Saturday, November 25, 2017

Cardboard OCD Chapter 3: Sorting sets

The biggest volume of my collection is complete sets, or those I'm striving to complete.  The typical pattern is to get a starter lot of some size, then add singles via retail or trade, and then buy or trade for the last few.  If the initial chunk is retail packs or hobby boxes, there's some significant sorting involved.

After you bust all the packs, or remove the mail packaging from your starter lot box, you then have to decide how you're going to sort the set, by teams, number, or another order.  And you have to pick whether it will go in a binder and sheets or in a white box.

For the first several sets I built, I would generally sort them into teams.  I liked the continuity of the team colors (when the designs differentiated the teams) and liked to see all the players together.  As time goes on, I find I'm more inclined to put sets in numerical order since it's easier to track what I'm missing.  Otherwise, you have to do some very disciplined documentation on paper to keep from forgetting that cup-of-coffee guy from the Padres, or the special combo card.  The sets of the 70's had team checklist cards that made team sorting easier and trackable, but then you had to figure out the extra stuff on your own, by either reproducing the numeric checklist cards, or (Heaven forbid!) actually marking them off.

One company made it easier to incorporate both methods - Fleer.  They produced their sets already in order by team.  All of the cards for one team were consecutively numbered.  I still refer to this as "Fleer numbering".

To begin, you have to have a sorting area.  Whether it be a desk, bed, or open space on the floor.  I am lucky enough to have a full size desk designated for sorting and putting away cards.  I keep an old towel on the surface of the desk.  This is not primarily to protect the surface, but to make it easier to pick up cards from the otherwise slick wood finish.  You don't want to put nicks or scratches in cards by clawing them off the table by their edges or scuff the faces by sliding them off the edge all the time.

So where do you start?  You've opened the packs or the starter box, and have a big stack of mixed up cards.  What's your favorite method for getting them into order?

I've seen other collectors sift through and pull out each card in order, one by one.  I prefer a more layered method.

I took some pictures while I was sorting my 2017 Topps Update boxes.  There are only 300 cards in the base set, so this is a good choice to break down the techniques with.

I open all the packs and separate the base cards from the inserts and other stuff.  Then set the inserts etc. aside.

So I will start by sorting them into piles of "100's".  1 through 99 (the "tens"), then the 100's, and 200's.  It takes some decent table space to sift out more than three large piles if you've got a bigger set to do.  Sometimes I will recognize runs of duplicates as I open packs.  I find it's less of a pain to just throw 'em all in together and sort out the dupes then go by intuition and leave out the ones I think I've seen already.  Inevitably, there are one or two singles that get swept in with a run like that and end up on the want list until you sort back through the dupes pile.

Here's a brief video of me at this stage with 2017-18 OPC hockey.  Was just trying to see if I could get a good rhythm going and sort really fast.  Never quite get it cranked up in this one though.  Are you slower or faster than this?

So after all the "100's" piles are done, set them aside and then start on the next level.  Take the 1-99 pile and sort into single digits, 10s, 20s, 30s, etc.  I lay them out as one row at the edge of the desk.

Constructive OCD Tip - I put the "50's" pile a little higher than the rest of the row in order to break it up and give me a visual marker.

This way, I can locate half the stacks merely by their location relative to the whole row.  Of course, the "1's" stack is the first one, the "50's" stack is raised in the middle, and the "90's" stack is the last one.  But further than that, the "40's" is the last one before the raised stack, and the "60's" is the one right after.  It takes a lot more to explain it than to use it while you're sorting.  Instead of counting out "Ones, tens, twenties, thirties, forties,..." for a card numbering x4x, you just think, "one before the raised stack." and plop it down.  The gist of it is that you're never thinking about more than a couple stacks at a time when determining where a given card goes.  It's all about efficiency and speed.  I actually like sorting.  It's fun.  But some people don't enjoy it like that, so the quicker they can get through it, the quicker they can enjoy the other facets of the hobby.  Like hunting for more!

Further, I find the rest of the stacks by thinking of where they are as well.  "20's" are in the middle of the "1's" thru "40's" run, "70's" are the second past the raised "50's" and so forth. 

So I go through and sort out the whole big stack that I made before.

Next, pick up each stack and put them in order.  If you can't hold them all at once, then move the piles aside (stacking them on each other at 90° rotations), and then you can lay them out like you did with the last step.

I put 'em all in order, even the dupes.

Then, when you run into dupes, if you have an older set, you may have to choose which one is cut better, or came out undinged, etc.

Write down the ones that are missing and then start your set pile in one spot and your dupes in another.  Be careful not to cross the stacks and put a clump of dupes in the middle of your set.

You can either start at card #1 and work down or start at the end and work backwards.  The difference is whether the set pile is face down or face up. 

Dupes and set pile (from OPC hockey)

Keep going for each 100's pile until you've gone all the way through.  Then you can post your want list and put the cards in whatever storage medium you select.  Those stages are for the next OCD posts....Happy sorting!


  1. I think most collectors sort the 100s, 10s way. I just posted a picture of me sorting 1988 Fleer that way on Twitter and the likes went through the roof.

    I don't line my "10s" up in a line though. I do two rows, 10s through 40s on top and 50s through 90s below.

    1. I do two rows too. This post was kind of out of the twilight zone for me, as I just sorted my 2017 Topps baseball set like this TODAY.

  2. That's a good tip about sticking out the 50s for quicker recognition. I'll have to remember that.

  3. I miss "Fleer" numbering. It made sorting easier... and the team is together in the binder. As for sorting... I sort by 100's... then by 10's, but instead of one long row, I do two.

  4. I do mine in more of a grid layout - like a calculator.

  5. I've never done this, but I think I'm going to get some of my 80s cards (that I bought back in the day from wax, cello, and rack packs) into sets. I was thinking I would do the initial sort into groups of 50 (1-50, 51-100, etc...), then sort each of those groups of 50 into its low half and high half, and then put each group of 25 in order.