Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The hierarchy

I don't think that I am very good at organizing my cards. I'm actually probably better at it than some people and worse than others. But when I evaluate my skills in this area, I keep coming up with the conclusion that I suck.

Here is why:

My organizing goes back to the days when I collected all by myself. There was no want list on my blog. There was no blog. There wasn't a network of collectors with whom to trade. I didn't know I could do that. There was no interaction at all.

It was just me, by myself, surrounded by people who looked at my hobby strangely, organizing cards in a way that made sense ... to me.

Although many things about my collecting habits have changed since I started this blog, my organizing has remained the same. It's a hierarchy system that rewards staying power and tradition. Alphabetical order is employed, periodically, but not nearly as often as it should. In fact, my organizing can be so random that it varies from year to year, and confuses me on an almost daily basis.

For my Dodger binders, the cards are organized by year, and then by set, and then in alphabetical order. The year and the alphabetical order part is very straightforward. The set part is not. Here is how it goes:


Topps is and always will be king from my collecting standpoint. I grew up in the era of Topps domination. Topps was a dictator, but a benevolent one who supplied us with neat-o cardboard pictures of ballplayers and an infinite supply of pink, brittle gum.

If you look at my want list, Topps is listed first. I know I should organize the thing in alphabetical order for easier reference. But that would mean Topps would be listed near the bottom with Toys R' Us cards and Tombstone Pizza issues. Topps is better than that.

Topps has issued more iconic cards and produced more fascinating cardboard stories than all other card companies combined. Topps must be listed first to keep the cosmic cardboard order.


I place my Bowman cards after my Topps cards because of Bowman's connection to Topps. Bowman wasn't always owned by Topps, so there are some years in the early '90s -- I'm fuzzy on when Topps and Bowman became one -- where my Bowman cards do not come after Topps and are lumped near the back with sets like Kellogg's and O-Pee-Chee.

It's arbitrary stuff like this, which only makes sense in my brain, that would drive potential traders crazy if they were looking to see what I need. Fortunately, my want list on the blog is in alphabetical order (except for Topps). I don't think others should have to resort to taking a twisted tour through my brain.


Fleer comes next because even when I was collecting cards as a kid and there was nothing but Topps, Kellogg's and Hostess, there was always Fleer hovering in the background. I knew vaguely about Fleer's sets in the early '60s, and there were those Fleer stickers floating around that I'd never see except in hobby catalogs.

But when Fleer came out with a national set in 1981, along with Donruss, I instantly placed the Fleer cards behind Topps as No. 2, even though Donruss comes ahead of Fleer alphabetically. I just couldn't put a company that I never heard of -- Donruss -- ahead of Fleer. Especially when I saw what kind of material Donruss issued their cards on that year. Even today, when I file new cards on my spreadsheet, Fleer is always listed ahead of Donruss. I just pray that the Card Collecting Auditors never come calling. I'll be in deep trouble.


For a long time -- seven years is a long time when you're a teenager -- there was only the Big Three in collecting. Topps. Fleer. Donruss. They must be ordered as such. Oddball issues need not apply.

Because of the crazy '90s and early 2000s, when each company issued 96 sets apiece, I've had to accommodate all the various brands. So Donruss-y type cards like Studio and Playoff, follow the main Donruss issues in my organizing system. And don't bore me with legalese on who bought out which company and that Playoff was really owned by Pinnacle or AT&T or United Airlines or whatever. I don't care. It's confusing enough as it is. I'm just trying to organize my collection FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!

After those brands comes Leaf. Because Leaf is the Canadian Donruss. Or Donruss is the American Leaf. I just know they're related somehow. Which means they shouldn't marry.


Score is listed next because it was the next card company to come along and issue a big, national set. I was pretty much out of the collecting loop when Score arrived, but I collected enough of it in 1991 to appreciate its effort and slide it in behind Donruss.


I suppose there are some younger collectors that would list Upper Deck cards first. But to me, it's a natural to put Upper Deck in this position. It arrived after Topps, Fleer, Donruss and Score and it starts with a "U," which is way down in the alphabet.

I know I already made an exception for Topps and "T." But Topps is Topps. Upper Deck is disgraced and putting out cards of college crew teams, or whatever they're doing today. They're lucky they're listed No. 6.

After Upper Deck comes Collector's Choice and all those various SP issues. I know that SP wants to be listed separately from Upper Deck, but I think that's very presumptuous of them and that other listings that do that are weenies. (Yikes, I think I just called Bob Lemke a weenie!). SP is Upper Deck no matter what anyone says.

