The Year in Baseball Cards: 1991
The year was 1991, the show "Coach" was in it's 3rd season, Jack Palance won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as "Curly" in City Slickers, one of the greatest videogame systems of all-time released (SNES), Jack Morris pitched the Twins into baseball immortality with a 10-inning masterpiece in game 7 of the 1991 World Series and the trading card world was in the midst of the era of overprinting. Below is a look back at the brands, products and cards that defined the year 1991.
In the year 1991, the baseball card world would see the birth of a brand that brought the trading card world into a whole new era of card design, that set being 1991 Stadium Club, which featured a glossy finish and top notch photography. Even though the insanely high print run led to little value 20 years later, 1991 Stadium Club remains one of the hallmark sets of the modern era.
"Big Hurt" and Chuck Knoblauch's Stadium Club cards were the cornerstone cards of my collection in 1991. Unfortunately, we all know how the Knoblauch story ends. As for Frank Thomas, he'll always hold a special place in my collection. Very few players in MLB history were as intimidating at the plate as the two time MVP. He's also one of the only players from the era I don't think did steroids, he's just a beast of man.
1991 was also a time when anyone with a printing press could print their way onto the baseball card scene, as off brands like Ball Street, Classic, Front Row and Line Drive created a confusing boom of baseball cards that make as little sense today as they did back then.
The food industry was also well represented, with Jimmy Dean, Denny's, Kellogg's, Pepsi, Homers Cookies, Post and Country Hearth getting in on the action. In fact, one could receive a free hologram card with the purchase of a "Grand Slam" meal at Denny's.
1991 marked the last time Bowman baseball would be one of the worst products in the industry. The following year 1992 Bowman Baseball would breath new life into the tired vintage name - in the process creating a timeline tangent that later led to the modern prospect card and arguably the hobby's greatest chase card, the Bowman Chrome prospect auto.
For around $8-$10 any desperate collector could rip an entire box of 1991 O-Pee-Chee, which outside of a box of 1994 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Football would be the only box I could afford as a 90's youth. For some reason Kal Daniels and Pedro Guerrero are eternally etched into my memory from the unfortunate OPC experience. There's nothing like ripping a box you are 110% positive has nothing of value in it.
The Conlon Collection...never heard of it? Neither had I until I wrote this article, yet once I saw the cards I immediately recalled them as being the ones everyone thought were extremely valuable in Elementary school because they featured nothing but old time legends like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. As it turns out, The Sporting News created the Conlon Collection. I still have no idea who or what Conlon is, nor do I care to find out. Some mysteries are better left in history.
In 1991, Upper Deck continued to lay the foundation for modern set structure by delivering a massive mix rookies, prospects, veterans, stars, inserts and even a few autographs in 1991 Upper Deck Baseball. Another card of note is Michael Jordan's first baseball card, a card that would serve as a omen for things to come.
Arguably the most chased checklist to this day remains the 1991 Topps Desert Shield set, which were 1991 Topps cards with a "Desert Shield" logo stamped on them. These cards weren't packed pulled, they were actually distributed to American soldiers stationed in the middle east during the Persian Gulf War.
To this day, Chipper Jones' most coveted card is arguably his 1991 Topps Desert Shield RC. Now onto to the real show, below is a list of and pictures of the most memorable brands and products from the 1991 baseball card season.
1991 BBM Factory Set (Japanese)
1991 Classic Best Minor Leagues
1991 Classic Draft (Box and Promo Set)
1991 Country Hearth Bread (Mariners)
1991 Denny's Grand Slam Holograms
1991 Donruss and 1991 Donruss The Rookies Box Set
1991 Fleer Ultra and 1991 Fleer Ultra Update
1991 Foot Locker Slam Fest Set
1991 Kenner Starting Lineup (cards from actual Starting Lineup)
1991 Line Drive Collect a Books
1991 Leaf Baseball Awesome All-Stars Stickers (box art reminds me of the 1993 Phillies)
1991 Legends Magazine National Sports Collectors Convention
1991 Post Cereal and 1991 Post Cereal Canadian
1991 Sporting News Conlon Collection
1991 Score and 1991 Score Rookie & Traded
1991 Score 100 Superstars Box Set
1991 Score Fanfest National Convention Set
1991 Topps and 1991 Topps Traded
1991 Topps Desert Shield (actually handed out to troops during the Gulf War)
1991 Topps Superstars Stand-Ups
1991 Upper Deck and 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition
1991 O-Pee-Chee (ish, the only box I ripped as a youngster):
- 1991 Score Mickey Mantle Autograph
- 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones
- 1991 Donruss Elite Series
- 1991 Pacific Nolan Ryan Silver Prism Parallels
- 1991 Stadium Club Charter Members Set (Promo)
- 1991 Upper Deck Hank Aaron Autographs
- 1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan Autographs
My top 5 favorite brands from 1991:
My top 5 favorite off-brand products from 1991:
- 1991 Line Drive Collect a Books
- 1991 Petro Canada 3-D Pop Up
- 1991 Denny's Grand Slam Holograms
- 1991 Kellogg's 3-D
- 1991 Silver Star Holograms
My 5 least favorite products from 1991:
- 1991 O-Pee-Chee
- 1991 Bowman
- 1991 Classic Four Sport
- 1991 Conlon Collection
- 1991 Donruss (Even back then I knew they were worthless, the highest booking card in the set was .50 cents back then!)
Card I wanted most in 1991: Stadium Club Frank Thomas
Like every other year during the overprinting era (late 80's to late 90's), 1991 will likely be remembered for it's lack of long term value. This is especially the case for those who of us who grew up collecting during this time period and were unaware of what was going on (overprinting, printing after the fact).
Yet, 1991 wasn't all bad, as products like Stadium Club and Upper Deck set new standards in card design and set structure, ultimately paving the way for many of today's products. Let's just hope that card companies now understand the responsibilities that come with printing money on rectangular pieces of cardboard.
Five things from 1991 I would like to see 2011...
- Hologram cards - I don't think I need to explain the coolness of a hologram card to anyone reading a baseball card article.
- 3-D Cards- I know Topps and Upper Deck has done a few in recent years, but none were very collectible. It would cool if card companies invented a new 3-D card technology.
- Book cards - I love modern book cards, but it would be cool to see mini book cards with stats and player stories like 1991 Collect-a-Book cards.
- Stadium Club - I still can't believe Topps killed it off! The set photography was second to none and to me, 1991 Stadium Club, 1989 Upper Deck and 1990 Leaf were the three sets that ushered in the card era we know today.
- Promotional cards - It would be awesome to go to Denny's and get a free Grand Slam hologram card with a meal or open a box of Kellogg's cereal and find a 3-D card in it.
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I agree 100% hologram cards need to back a comeback, in small numbers.