Greed Poisons a Junk Wax Classic

By all accounts, 1990’s Impel Marvel Universe Series 1 was a commercial flop. This set came out at the height of the comic book and trading card bubble, during a time in which seemingly every city in the country had 4-5 shops that dealt in comics and/or baseball cards. What a time to be alive!

Unfortunately for Impel, which produced the first Marvel trading card set, comic book fans just weren’t interested in crossing over into trading cards and sports fans balked at the idea of comic book characters trespassing into their territory. This of course was decades before comic properties became hip.

Impel still managed to release several unheralded Marvel sets but the magic was never there. In 1992, Impel changed their name to Skybox. That same year, Marvel Entertainment purchased Fleer and Skybox and combined the two card companies. Fleer/Skybox flourished in baseball and basketball but never once with their Marvel line.

As you may remember, the bubble eventually popped and things got really ugly. The entire comic book industry came seeminly this close to imploding and the “Junk Wax” era of baseball cards left many young investors / collectors feeling betrayed that their Kevin Maas rookie card was produced into the high millions.

Eventually both industries managed to bounce back but Impel’s line of Marvel trading cards never came close to anything of reverence. Complete early Impel sets sold for $20 or less for close to three decades, while the somewhat harder to find holograms barely hit $10+ a piece on the secondary market.

I’ve always been a die-hard fan of these Impel sets and would often pick them up every few years just to put them into shiny, new Ultra-Pro pages in my binders. The aesthetics of having the first three sets together was something I never got tired of seeing, even 30 years after its lackluster debut.

Sadly, everything changed in 2018 when the legendary Stan Lee died. For some reason, Lee’s card in Impel’s almost forgotten Marvel Universe somehow made their way into several mainstream news reports and it brought in what my opinion is much unwanted attention to the Impel line in general.

By the time the Covid-19 lockdown hit the country and a new trading card bubble fell on us, 1990 Impel Marvel Universe found itself on “Beckett’s Hot List”, sorta speak. Suddenly, everyone was picking up complete sets and unopened boxes to flip and to send in to PSA and other grading services.

I’ve never been a fan of getting cards graded but I understand its popularity. Why sell a card for $500 when you can get $1,500 if it comes back with a high grade? I also understand the need for getting cards authenticated as high-end printing technology is now readily available to just about everyone with a part-time job at McDonald’s.

There’s just something so odd about seeing these particular cards graded, however. I still remember card shops giving them away because they were so unpopular. I guess I always wanted Impel’s Marvel line to be my childhood secret that I could run back to every few years for pennies on the dollar.

Unfortunately, thanks to the new demand for these sets, prices have gone through the roof. I spent two weeks wading through eBay for a set under $120 and it’s nearly impossible. Unopened boxes? That’s out of the question as they run between $700-$900. That’s with zero chances at autographs, serial numbered cards, etc.

For true collectors of Impel Marvel Series 1 who have the completed set along with the five hologram inserts, make sure to also track down the 15-card Kodak set that was only available in vending machines. These cards feature the same design and artwork as the Impel line but have a miniscule print run when compared to the Impel set.

The sad reality is that these days collectors and greed go hand in hand. With thousands being spent on high grade copies of single cards, these sets will only continue to jump up in value. Even boxes from the “Junk Wax” era that you couldn’t give away 10 years ago have reached unheard of highs. Buy now before it is too late. That door is closing rapidly.

While this card boom may seem great for the industry, the truth is everything is being gobbled up by investors who are either holding product long term to increase value or to flip at double what last month’s prices were. It’s unfortunate that this hobby of collecting has turned into a full-fledged business venture that’s pushed many long time collectors away.

The Anatomy of an Iconic Card

Make no mistake, “Junk Wax” era or not, 1991 Upper Deck’s Michael Jordan baseball card is about as iconic a card as they make ’em. Jordan, who during this time was the greatest basketball player in the world, took the baseball card market by storm thanks to a public batting practice and the genius of Upper Deck.

