A Diamond In The 80’s Rough

I have non-collecting friends ask me all the time if their old 80’s cards are worth any money.  Just like me, they were collecting heavy during the card boom and have a ton of ’89 Score Jose Canseco’s.  But unlike me, they got out and never came back from their Dark Period.  The last thing they remember about cards was that Gregg Jefferies was going to help them retire at 35.  Of course, for those of us that came back to the hobby (or never left), we long ago accepted that the 80’s are largely a nostalgic era as opposed to an investor era. Our ’82 Ripken’s, ’87 Topps Bo’s and ’86 Donruss Canseco’s are cemented in our collections as reminders of the infancy of our collecting lives and bring back wonderful memories of trading and ripping and asking mom for $1 at Wal Mart.  But beyond that, we aren’t getting rich off of them.  There’s just too many of them and they are far too accessible to have much monetary value at this point.  But if you’re like me, they are priceless.You can buy almost any complete set from the 80’s for less than $100.  You can buy 75% of them for less than $50.  There are even some you can buy for less than $10.  The real money is in pre-1985 unopened boxes.  Those are the last bastions of hope for Gem Mint 10 rookies of Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs.  And those hopes fade as time passes and boxes and packs age.  I had a box of 1981 Donruss from a few years ago and the cards were in poor condition from just sitting in a Rubbermaid box.  The gum in the packs from those days ravages certain cards and the wax packs don’t protect corners from dings.  So when I’m asked by friends if the cards their mom found in the guest room closet are worth anything, I generally answer them all the same way.  “I love 80’s cards and to me they are priceless.  But if you’re looking to sell them, you aren’t going to get very much.  Hang on to them if you can.”

However, lost in the tangled nexus of 80’s overproduction, poor designs and slowly fading condition, there remains a set that stands out from the crowd.  The 1984 Fleer Update Set remains a valuable set and one that is difficult to find for less than $250.  The set itself is only 132 cards but is about 8 times the value of the full ’84 Fleer set of 660 cards.  Update sets have long been used by companies to provide the collector access to traded players in their new uniforms and rookies that weren’t included at the time of release of the base set.  Most update sets, especially those of the 80’s, are very reasonably priced and accessible.  The same can’t be said for the ’84 Fleer Update set.  The set has a very good crop of rookies (first year cards) and traded players that remain solid collectible players some 33 years later.  More on the checklist in a moment.The design of the ’84 Update Set mirrors that of the base ’84 set.  The card features a white border on all sides and a thick blue line above and below the player image.  The Fleer name is in the top blue line while the player name is at the bottom.  The team logo is featured after the player name.  Finally, the player’s position is in the white border below the player name.  It’s a simple but clean design that still looks pretty good today.  The backs of the cards are classic Fleer with blue and white columns and stats covering the players entire career.  In some cases where the career isn’t too long, there is a “Did You Know” section at the bottom of the card, which was fairly standard for the cards of this timeframe.  The only difference in the base and Update Set is the “U” before the card number on the back.As with other sports cards, high graded versions can elevate the value quite a bit.  It’s difficult to find Gem Mint 10 grades in the set as centering was usually off.  The white border cards make the centering an easy catch when looking at the cards with a naked eye.  The packaging also makes the cards susceptible to damage.  As the Update Set was small and only available in a full set, they were packaged in a small cardboard box, much like other Update sets throughout history.  The cardboard was not unlike the stock of the card though and did not provide a lot of protection.  So if you can get your hands on a set in very good condition, you have yourself a very nice collectible.  Of course, you can also buy cards already graded but expect to pay a premium. As for the players available in the set, there is a good mix of rookies and veterans that were on the move.  The value in the set comes from a small group of rookies that went on to have great, if not Hall of Fame careers.  There were also a few big name Hall of Famers at the end of their careers that were included.  Below are a few of those players and the current price their ungraded cards can be had for.#27 Roger Clemens XRC – Had Clemens not had his career close under the veil of steroid abuse, the value of his card could be much higher.  But even with those issues, ungraded versions have recently sold anywhere from $75-$130 on eBay.  High grades can sell for north of $750.#43 Dwight Gooden XRC – Another “what could’ve been” player is Doc Gooden.  This was his first Fleer card and ungraded versions can be found for an average of $25.  The graded versions have sold for as high as $200.#93 Kirby Puckett XRC – Kirby is a much sought after player in the mid 80’s and his rookies remain popular among collectors.  This card is his highest valued rookie and can be found ungraded for around $75 with higher graded versions selling between $350-$400.#102 – Pete Rose – Pete was released by the Phillies in the ’83-’84 offseason and signed with the Montreal Expos.  His inclusion in the Update Set featured him in the sweet Expos uni that we all love from the 80’s.  This card can be found for around $5.00 in ungraded form and around $15 for a grade 9.

#103 Bret Saberhagen XRC – Saberhagen had a very productive 16 year career and this rookie card remains his best.  Ungraded, they can be found around $7.50 while graded versions can be had for about $15.00.

#106 Tom Seaver – A Hall of Famer with 311 wins and 3,640 K’s is included in this Update Set at a very reasonable price.  You can buy an ungraded version for around $4.00.  But you can pick up a Graded 10 version for around $20.  Not bad at all!

This is one of those sets that is known for its significant value for the mid 80’s but there may be some younger collectors who have never heard about it.  I encourage you to check it out.  It’s a buildable set over time with the vast majority of singles being available for $1-$2 per card.  If you take your time and try to find some deals on the big 3 rookies, you could likely build the set for less than what it costs boxed up.  That’s more fun than buying the complete set anyway, right?  This is going to be my next little project and it may take a good while but I can pick up three or four $2 cards a week and put most of the set together in a matter of months.  The key again will be finding the big cards at a good value.  I don’t have to have graded cards to feel satisfied although it could be an option at some point down the road.  What say you about this nice mid 80’s set?


7 thoughts on “A Diamond In The 80’s Rough”

  1. 1984 Fleer rules. I don’t give a wit about rookies or grading, I just like the design so much (and the era). I’m currently collecting the main set. I wouldn’t mind adding the update set, too, but I’m not shelling about a lot of cash for a mid-1980s set.

    1. The design is definitely top notch for it’s time. I guess they somewhat tried it again in 1988 but added some flair. Still like the 88 but it’s not as good as 84.

  2. I’m with Night Owl. I got the base set as a factory set from Renata Galasso in 1984 (also got a Topps set and a Donruss set…which I sold for $200 in 1989). The clean, clear design of 1984 Fleer makes it one of my favorite sets of the 1980s.

  3. I wish that I had old Becketts, as I’d love to know what the book values were on these in the late 1980s-early 1990s. The ones that I’m most interested in are the ones that have likely fallen (Gooden and Saberhagen).

    I began collecting in 1987 and always loved this “old” set. The only place that I saw it was at my grandmothers. When she passed away, the set was passed on to me. Unfortunately, it was among the cards lost when my dad’s house burnt down a few years ago. I need to pick up the Don Mattingly rookie for nostalgia sake.

    1. I have an extra Bo Beckett. If you want it, it’s yours. I’ll still have a copy left. Believe it or not but I’m working on a post about some crazy Beckett prices from that very mag. One of them was a Kevin McReynolds Donruss Rookie that was $12 and had an up arrow beside it. Crazy stuff.

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