Junk Wax Gems: Top 15 Most Valuable Cards Of The Era

Despite the overproduction, there were many iconic sports cards produced that are quite valuable.

Updated Nov 17, 2023

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The Junk Wax Era, spanning from 1986 to 1993, is predominantly recognized for its significant overproduction of baseball cards.

This period led to a substantial bubble in the sports card industry, which eventually burst, causing a notable collapse in the market.

However, the era was more than just bubble and bust; it also produced a rich array of sports cards, including valuable rookie cards and rare short-prints

Many cards from this era now hold surprising value. You could discover some of these hidden treasures in your collection.

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the Top 15 Cards From Junk Wax Era

1. 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Fleer Rookie Card #57

  • Value (PSA 10): $160,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 322
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $738K in February 2021 (source)

The release of the Michael Jordan rookie card at the onset of the Junk Wax Era was a pivotal moment in sports card history. At that time, basketball's popularity was on the rise, though not yet at the level of baseball's fan base.

jordan-rookie-psa-10

In 1986, Fleer was the sole producer of basketball cards, offering wax packs for around 50 cents. Today, the value of these cards has soared, with a sealed 1986 Fleer Basketball box of 36 packs now valued at over $100,000

1986 Fleer Basketball Wax

1986 Fleer Basketball Unopened Wax Box

The set is renowned not just for Jordan's rookie card, but also for featuring a plethora of rookie cards and iconic 1980s stars.

A Gem-Mint PSA 10 Jordan rookie card set a record during the height of the card market, fetching over $700,000. Notably, only 322 of these cards have achieved the prestigious PSA 10 grade.

Good news is that the Jordan rookie is much more affordable for collectors, with lower grade copies now available starting at around $1500

2. 1990 Topps Frank Thomas Rookie No Name #414

  • Value (PSA 10): $170,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 322
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $170K in Dec 2022 (source)

Frank Thomas, a standout during the Junk Wax era, later became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His 1990 Topps rookie card was produced in large quantities, but a rare variation is the "No Name Error" card.

frank-thomas-no-name-topps

The 1990 Topps Frank Thomas Error Card (No Name) is one of the most notable releases from the Junk Era.

It's believed that only about 500 of these error cards have been found, though others might still be undiscovered in personal collections, often overlooked due to their perceived lack of value.

This error card is highly coveted by collectors in any condition. Only 245 have been graded by PSA, and remarkably, just one has received a perfect PSA 10 grade.

This sole PSA 10 card achieved an impressive sale price of $170,400 in December 2022.

3. 1993 SP Foil Derek Jeter Rookie 

  • Value (PSA 10): $200,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 21
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $600K in Dec 2022 (source)

During the Junk Wax era, the Upper Deck SP Foil Derek Jeter rookie card stood out as one of the most unique and innovative.

jeter-sp-chipping

Its shiny, foil design made it prone to condition issues, adding to its rarity and value. Recognized as Jeter's Hall of Fame PSA rookie registry card, it's particularly popular among collectors.

This card's value peaked with an all-time high sale of $600,000 in April 2022. In terms of grading, only 21 have ever been awarded a perfect PSA 10.

Despite this rarity, the Jeter SP Foil Rookie card is considered a worthwhile investment in any grade or condition.

4. 1989 Upper Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck Rookie #1

  • Value (PSA 10): $2,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 4100
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $5K in Feb 2021 (source)

In 1989, the newly established Upper Deck company made a bold choice by featuring top prospect Ken Griffey Jr. as the number one card in their inaugural set.

psa-10-griffey-ud

The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card today remains one of the most desirable cards from the Junk Wax era.

Despite an estimated 3 million copies printed over three years, a PSA 10 grade of this card still commands around $2,000 at recent eBay auctions, with a total of 4,104 examples having achieved this grade.

