Modern Baseball Card Ramblings of a Pre-War Collector: 1988 Topps PSA Graded Packs

A weird thing happened recently. At least it was weird to me as I had no idea such a phenomenon was taking place.

In case you missed it, PWCC recently auctioned off a PSA 10 pack of 1988 Topps trading cards (shown here). Packs of cards, of course, are graded, so that wasn’t the surprising part. The surprising part to me?

The final selling price of $201.50.

A special hat tip goes to @TanManBaseballFan on Twitter as he spread the word about it.

Wait, What?

1988 Topps Pack PSA 10.jpg

In case you’re wondering if that price is a typo, I can assure you it is not. Shill bidding? Perhaps. But to remove any doubt, allow me to spell it out. Two hundred and one American dollars. Oh, any fifty cents.

Upon seeing that, I wondered if there was an immediate dearth of flawless Tom Glavine rookie cards that I somehow was not aware of. Glavine’s card (his raw card, anyway) is generally the most important card in the set and is still routinely found in quarter boxes and such. But after a quick check, I learned that PSA 10 Glavine cards from the set don’t sell for more than $30 or $40. So what gives?

The 1988 Topps cards, if you’re unfamiliar with them, were some that were overproduced. It is one of the more unpopular sets from the junk wax era. Even though they’re 30 years old at this point, save for professionally graded cards, they are worth considerably less than when they first hit the street when I was ten years old and still buying 8-bit Nintendo games as if they were going out of style. Finding entire boxes at shows these days in the $5-$10 range is usually the norm.

An Outlier … But Only Sort Of

I am not aware of any such pack selling for this much money. Now, it’s possible that shill bidding or some other phenomenon took place that threw the pricing out of whack. That, unfortunately, skews prices and there’s no way to really tell 100% if that was going on here. But in checking some other recent sales, it’s clear that even if these aren’t technically worth more than $200, they are still desired.

A wax cello pack graded a PSA 10 sold for over $100 on eBay from another seller. Even things, like this PSA 8 sold for more than $30 with shipping. And while the 1987 set had a few better cards, it still doesn’t seem to justify the $75 (with shipping) price tag of this PSA 10. Back to the 1988 Topps pack. Even if we suggest tomfoolery here in the bidding and that flawless examples are worth $50, $60, or $70, that still seems off-the-wall insane for such a worthless product.

Role Reversal

So here’s the thing. We’re now in this era of treating packs of cards as actual cards themselves. Now, this isn’t a new concept. The grading of packs has been taking place for a long time. But we have somehow arrived to the place where the packs of valueless cards actually have value themselves as long as said packs are in tip top shape.

According to PWCC’s listing, there are only six such graded 1988 Topps packs in existence so the rarity is certainly there (more on that in a minute, though). But again, I’m still not sure I grasp the entire ‘packs as cards’ thing when the cards in such packs are virtually worthless. Typically, packs have been valued commensurate with the potential product inside of them. This is about valuing a card for its packaging and nothing more. Big difference.

In this case, presumably, anyway, we’re judging a pack for its wrapper, color, and presentation as opposed to what is inside of it. That seems fair and I understand it. But while rare empty wrappers and wrappers from highly desirable sets are certainly collected (and are sometimes even valuable), the difference here is that we’re seeing packs for cards that have little value sell for big money.

The New Norm? Eh, About That…

On the surface, that would lead you to believe that unopened product is going to go through the roof as collectors starting buying them like they do raw cards, hoping to land PSA 10 packs. After all, if even PSA 8s are now worth $30 and such, shouldn’t boxes of 36 raw packs now easily be selling for hundreds of dollars?

In short, is this the new norm? I don’t think so and here’s why.

While it’s true there are only six PSA 10s in existence, a grand total of a mere 60 have been graded to date. In other words, 10% of the packs submitted have been assigned perfect scores. The sample size on these is way too small and part of the reason for the low number of PSA 10s is, well, because people haven’t thought to submit them to the company for grading yet. The reason? Well, no one would assume that a pack of junk wax would be worth much, even if it scored a PSA 10.

If/Once people submit more of these for grading, prices on these should come down in a hurry as high-grade packs become less scarce. I could see some manufactured scarcity rearing its ugly head here and keeping prices a little high for now. But I don’t think this will last over the long-term with so much unopened product out there.

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