The junk wax era is so named because baseball cards were massively overproduced. You see, we were all raised on legends of the riches lost when our parents had thrown out their pristine Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays rookie cards. So, we all kept our precious cards safely and awaited early retirement. But unfortunately, the market doesn't work that way. There were just too many cards in circulation, and prices plummeted, with the laws of supply and demand being what they were.
Therefore, most junk wax cards aren't worth all that much money. Nevertheless, they are readily available in every garage sale from Fresno to Newark. But a precious few still have a good deal of value for one reason or another. In particular, some of the cards from the latter part of the junk wax era enjoy good value. In the 1990s, some card producers released more premium brands and introduced short print inserts. Here is a list of the cream of the crop of the cards from the days of Nirvana and the O.J. Simpson trial.
#1 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s:1993 Topps Derek Jeter Draft Pick Rookie Card #98
A PSA 10 sells for $430
Did you have any doubts? Derek Jeter may not have been the best player of his era. But he had an iconic quality to him. Maybe it was the way he looked like he belonged in those royal pinstripes, the models he dated, or his knack for playing brilliantly in the World Series. But he had that Je ne sais quoi. And this 1993 Topps Derek Jeter Draft Pick Rookie Card #98 card is a particular favorite, possibly because of its incredibly distinctive baseball diamond background. Unfortunately, this card's downside is so iconic that it has been over-graded. There are no less than 41,000 copies in PSA holders. But there is a reason for that. This card defines the era.
#2 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1993 SP #279 Derek Jeter
A PSA 10 sells for $204,000
You can reread the description of the previous card for why Jeter dominates the top of these charts. But, hey, the market has spoken. The 1993 SP #279 Derek Jeter card is far more worthwhile than the Topps Draft Pick card. That is partially because the foil makes scoring a PSA 10 incredibly difficult. So it really transcends the usually middling value of cards from this era. Indeed, there are only 21 of those on the market. But we placed it second because the image is less recognizably iconic.
#3 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1994 SP #15 Alex Rodriguez
A PSA 10 sells for $17,950
Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest shortstops ever to play the game. However, we do have to mention the controversy over his suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs. Also, you may be looking at the price and wondering why it is so freaking high. The minor reason is that the SP products were not as mass-produced as others. But more to the point, this set foil design may be attractive but not grade friendly. So, there are only 50 PSA 10s of 1994 SP #15 Alex Rodriguez cards out there.
#4 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1990 Topps USA#1 George Bush
A PSA 9 goes for $7,767
President Bush was a one-term Commander and Chief best remembered for saying, "read my lips: no new taxes," before new taxes were levied. Still, he was the best baseball player among the Presidents, captaining the Yale team as its first baseman. In addition, he has just returned from World War 2 as a hero aviator. In 1990, Topps released 100 copies of the handsome young George posing nonchalantly in his Yale uniform. The card is beautiful and a fitting tribute to a great American. Unfortunately, it is also historically significant and scarce and therefore commands a substantial price. There are about 100 graded copies of the regular card and 13 of the SPP White House Issue. The White House versions are the ones personally delivered to the President by Topps company President Arthur Shorin. There are no PSA 10s of either variety of the card.
#5 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1992 Bowman #302 Mariano Rivera
A PSA 10 goes for $678
Notice a pattern here? Many of the biggest cards are Yankees stars; the Bronx Bombers dominated the 90s, and their fans are among the most obnoxious, sorry, I mean dedicated, in all sports. They are a force in collecting. But Mariano Rivera deserves this high place as the greatest closer in baseball history. And there is something uniquely refreshing and unassuming about this 1992 Bowman #302 Mariano Rivera card of the "Sandman."
#6 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1995 SP Top Prospects Autographs Michael Jordan #14
There are few sales of the 1995 SP Top Prospects Autographs Michael Jordan #14 card, so data on price is scarce. However, a BGS 9.5 of the card went for $14,000 way back in 2011. So, its value would be several times that today.
Some of the best baseball cards of the late junk wax era represent Michael Jordan's brief and bizarre foray into the national pastime. Several of these cards are outstanding, each in its way. But this one has three significant advantages over its rivals. First, the design is gorgeous and stands out among the (let's be honest) generally hideous specimens of the time. Second, it comes from a high-end and relatively short-printed release. Finally, it is an auto, which was uncommon for the time. All of that makes this a grail card for Michael Jordan card collectors.
#7 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1990 Donruss Aqueous Test Juan Gonzalez Rookie Card
A PSA 10 goes for $1,251
These 1990 Donruss Aqueous Test cards are among the most enigmatic of a period known for their in-your-face lack of subtlety. The cards are believed to be a test run for a water-based card coating. But that is just a theory. All we know is that they had the words AQUEOUS TEST printed on the back. Aside from that, they looked identical to the Donruss base cards. Only 2,500 of the entire set are likely available, and only 15 1990 Donruss Aqueous Test Juan Gonzalez Rookie cards have been graded. And since one happened to be the rookie card of beloved slugger Juan Gonzalez, it's an excellent card to have.
