An Expert’s Guide To Collecting Vintage Wax Packs

1948-bowman-wax-box

An unopened box of 1948 Bowman Baseball wax packs

Collectors often dream about some of the unopened wax packs owned by Steve Sabow.  Sabow is one of the hobby’s preeminent dealers of vintage wax packs.  In fact, Sabow has sold more unopened vintage wax in the last three years than anyone else in the country.

I had the opportunity to speak with Sabow recently and found him to be an all-around great guy and a wealth of information in relation to buying and selling vintage wax packs. Sabow has been at this for a while; he started out selling cards at flea markets back in 1976 and started branching out into local card shows while also promoting several shows throughout the NY and CT area.

He’s been selling packs since the 1970’s, but it was only recently that he started getting heavily involved with vintage packs.  In fact, Sabow credits his vintage card business as allowing him to stay alive in this hobby longer than most.  He’s had a booth at the National Convention every year except for the first four.

Steve is retired now, but still quite active as a vintage card and wax pack dealer (although COVID-19 has slowed down business a bit). His list of packs for sale is one of the most impressive lists of packs I’ve ever seen.  We’ve summarized our discussion with Sabow, providing some of the most important points for any collectors interested in vintage unopened wax.

Where To Buy Vintage Unopened Wax?

It's hard to find high quality vintage packs at local card shows, or even at the National card show, according to Sabow.  Usually the best wax pack collections show up at auction houses, but Steve claims that he remains one of the top sellers of vintage wax in the country.  And while you can buy vintage wax on eBay, a lot of it is resealed and he would tend to avoid.   Often times however, the best way to find vintage wax is by building relationships. 

About seven to eight years ago, Steve met a seller at a local card show. The two developed a good relationship and this seller has been a major source of Steve's
recent collection and inventory. It wasn't easy however, as Steve really worked the connection and built a high level of trust. Steve has also always been willing to pay top price for his acquired packs. This has been a big key to Steve's success in acquiring high quality vintage packs. 


“If you're paying more than anyone else, you get good stuff, and people remember you for the next find”

Steve Sabow, Vintage Wax Dealer

What To Look Out For When Buying Vintage Packs

Steve looks for specific features when buying packs. For example, he doesn't buy packs with broken gum, although if it's a super rare pack he will consider it. He also won't typically buy packs with holes in the corners or tears, although, again will make some exceptions if they are super incredibly rare. Even Steve has occasionally damaged packs or broken gum in packs when moving them around from different card shows. 

Unopened Vintage Wax - Red Flags

  • Broken Gum
  • Creased Wrapper
  • Bent Pack Corners
  • Tears In The Pack
  • Weird Shape In The Pack

Steve doesn't consider himself an expert at authenticating wax packs, yet using the aforementioned red flags - broken gum, tears, or bent corners, most collectors can avoid buying something that has been resealed.  In addition, he avoids packs that have a lot of creasing.  If anything looks unusual, he won't buy the pack.

“I don't think anyone knows 100% for sure if a pack has been opened or not.  There are experts that think they know.  But most of the time, its a crap shoot no matter what”

Steve Sabow, Vintage Wax Dealer

Should You Get Vintage Wax Packs Authenticated?

Sabow appreciates the drawings on the packs and the wrappers themselves.  He's seen many of the third party graders ruin vintage wax packs,  by stuffing the packs into a holder and damaging the pack.  He pointed to a past Heritage Auctions sale of a 1952 Topps Wax Pack which was graded  as Near Mint to Excellent (PSA 7) by PSA yet if you examined the corners of the back of the pack it had been damaged by the holder and there was a tear on the back of the pack.

1952-Topps-Wax-Auction

This 1952 Topps wax pack sold at Heritage Auctions in 2018. Based on Sabow's observations, he believes that PSA damaged the pack while inserting into the holder.

Grading does obviously help legitimize the process and provides trust for buyers, yet Steve appreciates the look and feel of an ungraded pack.  He doesn't want to risk one of the third party graders damaging any of this packs. Sabow says that out of every ten packs that has been graded, he estimates that seven have been damaged by the graders.

Steve keeps his packs ungraded and knows he could probably sell more packs if they were graded.  He notes that unauthenticated packs bother about 9 out of 10 people but he doesn't want to take the risk of getting his packs damaged. Surprisingly, Sabow notes that PSA holders have actually been responsible for the process that often damages the unopened pack. While GAI is no longer in business, their holders actually secured the packs better. 

(Editor's note: PSA's pack grading service is the only game in town right now, and I would argue that PSA graded packs bring a higher premium versus GAI graded packs, as they notably went bankrupt several years back..)

