I was 12 years old when Upper Deck released its inaugural set of baseball cards in 1989. The anchor of that set was card #1, Ken Griffey Jr. That card helped turn the hobby of sports card collecting into a serious business, and contributed to the rise — and eventual fall — of the industry.
Slate offers a terrific article on the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffer Jr. card, and explains how it broke the hearts of 12-year olds in more ways than one:
When Griffey welcomed collectors to the very first Upper Deck set, investment was just about to trump fun in the card world. Kids had started putting their collections in plastic sheets and hard cases rather than bicycle spokes and shoe boxes, and investors would cross-check every card picked from a pack against the latest issue of Beckett’s price guide. It was in this environment that Upper Deck launched in 1989 as the first premium baseball card, protected from the threat of counterfeiting with a hologram on each card, protected from the stain of the wax pack thanks to its unprecedented foil wrappers. There was no gum included, and packs cost an industry-high $1. Baseball cards were serious business.
From the very beginning, card buffs saw the Upper Deck No. 1 as not just a collectible, but as an investment. Baseball card fans, who had once traded away duplicate cards in a quest to compile a complete set, started hoarding as many Griffeys as they could. Collectors’ hands would shake when they saw Griffey’s face in their pack, confident that this card would be the key to financing a college education.
Read the full article.