Taking a closer look at 1991 Topps Baseball, the 40th Anniversary issue

26 Nov

1991 Topps is remembered by most collectors for it’s “1 of every card ever produced” sweepstakes. And most collectors who pursued Topps’ challenge to “find the Mick” in the 1991 packs were very dissappointed to discover that after hundreds or thousands of opened packs, not a single vintage card, or for the extremely lucky among them, a VG 1974 Topps common!

Though the 1991 set does boast some of Topps’ best photography up to that point and an already classic design, it’s also Topps’ most variation-heavy set ever produced! And since it was the last Topps set where the company made the effort to stop their presses and correct a large portion of errors, several of the rarest variations in Topps’ catalog can be found in this set. Here is a look at some of the toughest Topps variations fromĀ  the 1991 issue:

#685 Doug Drabek with WHITE inset border. Probably the most sought-after error in this set, Topps originally printed the card with a white border over his picture instead of the correctly-themed black. Tthis extremely difficult variation is believed to only be found in a limited amount of jumbo packs. Often times, the corrected version appears in boxes that contain the Chris Hoiles variation of similar type. Sales have seen over $100 for this card in previous years!

#42 Chris Hoiles with WHITE inset border. Like the Drabek mentioned above, this scarce variety originally had a white photo frame before Topps’ proofers changed it. Seemingly less scarce than the Drabek but far rarer than many Topps error cards of the 80′s and 90′s, this is usually the #2 or #3 most sought-after variation from this set.

The next variation is typically the #2 most-wanted error card in the 1991 set, but since it’s cataloged in the Sports Collector’s Digest Annual Price Guide, it has gained much more recognition than the Doug Drabek error. I have received many wantlists from master set builders, variation collectors and pretty much every other type of collector, asking for this card:

#588 Mark Whiten with HAND OVER BORDER. Note ‘Hard-Hittin’s’ hand extends into the white border area – this was changed to look as though the border was printed over his hand. Topps’ decision to “correct” this card is a baffling one since a large number of players in the 1991 set can be found with appendages, hats, bats, etc sticking out into the white border area. Regardless, this card is one of the rarest Topps variations of the junk era. I have personally opnened countless amounts of every packaging type, from the elusive 100ct jumbo packs to retail and hobby factory sets to vending boxes and everything in between from every possible region of the United States and have yet to pull one of these from Topps’ packaging. I have even pulled 2 vintage commons ( a 1968 and a 1975) in that time! I have found these in commons boxes, hand-collated sets and those weird team sets you used to find at the grocery store. My theory on this card’s issue is that it was likely found in one specific packaging type and corrected very early in the run.

Next up, a mostly-unnoticeable but truly rare variation:

#459 Tom Trebelhorn with A* in copyright on back. Unfortunately, I do not have an image for this card. The majority of Topps cards from 1974(?) through 1998 have what is called a ‘printer’s designation mark’ on the back before their copyright line. This is usually a letter A, B, C, D, E, F etc or an asterisk ( * ) or double-asterisk ( * * ) and it let’s the printer’s know which sheet is which. During Topps’ run of 792 card sets, 132 different cards appeared on 6 different sheets.

Trebelhorn’s card is one of several in the 1991 set that have more than one sheet code. In his case, a rare variety exists depicting his card as part of the A* sheet. I have seen just 5 examples of this card since 1991! Whether or not it actually existed on the A* or it just received the A* while part of the B* sheet is unknown, but scarce it definitely is. Often times, sheet code variations aren’t considered to be a must-have for many collectors, but this one is worth adding to your 1991 master set.

And speaking of sheet code variations…

It’s worth noting that several of the 1991 Topps cards from the A* sheet are rumored to exist in an A*B* variety. I have yet to personally own or even see one of these (card #83 Daryl Boston being the common exception), but many collector’s have assured me that they do in fact, exist. They are often on many want-lists that get sent to me and would likely bring a decent premium if offered at auction. If anyone has a scan of an example, please feel free to email one and I’ll post it in this blog.

