Ramblings: Recalling the Crazy Days of 1989

Last week, I wrote about the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken obscenity card and some of the challenges store owners had at the time.   One aspect which I did not even think about was who honored what deals were previously made on the unopened product which all of sudden exploded in price when word got out about the ‘scandalous trading card’.

1989 Fleer setOn my Facebook page, Ken Goldin (then the owner of Scoreboard, today owner of Goldin Auctions) made a comment about how many dealers who purchased the 1989 1989 Fleer Billy RipkenFleer cases from him were thrilled because he honored his “pre-Rick Face” pricing instead of coming up with phony excuses about how they were out of stock on those cases only to sell them at higher prices privately. In fact he wrote: “I had 1000 of these wax cases and to this day, card dealers thank me for not reneging on the price agreed upon when the price of these cases took off.”

You have to understand, cards were so liquid in those days that one could change prices and still find plenty of buyers at the higher prices. Many “wholesalers” were notorious for knowing about the market and raising prices on higher demand boxes and cases instead of selling these items at the margin they were supposed to under their previous agreement.  Of course, with all the competition, some dealers were perfectly happy to pay those higher prices and not complain.

One funny story involved dealer Mike Gordon.  He had just inherited a great deal of money and decided to spend a large portion on 1989 Fleer sets.  It sounds crazy today but in 1989 it sounded perfectly reasonable considering how hot the card market was.  The only Fleer cards dealers could purchase directly from the company were factory sets and Mike sent a check for 350 cases.  Think about that for a second.  That is more than 5000 sets– all of which were delivered on the same day.

I remember how the truck driver arrived and Mike had fortunately arranged for several other local dealers to be available so we could get those cases into the store. And yes, we had room in the store (counting the storage area downstairs) for that many cases.  Although Mike did end up making money on that deal when Griffey Jr. rookie cards really got hot in 1990, we always thought at that time that Mike should have contacted all the local dealers and turn a quick profit.

We quickly learned that with the possible exception of  the “Tiffany or Glossy” cards that none of the cards in the 1989 were ever going to be considered scarce. I remember when we received a flyer at Mike’s store and I looked and saw someone offering 5,000 Jim Abbott Topps rookie cards (or any other 1989 Topps card) at one time. When one of the most desirable 1989 cards is available in that quantity, it becomes evident that they may not be as rare as some were touting.

No wonder one of the key boom markets was the “penny stock” market of popular cards.   And also, no wonder why the current standard dealer buy price of these cards are 10 for a penny.

The key was to strike while the iron was hot and move on to the ‘next big thing’ and not get stuck with too much product.

Of course, those days will never return but it might take a while for the overproduction to really be whittled down.  That is why I’m going to be continually fascinated by the person who is working on acquiring every Tim Wallach card ever printed.  Considering most of his cards were issued during the overproduction years, I wonder just how many cards he will end up acquiring.  I never even thought of doing that with either Columbia player whose career was during this era:  Gene Larkin or Frank Seminara. Now, I think I would have to love to have tried that.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]