The most coveted version is a PSA 10 with a 10 autograph grade, fetching over $10,000 at recent auctions. Only 83 of these dual-grade cards exist.

griffey-jr-auto

5. 1993 Finest Michael Jordan Refractor #1

  • Value (PSA 10): $20,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 41
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $43K in March 2021 (source)

As the Junk Wax era drew to a close, card manufacturers began introducing more visually striking cards, including the first-ever refractor insert cards. 

finest-jordan-refractor

These cards combined a retro 1990s look with added shine and reflectiveness. Collectors at the time likely didn't realize the rarity of these Refractors compared to their base versions.

Today, Refractors remain highly relevant and are considered among the most popular card parallels in the hobby.

A notable example is the 1993 Finest Michael Jordan Refractor, which reached a record sale of $43,000 for a PSA 10 grade in March 2021.

With only 41 PSA 10 graded cards in existence, this specific Refractor is especially coveted among collectors.

6. 1991 Topps Chipper Jones Desert Shield Rookie #333

  • Value (PSA 10): $12,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 32
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $21.5K in March 2021 (source)

In 1991, Topps produced a special series of cards for troops involved in the Gulf War, known as the Desert Shield cards. Many never surived the trip overseas and are quite hard to find.

chipper-jones-desert-shield

Among them, the Chipper Jones Desert Shield rookie card emerged as the most valuable. Jones, an emerging prospect, would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

A PSA 10 graded example sold for a record $21,588 in March 2021. 

Only 32 of these Chipper Jones cards have been graded as PSA 10, making them extremely rare and highly sought after in any condition.

An interesting tidbit is that this card was featured in an episode of "Pawn Stars," where someone presented the entire Desert Shield set in a binder, except the Chipper Jones card was the standard Topps version, not the Desert Shield one. The Desert Shield cards are distinguishable by a gold emblem on the middle front right edge. 

7. 1992 Little Sun Derek Jeter Autograph Rookie /250

  • Value (PSA 10): $20,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 20
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $27.6K in July 2022 (source)
1992-little-sun-jeter-auto

1992 Little Sun HS Prospects Derek Jeter Autographed Card

The 1992 Little Sun High School Prospects Derek Jeter autograph card, limited to 250 copies, is a highly sought-after collectible.

Known as one of Jeter's first certified rookie autographs, it's often called "The Holy Grail" of Jeter autographs. 

The card's highest sale was $27,600 in July 2022, despite the card being PSA 10 graded and the autograph slightly streaky.

With only 20 cards graded PSA 10, its scarcity is notable.

Although Little Sun has ceased sports card production, this card remains in high demand, sometimes considered underrated.

Comparable in rarity to the more expensive SP PSA 10 Jeter rookie card, the dual-graded version of this card is particularly attractive to collectors and investors.

8. 1992-93 Stadium Club Beam Team Shaquille O’Neal #21

  • Value (PSA 10): $8,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 58
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $20K in Feb 2021 (source)

The 1992-93 Stadium Club Beam Team cards, a groundbreaking series in 1990s basketball card inserts, feature Shaquille O'Neal's highly coveted Beam Team insert card.

beam-team-shaq

This set includes a common base version and a rarer Members Only variant, part of the Stadium Club factory set.

The Members Only Shaquille O'Neal card is particularly valuable, with a top auction price of $20,000 and only 58 graded as PSA 10, emphasizing its scarcity and appeal.

The base version, slightly more common with 120 PSA 10 graded cards, also holds significant collector interest, highlighting the overall desirability of these Beam Team cards.

9. 1990 Topps George Bush USA #USA1

  • Value (PSA 8): $8K
  • Total PSA Population (Base Version): 113
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 8): $7.8K in Dec 2022 (source)

In 1990, Topps released a special George H. W. Bush card in two versions: a regular issue and a rarer White House issue.

1990-topps-bush

The White House version, initially part of a binder given to the White House, is extremely scarce, with only 13 graded by PSA compared to 106 of the regular version.

There is a notable difference between the two versions according to PSA

We realized the difference when a former White House official submitted his cards for certification. We now know the White House-issued cards have an almost laminated, reflective look to the front, while the other George Bush cards look and feel just like the regular Topps cards produced for their 1990 baseball card set

Both are classified as SSP (Super-Short-Print), highlighting their rarity and making them standout chase cards from the Junk Wax era. The regular version's highest recent sale reached $7.8K for a PSA 8 grade in December 2022.

