded as possible places to store a graded card. Solutions that keep the card in a perfectly presentable pristine position. There have been a number of pros and cons to these ideas, from being too secure, to not secure enough. The landfill idea was pretty close to perfection. However, in the end, they decided to use plastic slabs to store cards. Was that a better idea than some of the other ones that they came up with? You be the judge of that.
In the end, most cards aren’t really worth getting graded. Cards from over twenty or so years ago were from a time where people didn’t really take as good care of them. It was special when one showed up in great condition. But anything after 2007 is going to exist in great quantities of well maintained ones. Therefore, their value for a 9 or 10 isn’t really going to go up long term as an investment. When considering if it’s worth sending something in, know that if you have to ask, the answer is probably no.
For the ones that do get graded, we get to see unsold slabs littering eBay listed for absurd mark-ups. Sellers refuse to lower prices of their cards to reasonable levels, thinking the grade makes it worth much more. Meanwhile people are buying cards not locked away in these not-so-gilded cages. Maybe the companies should revisit that pillow idea?