Monday, August 7, 2023

Drowning in Junk Wax


Like many Gen X baseball fans, I was a big baseball card collector in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I remember my first packs of 1986 Topps. My mother bought me a few packs at the local flea market on Long Island, New York. I had just become a baseball fan and went to my first Major League Baseball game at Shea Stadium.

Baseball card collecting was a passion of mine starting in 1987. The classic 1987 Topps set was the first I actively collected. Card collecting introduced me to all the players and all the teams in baseball. I became a much bigger baseball fan because of baseball cards.

The late 1980s and early 1990s was also the apex of baseball cards. People considered baseball cards investments. How wrong we were.

Years later, collectors realized how little their collections were worth. The law of supply and demand caught up to the baseball card industry. In order to maximize sales, the card companies produced way too many of every card. Millions of every card was made. Most card collectors had every card they wanted. Supply was way higher than demand.

The overwhelming supply of baseball cards from 1986 to 1994 became known as the "junk wax era". Cards in waxy packs were not the college investments young collectors thought they would be. They were junk.

On the website, Spencer Richardson wrote a very informative history of the Junk Wax Era. In his article, he writes: 

"According to one estimate, companies produced 81 billion cards per year in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That shakes out to about 300 cards per person living in the United States. Cards were everywhere."

Dave Jamieson also has a good article on the rise of collecting and the bubble it created. Entitled "The Great Baseball Card Bubble", Jamieson discusses the impact of Beckett Baseball Card Guides and other influencers on the hobby. The article is a must read for those interested in why their collections haven't gained any value in 30 years.

I haven't collected cards since 1993. Like many collectors, the players' strike in 1994 turned me off to following baseball for a few years. Then I joined the military, went to college, discovered beer, and spent my money on other interests. Starting in 2000 or so, I would buy one pack of Topps every year just to see what the new style looked like. But I stopped going to card stores, card shows, or following the hobby in any way, shape, or form.

A few years ago, I went to my parents' house and finally explored the corner of my old bedroom closet containing my old baseball cards. I had two huge 5,000-count boxes of baseball cards, a 3,000-count box of basketball cards, as well as several sealed sets containing over 700 cards each. In total, I had approximately 20,000 cards.

Years ago, I gave away at least 5,000 cards to a local hospital. I sold other boxes at some point. This is what remained.

What to do with 20,000 cards?

After putting aside a small box of cards that had either emotional or personal value, I explored ebay, mercari, etc for the demand of the rest. Dozens, if not hundreds of other collectors have flooded online markets with their collections. Anyone in the market for junk wax, if there was anyone in the market for junk wax, would find hundreds of options. 

Time to be creative.

If you buy a copy of my novel Curveball at the Crossroads from me at book signing, you get a free pack of 15 cards ranging from 1986 to 2022. Packs are either by team or random. Most random packs contain at least one player elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Free baseball cards have been a great gimmick. The words "FREE BASEBALL CARDS (with a purchase of Curveball at the Crossroads)" catch many eyes. It doesn't matter how much or how little the cards are worth, baseball cards still hold a sense of wonder for most fans. They open the pack of cards and reminisce over players from the past or talk about players of the present.

I have to sell a lot of books to get rid of 10,000 loose baseball cards in 15 card packs. In a nice sense of Devilish humor, 10,000 divided by 15 cards is 666 packs. For a book about the Devil and baseball, I swear that is a coincidence.