The event pictured took place in 1990 at Comiskey Park and made news all over the sports world. Upper Deck was quick to capitalize on the historic moment and ultimately produced THE card of 1991, a short printed gem that outlasted the death of the Junk Wax era and still almost always hits double digits on eBay thirty years later.

You can see footage of the batting session on YouTube HERE.

The thing is, despite Upper Deck cornering the market on what back then was considered “high end” trading cards, other companies attempted to join in on the Jordan baseball craze and produced their own, unlicensed and often awful Michael Jordan baseball cards inspired by MJ’s ’90 batting practice.

Below are just a few:

1991 Ballstreet

Call me crazy but I loved the cards found inside the Ballstreet price guide, produced around the time of the investment/Junk Wax craze of the early-90s. I’ve even written about one of my favorite Ballstreet cards, a Donny Baseball, which you can see here.

Unfortunately, this Jordan Ballstreet left a lot to be desired. The camera man’s placement ruins this card thanks to the busy background scene behind Jordan. There’s just too much going on back there.

— — —

1991 RBI

Let me be clear: If your mom bought you an RBI baseball card price guide, she didn’t love you. This was another fly by night price guide cashing in on the soon to be dying Junk Wax craze and this card was included with purchase of a very poor man’s Beckett.

As for the card, there’s not much to say. It’s typical unlicensed, early-90s junk. I have tons of this type of stuff in my Jose Canseco collection. I will admit, it’s fun to find these cards for dirt cheap but once they enter my collection, you forget ALL about it very quickly.

— — —

1991 Aamer Sports

This card has two things that makes it unique from all other Jordan ’91 baseball cards. For starters, it is a dual card featuring the tragic Bo Jackson. This was shortly after he was dumped by the Kansas City Royals but before his baseball career went into a deep nosedive due to a horrific football injury.

Something else that makes this card special is serial numbering, which was a brand new innovation (if you wanna call it that) in 1991. It had been introduced by Donruss with the Elite inserts the same year. This Jackson/Jordan card is supposedly #’d to 10,000 but due to the unlicensed nature, it could easily have been printed into the 500,000+ range.

— — —

These are only three of about 5-6 that I’ve run into. If anything, I’ve only showcased some of the better looking ones because TRUST ME, there are some ugly ones out there not even worth the write-up. If you’re curious, just search for “1991 Michael Jordan Baseball Card” on eBay and you’ll eventually run into them.

In the end, the negative impact of the Junk Wax era made most sets from those years (around ’87-’92) worth next to nothing, at least until the grading scam entered the scene. Today, you can buy an unopened wax box of 1991 Upper Deck Baseball for well under $10 but that single Michael Jordan SP1 almost always outsells the entire set it came in.

As for the new attention in late-90s Fleer Metal Universe cards due to a Jordan documentary ā€¦ SHAME ON ALL OF YOU. I’ve been praising Metal, Fleer/Skybox, and late-90s cards for thirteen years. Unfortunately, all this new attention has all but guaranteed that unopened Fleer/Skybox product will never be attainable again.

The casuals have discovered our buried Fleer treasure …

In case you missed it, check out my Fleer / Skybox coverage.

The Undisputed Champ of ’93, Dude!

The Simpsons made their prime time television debut on December 17th, 1989. The world was a much different place back then but it’s safe to say the animated show about a blue collar family caught fire with young viewers. By 1990, Topps Company was hard at work on a Simpsons card set, which was not uncommon, as they were at the time the premier, non-sport card manufacturer. From Garbage Pail Kids to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and everything in between, it seemed Topps was most successful with non-sport properties during this time.

Although Topps was able to strike while the iron was red-hot, the 1990 set, which was 88 cards and 22 stickers, was as basic (not to mention boring) as it gets, even by “Junk Wax” era standards. I feel as a whole, Topps’ 1990 products all suffer equally across the board, which is why Upper Deck was able to overtake them in baseball straight out of the gate. I bought a pack (or 3) of 1990 Topps Simpsons but even as an impressionable 10 year old child, knew that my money was better spent somewhere else, such as on 1990 Impel Marvel Universe, which absolutely lit up Topps in every single category.

