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The Rise of Junk Wax

The Rise of Junk Wax

Introduction

The Junk Wax Era is usually described as a seven-year period from 1987-1994, give or take a few years. As the general populous became convinced of the long-term investment potential of sports cards, the manufacturers (e.g. Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer) began printing cards in multiples over previous decades. Young boys would cut lawns, shovel snow, or work all day to earn a couple of dollars to buy as many packs as possible, while collectors with greater means were buying and hoarding complete sets and sealed boxes. Beckett and other price guide magazines were being published during this period, allowing everyone to see their “investments” appreciating in value monthly. The demand was there, and the sports card companies capitalized.

Flash forward a few decades, and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I should not buy or even look at junk wax from the late 80’s and early 90’s. “It was all overprinted garbage with no hope!” While I like everyone else have been seduced by the glitz and glamour of Prizm, Select and Optic, I still have a soft spot for the nostalgia of junk wax. And in recent months – to the surprise of many – it’s rising.

I targeted one specific set for my analysis: 1989 Topps Traded Football. This set includes 132 cards which were only issued as a factory set. The traded cards have whiter backs than the regular 1989 Topps cards and also contain a “T” as a suffix to the card number. This set, as many know, has multiple Hall of Famers and a great rookie class including Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Steve Atwater. It also includes sophomore cards of Tim Brown, Michael Irvin, Thurman Thomas and Randall McDaniel.

Below is a look at the three core players I have been targeting over the last 90 days using Market Movers. These three players have been severely undervalued, in my opinion, and all have a lot of room to grow.

Disclaimer: the cards, at least from my research, have to be graded as PSA 10 or, at minimum, BGS 9.5 with great sub-grades. The players have to be Hall of Famers or, at minimum, relevant in some way. Raw cards do not seem to be selling at any significant price or rate.

Troy Aikman

The 1989 Topps Traded Troy Aikman is trending up 79% over the last 90 days, and prices are currently in the mid-to-low $200 range.

On January 30th, an auction ended at $350 with only one bidder, while there was a buy-it-now option for significantly less.

Deion Sanders

The 1989 Topps Traded Deion Sanders is trending up 99% over the last 90 days and most recently closed at $249.

I have not seen any disparity amongst the recent sales prices for Deion as we saw with Aikman.

Barry Sanders

The 1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders in trending up 108% over the last 90 days and prices are currently at $299. The eBay sale of $299 was made on 01/30/2021 and had not yet occurred when I grabbed this chart. Barry is moving very fast over the last 90 days!

I am aware of the 1989 Score football set. Score is the obvious choice for both collectors and high-end investors, but I opted for Topps Traded because it is less expensive, more sealed wax is available, and it has a lot of room for growth. As you can see from the comparisons, Barry Sanders has had the best trajectory over the last 90 days, and I believe this trend will continue. I haven’t seen to much hype or excitement around the defensive players from this era, so be cautious trying to hunt those.

Final Thoughts

In closing, although it can be both time consuming and expensive to have cards graded, I feel there is a lot of upside to some of the junk wax era cards. Every year there were Hall of Famers and highly collected players. It may be worth looking at some of those older years/players and considering whether there’s any growth opportunity in some of the lesser known sets.

What are some junk wax era sets or players that you feel will appreciate over the next year? Do you think any early 90’s Hockey, Baseball, or Basketball sets would be worth checking out? Lastly, what players from that era do you think will one day be more valued or sought after, if any?

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View Comments (17)
  • Couldn’t disagree more. I wouldn’t call the more exclusive “Traded” cards “junk wax”. While they due come from that era, these were exclusive products. Junk wax would equate to 1990 Donruss, Topps, and Pro Set.

    • You must be a young one. Look at the numbers of traded sets produced in those years. If you don’t think they were way over produced, then I have some rocky mountain real estate in Florida to sell you. Tiffany might fit into your category, but traded sets had 500k- 1 million sets produced in those years. Hence the reason you can pick them up for 15 to 20 bucks.

    • Chris,

      Not so much classifying the Topps Traded set as junk wax more then calling the era they were printed in as the junk wax era. I agree Topps Traded the Tiffany sets etc…were exclusive, thus making print runs reduced. I believe a lot of people over look some go these sets just because of the year the were printed, not everyone, just some.

  • I literally have had all of these cards submitted for grading since summer 2020. If I miss the spikes, I am making peace with the fact that they will look good in the PC or be decent long term holds.

    • That’s ridiculous it’s taking that long…definitely a spike in the prices over the last 90 days. I still like that Barry Sanders long term, that card had a great 2020 and I think it will continue.

  • I have tons of these cards but collectors should be aware I think I am cursed and as such I imagine as soon as I pay 30 bucks a piece to get them graded values will collapse.

    Sorry to be so negative, it’s just how life has been for me and I thought I should warn others 😁

    • I hear you, trust me! I have sent some Topps Traded in and got all 9’s back…unfortunately didn’t get the bang for my buck! These three should hold though. Aikman and Deion have continued to be relevant in the NFL and Barry is simply one of the best RB’S to touch the ball and I thin this time is slowly coming.

  • Yes it sucks that a Brett Favre rookie card in I meant State 9 is only worth $14 That all-rookie Bill Belichick head coach card Only worth $14 Emmitt Smith rookie card They need to do something with that era of cards To make you know the people that did spend time and money and effort in those years of spending money and collecting cards Maybe the bad players or something It’s like some of the cards on eBay that I see selling prices I have those cars I have every great quarterback In the 90s I have every great player probably in my eyes at least a mint State of 8 From The late 80s early 90s

  • I suppose over time the junk wax era may drift upwards as overall population grows, international investments along with the younger generations look for “deals” on what now are 30 year old sets. Some of the supply may been destroyed over time as well as about 30 years of inflation, natural disasters, spring cleanings, and overall carelessness has passed by as well since then.

  • I enjoyed reading this, thank you Mark. However, I’m confused as to what you mean by sophomore cards of Tim Brown, Michael Irvin, Thurman Thomas and Randall McDaniel.. Randall McDaniel’s RC is in 1989 Topps Traded. It’s not a 2nd year card, if that’s what you mean by sophomore card. Also, Tim Brown, Michael Irvin, and Thurman Thomas do not have cards in 1989 Topps Traded. They have their RCs in the 1989 Topps base set and their 2nd year cards in 1990 Topps.

    • Chuck,

      I just misspoke, you are 100% correct on this!! Which was also going to be an add on to the 1989 Topps Base set. I think Thurman Thomas and Michael Irvin will one day rise as well along with that base set. I love the 1989 Topps base set for this reason. I also like that you can still find BBCE sealed wax fairly cheap to hunt these guys.

      Thanks Chuck…keep me on my toes

  • What I love about the Junk Era was that it was indeed “junk”. What’s great about that though too is that not a lot of people kept them in good condition and a lot of cards back then were actually being traded amongst peers and kids. There was NO eBay, no social media no nothing so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they were “worthless” for so damn long. Even with the amounts that were printed back then, the pop reports are extremely low compared to anything 2018+. Me being selfish, I hope the eyes continue for the masses to be on the new products so that I have more time to collect all the cards I had when I was a kid and never took care of.

    • Cynric,

      Great insight, it was definitely a fun time to be an enthusiast/collector of sports cards…. fairly cheap fun, that what seemed like all the kids were in too.

    • Ryan,

      I agree the 1989 Score is 100% the set you want to go after, but the 1989 Topps Traded allows collectors to get in to these HoF players a little cheaper. Also, seeing good ROI this year.

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