What's considered rare in the hobby today? Cards numbered to 50? Maybe 25 total copies. Singles with print runs of 100 can sell for a dollar or two. Go back a couple of decades and it's a totally different picture. 1991 Donruss Elite inserts come numbered to 10,000. Yes, that's a one followed by four zeroes. By today's standards, that's a lot. Yet, this ground-breaking set still commands some solid attention on the secondary market. And rightfully so.
1991 Donruss Elite was a ground-breaking set at the time. It really did change the game. The insert set is credited as being the first set of serial numbered cards. While others had hand numbering like the various Pro Set holograms and 1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson autographs, none went to the same lengths as Elite.
This set a finite limit on print runs. It also made the card makers accountable as there wasn't much to hide behind as far as print runs go.
Rarity can be somewhat relative. While the number of Elite cards is very high by today's standards, print runs back in 1991 were massive. These inserts were found less than one per case. Factor in the eight cards in the main set plus the more limited Nolan Ryan card and the Ryne Sandberg autograph and you get the idea that Donuss made a lot of cards back in 1991.
A popular story suggests that some would use metal detectors to try and cherry pick cases and boxes that had an Elite card.
Check out the entire set of 1991 Donruss Elite inserts below.
1991 Donruss Elite Visual Checklist
3 Jose Canseco, Oakland Athletics
5 Doug Drabek, Pitsburgh Pirates
7 Rickey Henderson, Oakland Athletics
L1 Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers
4 Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs
6 Cecil Fielder, Detroit Tigers
8 Matt Williams, San Francisco Giants
S1 Ryne Sandberg, Chicago Cubs