If you’re looking for a cheap Simpsons trading card set, you can’t go wrong with Topps but just a few short years later, Skybox, would enter the Simpsons card market with their very own set that would change the world of trading cards forever. I know, sounds like hyperbole, right? IT IS NOT. Also, remember that company Impel I mentioned earlier? Eventually, that company took on a new name: Skybox International. By 1995, Skybox was purchased by Marvel. The following year, Marvel purchased Fleer and thus Fleer/Skybox was born.

ANYWAY, in 1993, Skybox produced their own Simpsons trading card set which was heavily focused on the latest craze at the time, inserts. The base set was just 80 cards but Skybox included inserts like lenticular motion cards (see below), temporary tattoos, acetate, as well as glow in the dark cards. It had everything you could want in a set and became one of the hottest items of 1993, the same year Topps killed its competition by introducing the Refractor, but that’s a whole other story. Basically, Skybox, put Topps’ now ancient Simpsons set from just three years back to shame.

Best of all, Skybox produced redemption cards (YES, in 1993!). If you were lucky enough to find one, you could redeem it for an original sketch card by Simpsons creator, Matt Groening. These now, almost mythical cards were hand numbered to just 400 and expired over twenty years ago, not that it matters anyway since the original Skybox went under in 2006. It would be safe to assume that not all 400 of these sketch cards were redeemed, which is why they sell for BIG MONEY whenever one finds its way on eBay.

I’m not kidding. There’s only ONE on eBay right now with a $5,000 price tag. Take a look for yourself. I’d venture to say these cards are some of the rarest and most valuable of any trading cards from the 90s that aren’t prototypes. There are more expensive cards from that decade, sure, not many can compete with Jordan or Griffey Jr. autographs and game-used relics but when you consider the year these cards were produced, the particular license, and that these may in fact be the very first sketch cards collectors have ever pulled from a card product, suddenly these cards triple in collectible appeal.

It doesn’t hurt that Matt Groening is sort of a recluse. He’s way more social these days but that doesn’t change the fact that these sketch cards are his one and only appearance on card board. How Topps, a company that at one point, had a working relationship with Groening, hasn’t included him in Allen & Ginter over the current autograph checklist hacks of today is beyond disturbing, unfortunate, and disappointing. If EVER there was a set to feature Matt Groening in, it’s Allen & Ginter. For now, this is all we have to work with but good luck with an unopened box, they don’t come cheap.

With Upper Deck owning the Skybox license, one has to wonder if we will ever see a modern Simpsons trading card set featuring autographs, parallels, printing plates, and other goodies from today’s hobby. It’s been 27 years since the last Simpsons set and with the now legendary animated sitcom running on fumes, it’s perhaps the best time to look back on the 30+ year run of The Simpsons while the show is still on the air and with millions of dollars to cash in on nostalgia-driven collectors.

Is Your Jambalaya Circumcised ?

In case you missed it, Fleer/Skybox was crowned the King of 1997 by yours truly earlier this month. While their work in baseball had overlapped other manufacturers, it’s easy to forget about their other licenses if you only collect baseball. One of their many masterpieces, was a radical insert named ‘Jambalaya’, which was inserted at a ratio of 1:170 inside packs of 1997-1998 Skybox EX2001, or approximately one in every 30 boxes.

As you can imagine, Jambalaya inserts were some of the most sought after cards from the moment of their release into the wild in 1997 and still today, more than 20 years later. I’m not even exaggerating. A recent, ’97-’98 Jambalaya of Michael Jordan sold on eBay for an astonishing $14,699. Like I said, once Fleer and Skybox combined forces, they were truly an unstoppable card manufacturer.

With that kind of serious money to be made, you can expect the vultures to come around looking for opportunities to scam collectors. I’m not saying the following listings are scams but for someone like myself that has been immersed so deep in cards for 30 years, I find it odd that uncut Fleer/Skybox Jambalayas are suddenly finding their way to eBay two decades after the original versions dropped.