He however would send in his packs tomorrow to any grading company that would guarantee his packs would not be returned with damage.

Do I smell a business idea?

Could Someone Make A Full Time Career Out of Buying and Selling Vintage Packs?

Steve has sold cards at shows for over 40 years, and has developed a large collector following. Often the serious collectors know exactly where to find him at a given show, and often visit on the very first day of the show.

Despite being retired from his full-time career, Steve has made a part-time secondary career out of buying all kinds of sports collectibles, and his display often includes many showcases of unopened wax packs and boxes.

Steve points out that there are already a number of other vintage wax pack dealers(and several of them are store owners) who are making a full-time or part-time career out of selling vintage wax. Steve points out that competition is always good for business.

Investing In Vintage Wax Packs

Steve always tells anyone that asks about pack investing to "Buy What You Like". "If you get stuck with it, at least you have something you like" Steve told me.  It's hard to get a quick turnaround on wax boxes unless you get something for a steal or if you have something like 1986 Fleer Basketball wax which seems to continually increase in value.  Most of Steve's big ticket items sell for $40K to near $100K, thus it can at times take a while to find a buyer; but sometimes they sell almost instantly.

1986 Fleer Basketball Wax

Sabow sees unopened 1979-80 Topps Hockey wax and 1986 Fleer Basketball wax packs as a great longer term investment.  Wax from both of these sets should continue to remain in high demand.  

1979-1980-hockey wax-tray

1979-1980 Topps Hockey wax should remain a solid long term investment according to Sabow.

He says it's pretty tough to make much money on post-1980 wax, although he is seeing a definite pick up in interest in early 1980's baseball wax, especially if the pack has a star on it.  

 "Some of those 80's packs with Boggs, McGwire, Griffey Jr. or Canseco on the top are selling really well right now.  Collectors want to own a pack that has their favorite star on the top.  They aren't going to open that pack."  
boggs-cello

Steve thinks that Junk wax was actually 'junk before it came out" and doubts that even some of the recent pick up in the overproduced junk from the 80's will maintain a continued rise in prices. 

Are Wax Pack Breakers Good For The Unopened Wax Market?

One of the biggest phenomenons in recent years has been the explosion of so called 'pack breakers', which sell 'spots' in a contest in which each entrant has the rights to a randomized card in a pack.  The pack breakers need to purchase packs that bring attention to their contests and this has led to some high profile pack breaks. Here's a recent example of a 1986 Fleer Wax Pack break in which one lucky collectors scored an '86 Fleer Jordan rookie card.

This rising popularity of pack breaks has also led to a surge in pricing for unopened packs.  Sabow has sold to many pack breakers and he doesn't necessarily love it-since he knows they will make a significant profit--but he has learned that he can't discriminate.  "Their money is good as anyone else's money" Sabow says. 

Sabow believes the pack breaking popularity that is driving the increase in unopened wax prices is a close parallel to what happened in the coin market with the melting of silver coins.  He believes that any packs that were produced prior to the mass production of cards in the late 1970's will continue to become harder to find.  At some point, because of the breakers, packs from the 40's thru 60's will become nonexistent for sale. 

“As long as card grading remains popular, then pack breaking will be popular. For sure.  The guys that developed pack breaking came up with an ingenious idea.”

Steve Sabow, Vintage Wax Dealer

What Are The Rarest Unopened Wax Packs?

Sabow obviously has a ton of experience dealing in vintage wax packs.  He provided some intel into the rarest sports card wax packs. 

Rarest Unopened Baseball Wax

1952 Topps - Not necessarily the rarest, but most desirable
1953 Bowman Color - Ten times rarer than a 1952 Topps pack
1956 Topps and 1958 Topps - Really tough to find

Rarest Unopened Football Wax

1955 Topps All-American, 1953 Bowman - Both are super hard to find
1965 Topps - Most desirable football wax due to Namath rookie

Rarest Unopened Basketball Wax

1948 Bowman Basketball
1957 Topps Basketball - First year of Topps Basketball, Very Desirable

Rarest Unopened Hockey Wax

1954-55 Topps - First year of Topps Hockey, Very Desirable
Any Pre-1970 Hockey are very tough to find.  Topps just didn't make that much of it. 

Vintage Unopened Wax For Sale

We thought it only fitting to help Steve with a plug for his wax packs for sale.

If you are interested in any packs on this list, feel free to get in touch with Steve.  Be sure to tell him you saw his list at  'All Vintage Cards'.

Steve Sabow
914-739-8138 home
914-522-3853 cell

DynamicTwo@aol.com

NOTE: The list that follows contains many packs that are quite rare, scarce and tough.

