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 from 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.