Wrapped in colorful wax paper, the price from a bygone era printed on the front. Full of excitement. A treasure hunt wrapped in a neat little package with an ancient stick of bubble gum.
If they had eyes, they’d bat them at you.
Buying one is only the first dilemma. Do you open it and hope you’ve hit the lottery and beaten the odds or leave it sealed as a relic from another time?
Packs of baseball cards were, of course, meant to be opened, but some have survived the lust of the collector’s not-so-idle hands. 20, 30, 40 even 50 year-old packs are out there. There are certainly more buyers than sellers. And that creates more temptation.
Tampered wax, cello and rack packs have become a major problem in the sports memorabilia hobby. It’s not new but the stakes are higher these days as vintage baseball card values climb higher for mint material.
Steve Hart, owner of Baseball Card Exchange, which specializes in unopened packs and authenticates them for PSA, estimates that at least 50 percent of the non-authenticated unopened material for sale on eBay shows signs of tampering.
A Pennsylvania dealer faces charges that he sold non-genuine unopened packs to collectors. Police claim he manufactured his own packs with common cards, a supply of wrappers and sticks of gum pulled from real packs that had the most valuable cards removed.
For collectors like Donovan Ryan, learning how to avoid re-sealed packs has become as much a part of the collecting effort as searching for the elusive unopened material. Ryan says some sellers of bogus unopened material are bold enough to have just purchased quantities of wrappers for the same issue they’re trying to sell. He credits research time on hobby message boards, asking questions of veteran collectors and observation for having avoided a major rip-off to this point. “Knowledge is power,” Ryan said. “Buying from a reputable source is another factor.”
Ryan’s collection of packs dates back to 1974 but he focuses on rack packs of more recent vintage since he doesn’t believe it’s as easy to tamper with a rack pack. He also says more modern packs are also targets for pack tampering.
“So far I have been lucky,” Ryan told Sports Collectors Daily. “I have only had minor issues. I bought a graded mint 1954 Bowman football pack and the wrapper was falling apart once I received it. The seller gave me the run-around and I didn’t pay with a method that had any recourse so I opened the packs and learned that dark pictures in a auction can be a pretty bad sign.”
Sports Collectors Daily Q& A with Steve Hart:
When we talk ‘vintage’ packs, what’s the last year or era we really have to worry about pack tampering?
In Baseball we see it primarily pre-1981. Basketball is generally pre-1986/87 but especially 1986/87 Fleer. Football is pre-1986. Hockey is pre 1986 (especially 79/80 Topps!). However, we have seen it for pre-1990 packs, mostly with stars or rookies showing on top.
Are there any particular issues/years where pack tampering is most common? Why?
It seems to be most common in pre-1975 issues. I think that is where the payoff winds down for most people that attempt to mess with the packs for pulling out the better cards or just making the packs from scratch. The major exception is 1986/87 Fleer basketball and 1979/80 Topps hockey. These products seem to be re-sealed more than half the time. This is due to the fact that they are extremely popular with collectors, wrappers can be purchased very easily and commons can be bought fairly easily too. Packs then are made from scratch (not so much re-sealed to pull the good cards, but completely home made!) and sold to unsuspecting collectors.
Wax packs can be resealed. What about cellos and racks—are they at issue too?
Cellos are a big problem right now from 1957 through 1969. These are being made from scratch and being dumped all over eBay. Somewhere out there, these packs are being produced in quantity by someone who is doing a fairly good job of reproducing the factory wrap. Most of the packs from 1957-1961 have the wrong factory seal wrap on them. However 1962 through 1969 cellos are being made with a seal that is very close to what the Topps original seal looks like. The bad ones out there have a looser feel to them. However, the average collector who doesn’t handle them frequently may not be able to tell by the “feel” they have.
A good, legit cello when looked at by the edge has cards that are of the same grain, the same shade of color and are flat and mint (kind of like a vending box pattern). Most of the homemade cellos out there have cards with some wear on them (on the edges), the grain color is inconsistent and the cards just don’t appear to all look consistent when looking at the edge. Legit cellos have more of a “brick” look to them that usually still have a slight factory curl. The homemade cellos have a look that is flat and uneven. Again, all these things to look for may still not be recognized by the average collector.