#8 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1991 Topps Micro Chipper Jones #333
A PSA 10 goes for $845
Maybe it's my undue love of puns (which has had a detrimental effect on my social life), but I love the 1991 Topps Micro Chipper Jones #333 card. It's a Chipper Jones rookie card made out of a microchip. Bet it micro-Chipper Jones? Anyone? Because it is supposed to represent a microchip, this card is a mere 1 inch by 1 ⅜ inches. And because it was only ever distributed in factory sets, it is quite scarce. The card also has historical importance because it signifies a fascination with personal computers, as they became standard household items. And by the way, if you were wondering: the player was born with the name Larry Wayne Jones Jr. However, the family called him "Chipper" because Junior was so similar to his father; everyone said he was a "chip off the old block."
#9 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1992 Fleer Update #U-92 Mike Piazza
A PSA 10 goes for $383
Mike Piazza was a generational talent. Likely the most potent offensive catcher in baseball history. Part of the charm of his appeal is that he was selected 1,390th player overall in the 1988 MLB amateur draft. This 1992 Fleer Update #U-92 Mike Piazza card has added value because the Fleer company was dying, and few people bothered to buy into the 1992 Update release. So while many people are into the Bowman Mike Piazza rookie card, this is the one to seek out. And while the design could definitely use some sprucing up, the action photo on this card is a beauty.
#10 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1995 Bowman's Best #2 Vladimir Guerrero Blue
A PSA 10 goes for $880
A late entry right at the far end of the junk wax era. Vladimir Guerrero was epically talented, combining speed and raw power. Bowman was just coming into its own as the home of the prospect. But at the time, they had fewer options than today. So Vlad only appeared in two cards in 1995, and both are reasonably low pop. The 1995 Bowman's Best #2 Vladimir Guerrero Blue card also comes in a scarce Blue Refractor version. Not a massive fan of the metallic background, but the young Guerrero is featured in a fittingly fierce-looking batting pose.
#11 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s:1990 Leaf #300 Frank Thomas
A PSA 10 goes for $178
Long before he was the charismatic spokesman for a popular remedy for low testosterone and erectile dysfunction, Frank Thomas was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. The Leaf brand is a source of many of the most valuable cards of the ear because it was an unpopular attempt at a high-end product. Donruss didn't produce too many because it was supposed to be scarce, and people weren't buying them anyway. So, this 1990 Leaf #300 Frank Thomas card showcasing Frank in a power stance is rare and beloved.
#12 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1990 Topps #336 Ken Griffey Jr.
A PSA 10 goes for $435
The most iconic Ken Griffey Jr. cards are those of well-known rookies from 1989. So we couldn't put them in this list. But you didn't expect us to ignore "the Kid," did you? Ken was far and away the most popular and collectible player of his era, and his rookie remains the most graded PSA card ever. Indeed, his cards are so popular that this second-year issue is worth more than any rookie in this release. The 1990 #336 Ken Griffey Jr. "Topps All-Star Rookie" trophy card is another essential part of even the most basic Griffey collection.
#13 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1990 Score Bo Jackson #697
A PSA 10 goes for $217
Let's be honest; you don't see a lot of Score cards among the best of this era or any other. But this 1990 Score Bo Jackson #697 is absolutely iconic. The card is overproduced but beloved nonetheless. Bo Jackson was perhaps the most legendary all-around athlete in modern American history. Watch his 30 for 30, "You Don't Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson," to see what I mean. And this picture captures his imposing physique in artsy black and white. And, of course, he is wearing shoulder pads and carrying a bat, representing his unparalleled mastery of both sports. There are no better cards of one of the most memorable characters of an era full of outsized personalities.
#14 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1994 Upper Deck Mantle Griffey Jr. Autograph
A PSA 8 goes for $11,700
Two of the most iconic centerfielders in history share this card. It is a harbinger of the era of high-end auto cards, which signaled the end of the junk wax era. And here is what really sets it apart. Though there is no shortage of hand-drawn cards in the junk wax era and beyond, the artwork is usually shoddy and pales in comparison to the heyday of hand-drawn cards in the 1950s. The illustration here is magnificent, capturing the boyish charms of these two instantly recognizable legends.
#15 Best Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the '90s: 1992 Bowman Trevor Hoffman #11
A PSA 10 goes for $160
Trevor Hoffman is one of the greatest closers in baseball history and an absolute legend in San Diego. As a South Cal boy with 7 All-Star appearances and a Hall-of-Famer, there will always be a market for him in that area. Many cards from this early Bowman release have decent value, because that release wasn't a thing yet. So people were sleeping on these cards, and there weren't too many in circulation.
Final Words On the Best 15 Junk Wax Baseball Cards from the 1990s
The latter half of the junk wax era was a time of transition for the hobby. New products like the revamped Bowman or high-end releases already indicated where the baseball card world was headed. Meanwhile, the hideous designs and overprinted base cards continued to come fast and furious. However, with the wide variety on offer, you can see that there is no shortage of gems hiding in the piles of junk. This list will help you find them.