For many serious baseball card collectors, the mid-1980s marked the beginning of the end for worthwhile collecting.
With interest in the hobby increasing, card companies began churning out sets in never before seen quantities, flooding the market with cards that today are barely worth the paper they’re printed on. Yet there are still a few good post-1990 sets out there. I’ll point you to some of my favorites, and tell you why they’re worth keeping an eye on.
First, a couple quick disclaimers. The 1990's saw the introduction of the special insert sets that are now commonplace among almost every card brand. I’ve largely, though not completely, ignored these for the purposes of this article, choosing instead to focus on the main hobby sets.
There can be big money in collecting the insert sets, but they can be difficult to find and expensive to acquire. Where I do include them, I’ll almost exclusively stick to recommending those insert sets that feature autographs.
Here are the five sets for which you might want to save some shelf space. I should note in parting that all the pricing I’ve used here is based on Beckett Baseball’s listed values, and not for graded cards. Pricing on individual cards can vary a lot more today than it used to, of course, thanks in part to eBay. These values should be taken as relatively rough estimates. Click the title of the set to see the cards on eBay.
Bowman sets have become a haven for rookie cards and for this reason along with their classic design, they tend to keep their value better than a lot of other brands. Beckett Baseball values this complete set at $150, but don't be surprised if the set ticks upward in value in the next few years.
The ’92 Bowman set includes the rookie cards of four future first-ballot Hall of Famers: Mariano Rivera, Mike Piazza, Manny Ramirez, and Trevor Hoffman. Amazingly, three of those four are still active in 2010.
Rivera, currently valued from $12.50-$30 is the highlight of the group, with the Piazza close behind. As these guys retire and close in on induction, look for the value of this set to go up. Some other highlights of the set are a Carlos Delgado RC, an early Chipper Jones, and an early Pedro Martinez.
By the standards of the “Overproduction Age,” this 200-card is relatively tiny. With a Beckett listed value of $250, this set owed a great deal of its value to an Alex Rodriguez RC, but obviously he's a tough sell these days.
This set also includes a Derrek Lee RC, and a Billy Wagner RC. Neither of these are going to make or break the set on their own, but they’re nice additions.
Another Bowman specialty set, this set stands out for including three of 2001’s best rookies: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chase Utley. While this 440-card set isn’t the overall most valuable out of the 2001 class, being valued at $200, I do give it extra points for including Utley, who isn’t in a lot of other 2001 sets.
The big cards from this set are the Pujols RC ($20-$50) the Ichiro RC ($10-$25) and the Utley ($5-$12.) The set also includes a Justin Morneau RC, and a nice Cal Ripken Jr.
As Pujols continues his assault on the record books, his rookie cards are going to become increasingly valuable. That alone makes this set a worthwhile consideration. Ichiro, Utley and Morneau are also nice additions. If Utley stays healthy and continues establishing himself as a major star, look for his value to go up as well.
The Bowman’s best sets are an offshoot of the regular hobby sets, and are considerably smaller. This 195-card set is valued by Beckett at $250, and features a nice selection of rookie cards, although it lacks the marquee names of the previous two sets.
The big card for the set is a Vladimir Guerrero RC, valued at $12.50-$30. Chris Carpenter's rookie card can be found here too ($5-$12.), as well as Scott Rolen's. While these guys don’t have the star power of a Piazza, Ramirez, or A-Rod, they’re still quite collectible names from the era.
All of the Bowman Chrome sets feature a number of autographed inserts which, when added to the complete set, greatly enhance the value. This particular set features autographs from a number of younger players, including Nick Markakis, Chad Billingsley, Brandon Wood, and Delmon Young which when included, push the set’s value from $100 to $550.
Even without the autograph cards, this set still features some decent players. There's a Jonathan Papelbon RC ($6-$15), a Robinson Cano RC ($6-$15), a Ryan Howard and a Jarrod Saltalamacchia RC ($6-$15).
The Howard rookie alone makes this set worth keeping an eye on, and the Cano and Papelbons are also worthwhile. With the autographs, this set is a real winner, especially in the post-1990 era. Without the autographs it loses a good deal of value, but it still well worth keeping an eye on.
While there might not be as much value in post-1990 baseball cards as some collectors might hope, there are still some decent sets out there. By focusing in on brands like Bowman that feature lots of rookies, collectors can still compile worthwhile sets without breaking the bank chasing after rare inserts.