30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era

There came a time in the history of the trading card hobby that mainstream manufacturers like Topps, Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck were shipping cards as fast as they could print them. With the explosion of the hobby in the mid-80s, other manufacturers entered the market. The overwhelming supply and eventually fleeting demand created a perfect storm for the crash that followed.

Unaffectionately referred to as the “Junk Wax Era," the period of 1984 to 1993 was a time of burgeoning gluttony, the ramifications of which are still being felt today. Need proof? Many of these products can still be found by the unopened case or, even, pallet.

However, despite the overwhelming amount of material from this period, there are several cards that should be included in any baseball card collection. While some of the cards listed below have long seen their glory days wither away and their values evaporate along with it, they still hold their place in hobby history.

Even today, if graded in top condition, the cards below make scouring through thrift stores, garage sales and long-forgotten boxes in the basement worth it.

30 Great Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era

1984 Donruss Don Mattingly RC #131

As the idea of the rookie card really started to catch on in a mainstream way, the 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly was at the forefront. His career may not have finished as strongly as it started, but Mattingly is still a Yankees icon. Likewise, this will forever be one of the most iconic baseball cards of the 1980s.

1984 Donruss Don Mattingly RC

1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens RC #27

Although it may never be made official, Roger Clemens put up Hall of Fame numbers. Predating his other MLB cards by a year, the 1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens is legitimately rare in top condition.

1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens RC

1984 Fleer Update Kirby Puckett RC #93

Just like the Clemens from the box set, the 1984 Fleer Update Kirby Puckett is a giant in part to being the late Hall of Famer's only MLB card from 1984 and its general rarity.

1984 Fleer Update Baseball Kirby Puckett Rookie Card

1985 Topps Mark McGwire RC #401

The 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card has seen its share of ups and downs. It's never going to rebound to its highs of 1998 when the slugger made a run at the single-season home run record. It's not going to come close. But that doesn't stop it from being a card virtually every collector immediately recognizes.

1985 Topps Tiffany Mark McGwire

1986 Donruss Jose Canseco

At one time, the 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco traded around the $100 mark. How the mighty have fallen. While many respect the slugger's accomplishments, he's more often than not a punchline today. If you invested in this card back in the 1980s, you've lost big but the strong nostalgia factor means that it's still worth a few dollars.

1986 Donruss Jose Canseco RC

1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds RC #11T

Steroids and controversy are a common theme among many of the top Junk Wax Era cards. By overtaking Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list and the subsequent fallout, Barry Bonds is among the most controversial . Even still, 1986 Topps Traded has one of his greatest cards.

1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds RC

1987 Donruss Greg Maddux RC #36

The 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux is the only main set the Hall of Famer appears in that year. While he has other cards, they're all in traded and other box sets. Supply is plentiful but the notoriety keeps this card in demand.

1987 Donruss Greg Maddux RC

1988 Score Rookie/Traded Craig Biggio RC #103T

Craig Biggio isn't your typical hobby superstar. He played at a time when the biggest names were smashing home runs and making flashy plays. Biggio was more a model of prolonged consistency. He's still not a top-tier hobby talent but his appeal has grown post-retirement as collectors look to a Cooperstown induction.

1988 Score Rookie Traded Craig Biggio RC

1988 Score Rookie/Traded Roberto Alomar RC #105T

The 1988 Score Rookie/Traded Roberto Alomar has a lot of the same appeal as the Biggio except Alomar made a fast entry into the Hall of Fame.

1988 Score Rookie and Traded Roberto Alomar

1989 Fleer Randy Johnson RC - Marlboro background #381

The 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson isn't nearly as infamous as another variation in the set, but the Marlboro version of the card is one of the best cards of one of the most dominant pitchers of the 1990s. The card in question shows an ad for Marlboro cigarettes on the scoreboard. Seeing as how in 1989 baseball cards were all about the kids (at least more so than today), Fleer went back and tried to obscure the ad. The end result is several versions.

1989 Fleer Randy Johnson Marlboro

1989 Fleer Bill Ripken "F**k Face" #616

Even if you don't collect baseball cards, you've probably heard of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken with its profanity-laden bat knob. For years, the real story behind the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken was a mystery. It turns out it wasn't a conspiracy but rather a mistake that led to infamy.

1989 Fleer Baseball Billy Ripken F--k Face

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. RC #1

If there's a Holy Grail of all 1980s baseball cards, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. is it. It has seen better times as far as values go but it's still universally beloved for those that collected in the 1990s. Besides being the best Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, it helped usher in a new era in the hobby that included glossy card stock and premium production values.

