At the height of the late 1980s and early 90s sports card boom, Topps expanded its packaging options. While you could still go into a drug store, super market, convenience store or gas station and buy a single wax pack for 40 to 50 cents and maybe a cello pack for a little more, other outlets offered bigger options.
At K-Mart in 1989 and ’90, there were blister packs that held 100 cards and a Career Active Batting Leaders card. A little less fancy but also jammed with over one-eighth of the entire set were the 100-card “Jumbo Paks” often found in grocery stores from 1987-1991. They weren’t common and like the blister packs, they weren’t cheap. A youngster had to have a good lawn mowing or errand business to buy more than one. At least they included a stick of gum.
That $2.79 or so also got you a card that you couldn’t find anywhere else. The Topps Rookie Glossy cards were exclusive to those giant cellos. Barely an afterthought today, they’re another little gem from the junk wax era: not printed in huge quantities like most cards from the era, yet inexpensive.
Why Topps opted to produce the Jumbo Paks has been lost to time, but clearly the special inserts were designed as an incentive for collectors–probably the growing demographic of adults that was buying a lot of product each year. To collect the complete set was quite a monetary challenge in an era when you could buy a full box of wax packs for less than $20. The glossy cards were touted with a blurb on the top of the pack.
They’re not to be confused with the far more common All-Star Glossy cards that were inserted into standard rack packs over several years in that era and before.
In 1987, ’88 and ’89, the sets included 22 rookies from the prior season (Mark McGwire is featured in the 1988 set and Ken Griffey Jr. is in the 1990 set). Beginning in ’90, Topps increased the set to 33 cards.
The first set included Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Wally Joyner, Rafael Palmeiro and Ruben Sierra. In ’88, collectors found McGwire, Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Devon White and Benito Santiago, among others. The 1989 set held Roberto Alomar, Mark Grace, Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter and David Wells. In ’90, it was Junior, Sheffield (again, for some reason), Albert Belle and Jim Abbott. Frank Thomas and Larry Walker headline the 1990 set. The player selection was a little odd at times, though. Some players appear in two different years, but Barry Bonds is MIA. So is Barry Larkin.
The design went virtually unchanged all five years. The 1987, ’89, ’90 and ’91 sets are numbered alphabetically while the ’88 is not. There were no bios on the back, just a design and the player’s name, team, position and card number.
Some uncut sheets have made their way into the hobby and some dealers have been known to have fairly large supplies of some of the individual cards, but for the most part, the Glossy Rookie cards aren’t that plentiful. The number of 100-card packs ripped open was fairly limited and while packs can be found at shows today, they’re generally ignored because of how common the other 100 cards are.
Some complete sets sell for just a few dollars, with graded 1990 Griffey cards–even if they aren’t true rookies–going significantly higher. The 1991 set appears to be by far the most common. One dealer held a large stock until Walker’s Hall of Fame election.
The 1990 Glossy Rookie set also played a significant role in hobby history. Topps created a metal-foil test strip it placed on some sets and that technology would make its debut the next year on the company’s Stadium Club and Desert Shield sets and then go into widespread use on Topps products in the following years. They can be found with various colors and different placements on the cards but they’re impossible to miss. Today, the foil test cards carry a significant premium.
You can find several dozen listings for 1987-1991 Glossy rookie singles and sets on eBay here.