Was 1986 chosen as the first year of junk cards because five of the six major sets carried a Jose Canseco card? Anyone remember these card values in 1988? 1990? 1991? His rookie card was monumental in the spike of set values which included these. When his cards bottomed out in 1992 and 1993, so did the sets. Bo Jackson was many collector's favorite in 1987, along with Will Clark and Ruben Sierra. Not all rookie sensations pan out and some succumb to injuries. Clark continued to post respectable numbers, but everyone stopped chasing his cards after the rookie stars of several years later reached the majors.
The basic sets from 1988-92 never reached lofty price status, therefore, these sets should not be labeled as junk. The 1988 Score Rookie Traded, 1989 Upper Deck, 1990 Leaf, 1991 Stadium Club, 1992 Bowman and 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations are another story. The Leaf, Stadium Club and Bowman shot up to over $300 almost overnight. Unlike earlier cards where they rose in price over an extended period of time, these reached price zenith in a very short time. Under the impression these sets would continue to grow in value, collectors bought these up left and right. These sets maintained value for a period of time and later slid down in price. Much akin to a stock which is dropping, there was a selling frenzy which drove prices further downward.
The Upper Deck is the one set which holds some value in comparison to its heyday. The set burst onto the scene in 1989 at over $200, dropped to around $75 in the mid 1990's, only to push back to $200 in the late 90's due to Ken Griffey's home run totals. Some high end sets, contain superstar players who post incredible numbers but as time wears on, the demand falls. There was no large demand for Topps star cards or sets in the 1970's or early 1980's until the mid 1980's. As demand grew, prices rose. In some ways, collectors gambled on future demand by paying tomorrow's projected prices today.
These sets did drop and it was near impossible to recoup the original investment, but if you stayed with the basic parent sets, there was a chance to sell for an actual profit later. Speaking from personal experiences while selling on Beckett.com in the late 90's and early '00's, the 1986-87 sets were in high demand after Barry Bonds began his home run quest, the 1989 sets skyrocketed due to Griffey's march towards 400 homers ('89 Score Rookie Traded never sold for over $10 previously, reached $60 and were being bought for $45 easily), the 1990 sets regained their gala thanks to Sammy Sosa's 60-plus home runs (even the Leaf nearly regained the $300 status) in multiple seasons.
Odds are, if these high end sets were able to grow in value, they may have been worth more twenty years later. My stance on the junk cards are as everyone else's; a bit biased. I was not able (too young) to drop mega bucks for 50 or 100 cards of a rookie star. I would like to think if I did, I would not have placed all my eggs in one or two baskets. The first sign on prices dropping, for me, was the 1991 Leaf set. Hanging on the coattails of the highly successful '90 Leaf, the set rose to $90.
Within several months, the set dropped to $50. It's subset, Leaf Gold Rookies, dropped from $100 to $60 in a three month period. Today the set and subset can be purchased for $10, depending upon the seller's shipping cost. The '92 Rookie Sensations, along with Pinnacle Rookie Idols and Team Pinnacle drove home to myself and many others, prices are much more apt to fall than rise. In 1992, Rookie Sensations were priced at over $200 and the two Pinnacle subsets, at over $400.
By 1994, none of these had 50% of its value from two years prior. Today the Rookie Sensations list at $50, the two Pinnacle at $100 and can be purchased at 50% book value easily. Hopefully baseball cards are cyclical and will return to the consciousness of former collectors. The chance is more likely if collectors climb aboard instead of investors and speculators. They were ultimately the reason cards rose and fell during the junk card era.
When you purchase a set, maybe a 1987 Fleer, always offer, or bid, no higher than what you are certain to sell it for. If you bid on emotion, you will almost never re-sale for what you paid for it. By estimating you are certain you could sell the set for $20, you minus shipping cost and bid the amount. You would have more leeway if you buy sets in groups, it reduces overall shipping, making it easier to re-sale. You may lose out on several auctions, but you will not be stuck with a set you know you will never get your money back from.
The art of collecting baseball cards thirty years ago was to buy, trade, and sell. Not to buy a truckload for $750 and sell two years later for $25,000. It is a hobby, a hobby is something you enjoy. If a hobby begins to feel like a job, it is time to step away. Take a few years off, cards will be there when you return.