1990 Pro Set Football: What’s Rare & What’s Not – Looking Back On The Last 7 Years of Discoveries And Sales

18 Nov

It seems the nostalgia boom of Pro Set collecting has all but come to an end. Sure there are several of us out there still flipping over cards in junk lots and scouring auction sites for new and interesting oddities but nothing quite like the heyday of the late 00s, early 10s. In those years, there seemed to be so much being uncovered, an endless supply of new items to chase and an ever-growing population of collectors jumping into what are arguably the most error/variation laden products of the junk wax era. Over the last five+ years, the collector slowdown started gradually (and I blame much of this on the glut of printer’s scrap and sheet cut items hitting the market) and has pretty much come to a near stop, save the likely, few dozen collectors still pursuing the impossible idea of a “complete” set. Let’s take a look at some of the cards which have filtered out to remain truly rare and elusive, and, conversely, which previously-believed to be rare items have proven to be much more acquirable.

Below is my completely unscientific and very fallible list of Pro Set winners and losers, after watching a recording appearances for sale, realized sales and frequency of availability for purchase. Obviously this does not take into account collector to collector data.

1990 Pro Set Football Winners (included prototypes and non-pack issues):

  1. Steve Young #666 – I believe this to be toughest Pro Set issue of all. Despite information, including pics, circulating for over a decade now, I do not recall a public sale of this card. Truly the holy grail of Pro Set issues, across all sets and sports.
  2. Eric Dickerson #338FACT Cincinnati. Have any copies of this card changed hands or been offered for sale in the last seven-to-ten years? As far as I know, none have. I had received an email ca. 2010, I think, that contained an image of the card back. I do not believe I had seen it prior to or since then. Truly a worthwhile runner-up to the Steve Young card as most sought-after and elusive 1990 Pro Set issue.
  3. Paul Gruber #310Missing name, position and uni number on back. Unreal to me that only one copy has surfaced. This card is similar to the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF, where, clearly, an obstruction blocked an imperfect portion of black ink on back. Though unconfirmed, I believe that whichever Bucs player sat above his card on the 10-up sheet strips should also be missing black ink on their cards.
  4. Dexter Manley #772missing bio or “ghost bio” variation. Via emails and ebay messages ca. 2005, I was turned on to this card’s existence but did not see a copy until 2010. Since then, I know of just four copies in existence. Two of which are never likely to leave their collections. Odds are, like all other rarities in mass produced sets, there are more out there but this variation remains one of the most elusive Pro Set mistakes produced, even if categorized as a “print flaw” by most.
  5. Chris Hinton PB #343Trade snipe on front, “Has been named…” text on back. This odd transitional version appeared for sale with some regularity for a small stretch a few years ago but they have pretty much become a ghost these days.
  6. Chris Hinton PB 343Trade snipe on front, “Six-time…” text on back with white text in snipe on front. This card was allegedly updated/reworked at the same time Rison’s card #134 was, which coincidentally also can be found with white text in the snipe on front. Made more interesting by the fact that the two players happened to be swapped for one another as part of the Jeff George draft day trade! Both cards went through several changes across the life of the product and these versions pop up very, very occasionally. I do not have a proper count but I will guess no more than ten copies of each have show up for sale.

1990 Pro Set Football “Losers”:

  1. Fred Marion #204belt visible variation. A once mighty, hardly seen and costly card can easily be picked up at most any time on ebay for under $40. Still a key card in the Pro Set master collection and a virtually impossible card to pull from packs today, several 10-up sheets were discovered and cut up and sold, creating a well-satisfied market.
  2. Lud Denny #338 – Okay, so this one is still a beast to find and a major centerpiece in a Pro Set collection. A truly scarce and seldom offered item today, that is if you filter out the obscene amount of counterfeits and reprints floating around. Some things to look for when purchasing this card: the original does not have the tiny red lettering around the NFLPA logo on back; look for a noticeably not-very-Pro Set font for the text on front and back; authentic copies will say “HEAD COACH (dash) GIANTS” instead of “HEAD COACH (dot) GIANTS” on front, as found on counterfeit copies.
  3. Dexter Manley #772Mentions substance abuse on back. Another card that is still VERY rare and recently hasn’t shown up much for sale. However, prior to this recent drought, these were showing up on ebay with frequency, much of this has to do with the discovery of dozens of 10-up uncut sheets! This isn’t quite the same as the 800ct box of 1990 UD Mike Witt cards recently uncovered but it sure added a large amount of the cards to population, albeit gradually, a smart move by their owner! Again, like the Lud Denny, this is an important, iconic, centerpiece of any Pro Set collection.
  4. Mike Ditka #59 – Large HOF in banner. My guess is similar to the Manley error, the flood of these into the market was the result of several newly discovered sheets being cut up. These card be found as low as $2 in some recent cases.
  5. Lombardi Trophy Hologram. Especially the unnumbered “proof” copies! Yeesh. Completed sales at the time of this post range between $32-$78. This card, still among the most difficult to pack-pull cards in the 1990 set, was once an easy $200 sale. Not bad for a card numbered to 10K copies. Then, as uncut sheet strips (see a pattern here?) were sliced and made their way into the hobby, this card’s price has tanked and can pretty much always be found for sale with a number of copies to choose from.
  6. Pro Set Print Scrap. Going on nearly five years of this stuff clogging up ebay searches. What started out as some very cool, visually interesting new additions to the master set (Otis Anderson no name/number error, for example) has since devolved into every single printing mutation imaginable for every card in the series one set. Fred Marion with Andre Rison on back? No problem! Fred Marion without blue ink on back? Easy, theres 5 buy-it-now copies available! Art Shell with only black ink on front and a NBA Hoops card on back? I’m sure it’s somewhere around here! These are some very cool-looking cards in most cases but hardly anything I have felt are must have additions to the master set and I say that fully-aware of how loose my definitions of a variation are.

