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Do Screwdown Holders Damage Cards?

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If you started collecting in the 80s, you might have kept some of your prized sports cards encased in what is commonly known as a screw-down holder. 

When protecting your cards started becoming paramount in the ’80s, the screw-down holder was viewed as the premier way to encase your card. 

What better way to keep your card safe than holding it together with a big, gigantic piece of plastic with four tight screws.  

Although it used to be the preferred way of protecting valuable cards, screwdown holders can cause significant damage to sports cards. 

The pressure applied from tightening the screws can flatten the card over time. 

Grading companies often reject any card previously stored in a screw-down holder, returning it as ‘Altered’ due to the damage to the card. 

If you have cards that are still stored in screwdown holders, the best recommendation would be to immediately remove them from the case.  

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Let’s review some more information as to why the screwdown holders are bad news for your cards.

Why Is A Screwdown Holder Bad For Cards?

The most optimal card storage allows for a card to have room to ‘breathe’ with at a minimum some space between the card itself, and the protective holder.  You do not want anything touching the surface of your card. 

This is why all of the card grading companies use a recessed holder of sorts, with space for the card to sit, with little movement so not to actually put pressure on the card.

Amazingly, Ultra Pro still sells the non-recessed screwdown holders

A screwdown holder puts immense pressure on the card itself, which is the exact thing to avoid when storing sports cards.  

While a screwdown holder might not have significant impact over a shorter period of time; as years go on, the higher the probability that the holder has caused irreversible damage. This can include flattening the card, or even removing some of the surface materials from a card.

I will note that there are what are called ‘recessed’ screwdown holders.  I wouldn’t recommend using these today, but if you have your cards stored in these, there is a lower probability for damage, since the cards are not directly pressured in these recessed cases. 

We don’t really recommend these, but they are much safer than any non-recessed screwdown holder

Will The Grading Companies Still Grade A Card That Was Held In a Screwdown Holder?

I’ve had direct experience in sending cards to PSA that were held in a screwdown holder that were returned as ‘N5-Altered Stock’.  This is PSA’s description of what this means:

N-5 Altered Stock – This includes, but is not limited to characteristics on the card that appear to show some form of alteration such as paper restoration, crease/wrinkle pressing or enhanced gloss.

A Jordan rookie which was returned as N-5 Altered Stock. Also note the whitening on the corners which is very common damage from screwdown holders.

When you send off a card to PSA, they have no knowledge that a card has been stored in a screwdown holder.  However, as we’ve mentioned, the screwdown can cause a card to flatten out, making it appear as if someone actually tried to iron out the card.  Note that card ironing or flattening can often be done in an attempt to remove creases. 

As this blog post from PSA notes, this ‘pancaking’ of the card can actually make it appear larger than a normal card.  In addition, the same aforementioned post also notes sometimes a ‘card’s corners are “super shiny” which is an indication that the card was placed in a screwdown holder for an extended period of time and tightened too much.”  

I’ve also seen instances where cards with colored borders actually lose some of the color and start to whiten, as the screwdown holder has pulled off some ink when the card was removed from the holder.

gretzky-screwdown-damage

A Gretzky rookie card in a screwdown holder which is showing signs of corner damage due to excess pressure.

Is There A Grading Company Which Is More Lenient To Cards Stored In Screwdown Holders?

I’ve already discussed how PSA will often return cards damaged from a screwdown holder as ‘N-5 Altered Stock’.  What about the other graders?  Are they more lenient in terms of providing an actual grade?

From my experience, both SGC and Beckett (BGS) tend to be more lenient in terms of cards that have been stored in screwdown holders.  Here’s a forum post in several collectors are discussing this very fact – notably that a card that was previously graded a BVG 6.5 sent to PSA received an ‘N5-Altered Stock’,  and in turn the collector sent it in to SGC and the card received an actual numerical grade.

Thus, the conclusion, at least based on my research is that either SGC or BGS would be the preferred grader in the case you might have concerns about screwdown damage. 

Have experience submitting cards held in screwdowns to SGC or Beckett?  

Let me know your experience below or shoot us as an email at help@allvintagecards.com

jordan-screwdown

A Jordan rookie card sealed tight in a screwdown holder. Hard to tell the damage here until the card is released from the pressure of the holder.

What Can I Do If My Cards Were Stored In Screw Down Holders?

Unfortunately, not much.  First, I would remove the card, however there is no proof that any damage from a screwdown holder is reversible.

It would make sense to take some measurements and compare it to a card from the same set to see if it did indeed get flattened.  Examine the corners and the edges to see if the card has any imprints or ink loss from the screwdown holder. 

If Not Screwdowns, How Should I Store My Cards?

Put the card in a penny sleeve and either a top loader or a semi rigid holder –either a Card Saver or an Ultra Pro Grading Submission semi-rigid holder.  

From our ‘Packaging and Shipping Your Cards Safely’ guide

Penny Sleeves – the most commonly used card supply as a first line of defense for protecting your card from any damage.  I wholeheartedly recommend slicing a small portion of one corner of the penny sleeve, so that the card easily slides in.

Top Loaders or Card Saver 1’s – Once a card is inside a penny sleeve, you need to add another layer of protection.  This is commonly done with either ‘top-loaders’ or ‘Card Saver 1’s’.   Again, due to a surge in demand throughout the hobby, pricing on both of these has gone through the roof, due to a lack of supply.  Thus, it will be hard to find either one for prices from over a year ago, but if you spend enough time searching, you should be able to find what you need for a reasonable price.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Chris, thanks for this insight.

    I have a couple of questions.

    Are there screw downs or magnetic cases that are recessed that will contain a card in a penny sleeve? If so, would that be ideal? They look so much nicer for display purposes. However, protecting the card is top priority, of course.

    If displaying a card in a penny sleeve AND top loader is there a legitimate concern about dust etc since it’s not sealed at the top, while being displayed?

    Thanks so much for your help!

    1. Hey Scott the reecessed holders are definitely safer than the old school slabs of two pieces of plastic with metal screws.

      A lot of people use the one touch magnetic holders as well, which are probably a better option and would help with your concerns about protecting from dust etc.

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