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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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 1

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.

See also: Why Most Sports Cards from the Late-'80s/Early-'90s are Worthless.

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 2

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.

Also worth noting, the factory-issued Tiffany sets are another key example of value from the era.

Are there any other cards you would include on the list? Sound off in the comment section.

View popular eBay auctions for Junk Wax Era baseball cards.

30 Great Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era

Click on the images or listings below to shop for cards on eBay. 

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 3

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 4

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 5

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.

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1986 Donruss Jose Canseco RC #39

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 7

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 8

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 9

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 10

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.

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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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 12

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.

30 Standout Baseball Cards from the Junk Wax Era 13

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Of all the brands and products released during that time period, only one regular card has carried a consistent raw 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.

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User Comments


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

dave novakovich
dave novakovich

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


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

BC Cardz
BC Cardz

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!


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.


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!

john newsome
john newsome

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.


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.

Mike Philpot
Mike Philpot

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 :)

candy mcarthur
candy mcarthur

I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading all the info Y’all ROCK


I believe there is a better way to use cards … Bicycle noise makers !! For real I remember all the trouble I was in when I used my brothers cards. But if anyone could find a way to make this hobby a social hobby instead of a home alone hobby I would love to take part in it since my house is full of cards.

I truly enjoyed looking through this list of cards. I was born in 82. Baseball cards in my little town and at school was huge. It was my first true glimpse at being an entrepreneur, selling cards and trading. It was the one of my best memories as a kid getting to go to the card shop (we had 3 in a town of less than 3,000 people lol). I still have just held on to most of the cards I collected from the era all the way up to 94-95. As an adult I joined PSA and have had thousands of my cards graded. With the thought that maybe someday when I’m long gone my kids or their kids can get something for them.


How is the 1994 SP Alex Rodriguez not on this list?

Thomas Joe
Thomas Joe

If you are looking to just “Give Away” your old late 80’s & early 90’s cards, check with the local Boys Clubs, Boy Scouts clubs, etc. They may take them and distribute them.

A few years ago I bought 10,000 of those cards, a third of which were still sealed in Wax packs, at an auction for $50. I never went thru them, instead, I have been throwing a bunch of them in “Freebie Bags”, along with some candy, gum, small toys like rubber balls, etc. at my Fishing Resort Store to the kids that come in. I am trying to create that old “Feeling” I had back in the 70’s when we would bike up to the local corner store and buy some candy and a few packs of Baseball Cards. Back then, we really did “Trade” them among each other, trying to get all the players on our favorite teams lol. Man, those were some good times.

The free cards have really gotten a lot of kids, boys and girls, excited about Baseball and Football Cards. They have been asking me to sell some newer ones because you can’t find any to buy within 40 miles and then they are mostly in Boxes at a Walmart that cost $19 or more. I have been trying to find some individual packs to sell, but I can’t. When I have found some, they want like $5 or more dollars for a “Double Pack” of cards.

I have tried buying some of the Blaster or Value packs they call them. Some come with 7, 8 or 10 packs in them and then I break them up and sell them that way for my cost or less. (kids know when they come into my store and use “manners”, I give them even more free things). But we are still talking $3 or more for a pack. I realize the kids have a shot at getting a really valuable card, but most of them at a young age just want a cool looking card of the players they like on the teams they like. Not to mention, it damages the Hobby as a whole when kids are only interested in “Hitting” a BIG card.

It’s sad what is happening to the hobby. They need to nurture it with the young kids or they won’t have anyone interested in collecting them in 20 years.

Even if I can find some to sell I will continue to give the older ones away. I will have to hit another auction sometime next year as my supply is running low lol. By the way, some of those wax packs did give these kids some of the above cards in this article, and they are always excited to get one. It makes me happy to do it.

I don’t make a living buying and selling sports cards and I don’t think I would ever want to. However, I have restarted my personal collecting by buying some older cards on ebay. I don’t buy the expensive ones, just my favorite teams like the Twins and some of my old favorite players from back in the day.

I will get my Grandkids involved soon, but we aren’t going to be buying those $100 -$200 – $300+ hobby boxes hoping to hit a crappy squiggly line supposedly of an autograph of the player on a sticker, stuck to a card. It’s sad the players don’t take a little more time to sign their name legibly.

