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The Knight’s Lance Guest Post: Looking Back at the Legacy of the Legendary Elite Series

December 2, 2011

Editor’s Note: Kevin Wade covers sports collectibles on his blog, The Mojo Beard. In this special contribution to The Knight’s Lance, Wade explores the proud — and still-going-strong — legacy of The Donruss Elite franchise.

There were a lot of changes in the sports collecting hobby in the late 1980s and early 1990s. New companies and sets where entering the market and introducing new concepts and themes. Certified autographs, mainstays today but still needles in the proverbial haystack at the time, started making more appearances and Donruss released one of the earliest serial-numbered sets in the form of The Elite Series. The third head to the beast that is modern collecting, memorabilia cards, wouldn’t pop up for a few more years.

Donruss Elite cards were a big hit upon arrival. They were inserted in regular wax packs and were huge pulls at the time. The set first arrived in 1991 and featured the biggest stars of the day. Each player’s cards were numbered to a then-low 10,000.

You are seeing that right: 10,000! There are base sets these days that have lower print runs. Even at 10,000 per card you didn’t come across The Elite Series cards very often. When perusing display cases at card shows back then, you stopped to take a closer look when you saw an Elite card. The first year of Elite featured a good-looking but pretty straightforward design. They had a little bit of a gloss look but it wasn’t until 1993 that they got what I consider to be the “Elite” look.

The shiny prismatic look of the cards may not seem all that impressive compared to today’s offerings, but in 1993 they were head-turners. The border really pops and the solid color in the middle of the card provides nice contrast. Player photos superimposed over a design had been done before, but these took the concept to new heights. We got to see that a baseball card could be more than a simple player picture on a piece of cardboard.

Elite is one of the most tried and true sets of modern collecting.  It is still being produced 20 years later. Something that can’t be said about many of its early 1990s counterparts.

The numbering and look of these made them, well, elite. The Dave Winfield card is in my collection and has been since shortly after my dad pulled it from a pack back in 1993. I remember staring at it wide-eyed and not believing we had such a rare card in our house.

The Elite set also featured autographs in the form of Elite Signature Series. The early days saw one auto card per year, and they were numbered to a then unimaginably low 5,000. The first year featured Ryne Sandberg and the second had Cal Ripken.

A couple of Hall of Famers ain’t a bad way to get things started. These autos were incredibly rare, some of the first truly exciting chase cards. I still have yet to see either card in person.

When they first arrived, the regular Elite cards sold for more $100, with big name players going much higher. You can now pick up the lower-end guys for $5-$10, with bigger names peaking at about $30. The Cal auto has become a true classic and still draws a few hundred bucks.

These cards are still cool and can add a touch of history to any collection.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Gilman permalink
    December 2, 2011 3:22 pm

    The elite series was something we all chased in Donruss baseball. The numbering was always cool and the designs were great and creative. I still have a few of them myself.

  2. hudsonfan15 permalink
    December 2, 2011 3:47 pm

    Great subset to bring back, for a while I was collecting anything with a serial number on it lol. Excellent article!

  3. December 2, 2011 3:49 pm

    “When they first arrived, the regular Elite cards sold for more $100, with big name players going much higher. You can now pick up the lower-end guys for $5-$10”

    Whaaaaattt … didn’t believe it so checked for myself. They DO still sell well!

  4. Christopher Cunanan permalink
    December 2, 2011 4:11 pm

    My mom paid $350 for the Canseco Dunruss Elire at a card show in Long Beach in 1992 for me.

  5. Jamey permalink
    December 2, 2011 4:25 pm

    This was such a pivotal product; amazing production value and well ahead of the curve.

  6. Scott W. Prusha permalink*
    December 2, 2011 7:45 pm

    Now my cover’s blown, my motivation behind the Hamilton card? More to come…

  7. Ryan permalink
    December 2, 2011 8:40 pm

    My Mom bought me the McGwire for Christmas 1992. She slit a pack and put it in. I had thought I pulled it until I realized she had put it in a 1991 pack. Still a great gift that I still have. I’m sure she paid $300 + for it.

  8. December 3, 2011 12:28 am

    Sadly I never pulled one back in the day. That Ripken auto sure is sweet!

  9. December 3, 2011 8:03 am

    To this day I will stop and consider buying a box of 1991 Donruss baseball simply for the thrill of pulling the Ryno Signature Series Elite card.
    Someday I WILL hit me a Ryno. Thanks for bringing back memories of Elite.

  10. Russ permalink
    February 21, 2014 11:20 pm

    Have every single Elite Series card made. These are truly cards for the experienced card hunter. It is fun to try and collect them with certain production numbers.

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