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. RC

1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa RC #220

Although Mark McGwire's appeal in baseball and the hobby has dropped, it's not nearly as severe as Sammy Sosa. When he helped make 1998 one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, the 1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa was a massive card fetching three figures. It's a fraction of that today, but of all Sosa's early cards, this is still the go-to choice.

1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa RC

1990 Leaf Frank Thomas RC #300

The 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas rookie card was the hottest in the hobby for a long time. That's not the case anymore, but it's greater affordability makes it worth a second look now that the Big Hurt is enshrined in Cooperstown.

1990 Leaf Frank Thomas RC

1990 Topps Frank Thomas "No Name on Front" #414

Usually, printing errors don't generate a lot of long-term excited. The 1990 Topps Frank Thomas No Name on Front is a major exception. Extremely difficult to find and still shrouded in mystery, it still sells for four figures.

1990 Topps Frank Thomas No Name on Front

1991 Stadium Club Jeff Bagwell RC #388

Jeff Bagwell was one of the most dangerous hitters of his era. 1991 Topps Stadium Club set a new benchmark for premium quality. Put the two together and you've got one gem that looks good and is extremely affordable.

1991 Stadium Club Jeff Bagwell RC

1992 Bowman Carlos Delgado RC  #127

Numbers don't lie. Carlos Delgado is one of the most overlooked players of the 1990s and early part of the new millennium. His only card from 1992, the 1992 Bowman Carlos Delgado should get a lot more love than it does.

1992 Bowman Carlos Delgado RC

1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera RC #302

Closers don't usually get much respect in the hobby. Mariano Rivera is the exception. Playing his entire career with the Yankees, he was the most dominant ever in his role. The 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera, his lone MLB card from the year, is part of the reason the set continues to be very popular at a time when many similar sets have dropped significantly.

1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera RC

1992 Bowman Mike Piazza RC #461

It might be more plentiful than his 1992 Fleer Update card, but the 1992 Bowman Mike Piazza is more attractive and iconic.

1992 Bowman Mike Piazza RC

1992 Bowman Manny Ramirez RC #532

Yet another great card from the classic set, Ramirez's popularity peaked early in his run with Boston. Although his career sputtered out in controversy at the end, this is still a card worthy of any collection.

1992 Bowman Baseball Manny Ramirez

1992 Bowman Chipper Jones #28

Proving that sometimes a second-year card can be more desirable than a rookie, the 1992 Bowman Chipper Jones is also a throwback to early 1990s fashion.

1992 Bowman Baseball Chipper Jones

1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza RC #92

What it loses in design, the 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza makes up for in rarity. Compared to virtually every other mainstream set from the year, this one is relatively tough to find.

1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza RC

1992 Topps Traded Nomar Garciaparra RC #39T

When he was with Boston, Nomar Garciaparra was one of the most beloved players in baseball. For a time, this was one of the hottest cards in the hobby. It still carries decent values compared to most other early '90s cards. It's not rare, but it brings back a lot of good memories.

1992 Topps Traded Baseball Nomar Garciaparra RC

1992 Topps Traded Jason Varitek RC #123T

Jason Varitek put together a solid career. It won't lead to Cooperstown, but he was a key member of one of baseball's best franchises.

1992 Topps Traded Jason Varitek

1993 Bowman Derek Jeter RC #511

You can't go wrong with any Derek Jeter rookie cards. Although not the most valuable, his 1993 Bowman rookie is still popular. It has a nice balance of design and affordability. Its connection to a long-standing brand also helps.

1993 Bowman Baseball 511 Derek Jeter

1993 Pinnacle Derek Jeter RC #457

Over the years, many Derek Jeter rookie cards have become expensive. And those that are affordable don't usually look that great. The 1993 Pinnacle Derek Jeter rookie card isn't only affordable, but the look is one of his strongest.

1993 Pinnacle Derek Jeter RC

1993 Select Derek Jeter RC #360

You might want to break into R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" when you first see the 1993 Select Derek Jeter rookie card. Boasting a somewhat premium (for the day) design, it's another affordable first-year Jeter that won't break the bank.

1993 Select Derek Jeter

1993 SP Johnny Damon RC #273

Johnny Damon had a colorful career. And making yourself memorable is a key part of gaining hobby notoriety. Damon isn't in his era's top tier, but it's tough to argue against his 1993 SP rookie card. At the very least, it's a much more affordable second choice to the Derek Jeter.

