Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Rise and Fall and the Rise and Fall of the 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas Rookie Card

During my childhood there were plenty of cards that I drooled over while looking at the Beckett price guide each month. I probably shouldn't say each month because I never had a subscription, but it feels like I bought one every few months and looked at them whenever the chance presented itself; like at a friend's house or the library.

I used to love looking through he Beckett magazines checking out prices and then reading all the articles about new sets, error cards, and super collectors. A few years ago, Julie from A Cracked Bat and a Hot Dog sent me a bunch of old Becketts. I look through them every now and then. I used them for this post, so thanks Julie!

Growing up in the late 80's and early 90's there were a couple of players that always seemed to be battling it out for #1 on Beckett's Hot List. My favorite player of all-time; Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas. Both were amazing, but I am biased towards Griffey. For a time I even somewhat despised Thomas because he would occasionally take over that number one spot.

Griffey had the iconic 1989 Upper Deck rookie card and Frank Thomas would make his rookie card appearance just one year later in 1990. Aside from the mythical NNOF Topps rookie card, Thomas's most iconic rookie card was his 1990 Leaf card. 

First off 1990 Leaf was one of the first premium sets out there and the price of the card just seemed to skyrocket. I don't know when it made it's first appearance in a Beckett magazine, but I remember that by the time it was on my radar, it was already out of my price range as a 9 or 10 year old.

Over the past several years I've had my eye out for a nicely centered copy at a reasonable price. During the pandemic, the card seemed to skyrocket in price again and for a time I thought I would probably never own a copy. But about a month or so ago, I came across a copy of the card that seemed to be in nice shape and nicely centered for $23 shipped in a magnetic from someone on Twitter and I jumped at it.

With the card in hand, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the price of this iconic card over the years.

The oldest Beckett I have is from June 1991, so we'll start there. When I reference the prices I will be looking at the high column. So in June 1991 the 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas Leaf card booked at $18. Again, this was way out of my price range as a 10 year old kid. 


Next up is November 1992. In just under a year and a half, the card had tripled and was now at $60. This was just an insane amount to my 11 year old brain.


Pretty big gap between Beckett magazines. The next one is from December 1995. The card had climbed to $85.


In September 1996 the card remained strong at $85. This was $10 higher than the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card.


February 1998 and still at $85 although by this time the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey card was now at $100.


In November 1998 we see a decline as the card comes in at $60. Notice that the 1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa rookie card was listed at an astronomical $120.


In October 1999 we see that the Thomas was still at $60, but the Sosa had dropped to $75. The 1989 Upper Deck Griffey booked at $160 this month.


June 2000 brings another drop in the price of the Thomas rookie card. It checks in at $40. The Sammy Sosa is up just a bit at $80.


We check in next in October 2001. The Thomas continues to decrease and is at just $30. Sammy took a big drop as well and is at $50.


July 2002 sees the Thomas card check in at $20. Not sure why I didn't grab this for a $20 bill in this timeframe. Sosa went back up to $80 this month which is the same price as the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey rookie card this month.


The Thomas rookie card continued to decline as we see a high of $15 for the card in January of 2003. Sosa remained at $80 while the Griffey dropped to $60.


We are going to skip a couple years as we pick back up in September 2006 and we see that the Thomas card is still at $15. Sosa is still almost double at $25 and the Griffey although it continued to decline as well, was significantly more than the other two at a high of $50.


The most recent copy of Beckett that I own is one that I bought myself. It is from February 2010. We see that the 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas rookie card had dropped even further with a high of just $12.


Over the next 10 years I would periodically look for the card at shops and shows. I browsed eBay during the pandemic, but prices were just too high. If my memory serves me correctly, which is probably doesn't, I think it was selling in the $50 range. I saw an off-centered copy at a card show for around $35, but just wasn't willing to pay that price for that particular version of the card.

Looks like the price has come down once again. Like I said, I was happy to pay $23 shipped for the card I got. How about you? Do you have the 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas card in your collection? When did you get it and how much did you pay for it?

12 comments:

  1. Nobody was paying that much money for a Sosa rookie in the early 2000's. Never being much of a fan of the magazine, I didn't realize how irrelevant they were even by then.

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    1. Maybe in Chicago. I remember the Sosa getting up there, but I don't ever remember it being that high.

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  2. I wasn't a Thomas guy in the mid-late 90s but I was a big Sosa fan and could never afford his Leaf rookie as a teen. After the summer of '98 Sosa (and McGwire) stuff sold for crazy prices. As for the Big Hurt's Leaf RC I bought a PSA 10 copy for $44 on Black Friday 2015. During the Pandemic I saw that it was selling for up to $300 and decided to see if I could flip mine but I wasn't eager to part with it and now it probably sells for half of that. I'm happy to hold on to it and ride that roller coaster, lol.

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    1. Yeah, during the pandemic the Thomas card just kept climbing. $44 is a great deal for a PSA 10. I picked up the Sosa recently for around $5.

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  3. I've watched this card over the years too, didn't realize the price had swung that much. I don't own the card yet, even though the set has been on my radar for awhile.

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    1. I would also like to get the 1990 Leaf set. It was a really iconic set and is still nice today.

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  4. I bought this card maybe a year ago (don't remember how much I paid for it -- less than $20), just so I could trade it to someone. It means zero to me. Same with the '89 UD Griffey.

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    1. I love that there are so many ways to collect. It makes it fun to see other collections when not everyone has the same cards.

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  5. Iconic card. I remember collecting during the Griffey/Thomas era where collectors were force to choose who they stood behind. I had Frank's back and was fortunate to pull a few of this card from packs... plus I built two 1990 Leaf sets when I worked at my LCS back in the early 90's. And I'm sure I paid for a couple copies at some point in the 90's, but can't remember the price. I'm too big of a bargain hunter to have paid top dollar, but there's always a chance I paid $50 when it booked for $85. According to my saved emails, I've only bought this card off of eBay once since 2010. I paid $65 (free shipping) for a PSA/DNA signed copy. I actually regret not adding a PSA 10 copy before prices started soaring, but that'll be on my list if/when the market settles/crashes again.

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    1. I've seen this card signed and it looks great! Nice grab at $65!

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  6. I love this card and the set. One of the first sets I bought after returning to the hobby as an adult, I scored a '90 Leaf Series 1 & 2 complete set on eBay in 2013 for $34 ($25 winning bid + $9 shipping). When it arrived, it was missing all the key rookie cards (except Sosa, so it had likely been been picked through prior to the rise of Sammy). But I opened a "didn't match the seller's description" case and soon the seller found the missing good cards (including the Big Hurt) and shipped them. Not sure if it was an honest mistake or if he was hoping I'd just file the box away and never check the cards.. but it all worked out. I should thumb thru the set again.. so nice!

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  7. Thanks for the documented pics! Very interesting to see how it charted. I don't own the Leaf Rookie, just the regular Topps Rookie and I was fine with it, I guess.

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