There has been a lot of talk within the hobby lately questioning if we are entering another Junk Wax Era. Topps and Panini have certainly ramped up production to meet the demands of the hobby’s pandemic surge. There used to be lines waiting out the door at retail stores on restock days. Now the shelves have plenty of product for everyone that wants it but is it really the next Junk Wax Era? It is not and this is why.
The Original Junk Wax Era
Topps and Panini have never been astute businesspeople as evidenced by the overproduction in the 1980’s that all but stopped the hobby’s runaway train of interest dead in its tracks. Instead of creating and keeping a semblance of demand they decided to overprint creating the original Junk Wax Era. They chose to chase the quick dollar instead of keeping the money train rolling.
This worked for a while because there were more collectors than “investors” back then. While the value of cards certainly played into people’s passion to collect it was nothing like it is today. Back then set and PC collecting was much more prominent than what the current crop in the hobby desires, especially the pandemic collectors. Today more collectors could care less the player or set. They are just concerned if they can make a quick buck. The pandemic boom was not caused because all of a sudden people wanted to start collecting cards again. It was seen as a way to make money when most of the world was sitting at home with little else to do.
It seems that Topps and Panini did not learn from their previous mistake, or they didn’t recognize what was causing the market boom. Either way they went back to their old bag of tricks and started printing to the moon. As if that wasn’t greedy enough, they decided to try and price the products perfectly to kill potential profits of secondhand sellers. The reason people were lining up at retail stores was not because they really wanted cards, it was because they could make quick money from the cards. The collector base certainly expanded during the pandemic but not to the levels to which they decided to start printing. Hence why there is product on shelves now and some products sit on Topps and Panini. If a product is not priced to the point of which people can make money (bots), then it sits.
Why It’s Not Junk Wax 2.0
The same thing that put an end to the original Junk Wax Era is the same reason we are not in Junk Wax Era 2.0, every card is not the same. Autograph cards all but put an end to what most consider the Junk Wax Era. While the first auto cards were in 1990 thanks to Upper Deck, they became much more prevalent in 1992 when Topps started using them. Topps also introduced parallel cards in 1992. This created some scarcity amongst the cards you could get when buying a pack. That was a game changer. While opening a pack has always been a risk, the ceiling value of cards was very low because they were all the same. Once the potential value of a card inside a pack greatly increases, the value of the pack increases.
That is why it’s different this time. The companies are trying their darndest to bring down the potential highest value of cards by printing so many “rare” ones. Panini is especially guilty of this by printing so many 1/1 of the same player in the same set. When you have 30 1/1’s the value of each is much less than the value of a single 1/1. That brings down the potential value of the product because as much as many of us would not like to admit there is a huge element of gambling when opening packs. If the highest potential value card in a pack is $1000 the value of the pack is going to be much less than if the highest card is worth $100,000. The biggest thing that drives box prices right now is the value of the “chase cards”. Instead of making those cards more valuable, the companies have decided to make more of them. I believe this was the wrong strategy.
Super high value sales are what gets the most outside exposure and drives new people into the hobby. Topps and Panini choosing to limit those sales by overprinting comes back to their original mistake of trying to extract the most money out of collectors at this very second without considering the future value. If this would have just started after they lost their licenses, then that would make a little more sense. We know that not to be true. I can’t imagine Fanatics is going to limit production and Josh Luber has all but said that in interviews so far. He seems to think that more exposure will get people into the hobby. I do not see that being the case for the “Big 3” (MLB, NBA, NFL) sports but soccer cards could be a benefactor. That is the hope at least.
Why It Is Junk Base 2.0
The argument could be made that the other sports never left the Junk Base Era even when the Junk Wax Era ended. This is a soccer card site so that is what the focus will be for this part of the article. In those other sports the number of base cards was always plentiful. That is unless it was a high-end set that had scarcity. Soccer due to the lack of number of products did not have this problem until the last few years. Topps and Panini were only putting out a few sets compared to the other sports. This meant that even base cards had scarcity in comparison.
Base cards did not have much value until the pandemic boom, but the lack of past product created scarcity for the superstar’s cards. Admittedly part of this scarcity wasn’t actual scarcity, it was condition scarcity much like the early days of the other sports. There were plenty of Messi and Ronaldo cards/stickers produced. They were just released in countries that did not think about future value, so they were not taken care of. What was different is the amount of product the companies were printing of each set. For instance, the production of Topps Chrome Champions League was a small fraction of Topps Chrome baseball. This meant that the number of soccer base cards was actually less than some of the “rare” baseball cards. That rarity is the reason say a 2017-2018 Mbappe Topps Chrome PSA 10 rookie base card is worth in the $700 range while a 2018 Ohtani Topps Chrome rookie is in the $200 range. It’s not that there are that many more collectors for Mbappe. There are likely many less. It’s that there were so much less printed. Panini also only printed 1 Mbappe on premium stock (Select) that year. That is how base cards end up with value.