1993 SP Johnny Damon RC

1993 SP Derek Jeter RC #279

If the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. is the most iconic baseball rookie card of the 1980s, the 1993 SP Derek Jeter holds a similar spot in for the 1990s. The top card in a major debut release, it has a memorable look for a generational talent. Its condition sensitivity has made high-grade versions very scarce and very valuable.

1993 SP Baseball Derek Jeter RC

1993 Topps Traded Todd Helton RC #19T

Because he played in the thin Colorado air, Todd Helton's accomplishments are somewhat overlooked. He shouldn't be. His only rookie card is part of the last Topps Traded box sets to come with USA Baseball players.

1993 Topps Traded Baseball 19T Todd Helton RC

Of all the brands and products released during that time period, only one regular card has carried a consistent “book value" of $100 or more and that's the 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie. While there are other cards from the Junk Wax Era that still have some tangible worth, the above list is populated with rookie cards of current and future Hall of Famers, as well as those who, unfortunately, will be forever linked to baseball's ugly Steroid Era.

Top eBay Listings

1992 Mariano Rivera Bowman Rookie Card #302
$49.99

1992 Mariano Rivera Bowman Rookie Gem Mint 10 #302
$89.99

1992 Mariano Rivera Bowman RC #302... Graded BGS 9 Mint w 9.5 sub
$87.99

1977-2014 Topps New York Yankees Complete Team Sets 1993 Jeter 1600 + Cards
$219.95

Topps 1993- Jeter & Edmonds Rookies -Baseball Set -Factory Sealed
$100.00

3 GRADED BASEBALL CARDS--1987 FLEER BARRY BONDS 1986 BONDS--1985 McGWIRE
$20.00

1992 Mariano Rivera Bowman RC #302... Graded BGS 9.5 Gem Mint
$219.99

1992 MARIANO RIVERA BOWMAN #302 ROOKIE YANKEES PSA 9
$60.49

New Still in Shrink Wrap! Topps Complete Set 1988 1989 1992 1993 Jeter Rookie
$115.25

1992 Mariano Rivera Bowman RC #302... Graded BGS 9.5 Gem Mint
$219.99

1992 Mariano Rivera Bowman RC #302... Graded BGS 9 Mint w 9.5 sub
$96.79

1981-1987 FLEER BASEBALL CARD SETS w UPDATES inc. 1984 Puckett Clemens
$559.95

1985 TOPPS CLEMENS, 1986 DONRUSS CANSECO, 1987 FLEER BONDS RC's PSA 9 MINT[BB#4]
$75.00

Alex Rodriguez 1994 Upper Deck Bgs 9 And 1993 Jeter Topps Bgs 8.5 Both
$22.22

Vtg Topps Micro Baseball Set 1993 Jeter Rookie Draft Nolan Ryan Prism Cards
$49.99

1984 Mattingly 1983 Boggs 1985 Gooden Topps Rookie Pins Lot All 3
$14.95

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User Comments

  1. Your forgot to mention the 1987 Donruss Opening Day Barry Bonds/Ray error card — still has top value from junk wax era.

  2. How is the 1987 Classic Green Bo Jackson not on this list?

  3. The 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones RC should have been mentioned along with the 1992 Score Franchise autographed card featuring Mantle/Yaz/Musial.

  4. Have some baseball cards that I’m wanting to get some info on

  5. matthew » For detailed questions I recommend posting in our online forum: http://community.cardboardconnection.com/forums/forums.php . The community is a great resource for getting information and finding trading partners. If you question is directly related to this post, go ahead and ask it here and we will do what we can to help.

  6. Just so you guys know, the 1987 Donruss Opening Day issues was only released as a complete set, so the Barry Bonds / Johnny Ray error card is therefore NOT considered a junk wax issue.
    Also, Classic was only released as a complete game. Each colored set variation was released at different times during the year with updated player information and updated rookies.
    The 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards were distributed to US Troops in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm by Topps as a special thank you to the troops.
    Being that the production of these issues were extremely limited as compared to the traditional junk wax such as 1988 Donruss and 1988 Topps and the like, it is hard to consider any of those cards as so-called “junk wax” as two were never released in wax form, and the other was never released to the general public for circulation.

    As for the 1992 Score Franchise Autograph card with Mantle/Yaz/Musial, or any of the autographed cards from that issue, I wish you the best of luck pulling one; let alone finding one for sale. With the odds rated at approximately 1:5000 packs for an autograph version, I hope you have someone that will gladly purchase all of the commons you end up with during your search!

  7. While the Desert Shield cards were released only troops, they were released in “wax packs” to troops. The packs, from what I have seen, were never labeled any differently from the regular issue packs.

