A new SC Daily feature, The Sealed Report is a bi-monthly overview of the market for unopened sports packs and boxes. Long-time industry pro Leighton Sheldon of Vintage Breaks and Just Collect will provide insight on what’s hot and what’s not, highlight recent sales of unopened product and tips on participating in one of the hobby’s hottest and most popular realms.
The wax market is always fluctuating based on a myriad of factors – season, victories, injuries, hype, talent, and more. Vintage wax has been on fire of late. Let’s start by looking at one product that’s catching collectors’ attention–and with good reason.
Why choose football wax now? Among the reasons: Football Fever is on the horizon.
- The first pre-season NFL game of 2021 is less than a month away (August 12).
- August 8 is the Class of 2021 NFL Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Vintage pack and box prices remain strong. Last week, Collect Auctions listed a sealed box of 1972 Topps football third series that sold for $36,640; a box filled with the rare high numbers. Heritage Auctions offered a 1986 Topps football wax box with the potential for mint Jerry Rice rookie cards pull in $4,440 just three weeks ago. Gale Sayers sits on top of this 1970 Topps cello pack that sold on eBay recently where the listed price was $1,795.
I’m going to go back in time a little more for this report’s hot product, though.
The one to aim for right now is 1958 Topps football cello packs.
Choosing vintage over modern with a pack from 1958 rather than 2021 today is for value, the stars, and production.
The ’58 set consist of 132 cards and boasts stars such as Johnny Unitas (card #22), Bart Starr (#66), Frank Gifford (#73), and anchored by the rookie card of perhaps the greatest running back of all-time in Jim Brown (#62).
1958 Topps cello packs carry 12 cards. Each pack offers a shot at a valuable card:
- Nearly one in every four cards is of a Hall of Fame player.
- The set was released in a single series, meaning each pack could contain a Jim Brown rookie.
- No gambling on the future; these long-retired players’ careers have already been defined.
There was no printing on the front of the wrapper such as a logo or price. All of that information was printed on the box in which the packs were housed. The design gives you a full look at the top and bottom cards in each pack, narrowing down your odds on which stars you may pull.
Modern football cards aren’t generally released in series, and there are many different products being produced. In this month alone, 2021 Panini Illuminance, Donruss Elite, Panini Gold Standard, and Panini Elements will be released. I’m sure we’ll see Score, Chronicles, Select, and Prizm along with many others by the time the upcoming season comes to an end. A breaker or a hobby shop might have to stock a dozen or more different products so all Trevor Lawrence rookie cards can make their way into your hands. It takes just one product to deliver a Jim Brown rookie: that 1958 Topps cello.
1958 Topps cellos are not among the rarest vintage packs. Unopened material from over six decades ago isn’t dropped on retail websites every Friday morning, but they are readily available in the hobby. They’re not cheap, of course. A cello pack with Frank Gifford showing on top and Sonny Jurgensen on the pack, graded a 4 by PSA, is currently being offered for a buy-it-now price of $5,335. There are actually a few packs currently available on eBay now.
Around 2005, 312 sealed cello packs were found and saved from an old grocery store that you can read about here. That find has certainly helped the population numbers. There is a good chance you will be able to find a few tables sporting ’58 cellos at The National.
Over the years, at least 340 ’58 cello packs have been graded and authenticated by PSA.
Using a mid-grade example, a PSA 5, of Jim Brown’s rookie, is selling now for around $3,000 – $3,500. A pack-fresh, higher grade example could net a solid profit with a PSA 7 reaching about $14,000 and a PSA 8 around $23,000 – $28,000. The PSA Pop report has 483 Brown cards in a 7, and 197 receiving a grade of 8. There was no gum issued in the cello packs so there isn’t a worry about gum stains on the cards, nor would there be a wax stain on the bottom card of a cello pack. While you’re never guaranteed a card to receive a high grade, a cello-pack fresh card certainly increases your chances.
COLD PRODUCTS: 2019 and 2020 NBA
Bold take, I know! The market “boom” we’ve all witnessed over the last 12-18 months was heavily driven by NBA products. After the Last Dance documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls team aired at beginning in April of 2020, basketball card prices began soaring to unheard of levels. Soon came Zion mania and both collectors and flippers clearing out retail shelves, changing the landscape on how retail cards are sold. The modern market has cooled off a bit, though.
In early 2021, a pair of 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie cards graded PSA 10 each sold for $738,000. In search of the next valuable card, most collectors flocked to 2019 Prizm in hopes of pulling stud rookies of Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, or parallels of star veterans like LeBron James or Steph Curry. A Prizm blaster box of 6 packs, each containing 4 cards, had a retail value of $19.99 but you’d be hard pressed to find a box for $200 let alone $20.
In April of 2021, nearly a year after the hype began, a Prizm blaster box was still selling for around $440 and that’s DOWN from the peak sales from 2020. On July 9, a blaster box sold for $251.50. Is that sale an outlier? Nope! Here is a box for $310 that hasn’t sold, and another box here $324.95 that’s still available at the time I’m writing this.
So why dip? For 2019 products, the NBA season just wrapped up and neither Zion or Ja, or really any big name from the 2019 rookie class is holding an NBA championship or MVP trophy. The top rookies had fine seasons but nothing to add to those factors that alter the wax market. To be fair, Michael Jordan never won a title until his seventh NBA season but entered the NBA with an NCAA championship, a gold medal, had already won an NBA MVP and had a couple of iconic dunks under his belt when he finally climbed the mountain. Collectors have simply moved on to the next rookie class until 2019 makes waves again.
Looking at the PSA pop report for a Zion Prizm base rookie card, there have been 34,498 cards submitted for grading, over half of which received grad of 10. Even if Zion cards are still in high-demand, there is a surplus of cards on the market. You can snag a PSA 10 Prizm base rookie of Zion for $375-$400 right now, so paying that old price of $400 + for even a blaster box to chase the card isn’t financially sound. Yes, there are variations, colors, and other cards to hit, but overall – the returned value just isn’t there, so the prices on sealed wax have dipped for 2019.
2020 NBA sealed wax is following suit almost in mirrored fashion. The NFL season is about to lead the hobby, no class of ’20 big-name stars are holding the trophy, and frankly the current class of rookies aren’t as good as the sophomores. Yes, that can change, but for the current market, it’s just a fact.
Using the top-tier product of Panini Prizm, a 2020-21 blaster with the retail price of $19.99 is currently selling for $60 to $70. Stars like LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards just aren’t driving up the wax prices, and with the NFL season on the way, I don’t see breakers or hobby shops driving up the price of 2020 NBA products for a bit; they’re pretty cold.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some breakers will eat the old, stale gum out of vintage packs? I love me some 1984 Don Mattingly rookie cards, but even if I pulled 15 of his rookies out of a single 1984 Topps pack, I’m not eating that gum. I have personally seen a breaker eat gum from a 1954 Bowman football pack! 1954. Yuck.
My first job in the wax business was working full time with Mark “The Baseball Card Kid” Murphy after graduating Rutgers College in 2000. Mark produced one of the only known price guides for wax, one that’s a bit hard to come by today.
You simply don’t see publications on sealed wax prices anymore. Thanks to Mark for letting me work with him and learning about the wonderful world of vintage wax.