1989 Fleer Baseball Card Set: The Marlboro Man, F-Face, and The Kid

1989 Fleer wax box

There were many lessons learned from the Junk Wax era.  The 89 Fleer set may have inadvertently stumbled upon an important self-regulation tactic that is common in the modern era of card collecting: Variations and Parallels.  

The 1989 set had its share of Hall of Famers and stars.  Set right in the middle of the Junk Wax era, there is no shortage of these cards floating around and every 35+ year old’s mom’s basement.  There are 3 cards (3 types of cards) that survived the “Card Armageddon” of the 90’s a little bit better than their peers: Randy Johnson #381, Billy Ripken #616, and Ken Griffey Jr. #548.

Randy Johnson’s 1989 Fleer card has as many as 11 and as few as 3 variations.  Currently, PSA breaks these out into 4 or 5 different types:

In addition, there is an extremely rare (or just newly recognized) “Tinted Green” with a population count of 2: 

 You can still find the general “1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381”, however these are seem to be only found in the old PSA holder and are most likely the least desirable “Ad Completely Blacked Out”:

Error DescriptionAvg PSA 10 Price
(none)$22 

Ad Completely Blacked Out
$19 
Ad Partially Obscured$76 
Marlboro Ad on Scoreboard$219 
Marlboro Sign Tinted Green$491 

It remains to be seen if PSA will continue to separate the card into more “ad variations”, which allows for interesting prospecting proposal in the dollar bins at your local card shops and shows. There is a backstory and you can go down a rabbit hole of discussion and analysis of the Marlboro Ad on the card.  However if you do come across one, take an extra second and look at the top right of the card and you might find a limited parallel of a Randy Johnson rookie card.  If you are unsure about Johnson’s legendary credentials you can get caught up here.

The Billy Ripken #616 card adds another interesting feature to the set, the story has been “clarified” since the news first broke in early 1989.  It might be the most infamous card of the Junk Wax era and has its own set of variations:

Error DescriptionAvg PSA 10 Price

Black Box Over Error
$38 

Black Scribble Over Error
$84 
FF Error$149 
Scribbled Out in White$999 
Whited Out Vulgarity$1,166 

Just like the Johnson card, there seems to be many different variations that are yet to be recognized by grading companies. The count is up to at least eleven according to http://billripken.com .  As much as the Bill Ripken gets the attention of the set, the timing of the print run may prove to be real indicator of value/rarity in the set. According to eBay listings, the FF error was printed as late as 1/19/89.  This is generally corroborated with billripken.com, which dates 1/17/89 as the date.  

To round out the most valuable cards in the set, there is a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.  While it’s not the iconic Griffey rookie from the 89 Upper Deck set, it is a somewhat rare PSA 10 card.  

There is about an 8.15% gem mint rate on the card and the average auction selling price (excluding PWCC) has gone up about 166% in the last 2 years.

Put this into perspective across the most popular Griffey base rookie cards, see the below population reports for Upper Deck #1, Topps Traded #41T, Donruss #33, Bowman #220, and Score Traded #100T:

Until we can nail down a value formula for these cards based on factors such as total cards graded, gem mint rate, and nostalgia premium to find undervalued cards, we are just going to have to use a relative value approach.  The gem mint rate is on the lower end compared to its 1989 base set counterparts.

Card DescriptionAvg PriceGem Rate %
89 Upper Deck #1$506.00 5.25%
89 Topps Traded #41T$55.00 16.01%
89 Donruss #33$290.00 5.38%
89 Fleer #548$76.00 8.15%
89 Bowman #220$161.00 8.95%
89 Score traded #100T$51.00 15.03%

So to wrap all this up, if you want to take the plunge or just relive some childhood nostalgia, what is the best approach?  You can find single packs as cheap as $1 and boxes (36 packs) as low as $19.99 on eBay. However, the real opportunity may reside in the boxes/cases that are known to be printed before the errors were corrected.  You can search by error box or case and there are listings that “guarantee” an error print. This will obviously more than double or triple the price of the box or case. The detective work and research is yet to be found on the most worthwhile print run overlap of a rare Johnson variation and a Ripken Error card.  Therefore, the timing of the print run of the Ripken error paired with the Johnson variation could be worth a gamble.

Casey

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