Several other variations featuring E*F* or F* sheet codes exist in the 1991 set and are fairly common.

#48 Dennis ‘Oil Can’ Boyd with Black-bordered banner tip.

This is a tricky one. Take a look at card #48, specifically where Boyd’s wrist meets the “40th Anniversary” banner at upper left. Originally Topps airbrushed the area a brownish color to reflect Boyd’s wrist being printed over the banner, then it was changed to a pink color in order to place the banner on top of Boyd’s hand. Both were produced in seemingly equal quantities. Sometimes the pair would sell for a small premium but it was a relatively well-known variety that quickly became easy for collectors to find and add to their sets. But in recent years, a third variety showed up, one where Topps added a thin black border around the banner tip to further punctuate the banner’s dominance of Boyd’s hand! Topps was not messing around!! They felt so strongly that this miniscule conflict needed a third correction at the end of the print run! Still, today, I can only vouch for just 3 known copies! Maybe one day when all these variations are cataloged in the annual guides, more will creep out of collections and a true guage for their rarity will be determined, until then, this is one of the rarest of the 1991′s!

#720 Cecil Fielder with RED NUMBER (and other D* sheet red numbers). This is more of a printing-flaw thing that seems to have occurred semi-frequently. As I have found a handfull of boxes during my travels that are affected by this variation. The card number on back is colored red (or pink), the same as the background of the bio data area on the card. So far, I have only found cards of the D* sheet affected by this variation. These are pretty tough to find and scarce in my opinion, so if you’re looking to build a master set, they’d be a great addition despite the ambiguous number of total affected subjects.

Bold 40th Logo variations. These aren’t rare. They are less-common than your regular “ghosted” or “faint 40th logo” backed 1991 Topps cards. A complete set of them can be a tricky task and I believe they are essential for a master set, but for the most part they are not scarce. All cards (except the Managers) that come from the A* and B* sheets can be found in a parallel version with a thick, dark red 40th Anniversary logo imposed over the statistics on back. Why Topps decided to produce a partial parallel set of this kind is unknown, but an interesting fact is that all the A* and B* sheet players in the wildly popular Desert Shield set come in this variety only. Also, several cards already affected by variations such as Mark McGwire, Oil Can Boyd, Greg Swindell, Kevin Seitzer and Dennis Rassmussen, also come with Bold 40th logo backs as well…see, tricky stuff, just when you thought you had it all figured out!

1991 Topps has a ton of easy-to-find, well-known and little-known variations: border colors, wrong photos, statistical errors, etc. A quick google search will pull up a number of lists (fairly accurate) that give a breakdown on what numbers/subjects are affected by variations and what those variations are, so I’m going to skip listing all of those. The ones I’ve outlined above are the key toughies to knock-down in the pursuit of a master set, if you can locate them, then everything else can usually be found pretty easily ( I know because I have a 5000ct box full of them).

Stay tuned for further blogs, hopefully if enough people start reading them, I can start doing giveaways and contests for unlisted variations.

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34 Responses to “Taking a closer look at 1991 Topps Baseball, the 40th Anniversary issue”

  1. mike February 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Oil Can red tip and Storm Davis with “R” next to Topps logo dont get starting bids any longer. Cross those out they are again worthless.

    • junkwaxgems March 1, 2010 at 6:54 am #

      Regardless of starting bids, the Storm Davis card was produced in significantly smaller quantities than most other 1991 Topps cards. Oil Can’s red tip and brown tip versions are both equally common – it’s the version where Topps added a black border around the banner that remains very rare today.

