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The Slab Junk Era Origins, Lessons and Future Outlook

The era of excessive card grading, known as the junk slab era, is a period in the sports card collecting industry where graded cards are abundant, potentially leading to a decline in value. As the supply of graded cards surpasses the demand, these cards’ prices and overall worth may decrease.

It is crucial to understand the factors contributing to this phenomenon, how to capitalize on it, and how to benefit from this growing trend. 

This article explores the significance of the slab junk era, its origins, and important considerations for collectors, especially those new to collecting graded cards which have recently submitted their first PSA order.

Experience examples and lessons from the junk wax era. Also, the emergence of grading companies and the value of slabs change

And will share warning signs of a potential junk slab era and the impact of over-graded cards on their value will be discussed.

Let’s begin with the basics:

What is the Slab Junk Era?


The Slab Junk Era refers to the period between 2020 and 2022 when there was a significant surge in the popularity of sports cards. This surge can be due to the global pandemic and people seeking enjoyment and nostalgia during challenging times. 

Collectors and investors bought cards hoping to make a profit, resulting in an oversaturated sports card market.

During this period, many individuals purchased raw cards and submitted them to grading companies, aiming to sell them at higher prices. This rush to buy everything on the card shelves caused stocks to rise, leading retailers like Target to limit the number of available boxes.

Grading companies, such as PSA, struggled to keep up with the sudden influx of submissions, prompting them to rapidly increase their grading capacity and encapsulate cards in plastic slabs. Unfortunately, this excessive grading ultimately led to a decline in the value of modern sports cards.

Today, collectors and investors need to be more cautious about investing in modern cards due to the ongoing effects of the Slab Junk Era.

Comparing Wax Junk Era vs. Slab Era

Similar to the Junk Wax Era, where companies overproduced standard cards and boxes, the Slab Junk Era could result in the market’s oversaturation. However, it is essential to note that the best cards will still rise to the top.

1. Impact of Junk Eras on the Sports Card Industry

The Wax Junk Era and the Slab Junk Era represent two distinct periods in the sports card collecting industry. 

While some collectors continue to buy vintage cards from the junk wax era, others focus on purchasing slabs from the slab junk era.

2. Essential Lessons from the Junk Wax Era:

The Wax Junk Era is a cautionary tale for modern sports card collectors. It emphasized the significance of supply and demand dynamics, highlighting that an excessive supply lowers the value of cards. 

Collectors can determine the value of their Slab Junk Era cards by researching recent sales of similar cards in similar conditions. Online marketplaces like eBay and COMC can provide valuable information on current market values. 

The condition of the card plays a significant role in determining its worth. Professionally graded and authenticated cards by companies like PSA or Beckett often command higher prices.

This era also underscores the importance of quality over quantity and the dangers of overproduction and speculation. 

Collectors should focus on acquiring high-quality cards from reputable sources and avoid buying into hype or speculation. Additionally, staying informed about industry trends and changes is crucial for adapting collecting strategies.

3. The Slab Era and Grading Companies:

The slab era refers to the practice of grading cards by third-party companies and encapsulating them in plastic containers for protection and authentication. The leading grading company, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), was established in 1991 and has graded over 40 million sports collectibles. 

Beckett Grading Services (BGS) and other companies emerged as its main competitor in 1999. SGC, GMA, HGA, and CSG also operate in the market.

Here’s this YouTube video from Market Movers, explaining the junk era and how the data backs up this concept.

How The Value of Slabs Continue To Change:

Grading cards serve various purposes, including protection, authenticity verification, and objectively assessing a card’s condition. One of the significant benefits of grading is its potential to increase the value of cards. 

Graded cards in better condition often command higher prices in the market, motivating collectors to submit their cards for grading.

Grade Cards To Force Appreciation

For example, a Patrick Ewing Fleer RC card graded ten by PSA may be worth $5,519 compared to its raw value of $89. Similarly, a Luka Doncic Silver Prizm RC graded ten by BGS could fetch $5,350, while its raw value is $980.

Collectors look to take advantage of slabbing cards to increase their value, and unfortunately, as this number increases, it could have the opposite effect. 

Most Valuable Cards from the Slab Junk Era:

Despite the decline in the value of modern sports cards during the Slab Junk Era, some cards from this period still hold significant value today. Notable examples include:

  • The 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card.
  • The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.
  • The 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie card.

Collectors and investors highly seek after these cards and can fetch thousands of dollars in top condition.

Warning Signs of a Junk Slab Era:

Discussions among collectors indicate concerns about a potential junk slab era. The increasing number of graded cards, particularly for high-value cards, raises worries about oversaturation in the market. 

With tens of thousands of graded copies for specific cards, the potential for a future filled with low-value slabs becomes possible.

Impact of High Populations on Card Value:

Baseball cards, particularly Ken Griffey Jr. rookies, dominate the list of most graded cards. 

However, the disproportionate population of graded Griffey Jr. cards compared to other players affects their value. Comparing the value and populations of graded cards reveals the impact of high populations on their value.

For instance, a Pete Rose rookie card graded ten by PSA may be worth $717,000, while an Ozzie Smith rookie card is in the same condition with a value of $144,000. In contrast, Ken Griffey Jr.’s base cards often command lower values due to their significantly larger populations.

The Trend of Over-Graded Slabs:

While baseball cards were dominant in the past, basketball cards now dominate the over-graded market. The rise in popularity of basketball, fueled by the success of players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry, has led to a surge in demand for their rookie cards. Collectors and investors have flooded the market with submissions for grading, hoping to capitalize on the rising interest.

Impact on Card Values:

The over-grading of cards can impact their values in the long run. As more copies of the same card receive high grades, the perceived rarity of the card diminishes. 

Collectors and investors may become more cautious when purchasing graded cards with large populations, fearing that the market is becoming saturated with these particular cards.

Long Term Future Outlook for Graded Cards:

To avoid a potential junk slab era, collectors and investors should exercise caution and remain vigilant. Prioritizing the quality and rarity of the cards rather than solely relying on the grade assigned by grading companies is essential. 

Diversifying one’s collection by exploring cards from different sports, eras, and players can help mitigate the risks associated with over-graded slabs.

Why Slabs Will Always Have Value 

The slab junk era, reminiscent of the junk wax era, presents challenges for sports card collectors and investors. 

While grading cards provide benefits such as protection and authentication, the increasing number of graded cards, particularly in popular sports like basketball, raises concerns about oversaturation in the market. Collectors should learn from the past. 

However, graded cards will remain valuable as they preserve the collectible from dust and keep it in ‘mint’ condition for that moment. 

Prioritize rarity and quality, and approach graded cards with caution to ensure the long-term value of their collections. 

By staying informed and adapting to market trends, collectors can successfully navigate the evolving landscape of the sports card hobby.

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