    Concerning the 1992 score Mantle/Yaz/Musial Auto, I would respectfully say that it should be included in the list regardless of how hard it is to pull. This was really the first big multi signed chase card. I would also say that if it isn’t included because of the scarcity of finding one in packs then the 1990 Thomas RC NNOF shouldn’t be included as well, as these are likely more scarce and were only issued in (from what I have read on forums) jumbo packs in the Northeastern united states. You would end up with a lot more commons trying to dig up one of those than hitting a autographed 92 score card.

  8. Those were the good old days. I was a kid, and one of only a handful in my entire school who collected cards and memorabilia. I still have all of those cards. I think it should be noted the mcgwire on that list is his olympic card. His rookie wasn’t printed till 2 years later. Like so many other things, greed ruined the hobby. Adults took over something that belonged to kids for generations. Instead of handing it off to the next, those adults in the 80s decided to keep it for themselves and try to sell it. I’m amazed and a little sick to my stomach when I see what a Mattingly rookie sells for on ebay, as well as Boggs and many others. Oh well, the memories are still all good!

  9. I have a signed 1992 Bo Jackxon card Starting lineup when he wad with thr white sox

  10. I also am guilty of the greed created in the 1980s- It was a lot of fun–Sure everything came falling down- Now I have all these cards left over from that area- I was on the selling side of it all. We messed it up-But after all is said and done look at what you have today- Only the well to do kids and adults can even buy this stuff-Its a rich collectors hobby now. All the little guys like me are gone-The 80s and 90s are gone- But now you have a hobby of the well to do by the well to do and for the well to do.All the down trodden have been left along the way. It pays to be well to do. I am sitting here with 50 thousand sport cards. I have created all kinds of ways to use them- I cant even give them away on ebay. But 20 years from now we will complain about whats going on now.Time solves all problems because time creates all problems.

  11. I have about five hundred older sports cards I would like to get Reid of if interested please let me know email me triekat80@yahoo.com I will send pictures of them or let u know if I got what your looking for thank you

  12. Have a couple cases of cards wanting to sale

  13. i have lost of baseballl ,basketball ,hocky ,basketball, cards old baberuth., ect three boxes had then sinces the80s 90s superbowl 520-704-0035

  14. I have an uncut sheet of 1992 All Stars (100 cards) by Classic in mint condition in a double glass metal frame so you can see the back of the cards. What would it’s value be?

  15. I have 1,500 baseball cards 1986 to 1993 and would like to know if I can sell them and where.

  16. I went to a auction, I do not collect baseball cards but thought I might bid for my Grandson. No one wanted them they said sell everything that has a baseballl on it. 17.00 dollars later and 4 huge grocery boxes of all types of cards open and unopen I went home. My Grandson at 7 years is going to think I am the greatest Grandma in the world . He just plain loves baseball and anyone who ever played it. For him it won’t matter right now everyone will be important. :}He will say you must have spent thousands of dollars. Thats what it will be worth to him.

  17. i recently moved in with my mother after her husband passed away and my marriage failed. She has an entire room of sports memorabilia, mostly baseball cards. She also found out that her late husband left some unpaid bills behind and she’s now in danger of losing everything. I have done some research on what she has and their worth. She is very interested in selling what she can in order to get back on track financially. If anyone could refer me to a place or is interested please e-mail me @Lindamw3479@gmail.com? Thanks

  18. I have two error cards. One is jim thome #257 with danny bautista #155 on the back.This is the 1994 stadium club card. The other is rob deer #139 with sandy Alomar #144 on the back. This is also a 1994 stadium club card. There are numerous other errors on both cards. Do cards like this have any collector value? Thanks for your input.

  19. robert stamey » Generally, little to no interest as cards like these are printing mistakes.

  20. all these cards i had at one time in my collection i no longer have them cuz i got robbed i was wonderin if i went to get them all back how much would i have to spend cuz i would spend anything to have them back cuz the 60s 70s 80s and 90s were awesome times for sports card collectin and im staryin to collect again for my 5 yr old nephew for his later yrs when im not here anymore maybe then they will gain in cash again like they used to be

  21. Just remember, Sy Berger was saying the same thing in the early 60s when he had to many 1952 topps high series leftover. One day the 80s cards will be a treasure, especially unopened. Just give it time :)

  22. My sons left me with 115 baseball trading cards, one of which is Roberto Alomar with the word “Padros” on the left top corner and “tops” in the lower left above his name. Is this worthwhile?

  23. Hi I have a complete set of 220 1996 leaf silver proof press in mint condition can anybody tell me what its worth or where I can take it or if interested feel free to email me at soldado702@yahoo.com

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