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What is ‘Junk Wax’ – Definition – The Sports Card Glossary

What are junk wax sports cards?

Junk wax sports cards refer to a large volume of sports trading cards, particularly from baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, that were produced between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. This era is characterized by mass production by manufacturers, leading to an oversupply of cards in the market. The term “junk wax” derives from the wax packaging that many of these cards were sold in, and “junk” refers to the diminished value and collectibility of these cards due to their overabundance.

During this time, the popularity of collecting sports cards was at a peak, and manufacturers produced cards in unprecedented quantities to meet the demand. However, this led to a saturation of the market. Many of the cards from this era are considered to have little monetary value today because they are so common. The high production numbers mean that even cards of famous athletes from this period are plentiful, reducing their rarity and, consequently, their value as collectibles.

Despite their low market value, junk wax cards hold a nostalgic appeal for many collectors who grew up during that era. They are often collected for the enjoyment of the hobby rather than as an investment. Some collectors also seek out unopened packs or boxes from this era in the hope of finding well-preserved cards or rare error cards that might have some value.

What are some of the most iconic cards from the junk wax era?

Despite the overall low market value of most cards from the junk wax era, there are several iconic cards from this period that have managed to retain or even increase in value over time, often due to the player’s legendary status, rookie card status, or rarity of a specific print variation. Here are some of the most notable examples:

  1. 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card (#1): This card is arguably the most iconic baseball card from the junk wax era. The Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card features a young Griffey with a bat over his shoulder, and it was Upper Deck’s first-ever baseball card, marking a new era in card quality and design.
  2. 1990 Score Bo Jackson Football/Baseball Card (#697): This Bo Jackson card is famous for featuring Jackson in shoulder pads holding a baseball bat, symbolizing his dual-sport career in the NFL and MLB. It’s one of the era’s most recognizable cards.
  3. 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera Rookie Card (#302): Mariano Rivera’s Bowman rookie card is another highly sought-after card from the era, as Rivera went on to have a Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest relief pitchers in MLB history.
  4. 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux Rookie Card (#36): This card features Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux in his Chicago Cubs uniform. Maddux’s rookie card is another example of a valuable card from the era, reflecting his outstanding career.
  5. 1991 Topps Chipper Jones Rookie Card (#333): Chipper Jones’s rookie card from Topps is a favorite among collectors. Jones had a Hall of Fame career with the Atlanta Braves, making this card especially valuable to fans and collectors.
  6. 1984 Topps John Elway Rookie Card (#63): Representing the NFL, John Elway’s rookie card from Topps captures the beginning of what would be a legendary career with the Denver Broncos.
  7. 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly Rookie Card (#248): Don Mattingly, also known as “Donnie Baseball,” has his most iconic rookie card in the 1984 Donruss set. It’s a must-have for collectors of 1980s baseball cards.

These cards stand out not just for their monetary value but also for the nostalgia and memories they evoke among collectors who grew up during the junk wax era. The value of these cards can vary significantly based on their condition, with mint or graded examples fetching premium prices.

Rory Hansen

Rory Hansen is a San Diego-based sports card collector and social media influencer. Considered an expert in the process of grading sports cards, he regularly advises other collectors on how to assess, prepare and submit cards for grading. Originally from Canada and now living in the US, Rory collects both hockey cards and baseball cards. His personal collection focuses on Shohei Ohtani, Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, Pavel Bure, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo.