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Ode to Unsealed Wax: Exploring Vintage Sports Card Collections

PJ Kinsella in Consignor Stories

Nov 10 — 4 mins read

By Amar Shah

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.” -John Keats

There's something poetic and eternal about a sealed wax box of cards. It might not be the ancient Greek urn that Keats immortalized in his ode, but an unopened case of 1986 Topps Traded baseball conjures a "flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape of deities or mortals, or of both."

Perhaps Keats was talking about Bo Jackson. Then again, maybe not. Regardless, there's an irresistible allure to sealed wax that has always captivated Josh, a lifelong collector and frequent buyer and seller at REA. Perhaps it’s the magnetic blend of memories and investment.

"Well, there's nothing quite like it," Josh said. "It's so unique that people buy it for nostalgic purposes, and they'll open the box because they want to relive their childhood."

Growing up in Pensacola, Florida, Josh has curated an incredible collection of sealed, unopened boxes.

"In medical school, I developed my collection of unopened material, both as an investment and because of the nostalgia from collecting in my youth," he said.

This 1978-1979 Topps Basketball Unopened Wax Box sold in REA's Spring 2023 Auction

This 1978-1979 Topps Basketball Unopened Wax Box sold in REA's Spring 2023 Auction

"I remember a place called Mike's Card Shop," Josh recalled. "There isn't much in Pensacola because it's not a huge city, so it was just my brother and me. We used to play sports, especially baseball. Baseball was what we collected the most. We would go with our father to this shop every so often. I was born in '82, so it was really the heyday of junk wax."

Josh's heart belongs to the 1989 Upper Deck set and, of course, the iconic Griffey Jr. card.

"Opening those Upper Deck packs brought us unparalleled joy. Nothing else compared," he recalled.

It also didn't hurt that Emmitt Smith would come back and visit. Smith was a Pensacola native and played his college ball at the University of Florida.

"He would come back and hold signings when he was with the Cowboys," Josh said. "He brought Michael Irvin with him. I remember going to several of those events, which kept my interest in collecting alive as I grew a little older."

Yet, unopened boxes continued to intrigue him, both in college and on the investment front. He sold one of those boxes, a 1986 Topps Traded Factory-Sealed Unopened Factory-Set Case, in REA’s 2023 Spring Auction for $3,840.

"I had a goal: Basically, making runs for baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, on open boxes, wax boxes, from essentially early 80s until 1989 for each sport," he said. "I completed that goal while I was still in medical school. However, since then, several boxes have come up, designated as being from a sealed case, meaning they have never been tampered with."

But when one box opens, another dollar is made.

"Every time that happens,” he said, “the boxes I own increase in value because that's one less box that remains intact and sealed. And it happens all the time. It's continuing to happen, and it will continue for the rest of my lifetime. So there's almost an assurance that those boxes will all grow in price based on that fact alone."

Josh has sold over a dozen of his unopened boxes in REA events dating back to 2016. He has two copies of each unsealed box and upgrades for the better. He does have some white whales he's trying to hunt down.

"I purchased the Series One Topps 1970 Basketball box," Josh said. "I’ll need to purchase the Series Two box at some point.”

He has to be careful not to fall into the trap of opening a box.

"I have a nostalgic side of my brain that would love to do that—the part that gets excited about that kind of thing,” he said. “And then I have the super prudent business side that tells me this is idiotic."

But his collecting extends beyond just sealed boxes; he's been exploring soccer cards too. His 1977 Crack Futbol Campeonato Disc Soccer #11 Diego Maradona Rookie PSA EX/MT 6 will be available in REA’s Fall 2023 Auction.

Josh's 1977 Crack Futbol Campeonato Disc Soccer #11 Diego Maradona Rookie PSA EX/MT 6 will be featured in REA's Fall 2023 Auction

Josh's 1977 Crack Futbol Campeonato Disc Soccer #11 Diego Maradona Rookie PSA EX/MT 6 will be featured in REA's Fall 2023 Auction

"My collecting interest moved into soccer, of all things. Not just unopened soccer, but soccer cards in general,” Josh said. “Again, it was partly the collecting aspect, the sport, and the investment interest. This area hasn't been tapped but has a lot of potential to grow."

More than anything, collecting held deep personal meaning for Josh. During his return to collecting, his father fell ill.

“Around that time, my father was diagnosed with ALS,” he said. “So it was terrible news but good timing in the sense that I wasn't somewhere where I couldn't leave a job and be there to help him and do the things I was able to do, which is what ended up happening. So, it was serendipitous timing in that sense. It was great that I could spend so much time with my dad in the year before he died. He encouraged me. He was fascinated by the stuff I collected."

There's indeed something poetic about that. And that is the beauty and truth about collecting.

Amar Shah is a multiple Emmy-winning writer and producer who has written for ESPN.com, NFL.com, The Wall Street Journal, The Orlando Sentinel, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Slam Magazine and The Washington Post. In the 90s, Amar was a teen sports reporter and got to hang out with the Chicago Bulls during their golden era. He even landed on the cover for Sports Illustrated for Kids with Shaquille O’Neal. His debut novel "The Hoop Con" comes out on March 5, 2024 with Scholastic. You can preorder here:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hoop-con-amar-shah/1143287376?ean=9781338840315

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