The base rookie card scarcity began to dry up a little bit in 2018-2019 thanks in part to it being a World Cup year plus Topps and Panini introducing more premium sets. If any of the true rookies, not Mbappe, would have shown up in 2018 Prizm world Cup that would have been a different story, but none did. 2018 Donruss/Optic (Search on eBay) was pretty heavily produced and there was almost complete overlap in the rookies that Topps and Panini put out that year.
2019-2020 was the last year of any sort of soccer rookie card scarcity and even that is player dependent. In my opinion if not for the pandemic it would have been a 2017-2018 like year. It doesn’t seem like the companies had any intention or capability of printing a lot of soccer that year. For instance, there was only 600 cases of 2019-2020 Topps Chrome Bundesliga (Search On Ebay) produced. That all changed late in 2020 when Topps and Panini dropped unexpected products on us. The biggest of which was 2019-2020 Topps Chrome Sapphire UCL (Search On Ebay). Not to be out done Panini waited until 2021 to release a 2020 product when it put out Immaculate. You can read HERE why that set has no true rookies. Luckily the two biggest rookies from 2019-2020, Erling Haaland and Giovanni Reyna, were only allowed to be in Topps products so those base cards still have solid value.
2020-2021 is when rookie soccer base card values officially died, and the soccer Junk Base Era began. Topps and Panini had discovered the sleeping giant that was soccer cards. Topps especially went crazy by not only putting out new premium product, but also creating “on demand” products from the clouds. In addition to the previous Chrome products, they added Merlin Chrome UEFA and Stadium Club UEFA. They also added a few new Bundesliga sets including Sapphire, Finest and Museum. On Panini’s side they added Mosaic to the product line. Not only did both companies add products, but they also greatly increased print runs of existing products.
Increased sets added with increased runs meant that base print runs exploded. Mbappe had less than 10,000 base rookies while Jude Bellingham close to 100,000. Having over 10x the print run, plus the increased parallel runs, has completely killed base card values. Rookie base cards have from $100s to less than $5. Since base cards are the most abundant cards in a box this base card value collapse has really lowered box price values. While these box prices have come down, they are not in danger or reaching Junk Wax era prices because of the rare cards. 2020-2021 boxes because those factors have a lot less potential than the earlier years but at the end of the day it comes down to player performance.
Parallels Are The New Base
The number of total parallels in 2021-2022 for players has almost surpassed the number of base cards back in 2017-2018 sets. The companies did this so they could justify the high box prices. When someone pulls a parallel, they feel good about what they bought. The problem is that all parallels are not equal. Let’s take a look at a couple of Topps Chrome products to show how they have increased through the years.
Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League total numbered base set parallels per player
2017-2018 – 585 (Search On Ebay)
2018-2019 – 670 (Search On Ebay)
2020-2021 – 1962
2021-2022 – 2717
Keep in mind these do not include normal refractors, speckle refractors, carbon fibers, bubbles or black & white ray wave.
Topps Chrome Bundesliga total numbered base set parallels per player
2018-2019 – 493 (Search On Ebay)
2019-2020 – 185 (Search On Ebay)
2020-2021 – 1532 (Search On Ebay)
2021-2022 – 2904
These do not include normal refractors and black & white ray wave which are the only unnumbered parallels for Bundelisga.
Just back looking at this you can see where the printing machine got put on full blast. This is only for 2 Topps products. Panini has done similar.
The point of this blog is not to scare you off from the hobby. In fact, it is intended to do the opposite. Yes, there is more product and more cards. There is also varying levels of scarcity among the products. Everyone will be able to afford parallels now because there will be so many. The fact that most are numbered is also a good thing. Imagine if every base card was numbered so we knew exactly how many there were. That would help us all be better informed collectors.
Just know that from 2020 on base cards are going to not see great price appreciation. There is one exception and that is 2020 Bowman MLS (Search On Ebay). This set is stacked with true rookies of players such as Ricardo Pepi and Brendan Aaronson to name a few. There are roughly 650 base cards of each player in that set. They are some of the rarest rookies ever produced. Also, 2020 and future boxes will not explode 10x like say the 2019-2020 Topps Chrome Bundesliga did because there are so many of them. The reason those boxes exploded was certainly because of Haaland but also because of scarcity. There were only 600 cases of it produced and most had been opened before the boom. That is the recipe for price appreciation.