 

So what happened?

Let’s consider some of the factors which may have led to the decrease in Pro Set collecting:

Loose and/or confusing parameters as to what is/isn’t a “true” variation. Well, first off, it goes without saying that this is 100% in the eye of the beholder and I always recommend a collect whatever you like approach. If thin stat lines and stray dots aren’t your thing, skip them! Excess inking issues are a welcome addition to your set, then so be it! That said, I have read countless blogs, comments, boards where it is expressed that sellers and collectors are too loose with their use of terms like “error” or “variation.” I can easily see how this would feel draining to a new collector of these cards. Personally, collecting sets like these is more interesting with a looser set of standards, however, I do follow some traditional guidelines when it comes to defining what gets added to the master lists and what doesn’t. An ink blotch, for example, only gets added if it’s recurring, as in, enough of the same blotch show up/are reported to warrant the RPD notation. Miscuts, offset plates (3-D effect) and the like do not as they can occur in countless combinations. This is flexible as there are occasions where a significant portion of the run received the same fisheye or similar print flaw, earning it an entry into the ongoing checklist.

Abundance of previously-believed to be rare items and a lack of new discoveries. Previously believed to be impossible, holy grail Pro Set cards have been made increasingly available over the last five years or so. You used to only see a Fred Marion error a few times a year, now there are always five or more to choose from, all under $50. Dexter Manley’s Substance Abuse card has certainly dried up recently but for a time, not too long ago, these were floating around auction sites at least one or two copies a month! A far cry from ten years ago when finding a photo of the card was next to impossible. This coupled with the fact that few new major discoveries have happened in the last five years, suggests to me that we have reach a point of boredom that is likely saturation-driven.

The glut of sheet cut, printer’s proof and similar backdoored Pro Set scrap. As mentioned above, there is so much of this stuff clogging my searches for new and interesting Pro Set variations. Despite my own decreased enthusiasm for this set, I still enjoy learning about new discoveries and seeing what others have uncovered. But navigating through the seemingly endless listings of miscuts and wrong backs of every conceivable combination and color alignment definitely wears me out. This one is a bit of a guess on my part as its entirely possible that the remaining Pro Set collectors out there really enjoy these cards and don’t find them to be the nuisance that I do, I just can’t imagine it is totally coincidental that the increased presence of them has coincided with the lack of buzz around collecting Pro Set errors and variations.

Was it simply a unique collecting bubble? Its entirely possible that it was the right product at the right time, nostalgia-wise, with the emergence of collecting blogs and collectors connecting and sharing info and that after enough of us were able to find the keystones items, the passion for chasing every variation began to wane.

Again, these are just ramblings and observations of an interested collector/seller. This product, along with several other Pro Set issues, is still one of the main reasons I enjoy collecting error cards so much. I’d love to hear thoughts and ideas about this set and greatly appreciate any new information, set additions or any other comments on the topic.

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15 Responses to “1990 Pro Set Football: What’s Rare & What’s Not – Looking Back On The Last 7 Years of Discoveries And Sales”

  1. Tom Tessier November 18, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

    Yes! One of my favorites, Junk Wax Gems, is back! Great reading you again.

    • Dylan November 18, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

      Thank you! I wish I could say there will be more activity on here, but I can’t promise anything right now. Just felt that a review of 1990 Pro Set football rarities was in order.

