So anyways, I teased this image to close out my previous flea market recap. As I said, time was running out after having scoped out all the finds I already posted about last week. Even with much of the aisles still unexplored, I had to get a move on or risk being late to work that morning.
As I walked past (what I told myself were) the final vendors of the day, however, I noticed three huge cardboard boxes tucked underneath one guy's table, and I wasn't sure I saw what I thought I saw when I first glanced at them. But my eyes were right: those boxes were absolutely loaded with wax from the late '90s/early 2000s, many of which hailed from sets with cards I almost never see -- let alone unopened packs.
I asked the vendor how much they were, and figuring he'd say something like a buck or two a piece, I prepared myself to pick out maybe 5-10 of the best packs I could find.
But to my complete and utter surprise the guy said: those are three for a dollar.
I suddenly didn't care about being late for work, because oh my god these packs were THREE FOR A DOLLAR!
I rubbed my hands together, took a knee on the concrete, and dove in. Even with one eye still (kind of) on the clock, I managed to sift through most of what was in those boxes. And after all was said and done, I'd basically built my own box of unopened nineties/aughts wax from my childhood -- though I never actually saw a lot of these packs/sets during my youth.
I bought 33 packs in all -- seen here ganging up on the poor '96 Bazooka box I also purchased last week. At 3/$1, my total bill for the effort amounted to all of eleven dollars. For comparison's sake, that's how much a 15-card rack pack of Topps Chrome costs these days after tax, about half of which I might need (if I'm lucky).
So if you'll allow me, I'd like to take you on a journey through the glorious custom box I built during my waning minutes at the flea market last week.
1995 Collector's Choice
We might as well run through these things chronologically: 1995 Collector's Choice represented the oldest cards in those boxes, and I bought about five or six packs of the stuff, more than any other brand from my custom-made box.
It's appropriate that this checklist features a subset called "Best of the '90s," because, for my money, '95 Collector's Choice has always been one of my personal favorite sets of the decade.
Collector's Choice as a whole is one of the greatest brands ever, and '95 has always represented its peak for me.
I'm not sure exactly why, but the design has always struck me as kid-centric. And between signature parallels, traded cards, and final tributes (as well as your standard old base cards), there's enough variation in this set to make anyone happy.
My build-a-box was up and running.
1997 Collector's Choice
More Collector's Choice(!), this time a pack from the not-to-be-ignored 1997 design.
I could've bought a lot more of these than I did -- the guy seemed to have a whole box worth of loose packs -- and I'm kicking myself for not buying more than the single pack I took home, because this is a fine set that I (apparently) still need quite a few cards from.
If I ever see this guy at the flea market again, I'm buying them all.
1998 Donruss & 1998 Upper Deck
Donruss and Upper Deck were in the hobby for a long time, but neither of their '98 designs are particularly memorable -- though my packs did result in these two horizontal beauties.
1998 Pinnacle Performers & 1998 Pinnacle Plus
One pack a piece from a couple of Pinnacle's alliterative death-rattle brands -- '98 would be their final year in the hobby -- and though these designs might not be their finest, Pinnacle did make the collecting world a better place.
Sadly, I don't think I ever realized how much I enjoyed Pinnacle until well after they'd gone out of business.
2002 Greats of the Game
My build-a-box skipped a few years before resuming in 2002 with a single pack of Greats of the Game.
If there was one brand I wished I would've found more of in those cardboard boxes, it's this one, because -- like most legend-based sets of the era -- this set is absolutely staggering.
2002 Donruss Fan Club & 2002 Leaf
Though the base cards were more than enough for me, it certainly didn't hurt that I pulled a few parallels from my custom-made box -- notably a Press Proof parallel of The Big Hurt himself.
That aside, I don't have a ton to say here other than the fact that I scanned these two cards together before remembering that both Bagwell and Thomas share the same exact birthday (5-27-68).
2002 Stadium Club & 2002 Studio
The lone pack of 2002 Stadium Club was oddly the only Topps-brand set I included in my custom box, while Studio provided me with a nice Jeets sighting.
As I've kind of hinted at already, one of the things I enjoyed most about this guy's packs was that he had loads of the lesser-remembered editions of famous brands.
When I think of Fleer, I think of classic designs like 1981, '84, '88, and so on. I almost never think of 2002, and it takes a while for me to even be able to conjure up the look of it in my head. Most would agree that it wasn't one of Fleer's better efforts, though the backs do provide some interesting factoids.
But as oxymoronic as it might sound, it's even more fun to open cards from the forgotten years of famous brands, because when am I ever going to see another pack of 2002 Fleer again?!
2002 Upper Deck & 2003 Upper Deck
In keeping with the forgotten-years-of-big-brands theme, I probably see cards from these two sets less often than any other years of Upper Deck (especially '02).
2003 Upper Deck MVP & 2003 Upper Deck Honor Roll
A single pack each of Upper Deck brands nobody remembers -- and god why does it seem like an eternity since Adam Dunn played for the Reds?
2003 Fleer Platinum
This pack provided the most unexpected fun of the box: I couldn't even remember what they looked like prior to last week.
Platinum was among the thousands of offshoot brands Fleer launched during its dying days, but unlike most of the others, this one is actually a whole lot of fun -- as sets based off of obscure oddball designs tend to be.
The big bonus was the Jermaine Dye, a hit for my throwback mini-collection which I'd never seen before.
2003 Upper Deck 40-Man
This was probably the most anticipated pack of the lot: 40-Man was Upper Deck's shot at creating a huge base-oriented Topps Total-esque set.
The brand flamed out after just two years -- largely due to its $2.99-per-pack tag which couldn't hold a candle to Total's 99-cent price point (I don't think I ever opened a pack of 40-Man in my youth). Like Total, however, the set does feature its share of backups and benchwarmers which didn't get many moments in the cardboard sun.
Sadly, I didn't pull any of those obscure heroes from my lone pack of 40-Man, but it was a blast nonetheless.
2003 Donruss Team Heroes
I have to say that the two packs of 2003 Donruss Team Heroes were the most fun to open out of any from my build-a-box, and talk about cards you never, ever see these days.
This was, to a lesser extent, Donruss's attempt at a Topps Total or 40-Man set. It doesn't feature quite as many cards, but the obscure names are still there, such as then-unknown rookies Orlando Hudson and Oliver Perez.
Team Heroes does have something Total and 40-Man don't, however: legends -- often themselves fairly ignored in terms of cardboard recognition (Harold Reynolds?!).
After the dust had settled, Team Heroes provided me with what was my single favorite pull of my custom box in the form of a beautiful new Ronnie for my binders.
For me, though, these packs weren't so much about pulling cards I actually needed as much as they were about enjoying the sheer experience of it all. As has become the refrain throughout this post, you just never singles from these sets anywhere -- forget unopened packs of them.
Better yet, most of these brands were released right in the heart of my card-collecting childhood, but I doubt I opened very much (if any) of them at the time. So, in a way, this custom-made box was a way to relive a part of my youth I never got to live in the first place.
And by the way, I did end up making it to work on time after all.
Not that I much cared after all this.