  2. Eric April 13, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Hi,

    I wanted to help shed some light on which 1991 Topps cards may be available with an A*B* print designation on back. I can confirm that each of the following cards can be found with A*B* on back:

    #63 – Milt Thompson
    #72 – Junior Ortiz
    #76 – Jerry Browne
    #83 – Daryl Boston
    #153 – Bryan Harvey
    #177 – Lenny Harris
    #178 – Dave Valle
    #213 – Frank Wills
    #216 – Greg Gagne
    #248 – Tom Gordon
    #265 – Mark Gubicza
    #272 – Jeff King
    #284 – Bill Spiers
    #290 – Steve Sax
    #297 – Manny Lee
    #312 – Charlie Hayes
    #345 – Len Dykstra
    #478 – Kurt Stillwell
    #480 – Dave Magadan
    #481 – Ed Whitson
    #538 – Bip Roberts
    #584 – Kevin Brown
    #610 – Andres Galarraga
    #644 – Chuck Crim
    #667 – Brady Anderson
    #756 – Jeff Huson
    #785 – Darrin Fletcher

    Are there other A*B* cards out there? Maybe – the alternate variation on each of these cards is an A* designation, and there are many other cards in the set with an A* that I have yet to see with the A*B* designation.

    I can also confirm that there are E*F* variations for Cal Ripken RB, Tracy Jones, Al Leiter, and Scott Chiamparino. I suppose the Steve Olin E*F* card exists but for some reason I still haven’t come across it. Finally, there is a variation on the Tom Trebelhorn card A* & B*, as well as a Darrin Fletcher variation (F* and blank). I hope this is found to be helpful.

    • junkwaxgems May 18, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

      Great work! If you ever wish to move the Steve Sax, let me know. I can confirm the Steve Olin (I own a few pairs), the Fletcher and have previously owned 2 or 3 copies of the Trebelhorn with A* instead of B* on back.

      • Shawn November 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

        Hello,

        I think I might have found a third version of the Storm Davis card. I just went through 5000 cards at a local shop and there is version with a partial R. I can provide a scan.

        Shawn

  3. josh February 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    I recently got a 1991 Topps Dennis Boyd shipped to me as part of a large lot of cards that I redeemed in the Topps Million card giveaway. I believe I may have the red flag tip and black border variation, as it looks exactly like that card that is scanned. Any way I could send you a scan to confirm? Thanks…

  4. Josh February 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I will send the scan tomorrow…thanks for your help.

  5. Josh February 18, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Sent a scan your way yesterday…

    • junkwaxgems February 26, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Hi Josh,

      From what I can tell, that does appear to be the version with the black border around the tip. Making it just the 2nd copy I have seen. Does it also have the odd black squiggle on his cap? Either way, that’s a pretty awesome find out of a typically not-to-awesome redemption program.

  6. GCA February 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Great info. I just got a freebie junk wax monster box from my local shop and decided to make a ’91 set just for fun. Never realized there were so many variations beyond the early 80′s. (I skipped 1985-2002 collecting).
    Pulled most of the rest of my set today and found a few of the variations in that stock. Makes it way more fun!
    Keep up the great work!

    Greg A

  7. Josh March 2, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Thanks for the info…no black squiggle on cap though.
    Cap looks normal.
    Wondering if there is a market for this card?

  8. Dave June 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    This is great info and very helpful. I did a Google search on 1991 Topps errors, but haven’t come across one I stumbled upon. It’s the #21 Joe Morgan MGR card. There is an error version where the Hit leader (Boggs) is listed as having 87 hits instead of 187 hits. I have both the error and the corrected version but was surprised not to find any mention of it on-line or in the Beckett price guide.

    • junkwaxgems June 17, 2011 at 8:38 am #

      Great find! Too bad it shows up after I dumped 2 3200 count 1991 topps commons boxes!

      I’ll be looking out for a pair and posting a blog entry once I find them.

  9. rickyck45 July 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    How about a no letter version I found on Darren Fletcher, #9. There is no letter for the print run on the card I have. Is that common for this card?

    • Dylan July 24, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      This is a well-known variation. The version with the F* code is the scarcer of the two. A similar error affects the Randy Bush card in the set as well.