A White House version of the Bush card just sold at auction for close to $10K at auction, potentially undervalued, considering the scarcity.

bush-huggins-scott-bush

George Bush 1990 Topps White House PSA Graded Copy - Image Courtesy Huggins Scott Auctions

Recognized as one of the most exceptional Presidential cards, its rarity and collectible appeal set it apart in the sports card industry.

10. 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera Rookie #302

  • Value (PSA 10): $650
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 1500
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $2,100 in 2021 (source)
rivera-bowman

The 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera card holds the distinction of being his only true rookie card.

Rivera, who debuted in Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees in 1995, went on to establish himself as the greatest closer in MLB history.

His crowning achievement was being voted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2019 as the first unanimous selection.

The value of this card has fluctuated, peaking at $2,100 for a PSA 10 grade in 2021, but as of November 2023, it's valued around $600 to $650. 

Autographed versions of this card, especially those with Rivera's inscriptions and graded by PSA, are also in high demand among collectors.

11. 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken F* Face #616 Error

  • Value (PSA 10): $450
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 2400
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $775 in March 2021 (source)

The 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card gained notoriety for an error featuring the phrase "F* Face" on the bat's knob, making it one of the most famous error cards in baseball card history.

billy-ripken-fuck-face

After its discovery, Fleer released several corrected versions, including those with a black scribble, white scribble, black box, and white-out over the offending text.

Most collectors don't realize that the 'F Face' error is actually widely available. The 'Whited Out' and 'Scribbled Out In White' versions are much scarcer, with only 300 combined graded PSA copies. 

ripken-scribbled-white

The Ripken error card, corrected by Fleer with White Scribbles is the rarest Ripken error variation.

A PSA 10 graded original error card, coupled with a PSA 10 autograph, fetched $2,625 in May 2023, a rarity with only 22 such dual-graded cards.

The standard FF error card, at PSA 10, is valued at around $450, with 2,459 PSA graded copies in existence.

This card's unique error makes it a distinctive and memorable piece from the Junk Wax era, celebrated for its rarity and iconic status in the collectibles world.

12. 1989 Score Barry Sanders Rookie #257

  • Value (PSA 10): $1300
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 2200
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $5K in Nov 2021 (source)
barry-sanders-rc

Barry Sanders' 1989 Score rookie card, a highlight among his various rookie cards, is distinguished as his PSA Hall of Fame Rookie Registry card.

The announcement of the Amazon Prime documentary 'Bye Bye Barry' set for release on November 21st, 2023, has boosted interest and value in this card.

The documentary's release is anticipated to further elevate the card's value, demonstrating the significant impact of media and events on the collectibles market, especially for legendary athletes like Sanders.

PSA 10 graded versions of the Sanders rookie card are worth about $1300, while rarer dual-graded copies with a Sanders autograph in PSA 10 grade sell for over $3000.

Copies of the base card, which has over 2,200 PSA 10 graded examples, peaked at $4,000-$5,000 in November 2021. 

13. 1989 Score Deion Sanders Rookie

  • Value (PSA 10): $850
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 900+
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $1750 in Feb 2021 (source)

Deion Sanders' 1989 Score football card, notable for its recognition as his Football Hall of Fame Rookie Registry card by PSA, has seen a recent increase in value.

89-sanders-score

This surge is partly attributed to his growing popularity as 'Coach Prime' at the University of Colorado.

While the highest sale of this card in a PSA 10 grade reached $1,750 in February 2021, its value has somewhat declined since then.

In early 2023, prices ranged from $600-$700, although morer recently, some have sold for over $1,000 on eBay. 

The card's appeal extends beyond its regular versions, with signed examples and dual-graded versions, where both the card and autograph are PSA 10, being particularly coveted by collectors.