The same goes for all those other "premium sets." Stadium Club goes with Topps. Ultra goes with Fleer. Select goes with Score. Aficianado and Zenith go with Pinnacle. Don't try to disguise yourself. Be proud of where you came from!


This is the point in my collecting hierarchy where I pay tribute to two companies that managed to last most of the 1990s. When you look at all the companies that have come and gone, Pacific did pretty well to last 10 years or however long it did. But I have to say I don't think I was impressed with a single set it made.


This is one of the few areas in the hierarchy where I recognize alphabetical order. I prefer Pinnacle cards to Pacific any day of the week. But Pacific comes before Pinnacle alphabetically, so Pinnacle follows Pacific. They're practically the same company to me anyway. They each showed up during a dead collecting period for me, each had an addiction to gold, and each lasted about the same period of time (I think).


These vary depending on what period we're covering. The 1970s had Kellogg's, O-Pee-Chee and Hostess. The early '80s had Drake's and Ralston Purina. The late '80s had Sportflics, Classic and Bazooka.

The '90s had -- good god -- Star, Line Drive, Denny's, Action Packed, Conlon, Ted Williams, Metal, Circa, Emotion and a whole bunch that I left out.

I try to put these in alphabetical order depending on what was out each year. It's a challenge.


Most of these cards are arranged haphazardly, because I think it fits the genre. And I get lazy by the time I get to these cards.

I realize things would be much easier if I just alphabetized every last card. But it's too late for that, and I have too many cards. I can't go back now.

Not unless you want to pay the rent for my padded room.


  1. All Bowman cards released from 1989 to present were created by Topps. This is because they've owned the Bowman brand since 1956.

    Even though they don't specifically call out this relationship during the brand's initial re-release in 1989, I'd note that on the back of the 1989 Bowman Baseball's Sweepstakes Entry Inserts (which feature Bowman Reprints on the front) you'll see that they mention that Topps employees and their families are exempt from winning.

  2. I remember coming up with a similar hierarchy when I was a younger collector, which I kept until my departure from the hobby until 1998.

    Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Leaf, Bowman, Stadium Club, Ultra, Studio. It's almost in order of seniority. I think it originally developed from that order - Bowman got the shaft because I dismissed it as garbage for the first couple years of its existence. Once all those crazy releases started coming out after 1992, my phone number-style 10-set list order didn't work, so I think I grouped by manufacturer after the first seven or so.

  3. This is very enlightening since I'm working diligently on my Rangers collection and as of now there aren't any binders in play.

  4. It's way more organized that what I have. Mine is a mess and I feel like it has no rhyme or reason. But, I do know where everything is, so I guess ti subconsciously makes sense to me.

  5. I have the whole collection in a database application I wrote. All cards are in 800 count boxes, sorted by maker, year and set. Boxes are marked with sharpies on the ends and stacked in the closet and I can easily find any of them and pull one out, sit on the couch and enjoy.
    I have 3 picture frames on the walls of my den that hold 20 cards each, I rotate those out every so often and put up some new cards to look at. Usually it's Angels or Dodgers up there.
    I have way too many cards to put in binders, and honestly, I just don't like binders or those 9-slot plastic pages enough to bother with them anyway. I like touching the cards and smelling them... seeing if any of that bubble gum smell is still there. I like the feel of the cardboard and I especially like the cards that got stuck on the back of a pack and have the wax glued on there!

    With my database handy, I can find any card in the collection in about 2-3 minutes.

  6. This is spooky. I do almost exactly the same thing, except for two changes. I put UD ahead of Score, and I have Pinnacle follow Score (just as Stadium Club follows Topps), as those are actually from the same company.

  7. My Redskins collection (beyond 1989) is stored in those old vinyl 30 slot locker cases. They are in more of an alphabetical order, but company affiliations come into play.
    Donruss and Leaf,
    Fleer (Authentix thru Tradition), and Skybox and Ultra (most of the time).
    Sage (often in with PPass)
    SP and SPx
    Topps and Finest and Stadium Club
    Upper Deck and Collector's Choice
    (Wild Card)

    Haven't had to deal with Panini yet. Need another case first.

  8. I don't know what you're talking about. That sounds like the correct order to me.

  9. As far as my Tribe cards, they are all in binders. Thome has two binders all to himself. Topps has three binders, soon four as they aretoocrowded.The rest are all sorted alphabetically by year,card brand and player name.1922-87 in one binder, two years per binder up to 1997 and individual binders per year after that.
    The rest of my cards are a huge mess ! That's part of my winter project.