  2. steve November 18, 2017 at 5:39 pm #

    I was hired to cut over 3 and 1/2 million of these error cards for a product released by a company in Fall River, MA. I was instructed to cut some cards off center to include a portion of the printers color bars.

    • Dylan November 18, 2017 at 8:02 pm #

      Wow. How long ago was this? To clarify, were you given uncut sheets of 1990 Pro Set to cut?

      • steve November 19, 2017 at 7:40 am #

        3 years ago. they bought out a company from Tenn. in it was pallets of printers scrap or make ready. All the cards I cut were wrong back blank back. they also have twice that in regular cards they wanted cut with the color bars showing up. I was told the uncut sheets were sent to dealers who prepaid proset for cards before they went out of business.

  3. Wayne Draper November 19, 2017 at 1:51 am #

    another thing to look out for with the Lud Denny is card stock, I bought (and then returned) one over a year ago and the card stock was more inline with todays cards, the picture was darker than scans I had seen with horizontal lines

    • Dylan November 20, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

      I found a reprint listed on COMC and reported it but I saw it on there for some time after. Not sure what became of it.

  4. Wayne Draper November 19, 2017 at 1:56 am #

    also if anyone can find me a steve young #666 at beckett price (last annual I have says $5) I will gladly buy it

    • Doc Ellis February 18, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

      Are you wanting this from a ProSet Collection. My dad worked for ProSet during this time-frame, and I just inherited a virtual ton of cards, I will look to see if I can find one.

  5. steve November 19, 2017 at 8:01 am #

    Also the blank sheets used for printing the cards were purchased by the nfl. I saw this on some wrap around the sheets that were sent from the mill that sent the blank stock to proset. The sticker on the wrap stated that the purchaser was the nfl and it was to be delivered to proset.

    yes they were uncut sheets. I also cut cards from topps that they sent out for grading.
    82, 79,76 baseball
    Bird secondary rookie, late 70.s basketball
    61 fleer football
    usfl red border year

  6. Eric VT November 28, 2017 at 7:25 am #

    DAMN I was so happy when I saw this in my email,hey I still use your site all the time when I come across old pro set lots so thanks

  7. Grant December 2, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    Great update! Thank you for posting again.

  8. Doc Ellis February 18, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

    It’s funny seeing all the people searching for and collecting error card from this ProSet collection in particular. My dad worked for ProSet as a pressman from 89-92. I have tons of cards from that time-frame. I have never looked for the errors, never thought to look for the errors, but am going to have to go through them and see what I have.

  9. DJ Christiansen April 24, 2018 at 9:46 am #

    Hi Dylan,

    Thanks for posting this – always good to get an update from the 1990 Pro Set world, for better or worse.

    Definitely agree with all the reasons you mentioned for the momentum shift, but it should be said that this is really hobby-wide for the most part and not solely affecting this set. Enthusiasm has dried up for the big 3 sports across the board, and the card collecting community has followed suit. I think it’s fair to say that we were in a MAJOR seller’s market up until about 2015 and we’ve been hovering since then. This is definitely a good thing for oddball or junk wax collectors, though, as buyer-friendly pricing tends to follow in this patterns, much like it did in the early 2000s.

    As for my own 1990 Pro Set project, I’m still at about 89% complete PSA 10 on the basic set (w/ variations). I’m not an inkblots guy and I don’t chase blank/wrong backs or FACT variations – bless all those who do so! I’ve got most of the populist variation cards in 10 at this point, with only a few exceptions. I’ve got a killer Lud Denny that I’m trying to get graded but PSA is pushing back. Would like to own a Steve Young 666 in my lifetime but not going bonkers about it.

    Beyond some of the very frustrating commons that seem impossible in PSA 10 (Garry Lewis RC!!!), the real white whale for me is still the Lombardi hologram. I’ve owned the majority of the PSA 9s in existence and seen most of the rest and not one of them deserves a higher grade. I fear the only PSA 10 of that card might end up being sheet cut.

    Hey since I’m here I thought I’d ask an oldie but a goodie… Which box bottom variation is most likely to yield (A) a Lombardi holo, (B) the scarcer variations, or (C) the cleanest cards in terms of centering and printing quality?

    Thanks,
    DJ

    • Dylan August 17, 2018 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, DJ. I admire your collecting fortitude and agree with your points. I wish I could tell you which box yields what but in my experience, it is a crapshoot. I’ve pulled both types from the same case of some cards (i.e. both Ditkas). I think either the 2nd run box type or 3rd run type has the cleanest cut cards. I can say for sure the 1st run usually have rough edges. I would wager that the Lombardi cards were heavily inserted into the 1st and 2nd runs compared to the final. But that’s just my guess.

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