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Mind explosion: a different way to sort

This may have been one of the most tedious blog posts to put together in the history of this blog, but I think it's for a good cause.

The reason I'm not entirely sure is because I didn't have time to carry it out for a few more attempts, got to shovel that 7 inches of heavy wet snow plopped on my estate on Nov. 12th.

Anyway, a couple of days ago, Colbey from Cardboard Collections was sorting his Topps Holiday set by card number and asked a very common question that I've seen come up many times during my blogging career:

 This is always a satisfying question because this is how I organize my sets when I'm organizing by card number. At the top of the post I showed cards from the 2019 Topps flagship set being sorted in that manner -- stacks separated by hundreds first, then you create separate stacks by 10s within each hundreds stack, then finally order each of the 10s by card number.

I've done this since I was a kid and first knew the card numbers on the back meant something.

It's also a satisfying question because it seems like just about every set-collector does it this way. We're like a fraternity. Every time the question is asked almost unanimously collectors come back with "is there any other way?," inferring that there isn't.

So I was happy that I was doing things correctly for once, but then it started to bother me a little. Shouldn't there be another way to organize? Maybe something slightly more efficient? We've been doing this a long time. Somebody must've come up with something different?

So I said:

Typo aside, I was really curious.

And I received what I wanted: there in fact is another way to organize your sets by card number. And that other way -- allegedly -- is much quicker. That's what I was told anyway.

So I decided to try that new way and test it against the way I've done it for decades and see what was faster.

The new way to sort by card number basically takes the old way and turns it on its head.

Instead of beginning the sort by 100s -- in other words, the first digit in the card number -- you start by sorting by the last digit in the card number.

That is what I have from the second series of 2019 Topps flagship sorted by the last digit. You can click on the image for a better view.

The top left stack is cards ending in the "0" digit, the stack second from the left at the top is cards ending in the "1" digit and so on across the top row. The bottom row begins with cards ending in the "5" digit at the bottom left and then "6" cards in the second stack in that row, then "7" cards and so on.

You then stack all of the cards from right to left (in the direction of the arrow). So the stack with the card numbers ending in "9" goes on top of the stack with the card numbers ending in "8," which goes on top of the stack with the card numbers ending in "7" and so on in reverse order until you get to the "0" stack.

So you have one stack of cards again, with the cards ending in "9" at the very top, and this is where you begin the second part of the sort.

This time you are sorting the cards by the middle digit and you build 10 stacks just like you did the first time with the top left stack containing cards in which the middle digit is "0" (cards with just one digit, like 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., go in this stack, too). The stack immediately to the left of the "0" stack is cards with the middle digit of "1," and so on until the final stack at the bottom right, which is cards with "9" as the middle digit.

Once you have all the cards in their respective stacks again, this time you stack them all up from left to right (follow that arrow). So the "0" stack goes on top of the "1" stack, which goes on top of the "2" stack, which goes on top of the "3" stack and so on until the "9" stack. So you should finish with a single stack with the cards with "0" in the middle digit at the top.

OK, now it's time for the last sort, which is sorting by the first digit (you will notice that this how you begin a sort the old way that I've done for years).

Once you begin this segment of the sort, you will notice immediately the card numbers falling into line. The first cards put down are 400 or 500 or 600, followed by 401 or 501 or 601 and so on according to which cards you have in the set. This part of the sort is quite satisfying as you can see the numbers coming together in order almost as if by magic.

And that's the end of the sort.

So, that new way sounded like a lot for me to take in -- you know I've been doing the hundreds, tens, way for years and my brain doesn't retain new knowledge like it once did.

But I figured the ultimate test would be to time myself sorting the cards by each method.

I tried the new method first:

18 minutes, 41.43 seconds.

OK, I have nothing to measure that against. I've never timed myself sorting by card number ever.

So, then I prepared to sort the same cards the old way. This is the tedious part because you have to take all of the cards you just organized by card number and scatter them so they're not organized anymore. And you really have to make sure because if you're casual about it, you'll go to sort and bunch of the cards will be sorted by number still.

So after that was all done, then I went about sorting the old way, hundreds first, then 10s, then sorting by last digit.

My time:

OK, well that was quicker than the new way wasn't it?

But I didn't immediately dismiss the new way. Obviously, I was sorting the new way for the first time in my life and it was rather unfamiliar to me. A proponent of the new way assured me that once you get used to it, it will go a lot faster.

So I decided to try it again.

After a good night of sleep I sorted the same 2019 Series 2 cards the new way again. I finished in a time of:

OK, 16:13.31. That was quite a bit quicker than the first time. Improvement already!

Now sorting the old way (but first the tedious resort to get the cards out of order again).

I finished that up and looked at the time:

Holy crap. The old way this time was 20 seconds slower than the new way!!!


