In the days leading up to his 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame election, one photo consistently used online by writers was the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. That image is burned into the minds of anyone who was involved in the sports collecting hobby at the time, whether as a kid who wanted one more than life itself, a shop owner in a suddenly booming industry or an adult who wondered if the days of bubble gum and wax wrappers were numbered (they were).
Keeping the Kid Safe
While it might be one of the iconic symbols of a certain generation, it’s not going to be the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle.
While the Mantle is famous as much for those that were thrown away, the Griffey rookie card is well-known because no one did. It was a treasure from the moment the first one emerged from those newfangled $1 foil packs Upper Deck unleashed on an unsuspecting little hobby in 1989.
— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) January 6, 2016
If you stuck yours away hoping it’d be your ticket to a free education, well, so did thousands of other kids and parents. While it didn’t quite work out that way, it’s still worth something and examples that score high ratings from grading and authentication services that boomed after its release are worth more.
Glut of Graded Griffeys
Not all were kept in perfect condition. Like any youthful treasure, some were handled regularly. Those, though, were few.
Upper Deck printed to demand and demand was through the roof in 1989. We don’t know exactly how many were made but we do know that the three major grading companies have now examined nearly 120,000 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards. Nearly one-third of those have been rated mint, gem mint or ‘pristine’ (not every grading company uses the same terminology but you get the drift).
Here’s the breakdown as of this writing:
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards graded by PSA
Gem Mint 10: 3,808
Mint 9 (no qualifier): 24,270
Approximate number of eBay listings (all grades): 400
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards graded by Beckett
Pristine 10 (Black Label): 4
Pristine 10: 113
Gem Mint 9.5: 2,785
Mint 9: 6,149
Approximate number of eBay listings: 170
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards Graded by SGC
Pristine 10: 10
Gem Mint 10: 222
Mint+ 9.5: 17
Mint 9: 1,450
Approximate number of eBay listings: 30
As the market for sports cards began to soar in the last couple of years, demand for high-grade Griffey cards and 1989 Upper Deck boxes and sets has pushed prices upward. Even with a strong supply of singles, wax and sets, it hasn’t been enough to satisfy re-engaged buyers and those who are speculating that the market will further expand.
In 2016, PSA 10 Griffey cards were readily available for $300-$375. Now? Expect to pay three times that much–or a little more. While the card is far from scarce, the demand for it is unlike any other modern era card. In 2016, we quoted one seller as expected them to “settle in” at around $500 following Junior’s Hall of Fame election. They’ve obviously done much better than that. Even graded NM/MT or MT examples have increased in price, although not by quite as much.
Remember, these figures pale in comparison to the Griffey rookie cards that have never been graded. It’s safe to say their numbers dwarf those that have been encapsulated. There are likely a lot more 9s and 10s sitting in plain toploaders, old screwdown holders or album pages.
There’s no doubt Griffey remains an icon, especially to those who grew up buying (or hoping to buy) his Upper Deck rookie card as one decade turned into the next. The good news is that you won’t have trouble finding one.
You can check out the most watched Ken Griffey Jr. cards at auction on eBay right now via the live list below.
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