Below is one such Jambalaya, which the seller claims to be “authentic”. You can see the listing for yourself here. The seller, leximo2, provides several photographs of this unreleased prototype, which he calls “RARE”. Not surprisingly, he does not allow any returns but tries to ease your mind by letting you know that some of these cards have been graded by Beckett. In 2019, can we trust any grading company? No.

Personally, I want to believe these are 100% legit. It would be a nice addition and find. The seller claims to not be the original owner but hints at the possibility that these were sold at the now legendary, 2005 Fleer bankruptcy sale. Personally, if I had purchased these cards to resale, I would have obtained as much information as humanly possible to prevent suspicion in this very dirty hobby world we now populate.

We are days away from 2020 and the only absolute truth is that many collectors have the know-how and the resources to print up just about anything. If we can LITERALLY print a working 3D gun, surely, some sweaty, money-hungry collector can knock out a few, 20+ year old Jambalaya inserts for MTN DEW and Doritos money for the entire year. I may be on to something because so far, not a single copy has sold.

Upper Deck, the company that purchased Fleer in 2006, has been using the Jambalaya insert name and design for almost a decade now. Below is one such example, from their Marvel properties. Unfortunately, not even Chris Carlin could help us with these new “uncut” rarities that hit eBay because he was not working at Fleer at the time of the release. I guess we will have to wait and see but just know, you’ve been warned.

(Thank you to Tonyo for finding these)

The Best of 1997 ā€“ #1

What is art?

Webster’s defines art as; the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

— — —

In less than a month, I will have been a baseball card collector for 30 of my 39 years on this planet. In those three decades, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve witnessed baseball Gods become mortal, old men who succumbed to diseases or old age. I’ve watched arrogant superstars go from pop culture icons to laughing stocks, left to operate car wash/gas stations and appear at conventions, forced to sign autographs for the rest of their sad days.

I’ve seen a lot in this industry, too. I’ve watched beloved manufacturers come and go and have witnessed baseball cards transform from a kid’s innocent after school hobby to an almost exclusive, adult investment. I was there when Donruss introduced the serial numbered insert and looked on in amazement as Upper Deck brought to the market the first ever pack-inserted, certified autograph.

I have also been ridiculed for my hobby, not only in grade school as a young child but also as an adult and even now as an aging father and family man. There’s always been a stigma about spending my then allowance and now hard-earned money on “pictures of men playing a game”. I’ve been called a nerd, geek, and even a loser on social media for my hobby. Guess what? I’ve accepted my fate.

The thing is, I’ve never looked at a card as being anything more than just what the haters described it as. A small piece of cardboard with a picture of a baseball player on the front and sometimes back. Refractors, game-used memorabilia cards, autographs, serial numbers … all these “gimmicks” have infiltrated my hobby but not once has this obsession of mine transcended into anything more than a hobby (or investment).

That all changed with 1997 Skybox E-X2000.

When collectors hear the name Fleer, most cringe, and rightly so, thanks to a unique, 1991 (yellow) flagship that littered card shows the entire decade of the 90s due to “Junk Wax” era production numbers. The following year, Marvel purchased Fleer for an out of this world, $340,000,000. Soon, Fleer went high-end with the Ultra brand and began to slowly change their image to compete with the big boys of the card industry, such as Topps Company and their newly introduced Refractor.

Three years later, in 1995, Marvel added Skybox to their line-up for another $150,000,000 and curiously combined the two companies. Soon, Fleer/Skybox International began work on a set called Emotion, which was released in ’95. The following year, Emotion returned as ‘Emotion XL’ and then morphed into the ultra-futuristic work of art known as Skybox E-X2000, which hit card shops in early 1997.

