Preserving Our National Pastime

Written by Sarah Calise, graduate assistant

If you have taken a stroll down Faulkinberry Drive recently, you may have heard the crack of a bat and the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” College baseball is in full-swing with the Blue Raiders leading the Conference-USA standings, while Major League Baseball recently celebrated its Opening Day on April 5th. No matter the season, however, baseball always exists at the Albert Gore Research Center.

Baseball has close ties with collecting–collecting cards, balls, bats, hats, jerseys, and more. Fans, young and old, anticipate the moment when they can meet their  heroes and get autographs. The autographed item becomes the keepsake for that memory, that moment in time. Today’s blog will discuss the various ways that the AGRC preserves and houses autographed baseballs and bats.

Autographed baseballs from the Sports Hall of Fame Collection in the Albert Gore Research Center.

 

The Signature
The most concerning conservation problem with autographed balls and bats is obviously the deterioration or fading of the ink. For future autograph seekers, using a marker (like Sharpie) for autographed balls is NOT suggested. A ballpoint pen is preferred because the color will not run, smear, or fade as much as a marker. Some people think using shellac will help preserve the ink, but it can actually be very damaging to the ball and will cause cracking. With bats, ballpoint pens will not be effective, so markers are really the only option. Luckily, autographs on bats have fewer conservation issues than baseballs, and are more likely to maintain original form. Once autographed, avoid touching the balls and bats with bare hands. Instead, use latex gloves that will prevent the oils from your hands from transferring to the object.

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Housing & Display
It is important to protect autographed items from UV rays and prolonged light exposure, which can cause the ink and the ball to fade. Try to purchase a case with UV protective covering. Warning: these cases can run more on the expensive side. Companies like Team Logo Cases sell single ball cases with UV protection for roughly 50 dollars. Baseball bat cases will cost in the hundreds of dollars range. For cheaper home displays, keep them away from natural light and spotlights. Use indirect lighting, instead. Temperature and humidity levels are also key. If possible, it is best to keep baseballs in a temperature range from 65 to 70 degrees with humidity of about 50%. For your home, room temperature will work fine.

If the autographed balls and bats are not on display, then place them in acid-free boxes covered from any light. At the Albert Gore Research Center, we house multiple balls in acid-free boxes in separated holders, and our baseball bats are housed in acid-free boxes with polyethylene foam cradles to prevent the bat from rolling around inside the box (see above photos). Companies like Gaylord sell acid-free boxes and archival material, which can also be costly.

Describing Objects
To further protect the memory of your autographed ball or bat, I suggest writing down as much information as possible in order to preserve it in time and place. Suggested data to record: who autographed the object (including their jersey number and position), what team, what venue, and on what date. I have collected a few autographs over my lifetime–many as a young kid–and cannot remember who signed what. Let’s be honest, some players have autographs that resemble chicken scratch. Describing your collection adds both personal and research value to your objects.

Now go out, eat a hot dog, and watch some baseball knowing that your precious autographed balls and bats are safely housed! GO BLUE RAIDERS!

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