1991 Topps Overview

16 10 2011

792 cards in the set – the same since 1982.

  • Subsets: Record Breakers (#2-8), All-Stars (#386-407), Managers (26 cards throughout), Topps All-Star Rookies (10 cards throughout), #1 Draft picks (10 cards throughout), and Future Stars (6 cards throughout).  Topps again included a trophy on cards for the previous year’s Topps ASR team.  The “Future Star” subset has a blue and yellow rectangle at the top with the future star phrase surrounded by stars.  The Draft cards feature the players in their high school / college uniform with “#1 Draft Pick” in the upper right hand corner designating the subset.  The Turn Back the Clock subset was gone after it had been through a 5-year run (and they’d be running repeats if they kept going).
  • Set Design: The set design features a player photo surrounded by two thin colored borders (correlating to the depicted team), which is in turn surrounded by a white border.  The team name is shown in a flag at the bottom right of the card, just above the player name.  Back after a 4-year hiatus is the player’s position – shown in the lower left corner.  A special Topps logo celebrating 40 years of baseball is shown in the top left-hand corner of the card.  The back features red and gray cardstock with the card number and Topps logo in the upper left corner next to the player name, position, biographical information.  Statistics from each season and career totals are presented.  When there was room at the bottom, Topps included a player-specific write-up and/or a “Monthly Scoreboard” feature, which listed player statistics by month.  The back also has a backdrop (“watermark”) of the Topps 40 logo.
  • Packs: Topps increased prices per card slightly. Wax packs stayed the same price (50¢ SRP), but the number of cards per pack came back down by 1 to 15.  As before, there were 36 packs per box and 20 per case.  34-card cello packs (up from 31 cards) increased a dime (99¢ SRP), while rack packs were now 45-cards (down 1 card as the glossy All-Star cards were now available as a mail-in not as an insert).  Jumbo packs were 101 cards.
  • Rookies: There’s a very big RC – but Chipper Jones is really the only rookie card of note from the set.  Topps missed out on Jeff Bagwell on Mike Mussina – both of whom were featured in sets by other companies, and on Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Thome, who were featured in Bowman.  Topps at least got Bagwell and Pudge into their traded set.
  • Hall of Fame: There are 42 Hall of Famers in this set, down 2 from the year before.  Jim Rice had his last Topps card, as did Whitey Herzog after retiring from the Cardinals.  Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench and Sandy Koufax had Turn Back the Clock cards the year before and the subset was discontinued in 1991.  2014 inductees Joe Torre (Cardinals) and Bobby Cox (Braves) were back in the set as they started managing gigs with former teams.  Chipper Jones was in the Draft Pick set (inducted in 2018).
  • Roberto Alomar, Harold Baines, Craig Biggio, Bert Blyleven, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson. Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Tim Raines, Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Ozzie Smith, John Smoltz, Frank Thomas, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Dave Winfield, Robin Yount, Sparky Anderson (mgr), Tony LaRussa (mgr), Tommy LaSorda (mgr), Frank Robinson (mgr), C. Jones, Torre (mgr), Cox (mgr)
  • Variations: This set has too many variations to count.  First, a lot of the cards have a bold and non-bold version of the Topps 40th “watermark” logo on the background.  There are different variations of the copyright logo on the back relating to which sheet the card was printed on, and there were a number of statistical corrections as well.  There are a decent number of variations that relate to the color of the internal photo frame (most notably a card of Doug Drabek).  There are 3 variations of a more significant variety.  Keith Comstock’s card was mistakenly printed with a Cubs logo – the correction has him with the Mariners team he is pictured with.  The first version of Wes Chamberlain’s card actually pictures another Phillies youngster – Louie Meadows – at some point this was corrected to show Chamberlain.  Finally, a similar photo error was made for the first version of Jose Gonzalez’s card.  The incorrect picture of left-handed hitting Billy Bean was later corrected to show the right-handed Gonzalez.
  • Active in 2010/2011:  Omar Vizquel is still playing in 2011 as is Chipper Jones.  Ken Griffey and Jamie Moyer are the only other players who were active in 2010 and have a card in the set.

The red wax box has a picture of a stack of 4 current year cards next to the “Topps 40” logo, with Bo Jackson’s card on top.  As in the past, the word “Baseball” is written over the words “the Real One!” and “Bubble Gum Cards”.  There is a baseball in the lower right with advertisement for the Topps instant win sweepstakes that was run to celebrate the 40th anniversary.  The bottom of the box has 4 cards in the base set design with season highlights on the back.  Again there were 4 different box options, totaling 16 cards (A through P).

