Late 1980s, 90s Baseball Cards a Lost Cause? Maybe Not

No one realized what was happening at the time, of course.

Baseball cards were not just out of the closet as viable collectibles for kids–and adults. They were hot.

sports card packsSports card stores were opening every day. Big league teams gave away sets. Collectors spent hours in line to get their hands on “limited edition” sets passed out at the National Sports Collectors Convention. Cases upon cases moved out the door via mail order and at mall shows.

The late 1980s baseball cards and early 90s were the “boom” of the modernĀ  industry from a sales perspective. There were new players in the industry, like Upper Deck and Score. New players on the field like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas. It was a great time to be a dealer.

And then the bottom dropped out.

Anyone who has ever been stuck with a case or ten of 1990 Fleer knows that all too well. The speculators left. The shops closed. We found out just how many had been produced when we saw them at dollar stores.

There are still plenty of them out there. “Junk wax” is what some call those boxes of 1986 to 1990-something cards. There are companies who actually make a living by buying cases and pallets of wax and singles for about ten to twenty cents per one hundred cards–if you’re lucky. But if you don’t have tens of thousands of those cards laying around, you’re probably out of luck.

For small-time dealers and collectors with some of that generally unpopular and overproduced stuff, all hope is not lost though. Being creative is the key.

Many of the kids who grew up chasing those early 1990s cards are now in their late 20s and early 30s. They have disposable income and they’re just now discovering those boxes and albums they put away when they hit 13. Sometimes it ignites a spark. They might not become full-fledged collectors but like anyone else with a soft spot for childhood nostalgia, they do want to finish their sets or buy a box or two to recapture it. They’re out there. You just have to find them.

If you’re serious about moving some of that “unsellable” inventory, you’ll need to wax nostalgic about it yourself.

  • Start a blog–an ode to the pre-steroid days when Griffey really was the “Kid”. Write about the players. Your own card show experiences back in the day. Write about the quirky cards in some of those sets (remember the 1984 Fleer Glen Hubbard ‘snake’ card?) Use the blog to drive traffic to your eBay sales or offer up contact information.
  • Try local auctions. Some sharp dealers began taking their cheap wax to those regular weekly auctions you can find in just about every town or city in America. Bidders are desperate for something new, something they can sell at a flea market or in their second hand shop. If they’re not selling at eBay or in your shop, $3 per box is better than nothing, right?
  • Go the garage sale route. Advertise “Baseball Card Sale” in the paper. If you have enough inventory, you can hold a ‘card show’ in your garage. Be prepared to wheel and deal. Sell monster boxes full of leftovers for $10. Wax and sets for $6. Make sure you spread the word in every local shopping paper, your local newspaper and anywhere else that will allow you free publicity.
  • Social networking. Get involved with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking or social bookmarking sites. Join groups. Find those who have a soft spot for the 80s and 90s and without being totally spammish, let everyone know you’ve got those cards they remember from childhood.

You can buy some boxes and sets on eBay for less than $1 plus shipping. Chances are the late 80s and 90s sports cards will never be worth much, but that’s not always a bad thing. Cheap is sometimes easier to sell. And not everyone buys with an eye on future value. Corner the market on memories and you’ll at least be a step ahead of the people who just let their ‘junk’ collect dust.