I will have to try it a few more times just to see if it is really quicker and also to see if I make up enough time to compensate for my brain whining because we're doing things a new way.

One thing I noticed about the old way as opposed to the new way is you see the fronts of the cards a lot more than the new way. That's probably an indication right there that it's not as efficient, but it is nice to get a break from the backs from time to time.

But if the new way becomes repeatedly quicker and my main method, then that is key because I have a stack of 1982 Fleer and 1991 Score sitting on a card table just waiting to be sorted so I can eventually put them in binders.

Those of you still attempting to complete the 2019 set -- or any set really -- maybe give it a whirl and see how quickly you get to the point where ...

... Ronald Acuna Jr., Card No. 1 is on the top ...

... and Alex Bregman, Card No. 700, is on the bottom.

(Note: Sorting like this is best told through video so those who are still confused might want to check this out. A couple of proponents of this "new" way linked to it. Also, Beckett apparently wrote about this new way years ago, which I'm sure they did because I always discover things like a decade late).


  1. I do it the"old way". I too damn stubborn to worry about another way to save seconds. Again, like you I'm pretty quick. and just to throw a kink in it...(the new way). I like my card backs showing with the lowest number first (which is actually on the bottom). At least until I put them in a binder.

  2. I'm thankful that I'm not a set collector.

  3. I do it differently still. I clear enough space, and then I set up columns. Cards 1-9 in the top left stack, cards 10-19 in the second stack, and so on. Next row down cards 100-109 go below 1-9, 110-119 go below 10-19, and repeats as needed. I've found over the years that sets larger than 400 cards tires my arms out too much, so I split it and do it in two waves.

    I also sort years that way if it's just a small number of cards. 1990 in leftmost column, 1991 next, etc. 1980 above 1990, 2000 below, etc. When I'm doing a full collection sort... something I've not done since 2004...I can't do it that way because I have too many cards. For that I clean my floor and sort them there, knowing generally what years are larger and preparing accordingly.

    I don't think I've ever photographed a sort in that format. It's been a long time since I had my sets in order. But it's the only way I've ever done it and ever plan to do it, as it's a system that has worked very well for me since the early 90s. Before then my brother sorted them for me. I probably got the concept from him.

  4. 9' 9-pocket pages...after 100's, I organize by 9's. I take a 9-pocket page and go from left to right and bottom to top with 10-20-30, 40-50-60, and 70-80-90. So where's the first 9? Bottom left off the imaginary page. It's kind of like a number keypad.

  5. Mind officially blown. Fits right in with my OCD series.

    Though this confirms the necessity (at least for us over 30ish) that card numbers need to be at least as big as the last few flagship sets if not bigger.

  6. I too have/had been using the "old" method, since my early childhood/collecting days. Never once thought there was a more efficient way to do it. I first heard/saw this method discussed on TCDB or another card forum a few months back. It was confusing as hell to me at first, because the forum didn't have a visual, but they did have a link or two to other discussions that went into detail or a blog post that described the method. It took me a few months to even think about trying it. When I did try it as I saw the card numbers falling into place it blew my mind. There were a couple of cards that were misplaced by a sorting error (usually mild dyslexia kicking in), but the rest were in numerical order. Using the "old" method you go though the individual stacks (100s, 10s, 1s) more often about 10 times each stack, this "new" method you only sort things once.

  7. I've used the "old" way ever since I started sorting my extras by card number. It just kinda came naturally to me -- I honestly didn't even know other people did it that way until the recent Twitter chatter. It's good to know the "new" method might be faster, but I don't think I could ever change over to it just because the first way is so embedded in my sorting habits.

    1. Love that you tested this out and wowwed that the new way was faster the second time around. But, like Nick, I'm sticking with the old way for the exact same reasons.

  8. I appreciate that there are other ways out there to sort... or in this case one that seems to be slightly faster. However... I'm at that phase in my life where I'm pretty set in my way and don't have the desire to practice it. Although I gotta admit, it was pretty impressive that you nailed down the new way pretty quickly.

  9. I sort cards the old way as well, not even thinking of other ways. Perhaps I'll give this method a shot whenever I get a chance to file away my 2019 cards.

  10. I did 1990 Bowman the "new way" today. This is how BaseballCardPedia suggests doing it, and I've used it for a long time. I always get a little tripped up by which way the "arrow" needs to go.

    I didn't time myself, but I did get it done before the Broncos lost.

  11. First chance I had to try this. I will admit it's pretty cool to have all the cards fall into order at the last sort, but the sort of the middle number required a bit too much thinking. I am a wiz at math and it just required a too much braining to comprehend that middle number.

  12. I sort cards by team.

    If the post office sorted mail by the last digit of the zip code instead of the first, it would be a nightmare. I'm trying to equate that to your situation, but then, your cards aren't going any further than your house.


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