Cellos from 1970 through 1972 are big thick cellos that contain 30-33 cards and came in an outer cardboard box. I have seem very few attempts at people trying to reproduce these. Cellos from 1973 through 1979 were wrapped very, very tightly by Topps. Again, when we have seen bogus packs from this era, they are usually poor reproductions that are loosely wrapped. 1980 on up were wrapped very loosely and can be re-sealed. They also can have a cello wrapped end opened up and had cards slid in and out of the pack. Be very careful of packs post-1980 with major rookies or stars on top. Be EXTREMELY careful of post-1980 cello packs with a major rookie on top AND bottom. These packs are made-up a majority of the time.
Stay completely away from 1970 through 1975 Topps grocery cello packs with 12 cards in them. These were never produced by the Topps company and are all homemade packs.
There is a big misconception that rack packs are tamper proof by the way they are made and packaged. Well, most people would be shocked to hear me say that this is the BIGGEST problem in the hobby. Rack packs are being made in large quantities from 1968 through 1975. Yes, it can be done. It is also very difficult to tell if they have been re-sealed. The crooks who are making these packs are opening the seal on the edge of the racks, taking the cards out, then replacing the cards with lesser quality cards. They then reseal the edge over the original sealing with a second “crimped” seal. Only very close, intense viewing of a rack pack will reveal this second seal.
A large amount of these bad racks I have come across also have cards that show wear to them. When Topps put cards in these racks, they stayed in pretty much untouched condition until today. However on the re-sealed racks, you will see cards on top or bottom that show wear on them. This wear is not just a corner ding that could have happened during normal handling, but wear from the cards actually being handled over time. However, these re-sealers are slick and will go out and buy vending quality cards to replace in the racks. That’s where looking for the second seal comes in.
Also, when you see a rack pack that has multiple stars showing, ASSUME it is bad, until you can prove it otherwise. Rack packs that have 2 or 3 major stars showing are a huge red flag.
Usually the age and wear will result in the pack having the appearance of……well….wear! The corners may have wear and/or holes. The wrapper may appear dirty or soiled. The gum may start bleeding or show some mildew. However, if the packs are legit, you will usually still be able to see some type of roller mark and the original corner folds in the correct manner.
Explain the “Christmas rack packs”—where did they come from, are any of them legitimate and what’s usually inside?
Another tough subject! These Christmas racks were not produced by Topps. That is first and foremost. All of these Christmas racks are not issued by Topps in any way in any type of Topps closeout. They have been produced by a third party and then retailed in stores. Most likely in dime stores around the country in the 60’s and 70’s.
The cards are usually in EX to EX-MT condition at best. That leads me to believe that Topps did not even supply the cards for these! Had Topps supplied the cards, they would still most likely have been a little bit cleaner and sharper than the cards that are in these packs. I also see Christmas racks now that are being produced today.
Most advanced pack collectors will tell you that these packs are not legitimate items since Topps didn’t produce them. I will never authenticate one as being real for this same reason.
However–this is not to say that the racks have no value. The cards in the packs are still legitimate Topps cards. I have seen many racks with many major stars right on top. If a Christmas rack has a Sandy Koufax RC showing on top in EX-MT condition, well then, it still obviously is worth whatever that card is worth to you! A 1962 Topps Christmas rack may have zero value as a legit, Topps issued unopened rack pack, but still holds some value for the cards it is holding within.
What’s the biggest horror story you’ve encountered regarding re-sealed packs?
I just got in the absolute worst re-sealed box of 1986/87 Fleer basketball that I’ve seen. A three year old with Elmers glue may have been able to do a better job! Unfortunately, the box came to us actually authenticated. This is really sad for our hobby/industry.
What are some of the common techniques used to try and fool people and how should you examine a wax pack when you consider buying one—especially ungraded?
Wax packs should always have a heat roller mark on the back from where the Topps machine sealed the pack together. This mark is around an inch and a half. It only flows in one direction. The roller mark goes across the back from the long sides of the pack. ANY type of roller lines, swoop marks, or wax residue that flows from the short sides of the pack, has a problem. If you see fingerprints in the wax on the back, that is another bad sign.
The corner folds on the corners of each pack should be a clean 45- degree angle on the pack. When one or more corners is not still in a 45-degree fold (and is usually missing completely), then there is a problem. This corner fold should also be clean without any flaking or cracks. This fold will sometimes get some wear on it depending on how it was handled, but should not have excessive flaking or cracking on it. There shouldn’t be wrinkles or creases on the surface of the wax pack. It can happen depending on storage, but a majority of the time, the wax wrapper should never have gotten creased or wrinkled on the surface!
You can see PSA and BBCE authenticated packs on eBay here.