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When "old" stopped meaning "valuable"

This is a pack of 1988 Donruss. Note the sticker.

All of my life, when looking back at cards from 25 years ago, I was looking back at the unattainable, mystical and legendary. When I first started collecting cards, in 1975, 25 years ago was 1950. The only significant cards around at that time were Bowman. I didn't even know what Bowman was in 1975. But it sure was unattainable at age 9.

In 1980, the prime of my first collecting period, 25 years ago was 1955. The cards from that period are magic. Bowman wood framed TV sets and the first horizontal Topps cards. They seemed so ancient to me that I might as well have been hunting for them in a cave somewhere in Greece. There was no way I'd be able to get my hands on them.

In 1990, 25 years ago was 1965. I had maybe 100 cards from the '60s in 1990. Each of them was difficult to get and not all that easy to find. All of them had an unattainable quality.

In 2000, 25 years ago was 1975, the first year I collected cards. At that point, I still hadn't completed the '75 set (nor cared to at that time). I had lived 25 years thinking completing the '75 set was almost impossible because so many of the cards were so coveted.

Then something changed less than five years ago. Twenty-five years ago didn't mean what it had meant for my entire collecting life. Thanks to the junk wax era of the late '80s/early '90s, cards from 25 years ago were no longer unattainable or mystical and really not all that legendary (except for '89 Fleer Billy Ripken, of course). In fact, the cards were overattainable -- if there is such a word.

This is stunning to me to this day.

A few days ago, I needed to break a $10 bill to pay my daughter back $5. There is an easy way to do this that also satisfies my pack-ripping urge. I went down to the discount store and grabbed 12 packs -- $4 worth -- of 1988 and 1989 Donruss and a single pack of 1991 Fleer Ultra.

That's 12 packs for $4. That's almost 180 cards for $4. That's 2 cents a card.

Yes, I know everyone knows this and I'm not telling anyone anything new. But that blows my mind. These cards are 25 years-PLUS old! I would have knocked down all of my friends to get to a 25-year-old card in 1980.

And not only are these 25-year-old cards much cheaper than any 25-year-old card from any other point in my life, but they are stupifyingly available.

Here it is, almost 30 years later, and I can go down to some non-descript store and see boxes and boxes of 1989 Donruss. Rows of shelves with 1990 Donruss and 1989 Topps. This store probably will cease to exist in maybe another 10 years, yet all of those junk wax cards will still be available. The cards have outlived countless items -- both animate and inanimate -- in our lifetime.

The mind reels with exactly how many cards card companies printed then. They must have printed every hour on every day for five consecutive years.

So, anyway, that's what I thought when I was breaking a $10 bill.

I probably should show you the cards that were in the pack up above.

There you go.

The cards that ruined the concept that 25-year-old cardboard is valuable.


  1. I know what you mean. I really left the hobby in the mid-80s (I was in college, and my collecting impulse mostly transferred to records). In recent years, with more spending money in my pocket and with blogs such as yours reminding me of the boxes and binders in my closet, I've been inclined to buy a pack from time to time, and it's very weird that the ones I buy because they're the cheapest around are so old. I actually don't know of a store near me where I can buy those packs at 3/$1 (I'll keep looking!), but I get packs of things like Fleer Ultra from the same era from a supermarket vending machine for 50 cents. Recently I've also tried my luck with some repacks which also are mostly cards from that era. (And through FreeCycle I was gifted a box full of cards from that era as well--that also played a big role in rekindling a little bit of interest.) So funny that it's so much less than a new pack.

  2. "25 years ago . . ." That is something I've been saying more and more the last few years.

    That's also the way I've thought about baseball cards for many years. For me, the first reference to "25 years ago . . . " related to baseball cards was in 1988 when my 1973 cards. I too thought about the "25 years ago . . . " concept from 1973. That of.course would be 1948.

    1948?! Yes, those cards were unobtainable, due to cost, but I also was also not interested in collecting them at the time.

    I'm thankful for only to know that I'm the only one who thinks about the same concept.

  3. I feel the same way. Have you seen the videos of the guy that was burning complete sets of 1987 Topps cards in an attempt to decrease the supply. I tend to throw a lot of them out my car window, leave them around the ballparks, or drop piles of them at store parking lots.

  4. All the time I see cars with vintage plays on them and think "how is a 1985 F150 vintage"?

  5. I think the fact that these cards are so easy to counterfeit also hurts their value.I'm afraid to buy these packs at shops for fear of them being tampered with or pre searched.If I do go vintage,It's usually the rack packs that show a prominent player on the front or backs of em.

  6. I do think it's a bit of a sliding scale.

    -In 1980, 1955 Topps probably felt pretty damn unobtainable. But you were probably a kid then, so that may have factored in.
    -In 1990, 1965 Topps probably felt less unobtainable as 1955 had felt 10 years earlier. But being an adult may have made it feel a little easier than 1955 had felt 10 years ago.

    Factoring out the "kid" thing, I'd guess up until then everything was very similar. This makes sense, because until the late 1980's not all that much had change in cards. Yes, there were new companies in the 1980's. But Donruss and Fleer produced cards in a very similar manner as Topps always had. Upper Deck, and Score to a lesser extent, really seemed to change the game.

    Move on to 2000 - To me, in 2000, obtaining a 1975 card would have felt much more attainable than a 1965 card would have felt in 1990. So for some reason, I feel like it actually started earlier than you think, but maybe fell off a cliff when you get to 2010, and it was the overproduction 1980's that are 25 years ago.

  7. $3 for a buck is a good deal. Sure the cards are pretty much worthless in terms of resale value... but opening packs is always entertaining, so in my opinion it's worth the dollar.

  8. I think the Internet probably has some to do with it as well. I wouldn't have known where I could get a card from the '60's from in 1996 or so (I was 13 then). 5 years later, you didn't have COMC or anything like that but you did have eBay and search engines. Maybe I didn't know where to look back then since I was a kid but I believe the Internet changed things because now if a 13 year old really wants to and saves up for a few weeks, they can get a poor grade copy of a '52 Topps card from COMC just like that.

  9. 25 years. George Frazier, that Twins pitcher up there, has been a Rockies broadcaster for close to two decades. He's retiring and they had an on-field ceremony for him at Coors Field yesterday.

  10. Can't resist asking where you get three packs for a buck. Junk or no, that kind of reminder of my youth would be a fun trip to take.
    When I was a kid 25 years was forever ... I might have bought one or two 25-year-old commons for cheap at a card show and regarded them like holy icons.


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