It’s hard to believe, but the 1991 Desert Shield baseball cards issued by Topps turned 30 years old. I remember these cards very well, although finding them was difficult.
Here is a glimpse of this impressive set which continues to arouse the interest of collectors three decades after its first edition.
About Topps Desert Shield 1991 Baseball Cards
Cards, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are moderately rare. Calling them rare would be a bit too much, even if many of each player’s roughly 6,500-7,000 estimated to have been printed were thrown away. You can, after all, find thousands of them on eBay on a regular basis. But compared to other cards from the Age of Junk Wax, the “fairly rare” moniker probably fits.
So what are these cards? In 1991, Topps issued them alongside their regular baseball cards. The cards are virtually identical to the regular Topps cards from that year. However, they do have a special gold foil stamp on the front with a palm tree inside a shield. The cards were originally intended for soldiers in Operation Desert Shield, a mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia. However, while some of them have traveled overseas, there are reports that others have stayed here in the United States.
They must have quickly found their way into the hands of collectors because I remember seeing them on sale in the salons of the time. But make no mistake, in 1991 these cards weren’t very easy to find. The main reason for this was the widespread lack of internet. Collectors had to go to great lengths to find the cards at the time. Back then, most depended on local card stores, shows, or mail order.
The set was also special as Topps celebrated its 40th anniversary of baseball card issuance. To pay homage to this longevity, they added a 40th anniversary logo to the cards and that is found in addition to the Desert Shield stamp.
As you can imagine, not all soldiers were in these maps. A previous Sports Collectors Daily article with first-hand testimony from a Middle Eastern soldier mentions that cards were thrown and even burned in connection with fires. Topps’ gesture would have been appreciated, but hey, the troops had bigger problems to worry about. And as the article points out, even those who legitimately enjoyed the cards may have struggled to bring them home or even keep them in decent condition. This helps explain part of the rarity of this set.
In all, there are 792 cards in the set, just like the “regular” Topps baseball cards from 1991. And since the full decks of the Desert Shield cards were never issued, it is very difficult to get them. find today as they had to be assembled by hand. You see sets for sale occasionally (we’ll get to that in a few moments), but it doesn’t happen that often and usually requires not only a collector with a little patience, but one with a little cash to spend. .
Cards are a Topps brand number printed on non-gloss card stock. That would change in 1992, as the company followed the trend of other modern issues and switched to a slightly glossy card style. The facades featured color images of players with white borders while the backs had the typical stat-laden layout found on other Topps sets.
Keys to the set
The main cards in the set are essentially parallel to those found in the 1991 Topps baseball card set.
The top card in the set is easily the Hall of Famer Chipper Jones rookie card. The eight-time All-Sar and former MVP Jones card has become one of the most wanted cards in the Age of Junk Wax – especially in high quality condition.
After Jones, other big stars appear. Some of the most popular include Ken Griffey, Jr., Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others.
Jones’ rookie card is one of the few notable ones. Collectors will also find a rookie of double All-Star Carl Everett, but even this card has minimal value. Most of 1991’s prized rookies, including Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, weren’t issued until the Topps Traded set was released later that year. The highlights of the checklist are really Jones’ rookie card and the veterans big name cards.
Price and rarity
As mentioned, it is believed that there were approximately 6,500 to 7,000 cards printed for each player. Sources vary on the exact distribution, but this is the most frequently cited figure. However, we also know that many have been discarded. This meant that many had never really made their way into the circulation of collectors.
How many exist today, really, no one can guess. Even population reports are not very useful because many of these maps remain unclassified. Many cards are inexpensive and simply not worth the time to be rated.
Despite this rarity, many of these cards are very affordable. The gross commons for the set typically start at $ 2-4, and many minor stars can be purchased for under $ 10. So why is the set so expensive? Because there are nearly 800 cards, obviously. Then there’s the Chipper Jones card, with noted examples typically costing close to $ 1,000 or more. Some of the biggest stars can easily sell for $ 100 or more.
A complete gross set sold for almost $ 3,000 in September on eBay. That said, the prices of graduated cards will increase the price quickly. How far can these cards go? In 2018, the # 1 set on the PSA registry with an incredible 759 of 792 cards ranked a PSA 10 auctioned for over $ 106,000.
Additionally, an unopened product is sometimes found. A completely unopened 36-pack box of wax was sold in December 2020 by Heritage for $ 30,000. With the increasing prices of high quality cards, the potential for unopened packages and boxes could be even greater today.
Something to watch out for? Counterfeits. This PSA article partly details several types of Desert Shield card counterfeits with fake foil stamps. And while it is arguably less common to find counterfeits of small names, the Jones card, in particular, is often a target to be tampered with.