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Why junk wax era sports cards from the ’80s are worthless

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There was a time when sports card companies were printing sports cards like they had a licence to print money. We call it the junk wax era.

Oh the good ol’ mid-1980s to early 1990s saw millions of cards being scooped up by eager card collectors – many hoping to keep as investments for the future when they can cash in and be a self-made millionaire.

Well, we can still dream, can’t we?

As the supply continued to increase with the level of demand, it was inevitable the crash would follow (this sounds like stocks doesn’t it?) when the demand couldn’t keep up.

The over-manufactured cards numbering in the millions became devalued, and for those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s (like the fivecardguys), we have shoeboxes full of practically worthless trading cards.

I’ve written a book review on Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, which goes in more detail of how this all happened.

At the end of the day, we have our cherished memories of the days when sports cards were more about the fun we had collecting them to complete a set, or at least to collect those that belonged to our favorite players.

Vintage cards, however, are a different story as many of them like a Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle or the treasured Honus Wagner ($2M and counting), continue to appreciate in value over time.

As do some iconic cards like the Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card.

That probably has to do with the scarcity of those cards from a bygone era.

And like all things with time, the condition of those cards deteriorate unless it’s been taken care of by a serious collector.

You don’t have to go too far back to see how a gem mint condition card increases the value substantially – even if it was produced in the 1980s and 1990s.

They may have been overproduced capping the overall sports cards values, but one that has been kept in terrific shape can be exponentially higher than one that is in just good shape.
Let’s take Ken Griffey’s 1989 Upper Deck rookie card for example. The PSA 10 (GEM MT) graded card (left) is valued at around $430. (UPDATE May 2020: It’s now worth more than $1,000).

The still-very-good PSA 9 (MINT) condition card? About $70 (UPDATE May 2020: It’s now selling for more than $200). More than six times the value!

How about the 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. #098T card? A PSA 9 graded card will cost you about $175. The PSA 10 graded card? Ready to hold onto your seat? It’ll set you back $3,000.

Maybe we shouldn’t have whipped some of the more valuable cards we collected in the ’80s and ’90s across the room just for fun.

Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck PSA 10 Cards currently listed for sale on eBay

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0 thoughts on “Why junk wax era sports cards from the ’80s are worthless”

  1. The key here is creating a perceived scarcity in an otherwise mass produced market using professional grading to narrow down the population, which involves a keen eye by the raw card owner and willingness to invest (gamble) in the grading process hoping it pays off. It’s a risky game to play, but perhaps significantly less risky than today’s wax box market if you really think about it. Nice topic!

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