Ask the Archivist: Storing Baseball Memorabilia

By Denise Levenick Premium
“Batter up!” It’s a phrase that rings out in American parks and streets all summer long. If you’re like many baseball fans, you’ve probably spent sunny afternoons enjoying Little and Major League games. You may even have an old glove or a treasured autographed baseball tucked away somewhere. Don’t strike out when it comes to caring for sports collectibles; read on for home-run techniques to preserve your own baseball memorabilia.
Q. My dad has a shoebox full of autographed baseballs from the 1960s. Is there a better way to take care of them?
A. In her role as director of collections at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, Sue MacKay keeps watch over more than 7,000 vintage baseballs. “The Hall keeps its baseball collection in acid-free boxes, in a consistent temperature and humidity, away from any source of light,” she notes. Temperature fluctuations, humidity, light and acidic materials can irreversibly damage a baseball and, over time, cause a signature to fade. “You can’t prevent the fading process,” MacKay adds, “but you can slow it down.”
 Whether your souvenir ball commemorates your favorite Little Leaguer’s big game or a Major League World Series victory, preservation begins when you hand over the pen and ball to be signed. MacKay says acid-free pens, available at art supply and scrapbook stores, offer the best chance for the signature’s longevity.

You should move your dad’s autographed baseballs to a box made of acid-free, archival board—not plastic. Plastic can trap moisture and lead to mildew, while a board box is breathable, creating a better environment for the leather ball. Artifact boxes with dividers will accommodate multiple balls in one box while separating them to prevent friction.

Although it’s tempting to display signed baseballs and other sports memorabilia for visitors to enjoy, MacKay cautions against this. Most homes can’t provide the optimal environment needed for preservation. Instead, she says, “Store these pieces out of the light until they need to be viewed, and then return them to their storage areas.” Wear white cotton gloves if you need to handle the items to avoid transferring oils from your hands.

 Storing Baseball Memorabilia
• Put any type of memorabilia in acid-free archival board boxes of suitable size and shape. Try to minimize handling of items, and wearing white cotton gloves when you do.

• Cushion old leather baseball gloves with acid-free tissue, and place a ball of crushed tissue in the palm to support the fingers. MacKay cautions against applying oils or creams, which can clog the pores of the leather. The additive is pushed back to the surface of the glove, causing “spew,” which has a white, mold-like appearance. Seek the advice of a professional conservator for further care.

• Place baseball card collections in boxes or insert them into archival plastic sleeves filed in an acid-free binder. The plastic enclosures allow for easy viewing without damage to the cards.

• Though you may be tempted to polish an old wooden bat, avoid applying cleaners or other substances. Instead, wipe gently with a soft cloth. 

From the July/August 2014 Family Tree Magazine