It’s no surprise that the E in E-X stands for emotion and Webster’s definition of art includes that very same word. This brand, in 1997, was not just a baseball card. Fleer/Skybox Intl. managed to do something no card company, in my opinion, had ever done in 50+ years of baseball cards (and has not been done since then); they mass-produced, to an extent, pieces of art for baseball card collectors to experience. Some consider early baseball cards as pieces of art, as most feature painted portraits but Fleer/Skybox Intl. took the art form and turned it up a notch (or 20).

Along with an exquisite base card design, which depicted an acetate shadowbox of a sky backdrop in different settings, Fleer/Skybox also excelled in the inserts and parallels department. Their inserts were all high-end pieces that featured thick card stock and had all the die-cut technology you could ever dream of. The 90s were all about die-cut cards.

As for the parallels, over 20 years later, they are still some of the most sought-after in this entire industry, thanks to mysterious odds which were never revealed or even figured out by anyone to this date. Just know that the Credentials are #’d to 299 while the rare Essential Credentials are numbered to 99 and extremely difficult to find.

Fleer/Skybox also included 6, pack-inserted autographs, with the biggest names being Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen. Odds of finding one of these autographs were listed at 1:500 packs. Good luck to you! To add to the fun, Fleer/Skybox even gave you a chance to pull a redemption for an Alex Rodriguez, signed baseball. This is something that today’s manufacturers should work on including in their modern products as a way to give collectors a much-needed break from $1 game-used relics. Yes, redemptions suck but in this case, the wait wouldn’t be all that long if card companies just planned ahead.

Credentials & Essential Credentials

After more than two decades, unopened boxes of E-X2000 have finally begun to dry up. A decade ago, you could find them scattered all over eBay and for well under $100 dollars. Currently, there’s not a single box on eBay, nor is there even a completed auction. This is both frightening and tragic. When a box does eventually appear, you can expect it to sell for well over $100. Luckily, I busted an entire box on video way back in 2007 for readers of this blog. I’m glad I was able to document it as the odds of finding another box in 2019 for a decent price are now slim to none.

As for secondary market action, E-X2000 doesn’t quite carry the prestige of 1997 Pinnacle Totally Certified Platinum Mirror parallels but the main players still hold up extremely well. Recently, an Essential Credentials Ken Griffey Jr. #’d to 99 sold for a whopping $2,158. Juan Gonzalez, who has autographs in 2019 Topps Tek that regularly sell for $3-$5 dollars on eBay, had a non-signed, Credentials parallel sell for over $20.

Skybox E-X2000 did everything perfectly. Beautiful base cards, well-designed inserts, hard to find and extremely valuable parallels, on-card autographs, and most of all, they created a product that has held its value for over two decades. As we approach 2020, this is one release you absolutely need to experience first hand, that is, if you’re lucky enough to find an unopened box. They really don’t make them like this anymore.

As for Fleer/Skybox, the company that ruled the 90s kept going down in quality year after year. In 2005, Upper Deck offered $25,000,000 for the fledgling manufacturer, an offer that was ultimately refused. Less than a year later, Fleer’s owners accepted $6,000,000. How a card manufacturer once worth $340 million is sold off for $6 million in just 14 years is astounding and speaks a lot about what the leadership at Fleer was must of been like with Marvel at the helm.

Unfortunately, Upper Deck, still under the control of Richard McWilliam, was not much of an upgrade at the time. The very few Upper Deck/Fleer products that came to light, were underwhelming and lacked the pizzazz of past Fleer/Skybox issues from the late-90s. Not long after Upper Deck’s potentially, game-changing acquisition, MLB yanked their baseball licensed and left Topps in charge to overproduce baseball cards.

As a final insult to injury, Upper Deck brought back the Fleer name and retro designs for packs of Michael Jordan cards inserted in packages of Hanes underwear. I’m not even joking. These cards looked as if they were pulled from screenshots of those awful Hanes/Jordan commercials from a decade ago. It was reported in many publications that there were 10 autographs included in these Hanes/Fleer packs but not one autograph has come to light in almost a year since its release.

You can read about Upper Deck’s awful Hanes campaign HERE.