By Ted Kitelinski
Opening old wax packs isn’t always cost effective, but it sure is fun.
I recently ordered $200 in unopened ’70s and ’80s wax packs from Baseball Card Exchange. When my shipment arrived, I decided to do something bizarre with those unopened relics from my collecting past – something stupid, something that might get me institutionalized in many collecting circles. That’s right, I planned on opening them.
Of course, spending a few hundred dollars made this task less painful than if I’d spent, say, $20,000. But even then, I’m not sure I could resist the temptation of discovering what lies beneath the wrapper. So with 14 packs waiting, begging, to be opened, I retreated back into adolescence.
A theme developed early in my pack-busting experience: the older football packs lean toward commonplace. As a kid, I started purchasing football wax early in the Carter administration without realizing how steep the odds were against landing a star. Opening packs several decades later made that point rather obvious when hoping for valuable rookies. The ’77 Topps Football wax pack ($25) contained Jim Marshall and nine other commons and offered the least bang for my buck of all those I purchased.
Collectors opening ’81 Topps Football wax packs ($14) cull for Gem-Mint Joe Montana rookies. But, after breaking the wax seal and gingerly removing the contents, the only Joe to be found among all 15 cards was Joe Ferguson.
The ’84 Topps Football wax pack ($14) offered 15 opportunities to find a Dan Marino or John Elway rookie. There’s a Dolphin in my pack, but Uwe Von Schamann is a fry cry from Dandy Dan.
The ’86 Topps Football wax pack ($12) I ordered presented 17 chances to land a valuable card – like the Jerry Rice rookie. But, once again, lady luck was nowhere to be found. Just a Walter Payton Record-Breaker and, count ’em, 16 commons.
I didn’t fare much better with a few of the older baseball packs. I opened both the ’80 Topps Baseball wax pack ($10) and ’83 Topps Baseball wax ($4) with much anticipation. But out of 30 total cards, not one of monetary or sentimental value in either pack, so I grabbed the ’84 Donruss Baseball rack pack ($20) in hopes of ending my slump.
I purchased very few Donruss or Fleer cards in the early ’80s. I hoped the Donruss rack pack could make up for lost time, but despite borders and backs as white as falling snow, all I received was Ryne Sandberg and 44 long-forgotten players. The lone Rated-Rookie in the bunch? Doug Frobel.
Any pack that yields Hall of Famers is an instant success. The ’89 Upper Deck Baseball pack ($3) I purchased included Cooperstown teammates Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. You don’t have to be a Wisconsin guy to appreciate that symmetry.
The ’79-’80 Topps Basketball wax pack ($8) contained three NBA Hall of Famers: Earl Monroe, Dave Cowens and Bill Walton. This solid find reminded me that 132-card sets increased the odds of landing big cards in each wax pack.
I also recall that for a stretch of about a decade, every decision I made was wrong. I believed the Cubs would win it all in ’84. I thought strawberry-filled Twinkies were revolutionary. And in 1989, I thought Pro-Set’s inaugural football issue was superior to Score’s. In an effort to remedy that mistake, I bought an ’89 Score Football pack ($7). The pack, sans wax or gum, held five Hall of Fame players, including Joe Montana and Reggie White, as well as the rookie card of Bubby Brister.
While ’86-’87 Fleer Basketball wax packs, at $300 each, were a bit rich for my budget, I did the next best thing: I bought an ’87-’88 Fleer Basketball pack ($35) in hopes of landing significant second-year cards of countless key players. I bought several of these packs in the late ’80s, but, back then, I stopped shelling out cash after I found Kiki Vandeweghe, my favorite player. A Jordan card eluded me then, and did once again now when I broke open this pack. However, I was pleased to find a second-year Karl Malone and the top card in the set, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Back in the early ’80s, I attended card shows in the basement of a local Holiday Inn and sifted through boxes of cards for the biggest names in baseball. My ’79 Topps Baseball pack ($12) recalled those fond memories, as it contained four ’70s superstars – Pete Rose, Jim Rice, Mike Schmidt and Carl Yastrzemski. What little kid in ’79 would’ve complained about that? What adult in 2008 would either?
The rookie crop possible in an ’88-’89 Fleer Basketball pack ($15) is outstanding, and I was fortunate enough to unearth two – future Hall of Famer John Stockton and the enigmatic Dennis Rodman – after peeling. Add Isaiah Thomas, and the pack a smile to my face.
Interestingly, out of all 225 cards I opened, the most impeccably conditioned example came from the ’78 Topps Baseball pack ($17). There, four cards deep, I found Yount’s pasteboard. The Yount card is so perfect, my fingers trembled as I immediately placed it in a soft sleeve and slid it into a toploader. I’m already hedging my bets on this one scoring a PSA 10.
Legend has it that Alexander the Great, after conquering the world, cried because there was nothing left to conquer. I thought of him as I stared at the mound of wax-pack wrappers all piled high on my tabletop like an erupted volcano. Did I weep or lament opening the packs? Not at all. And thankfully, there’s still plenty of old unopened material available. In fact, I plan on buying and opening more packs soon. Maybe next time I’ll go for the Fleer Jordan rookie, but I’ll be just as happy to land Kiki Vandeweghe. SCM