Diamonds in the Junk – 1990 Fleer Football

 

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.

I recently picked up two boxes of 1990 Fleer Football for $7 each, and headed into the office to rip them with PSA President Steve Sloan. The resultant box break was an absolute blast!

THE SET

The yardage and touchdown columns were reversed on the Montana error.

The 1990 Fleer set was a hot one back in the day. Fleer was making its return to a standard football card set after being on hiatus since their final (and brilliant) AFL issue in 1963. This release coincided with the height of card mania, so there was a ton of buzz about this product. It was discovered early on that Fleer had (inadvertently?) swapped the touchdowns and yards columns on the back of the Joe Montana card, but had corrected the mistake fairly early in the print run. Coming off the insanity of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken error, collectors went into a frenzy trying to find the Montana errors. At one point the card was selling for around $100 before the craze calmed and prices came back down to earth.

The set itself is a nice one. It has a crisp and clean design, with excellent action photography and color images on both sides of the cards. With 400 cards in the set, there is a very nice density of superstars in the checklist but also a number of players that aren’t seen on cards as frequently today (defenders and linemen). Aside from the Montana, there was a smattering of other errors but none that made the same splash as Joe Cool.

THE BREAK

I didn’t know which printing our boxes came from so we were hoping to pull a Montana early to really understand what we had. But that doesn’t mean our enjoyment had to be delayed, and it wasn’t long before I recalled the simple pleasure of these cards. I was only a few packs in and had already uncovered a handful of HOF cards. As I kept going, the names all came back – Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Marcus Allen, etc. There are 38 different Hall of Fame players represented in the base cards, which amounts to nearly 10% of the entire set! There were stars and HOFers to be had in nearly every pack. We also pulled a handful of the Fleer All-Pro inserts, which are a very handsome 25-card set of All-Pros from the 1989 season. Entire insert sets can be purchased very inexpensively on eBay. If you simply enjoy attractive cards of fantastic players, you could do much worse than shelling out a couple of bucks for a set of these beauties.

I eventually came up with the hot hand and pulled one Montana and then another (Steve got one as well). Turns out that we had error boxes, and Joe Montana was shown with an anemic number of passing yards and an otherworldly number of touchdowns on the backs of our cards. While these cards now sell for amounts nearer 100 pennies than 100 dollars, no one was going to be buying lunch on our 1990 Fleer scores. But having something to chase after made the rip all the more fun. We also pulled some of the Randall Cunningham, Byron Evans and Ron Heller errors (cards #82 and #83) and the Kevin Butler with a P on the back.

Numbering was a problem at times in the 1990 Fleer set. In the corrected versions, Cunningham is #82, Evans is #83 and Heller is #84. In the original printing Cunningham and Evans were both #82, Heller was #83 and there was no #84.

SUMMARY

This was a great rip. A significant part of the enjoyment came from breaking the boxes with a friend. These cards could have stood out on their own, but I believe that fostering relationships is a key tenet of the hobby and card experiences should be shared whenever possible. It just makes a great thing even better. Aside from that, the experience was excellent and the money-spent vs. time-enjoyed ratio was exceptional. After sorting the lot I had two complete sets of 1990 Fleer football cards and a host of extras that would be at home in many PSA Player Set Registries. The cards remained in beautiful condition after spending the last 28 years packed away and I would expect numerous 10s if I sent some in for grading.

In my new role of sommelier of junk wax, I would say the 1990 Fleer football set combined forceful star density and design with delicate hints of chase cards before finishing with a lovely sense of nostalgia. For $7 per box you can hardly go wrong, and truthfully you can probably find boxes for less. One thing that often goes overlooked is that the majority of us collect cards as a hobby. When I can be fully entertained and come away with cards for less than $5-per-hour, then I feel that is money well-spent. Additionally, this would be a fantastic box to use in an attempt to get young people interested in the hobby. Nominal investment, specific cards to chase, and then the connection to people that can now be seen as television commentators and in the Hall of Fame. Go grab a box.

THE DIAMOND IN THE JUNK: #10 Joe Montana error

OVERALL RIP GRADE: A-

Posted by Todd Tobias

Todd Tobias is a longtime hobbyist and PSA staff member who is constantly on the hunt for vintage lacrosse issues and autographed cards for his American Football League (1960-1969) collection.

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