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What Are My Cards Worth: The ‘Junk Wax Era’ of 1985-1995

by Rob Bertrand (11/19/12).

1985 Topps Mark McGwire USA Baseball RC #401

1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds RC #11

1993 Upper Deck SP Derek Jeter RC #279

As vintage sports cards (pre-1970) gained in popularity and value during the early 1980s, the hobby of sports card collecting went through a boom era that saw a tremendous number of people enter the hobby. These weren’t simply a new generation of children or middle-aged men reconnecting with their baseball heroes but actual investors speculating on the future value of 2 ½-inch x 3 ½-inch pieces of cardboard.

In response to the explosive demand, trading card manufactures began running the presses as if they were printing money. In a sense they were. Many people opened cases and cases of product and sorted the rookie cards into lots of 100 or even 500-count lots and selling a player’s rookie card in those quantities as if they were stock certificates. Other people stashed cases of cards in garages, storage units and warehouses waiting for what seemed an inevitable increase in those cards’ values.

Unfortunately, what happened was that over the course of time, it became apparent that supply had far exceeded demand and rendered the vast majority of cards printed from 1985-1995 basically worth no more than the paper they were printed on. This period of time became known in the hobby as the “Junk Wax Era,” a reference to the wax wrapper the cards came packaged in. While some dealers and collectors differ on the specific years that define that era, one thing is certain: there are few cards from that period that have any real tangible worth.

There have been, of course, exceptions along the way and even those cards have seen rapid swings in value for a variety of reasons, particularly baseball cards and the impending doom of an additional era specific to that sport, the Steroid Era. Still desirable by some collectors, cards that fall into this category include:

• 1985 Topps Mark McGwire USA Baseball RC #401
• 1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds RC #11
• 1993 Upper Deck SP Derek Jeter RC #279

1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC #57

1989 Score Barry Sanders RC #257

1990 Score Emmitt Smith Traded Rookie card #101T

Cards from that era in other sports that break the Junk Wax Era mold are:

• 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC #57
• 1989 Score Barry Sanders RC #257
• 1990 Score Emmitt Smith Traded Rookie card #101T

Naturally, there are others, so if you happen to stumble upon a long-forgotten cache of cards belonging to yourself or someone else, before you decide to lug them to a local retailer to “cash-in,” do yourself a favor and look for the above cards first. Reason being is that in all likelihood, your local sports card dealer won’t be interested in adding to his own inventory of junk wax. A far better solution would be to simply contact a children’s hospital and ask if they would take them as a donation.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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