10 Most Valuable Junk Wax Era Baseball Cards

For many adults today that look through old baseball card collections in search of anything with value, they’re sure to be disappointed. That is because the baseball card industry suffered through the “junk wax era“, a time of overproduction that killed the value of many cards.

It’s generally accepted that the junk wax era spanned from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. This time period was one where supply far outpaced demand as baseball card companies looked to capitalize on changing perceptions around the industry. Many were discussing baseball cards as investments and people were eager to hold cards and watch them appreciate in value.

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However, when the bottom fell out on the industry many people were left with these large collections that were worthless. The sheer quantity that the cards had been produced in meant that it was impossible for them to hold value.


Most Valuable Junk Wax Era Baseball Cards

While most of the baseball cards made during this era are close to worthless, there are a few that stand out and have value. We found the ten best junk wax era baseball cards and listed them out here.


10. 1987 Fleer Barry Bonds Glossy RC #604

Barry Bonds Rookie Card Value

First up, we got this Barry Bonds rookie card from the 1987 Fleer set with the glossy finish. Owner of a wide number of batting records, Bonds was a menace at the plate even if his accomplishments have been diminished by the fact that he took steroids.

This card has a great portrait photo of him with an old-school Pittsburgh Pirates cap on. His image has a blue border that goes all the way around but it slowly fades to white on the lower portion of the card.

Bonds’ fame and reputation mean that even though this card was produced in the Junk Wax era, it still has value.


9. 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey  RC #1

1989 upper deck ken griffey jr

Next on the list is this iconic card made by Upper Deck for their debut set in 1989. Ken Griffey Jr. was given the special #1 spot in the set and Upper Deck used a great image that shows “The Kid” smiling.

This card launched Upper Deck onto the baseball card scene as it was of a higher quality than other cards that were being produced at the time. It also was one of the first price raises in the baseball card industry, marking the start of the trajectory to the ultra-luxury items of today.

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Overall, this card is iconic and thus much of its value is derived from the fact that it’s a grail for many collectors of that era.


8. 1990 Topps George Bush USA1

George Bush Rookie Card Value

The only card on this list that doesn’t feature a baseball player pictured, this 1990 Topps release pictures George Bush when he was at Yale University.

The card used a glossy finish that can help distinguish from fakes and the total print run was extremely low. In fact, there have been 101 copies of this card graded by PSA and none of them have received the desirable rating of GM-10.

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For those looking for a more unique and expensive option, this card fits the bill perfectly.


7. 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken F**k Face Error #616

Billy Ripken Rookie Card Value

The first of a few different error cards on this list, this 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card is one of the more comical. The original card was printed with an obscene message on the bottom of Ripken’s bat. Subsequent print runs used a variety of different methods to alter the image, resulting in a large number of variations.

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It’s the original error that is pictured above here with the message clearly visible. This card brings a bit of humor and brevity to the table and is a classic that harkens back to a bygone era.


6. 1992 Bowman Mariano Riviera RC #302

Mariano Rivera Rookie Card Value

Perhaps the slickest looking card on this list, this Mariano Rivera rookie card shows the pitcher as a rookie showing off his style. Rivera leans upon a baby blue pillar while rocking a blue polo shirt himself.

Rivera would go on to be one of the most dominant closers to ever pitch in the major leagues, his cutter next to unhittable in his prime. This is a rookie card of one of the best to ever do it and it can be hard to find in perfect condition, thus the high price tag associated.


5. 1987 Donruss Barry Bonds Johnny Ray Error Card #163

Barry Bonds Rookie Card Value

Another error card, this one was supposed to picture legendary slugger Barry Bonds but features an image of teammate Johnny Ray instead. The name on the card is still that of Barry Bonds and the mismatch has caused this card to become a fan favorite.

The error was corrected in later print runs and thus the population for this card is low, helping it hold value despite the era it was produced in.


4. 1984 Topps Mark McGwire USA RC #401

Mark McGwire Rookie Card Value

Mark McGwire’s rookie card is unique in that it shows him wearing a red Team USA jersey instead of one from the MLB. With a bat slung over his shoulder, McGwire has a coy smile on the card that shows quiet confidence.

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For those that are looking for star rookie cards, you could do a lot worse than this McGwire card. The USA thing is an interesting twist not seen on many cards and makes this more attractive as both a collector’s item as well as an investment.


3. 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF Error Card RC #414

Frank Thomas Rookie Card Value

The last error card on this list, this Frank Thomas rookie card from the 1990 Topps set has taken a special place in the industry and has a cult-like following. His name is missing from the card and instead, there is just a blank space left.

The population for this card is very low — similar to the other error cards — and that makes it expensive for collectors that are looking to get their hands on it.


2. 1993 SP Derek Jeter Foil RC #279

Derek Jeter Rookie Card Value

While this card doesn’t have any errors or any other unique features, it has commanded huge prices at auctions when found in good condition. Derek Jeter is not only one of the best Yankees of all time, but also one of the league’s more marketable players and his stardom is one factor in the high price.

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Another is the fact that this card is rarely found in high condition and thus cards graded GM-10 are extra valuable. The foil background is extremely sensitive and thus this card should be handled with extreme care.


1. 1991 Topps Chipper Jones Desert Shield RC #333

Chipper Jones Rookie Card Value

Last but not least, this Chipper Jones card comes from a set that was given to US Troops that were serving in operation Desert Storm. The low print run, plus the fact that many of the cards were sent overseas and damaged or never seen again, means that this card is hard to find.

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When these do show up, they usually have good stories attached to them and are a favorite among collectors who have the means to purchase them. They can be distinguished by the emblem on the top right part of the card.


Most Valuable Junk Wax Era Cards Investment Outlook

Frank Thomas Rookie Card Value

While Junk Wax era cards typically don’t make for good investments due to the sheer quantity that is in thousands of basements across America, these ten outlined above are good choices. Whether they are special because of an error or their limited set, they all have a distinguishing feature that makes them stand out above the rest.

For collectors that are looking for some of that 90s nostalgia, you can’t do much better than the cards listed above here and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one, don’t let go.

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