For collectors of a certain age there is something oddly comforting about junk wax cards. Far too many were printed, they’re littered with quasi-errors and print issues, and “rare” chase cards are numbered in the thousands. However, they are also full of players who are now in their respective halls of fame, the cards are necessary parts of many PSA Set Registries and a $5 or $10 investment can still bring hours of enjoyment. Not a bad deal. Here is the latest installment in the PSA Blog series called Diamonds in the Junk, where we crack some junk wax, review the results, relate them to the hobby today and have fun along the way. Today I review 1990 Pro Set Series II Football.
I had forgotten what a glorious mess the 1990 Pro Set football set truly is. A little pre-rip Google session brought back memories of great photography, clean design, interesting subsets and more errors and variations than you could ever imagine. Truly. One website that I found listed more than 500 errors and variations in the set. It is absolutely absurd, but absurd in the way that movies like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes are absurd, which is so absurd that it is actually kind of cool. As a result, 1990 Pro Set has generated something of a cult-like following in the hobby. It has long been suspected that the errors and variations were intentionally designed into the set to increase sales. The 1989 Fleer baseball set had gone berserk the year before over the Billy Ripken error, and so it stands to reason that if one error is great, then 500 is even better, right? Regardless of the wisdom (or lack thereof) behind Pro Set’s marketing strategy, these cards made a big splash in the hobby and maintain some value even if for nothing more than generating conversation, inspiring wicked error hunts and rekindling old memories.
In terms of a checklist, Series II consists of 392 cards (sans errors) and runs from card number 378-769. Within this series are several subsets, including Pro Bowlers, Draft Choices, Pro Prospects, Hall of Fame Photo Contest cards and a series that covers NFL news and events. There is also a Super Bowl MVP insert set that can be found at a rate of one card per pack. Setting aside the error issue and voluminous amount of cards that were produced, I think this is actually a very nice set with great, tightly-cropped action photography, a simple design, great player selection and a robust checklist.
I found this to be such an enjoyable break partly because the cards brought about a wonderful sense of nostalgia. I was a senior in high school when this set was released and my friends and I followed the NFL ferociously. I recalled most of the players and nearly all of the cards, which made this break a fun trip down memory lane. The collation seemed pretty good overall, and, in fact, I didn’t get more than three of any single card. One pack (of which I got two) contained both Junior Seau and Emmitt Smith rookie cards, which would have been great pulls back in the day.
I had a list of all error cards in the set with me while I was opening this box, and I checked each card against the list. A few packs into the break I found that I had some sort of mid-release box that contained error versions of some cards and corrected versions of others. This made the break take longer than it might have otherwise, but it also made the experience all the more enjoyable because I was forced to really look at every card. I find that ripping boxes can become monotonous pretty quickly when there is no goal other than finding a handful of flashy inserts that are recognized at first glance. Having to first search each card to see if it appeared on the list and then to find the extra period, incorrect birth date, excessive ink bleed or erroneous position listing that qualified it as a variation slowed the break greatly and made me focus more on the process than on the result.
This is the best box break that I have done for the Diamonds in the Junk series. It sounds ridiculous in discussing a $10 box break, but stick with me for a moment. First, the hope of finding anything of value is almost completely removed from the experience, so the focus shifts from an end result experience (finding a valuable card) to instead appreciating the journey (dutifully searching each card). With little exception, the difference in value between a variation and standard card in this set is a matter of cents, not dollars. So really, you just look through the cards and check them against a list to see which version you have and which is still missing. It reminds me of an essay I read online recently about the sale of a massive collection of cards back in 1959. Stars and commons alike were priced the same by the seller. Apparently, the focus with early collectors was completing a set and in that regard, each card was as valuable as the next, regardless of who was pictured. In a world where there are great extremes in card values, it was refreshing to hunt for cards that can be challenging to find and yet do so with absolutely no monetary consideration. And thus, out of the madness comes clarity. A very Zen consideration for a box of cards that cost less than a surf & turf burrito and side of chips.
Would I recommend a box of 1990 Pro Set Series II to a friend? If that friend was in the proper state of mind, then absolutely and without question. In fact, I am considering buying a few more. If my friend was jonesing for a big pull, however, then I’d tell him to look elsewhere.
THE DIAMOND IN THE JUNK: #610 Jim McMahon
Of the variations that I got in my box, I enjoyed this one the most. All 1990 Pro Set cards have a small “TM” symbol near the Pro Set logo in the top border. This card is no different, although the TM is black and nearly invisible in this variation. The corrected version has a white “TM.” It’s kind of a dumb variation and only avid Pro Set aficionados consider it a true variation, but I like McMahon. He was an interesting individual who did some great things in Chicago. This card shows him towards the end of his career with the Eagles, but you still get a cool image of his uniqueness with his eye shield and rather non-quarterback style face mask.