  10. Robert Driggs January 19, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I found a Mark Whiten card with his hand over the border. Does anyone know what that is worth?

    • Dylan February 1, 2012 at 9:04 am #

      They have recently sold between $50-100. Not sure what people are paying these days. Great find!

  11. Teri June 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    I don’t know if anyone is on here anymore but we found in a box a 1991 Major League Baseball Jumbo Pak (says that on one side of the pack) 100 Cards 3 chances to win in this pack Instant Win Vintage Topps Cards Plus sweepstakes Win compete Vintage sets…After reading your blog I;m trying to figure out if this is worth more in the pack or if we should open it and look for the cards listed here. Any help is most appreciated!

    • Dylan July 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      Though I hardly have the time to update and provide new content these days, the stats show that the blog is still averaging 400 views a day! That said, to answer your question: the odds of pulling a rarer variation are high. However, those mega-packs aren’t worth too much, maybe a couple bucks tops.

  12. Joseph June 24, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    i have both copies of the #685 Doug Drabek, and i have the err copy of the #42 Chris Hoiles… funny thing i had a person claim the cards never existed and i was making them up so i happily posted a link to your site for clarification. thank you for bing such a well versed and educated staff!

  13. Charles June 29, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I have found a large topps box full of 40 anniversary cards. Can anyone help me with information on their worth???

    • Dylan July 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Check ebay completed listings. Read the postings (and comments) here regarding the 1991 Topps set to get an idea of which variations are the rarest. I generally try to avoid being a price guide as variations tend to fluctuate in final value.

  14. jmass508 July 11, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    i have a sid bream 2 cards 1has no letter on the back an says traded to braves 12-5-90. and the other same sid card doesnt say he was traded to the braves an has a letter D* on the back of it.(card number) . an pink backings are they worth anything ?

    • Dylan July 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      You have the O-Pee-Chee version of Bream’s card. They are not marked as “o-pee-chee” on the fronts, which is a little confusing.

  15. jmass508 July 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    an btw i have alot of cards from the 40th annaversary that they have flags over there hands or there hands/arm over the flag also idk if they r worth anything but i have some that there heads come out onto the white boarder of the card

    • Dylan July 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      I’ve noticed this with the 1991 set and other years of Topps. Unless they exist in another version without the flag, border etc printed over them, there is no premium attached.

  16. jmass508 July 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    i have a carmelo martinez played for the pirates an all the pirates cards have a black border around them but carmelos border is grey is that how it is or is it a error (card # 779)

    • Dylan August 2, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      Orioles and Pirates cards from 1991 Topps can be found with various stages of inking on the inner border. These are printing issues. Some are tougher to find than others but most variation collectors don’t seem to attach much premium to them regardless.

  17. Michael Perez July 21, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    I have a white border that I found in my junk commons box! Got it up on eBay right away lol.

  18. Ronald cosby January 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    I have a complete set of the Topps 1991 40th Anniversary just woundering how much are they worth

    • Dylan January 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      Consult ebay completed sales for your answer.

  19. GCA August 22, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    Found a Whiten hand-outside border in a shop that has a whole room of nothing but junk wax singles in monster boxes. My friend and I went blind looking for the ’91 Topps, 1990 Fleer, and three ProSet football sets’ variations over two days. Great fun!

  20. flash September 19, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I have not found any variations in the 1991 Topps Desert Shield set and I have looked at over 8,000 cards. Further I have not found any legit DS cards with an A*B* sheet code designation. In fact the only variances in sheet codes were 5 cards: #9 (Fletcher), #233 (Leiter), #676 (Chiamparino) and #696 (Olin) which all cards had an E*F* sheet code designation. All Ripkens in the DS set did not have a sheet code designation and were blank, but the card was printed on Sheet “F”.

    True DS Checklists #31, #366 & #527 contain errors; the corrected versions are from the Topps 1991 regular issue set.

    So if you want a true DS only set, collect the checklists without corrections for the above referenced cards

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