Hobby Musings: Is Junk Wax Making a Comeback in the Hobby? – One of the biggest hobby stories of the year happened in the past week when Mark Jackson’s 1990/91 Hoops card made national headlines. It’s not often that a base card nearly 30 years old gets big attention. It’s also not often that it all of a sudden starts selling for big dollar amounts.
However, it wasn’t Mark Jackson selling the card, but rather a famous pair of spectators. It was discovered that in addition to Jackson, convicted killers the Menendez brothers were sitting in the background of the picture. As surprising as it was that it took this long for that to come out, even more surprising were the prices in response. A card that had barely sold for 20 cents, if at all, was suddenly going for well over $20. Adding some extra fuel to the story was eBay pulling listings of the card since it violated a company policy as they are “affiliated with a known murderer.”
The whole affair had me thinking about the role of junk wax in the hobby. Quite possibly the biggest running joke of the sports card world, junk wax has nevertheless had an interesting role in it. While by no means the most valuable cards out there, they’ve often found their way into the collections of many for a slew of reasons, including nostalgia.
Junk wax boxes and singles are often not the most desirable items or easy to sell because of their relative lack of value. That being said, I’ve noticed recently that junk wax has been getting a raise in profile among the hobby and its buyers. Curious about the subject, I started injecting the question of whether junk wax was making a comeback into many hobby conversations I had with friends and people around the industry. The answers proved to be varied, but more than a few people seemed to think higher of these cards than would be expected.
Talking with Vintage Breaks’ Leighton Sheldon, he said he had only seen a recent demand on certain junk wax boxes and products. Another viewpoint was offered by Baseball Card Exchange’s Reed Kasaoka, who replied with, “It doesn’t seem like the demand is any higher for junk wax, but last month we noticed we sold out of 1989 Donruss Baseball wax boxes for the first time since probably 1989! Our supply of junk wax right now is at an all-time low, but we have a buying trip to the Southeast next month, where we have dozens of cases already lined up.”
Mike Fruitman of Mike’s Stadium Sportscards had a different take on the matter. Declining to use the term junk wax when talking about these cards, he instead opted to categorize them as “affordable wax.” Talking about the sales traffic of the category in his store, he said, “I have been selling affordable wax since I opened 26 years ago and it has always been a steady seller for me. I recently have acquired a healthy amount of it and am selling it better because I have more to offer than usual.”’
Asked how he felt about keeping it in stock, Fruitman replied, “I find offering a wide selection of products makes sense. Any shop is going to carry all the new releases, but why not also offer boxes from other years or decades? I understand that if you open 1990 Score NFL, you might get a Junior Seau rookie card, but it is filled with HOFers like Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, John Elway and many more players. Another thing to consider is if I can offer you a box of 1990 Score NFL for $7, you cannot get it shipped to you for that amount, let alone the cost of it. While it is sometimes tough to compete against online retailers, affordable wax is a way that shops can earn business from their local collectors without having to worry about being priced out. Sure, I have to sell a lot more boxes at that price to balance the return on a box of NT, but every dollar is important and more specifically, every collector is important.”
While a cheaper break can be enticing to a collector, it still begs the question of why people remain interested in buying junk wax with so many other options available. Sheldon chalked it up to breaking and grading, which makes an interesting point. With the grading boom and the continued usage of repack products in the marketplace, junk wax offers a variety of HOF rookies. Compared to their vintage counterparts, they can often provide better possibilities of higher grades while costing significantly less to acquire. There is also the possibility of sets from that era that don’t always grade out well, making the cards that do get high grades all the more valuable. It may seem strange, but I’ve seen base cards from an 80s set go for big money because they managed to get a PSA 10 grade.
Asked why he thought people were interested in buying the cards, Fruitman said, “I see two typical types of affordable wax buyers. There are kids or parents who are looking for boxes that don’t start at $72 or more for current year releases. I also see adults who want to relive their childhoods with boxes they enjoyed buying when they were growing up. I recently picked up a few cases worth of assorted late 80s and early 90s boxes and I was amazed to see how well it sold.”
While there are a lot of junk wax products out there, there have proven to be some preferences in what collectors target. From what he’s seen among junk wax targets, Kasaoka said, “Collectors love 1989 Fleer Baseball – Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson (possible Marlboro ad) and Billy Ripken (possible FF card), 1989 Pro Set Series 2 Football – all the same rookies of 1989 Score at a fraction of the price, 1986 Topps Baseball – even gem mint graded commons go for big money, 1990/91 Score Hockey – loaded with HOF rookies.”
Often offering more vintage cards to break, Sheldon said he has been getting requests to do breaks with junk wax. 1987 Topps Baseball, 1988 Donruss Baseball and 1990/91 Hoops have been among the requests he has received from his customers for breaks.
While there is still plenty of sealed junk wax to be busted, it bears wondering if the prices will jump to the point where they again hold an appreciable value. Asked this, Sheldon replied with, “It’s already viable and desirable to the right customers. I don’t think it will ever be highly valued, but I think there’s potential, especially with some of the early 1990s non-sports that are really cheap like TMNT, New Kids on the Block, etc. “
Kasaoka’s response to this question was, “A lot of collectors who lived through the junk wax era – when it wasn’t junk – seem to think prices will rise as collectors keep ripping product. I disagree, because the stuff isn’t being ripped fast enough. The amount of 1987 Topps Baseball that was ripped on any one day in 1987 is more than what gets ripped in any given year this century. By the time the junk wax era product doubles in price, I’ll be retired.”
He did add, “If I were to hoard a junk wax product, it would be the item that is perceived to be plentiful, but actually is not – 1988-91 OPC Baseball, 1986-88 Leaf Baseball, 1990/91 Upper Deck French High Series Hockey, 1991 Bowman Baseball. If I knew what was going to be worth more down the road, I would never tell anyone!”
Whether junk wax ever becomes a universally high-valued commodity in the hobby remains to be seen. One thing for sure though is that it’s still being busted by people for a variety of reasons. Like anything else in the card world, it seems to cycle in and out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that box of 1987 Topps that struggled to sell for $10 eventually becomes a highly-coveted item. As the Mark Jackson/Menendez brothers card proved, you never can be too sure in this hobby when your forgotten card will become a valued item.
For more Hobby Musings from Kelsey Schroyer, follow him on Twitter @KelSchroy75.
Hobby Musings: Is Junk Wax Making a Comeback in the Hobby?
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