BG* = Broken Gum

BC* = Bad Corner

Unopened Vintage Baseball Wax Packs For Sale

1949 Bowman – rare -- $40,000

1949 Bowman – rare -- $33,000 BG*

1949 Bowman PCL very rare - $100,000 (Only one known to exist)

1951 Bowman – rare – 1 Cent -- $9,500

1951 Topps 1 cent -- $275

1951 Topps 1 cent -- $275

1952 Topps –scarce -$68,000

1952 Bowman – rare -- $20,000 – BG*

1953 Bowman Color – very rare -- $85,000 HOF Al Lopez on rear

1953 Bowman Color –very rare --$80,000

1954 Topps/OPC – scarce -- $10,000

1955 Bowman – scarce -- $8,000

1955 Bowman – scarce -- $4,800 – BG*

1957 Topps – scarce -- $7,000

1957 Topps – scarce -- $7,000

1957 Topps – scarce -- $7,000

1958 Topps – very rare -- $40,000

1958 Topps – very rare -- $40,000

1959 Topps – scarce -- $5,000 BC*

1960 Topps -- $2,000

1961 Topps -- $4,000

1962 Topps -- $2,500 BG*

1965 Topps – tough -- $2,500

1965 Topps 1 cent -- $875 – BG*

1967 Topps -- $2,200

1967 Topps -- $2,200

1967 Topps – $1,500 BG*

1967 Topps – $1,500 BG*

1967 Topps – $2,500

1967 Topps – $2,500

1967 Topps – $2,500

1967 Topps – $2,500

1967 Topps – $2,200

1967 Topps -- $2,200 **BUY ALL TEN 1967 PACKS FOR $20,000**

1968 Topps -- $2,200

1968 Topps -- $2,200

1968 Topps -- $2,200  

1969 Topps -- $2,500

1970 Topps -- $750 – BG*

1970 Topps -- $850

1970 Topps -- $850

1975 Topps Minis Complete Box -- $3,000


Unopened Vintage Football Wax Packs For Sale

1948 Leaf Football rare -$65,000

1952 Bowman Large – rare -- $8,500

1952 Bowman Large –rare -- $10,000

1952 Bowman Large – rare -- $5,000 BC*, BG*

1953 Bowman – very rare -- $30,000 BG*

1953 Bowman – very rare -- $40,000

1954 Bowman 1 cent -- $300

1954 Bowman 1 cent -- $225 BG*

1954 Bowman 1 cent -- $300

1955 Bowman – scarce -- $5,000

1956 Topps 1 cent -- $750 – BG*

1957 Topps – scarce -- $4,000 – BC*

1957 Topps – scarce -- $4,000

1957 Topps – scarce -- $6,000

1957 Topps – scarce -- $6,000

1958 Topps – scarce -- $6,500

1958 Topps – scarce -- $6,000

1961 Topps –- tough -- $2,500 BG*

1961 Topps -- tough -- $4,000

1962 Topps -- $2,500

1962 Topps -- $2,500

1962 Topps -- $1,500 BG*

1962 Topps -- $1,500 BG*

1964 Topps -- $2,200 BG*

1964 Phil. -- $1,000

1964 Phil. -- $1,250

1965 Topps – scarce -- $10,000

1965 Topps – scarce -- $7,000

1965 Topps – scarce -- $6,000 – Single Print Chris Burford on back

1965 Topps – scarce -- $3,000 Single print Art Graham HOF BG*

1966 Topps -- $1,200 BC*

1966 Topps -- $2,500

1966 Topps --$2,500

1967 Phil. -- $1,500

1968 Topps -- $1,500

1968 Topps -- $1,500

1968 Topps -- $1,200

1969 Topps -- $1.000

1969 Topps -- $850

1969 Topps -- $750 BG*

Unopened Vintage Basketball Wax Packs For Sale

1969/70 Topps – scarce -- $7,000

1969/70 Topps – scarce -- $4,500 Don Nelson showing BG*

1969/70 Topps – scarce -- $4.000 – Boerwinkle rookie and Fl.Robinson rookie  BG*

1970/71 Topps --1,500 BG*

1961 Fleer – scarce -- $5,000

1961 Fleer – scarce -- $4,800

1961 Fleer – scarce -- $3,80000 Dolph Schayes rear BC*

1961 Fleer – scarce -- $3,500 BC*

1961 Fleer – scarce -- $3,500 BC*

Unopened Vintage Hockey Wax Packs For Sale

1966/67 Topps –scarce/tough (Bobby Orr rookie series) -- $35,000

1968/69 Topps – tough -- $4,000

1968/69 Topps – tough -- $4,000

1968/69 Topps – tough -- $4,000

All Vintage Cards
 

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