Really is sad to see what this Great Hobby has become.

Cardboard Picasso
Cardboard Picasso

Great article. There is something nostalgic about the ’85 Topps McGwire Rookie card. It’s amazing how volatile that card’s value has been over the years. It is definitely on a hot streak now. My other two favorites are of course the ’89 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr which to me is the 80-90’s equivalent of the ’52 Topps Mantle as far as notoriety goes; and the Bill Ripken FF card (the real thing, not the scribble, etc.).


Wonderful article. I know this was written a while back, but it’s really nice that you brought attention to an era that defined the hobby of which I, and many other collectors, grew up in.

In my personal opinion, the term junk wax is generally used to describe all cards printed during the period of heightened (mass) production. Just because a card was not packaged in a wax pack doesn’t mean it’s not apart of that era of mass production (i.e. Donruss Opening Day, Topps Tiffany sets, 1985 Topps Mini test, etc.)

I have come to consider the ‘Junk Wax’ era, or whatever collectors prefer to call it, to be from 1981-1995. 1981 is when Donruss and Fleer came onto the scene and Topps lost its monopoly, and while card production was already on the decline by 1995 and ‘shorter’ printed and premium products (i.e. Finest, Bowman’s Best, SP, etc.) were beginning to take over the hobby, the hobby hadn’t yet been engulfed with SSP inserts/parallels (i.e. 1996 Certified, Atomic Embossed Gold Refractors, 1/1’s galore, and game used cards as in the 1997 Upper Griffey Jersey card, etc., etc., etc.,). That’s simply my subjective take – I think it’s important to know that like nearly all historical periods, it didn’t just start and end exactly at one specific moment in time. That being said, I truly think that cards from this era are just as important as the prewar, post WWII, or any other era is to this hobby.

So, here is my list of Junk Wax Era ‘gems’ based on rarity and price alone – not in order…

1. 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF
2. 1990 Topps George Bush USA1 Glossy
3. 1990 Topps George Bush USA1 Non-glossy
4. 1987 Donruss Opening Day Barry bonds ERR
5. 1993 Finest Nolan Ryan Promo Refractor
6. 1985 Topps Tiffany Mark McGwire
7. 1985 Topps Tiffany Rodger Clemens
8. 1986 Topps Tiffany Barry Bonds
9. 1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr.
10. 1990 Topps Mylar Dave Winfield
11. 1992 Score Franchise Mus./Mant./Yaz. Auto
12. 1993 SP Derek Jeter
13. 1991 Topps Tiffany Chipper Jones
14. 1993 SP Michael Jordan Holoview Red
15. 1994 SP Alex Rodgriguez Die Cut
16. 1995 Vladimir Guerrero Bowman’s Best Ref.
17. 1981 Fleer John Littefield Rev. Neg.
18. 1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy Rev. Neg.
19. 1987 Venezuelan Stickers Greg Maddux
21. 1989 Topps Tiffany Randy Johnson
22. 1986 Donruss HL Bo Jackson White Var.
23. 1985 Topps Mini Nolan Ryan
24. 1992 Donruss Elite Signatures Cal Ripken Jr.
25. 1993 US Playing Cards Cal Ripken Jr. Auto
26. 1993 US Playing Cards Greg Maddux Auto
27. 1989 Topps Heads Up Ken Griffey Jr.
28. 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza
29. 1991 Pacific Nolan Ryan Holograms
30. 1986 Topps Tiffany Bo Jackson


Ok people wanting to know worth of their cards. Please go to eBay and look the card up. Then make sure the sold field is checked. This is what the true value is. This is more realistic then a crappy Beckett magazine.

The ’87 Donruss Maddux Rated Rookie is my all-time favorite. I carry one in the back of my phone case cover.

Never understood all the love for the early 80’s Fleer designs. Among the most bland cards ever produced.

robert james vrtis
robert james vrtis

The more the merrier


No mention of the 1987 Topps Bo Jackson “Future Stars” rookie? That was a classic! I’m surprised Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry didn’t make their way onto the list, as well.

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