Wax packs, also called unopened packs, are collectible cards still in their original packaging. Similarly, trading-card boxes are unopened boxes of cards. Buying wax packs and trading-card boxes involves a little bit of risk and suspense, and a whole lot of self-control—you won’t know what you’ve bought until you open the pack, but opening it decreases the value, so most collectors never do.
There are wax packs for musicians, movies, and sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey), among other things, though baseball wax packs are the most collected. Most, but not all, wax packs include a stick of bubble gum. If the wax pack is vintage, the gum is likely rock-hard by now. Vintage wax packs printed before the 1970s are especially sought-after.
While some people call wax pack collectors crazy, the accumulation of unopened packs is simple economics: the packs of cards themselves are often scarcer than the cards inside, so the unopened packs gain value both for collectors of unopened packs and for those hoping to get their hands on a pristine Mickey Mantle or Michael Jordan card. And every time an unopened pack from pre-1970 is opened, that means one fewer wax pack still exists, and the value of those that do goes up.
Although wax-pack collecting is definitely a niche hobby, the Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) has begun grading unopened packs for collectors, and so has Global Authentication Inc., as counterfeit wax packs have become prevalent.
Not surprisingly, the most collectible wax packs come from the most popular sets ever printed. Number one on that list would be the 1952 Topps baseball set, which includes Mickey Mantle’s rookie card and a bevy of other memorable cards of stars such as Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Yogi Berra. Not far behind the ’52 Topps set is the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings baseball set, which is the only prewar baseball pack that has been authenticated and includes the likes of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
Most unopened packs of interest to collectors date from the 1960s or before, but the most collectible basketball wax pack is the 1986 Fleer set. Although there are ample supplies of this pack, demand always seems to outweigh it, as this is the set that contains the coveted Michael Jordan rookie card.
For football, the most collectible packs are the 1953 Bowman, 1955 All-American Football, and the 1965 Topps. Popular hockey packs include the 1966 Topps set, which carries Bobby Orr’s rookie card, and the 1979 OPC set, which has a rookie card for Wayne Gretzky. Collectible non-sports wax packs include a Topps 1978 Battlestar Galactica set and a 1984 Michael Jackson trading-card box.