14. 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza Rookie #U-92

  • Value (PSA 10): $375
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 800
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $500 in March 2021 (source)

Mike Piazza, a standout talent from the Junk Wax era and a Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 2016, has a notable rookie card in the 1992 Fleer Update set.

fleer-update-piazza

The Piazza card is noteworthy for its relatively limited production compared to other rookie cards of that period. 

A dual-graded version with both the card and autograph rated as PSA 10 sold for $1,225 in August 2022, with only 22 such cards existing, emphasizing their scarcity. 

The non-autographed version, with 791 PSA 10 graded examples, is valued at about $350 to $385. Collectors and investors might find the autographed version more valuable, though a PSA 9 card with a PSA 10 autograph could be a more cost-effective investment.

The regular PSA 10 card remains a solid choice for those interested in baseball memorabilia.

15. 1992 Michael Jordan Beam Team #1 

  • Value (PSA 10): $6,000
  • PSA Population (PSA 10): 104
  • Highest Sale Price (PSA 10): $10K in Jan 2021 (source)

The Michael Jordan Stadium Club Beam Team card, from the same insert set as the Shaquille O'Neal Beam Team card, is one of the earliest Jordan insert cards from the Junk Wax era. 

michael-jordan-beam-team

The Members Only version of the Jordan card is particularly sought after, with a PSA 10 graded example reaching an all-time high sale of $13,600.

In terms of grading, there are 1,047 PSA 10 graded examples of the Members Only version of the Jordan Beam Team card.

Additionally, there are 2,718 PSA 10 graded examples of the regular version.

The popularity of Jordan’s Beam Team card remains strong, resonating with many collectors due to its iconic status and the enduring legacy of Michael Jordan in the world of basketball.

Honorable Mentions

1989 Topps Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie #41T

89-topps-traded-tiffany

This card is quite rare, with significantly fewer copies in existence compared to his Upper Deck Rookie. Its distinguishing feature is the brightly colored back, which sets it apart from the base version. Considered one of Griffey Jr.'s most popular cards, it marked the beginning of the trend in producing rarer parallel versions during the Junk Wax era.

1990 Topps Tiffany Frank Thomas Rookie #414

thomas-tiffany

Thomas’s Tiffany rookie is considered his second best card after his no name rookie. The bright back color is the main tell as to tell the difference versus the base version. Many Thomas Tiffany rookie cards are still very underrated in my opinion. 

1993 Topps Traded Todd Helton Rookie #19T 

helton-rc

Todd Helton is poised to become a Hall of Famer in 2024. Last year, his rookie card, graded as a PSA 10, experienced a significant increase in value. We can anticipate a similar trend in the coming months with the anticipation of his induction into Cooperstown in 2024. Currently, Helton's PSA 10 graded cards are valued at around $130-150 in recent eBay auctions. This card was exclusively available in a sealed box set during that era, meaning the set had to be opened to access and grade the card.

1990 Score Bo Jackson #697

bo-knows

An impossible card to find signed by Bo due to a licensing issue. This card is still very underrated and undervalued in my opinion. It showcases Bo’s stardom as both a football and baseball player during this era. PSA 10’s are valued around $200-300 at a recent eBay auction. See our guide to the best Bo Jackson rookie cards.

1987 Fleer Barry Bonds Rookie #604 

fleer-glossy-bonds

Bonds Fleer Rookie was a hot commodity in the early 2000’s, especially when he broke the all-time single season home run record. His Fleer rookie is considered his most popular card. There is still a shot he could become a Hall of Famer in the coming years. See our guide to the best Barry Bonds rookie cards.

1986 Donruss/Leaf Fred McGriff Rookie #28 

mcgriff-leaf

Fred McGriff was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame at the start of 2023, as a result his cards saw an all-time high in value. McGriff's 1986 Leaf rookie card was issued in Canada and had a much lower print run as compared to the similar Donruss issue.  In terms of longer term investment value, we like high grade McGriff Leaf rookie cards

Vinnie Rullo

About the author

Vinnie Rullo is a passionate sports fan, with a hardcore loyalty to the Yankees, NY Giants and New York Knicks. An avid sports card collector, Vinnie has also worked a collectibles specialist for one of the bigger online auction houses.

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