Promo cards

Topps issued a promo sheet of 9 cards – cards showcasing the best photos from the set.

Factory Set

As in previous years, factory sets were sold to hobby dealers and retailers, and the retail “holiday” sets came in much more colorful boxes.

Update Sets

Topps again released a 132-card Topps Traded set in factory set form and in packs.  Dealers who bought a case received a mini bronze replica of Brooks Robinson’s 1957 Topps card.

For the second time, Topps also released a set called Major League Debut in factory set form. The set has the same basic design as the flagship set and chronicles the first game of any players who made their ML debut in 1990.

Parallel Sets

For the 8th and final year, Topps issued a Tiffany variation in factory set form, printed on white cardstock with glossy coating on the front.  This set had the lowest print run in of any other year – less than 5,000.  The 1991 Tiffany set came in a blue box;  Topps also produced a Tiffany parallel for the Traded set.  Issuing the set became irrelevant in 1992 as Topps issued their base set with white cardstock.

Topps printed special edition parallel cards of the 1991 Topps set for armed servicemen in the Persian Gulf.  There is a gold foil Desert Shield logo in the upper right corner of the cards – they were issued in packs and are pretty scarce.

Topps also produced a “micro” set for the first time.  Was this the start of the mini-craze?  Not really when you consider Topps issued mini-cards in 1975 and only issued these for three years.  This set was issued in factory form – the cards measure 1″ x 1-3/8″.

Canadian-based O-Pee-Chee again issued a set that was, for the 2nd time, a full parallel to the Topps base set.  The only way to distinguish were the backs, which had bi-lingual backs (French and English) and were printed on white card stock.

Insert sets

  • All-Star Glossy – 22 cards (send-in).  This was the last year for all of these glossy sets – this year’s cards all had the 40th anniversary logo on the card.  This year, as opposed to an insert set, Topps offered these cards by sending in a certain number of rack pack proofs of purchase and a shipping and handling fee.
  • Rookies Glossy – 33 cards (1 per jumbo pack).


  • Each wax and cello pack contains a “Topps Instant Win” game card.  If your card had an “X” next to the word Topps (there is a “C” in the scan below), you were one of 41 instant winners.  The grand prize winner got one set of each of the 40 years of Topps cards.  Good thing I didn’t win in 1991 – I’d have no reason do this blog 🙂  40 other winners received one random set from the last 40 years – bummer if you won and then got 1986 Topps!
  • In conjunction with the 40th Anniversary promotion, Topps also inserted one of every single card from the past 40 years (and then some) into packs.  I’ve never pulled one – but the odds were listed at 1:1,000.

Other releases associated with the Topps flagship set

#1 – Topps again created a “Gallery of Champions” set of 12 metal ¼-size replicas of the base cards.  There were still three variations – Aluminum, Bronze and Silver (#’d to 1,000), while there is a pewter Rickey Henderson variant given to dealers who purchased the sets.

#2 – Topps issued an 11-card promotional set of cards to commemorate the NBC Babe Ruth movie in the design of the 1991 set.  This set is particularly significant as it contains the last card of Pete Rose printed by Topps.  Rose played Ty Cobb in the movie and was featured on one of the cards.  I actually ordered one of these sets the other day.


Topps was starting to do a little more to combat the competition Upper Deck had ushered in 2 years earlier. They still had the cardboard backs, compared to Upper Deck’s photo backs – and they didn’t have inserts of any kind yet.  But the photography was clearly much better in this set than for previous years.  I’ll show more of that in future posts.  Also, they used the 40th anniversary to promote the cards – this is probably the first time Topps overtly used their history as a marketing advantage over its competitors.  In a year where Donruss came out with Donruss Elite inserts as the first serial numbered cards in a mainstream set, Topps still hadn’t jumped on the insert bandwagon (though they did insert old Topps cards as mentioned above).

They’d also started issuing more products – Topps issued Stadium Club, which was a premium product much more on-line with what Upper Deck was doing.  The Bowman name was a throwback to the days when there were 2 card sets around, and Topps Archives reprinted the 1953 set and really started the retro craze that has now become the norm for 4 to 5 sets a year.

I didn’t really buy packs of this set in 1991 – my brother bought some cards from this set later when I was collecting Upper Deck.  It’s cool seeing the set, and it’s much improved photography and catchy design.




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