The 1991 Topps baseball cards issue was a product of its time … and of much earlier times.

See, in 1990, Topps had issued a set of comic-book bordered cards that marched alongside the garish red of Donruss and the general ickiness of a crappy Fleer set as the three traditional companies made a beeline away from Upper Deck.

Who needed classic lines and clear, crisp photos when you had freaking design, man?

Collectors, that’s who!

Apparently, at least, as we were unwilling or simply unable to absorb the oceans of product on the market even as we continued to slobber over the gorgeous UD offerings in their second year.

Topps, at least, took heed.

As the fortieth anniversary of their first sets — 1951 Red Backs and Blue Backs — dawned, Topps unveiled a classy, understated base set in the spring of 1991.

Sensing they had a good thing, TCG issued a few extras and parallels that have stood up to time and hobby fluctuations better than the original.

So which of the 1991 Topps baseball cards are most valuable? Well, it depends on where you’re standing and what you’re holding.

Let’s start at the beginning and work our way through the rest.

1991 Topps Base Set

The 1991 Topps set featured a thin team-colored border inside a traditional thicker white border (goodbye, comic pixels!). A team logo adorned the lower right-hand corner, and player information sat in an understated bar beneath his picture.

1991 Topps Chipper Jones rookie card

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Tucked into the upper left-hand corner was a “Topps 40 Years of Baseball” logo.

The dominant design element was … the player photo, big and clear (for the most part).

Sound familiar?

It probably does if you have ever seen an Upper Deck card — they sort of changed how we saw desirable cards at the time.

It also sounds familiar if you’re a fan of classic sets from the hobby’s history — 1953 Bowman, 1957 Topps, 1967 Topps.

The problem, in terms of value for the 1991 Topps set is that the cards were everywhere, and they still are.

1991 Topps Ken Griffey Jr

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Check out eBay, and you’ll find complete sets for $10 or less, often under $5.

In terms of singles, the Chipper Jones “#1 Draft Pick” rookie card (#333) leads the way, with the PSA Sports Market Report (SMR) citing prices of $3, $8, and $22 in PSA 8-10, respectively.

In practice, you can probably find even PSA gems for less than these prices on eBay or at shows.

Other superstars like Nolan Ryan, Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken, Frank Thomas, and Greg Maddux can be yours for peanuts — or less — most of the time.

1991 Topps Traded

Topps issued their typical 132-card of traded players and rookie cards in the fall of 1991. These things were always hit-or-miss in terms of player selection, depending on who was moving around.

1991 Topps Traded Jeff Bagwwell

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You can count 1991 solidly in the “hit” column thanks to the first Topps cards of two future Hall of Famers — Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell and Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Still, there were and are plenty of these dudes available, which dampens their value — often less than $20 for PSA 10 copies, and south from there.

1991 Topps Traded Ivan Rodriguez

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1991 Topps Tiffany

From 1984 through 1991, Topps gave collectors what we wanted … sort of.

Back then, we were always clamoring for limited print runs, premium (white) card stock, and clear photography. While Topps didn’t do anything to move away from their traditional mushy brown cardboard in base sets until 1992, we could always count on Tiffany.

Topps Tiffany gave us all those things we wanted, as listed above, in complete set form that we could by at a premium. In addition, the sets featured a super glossy finish on card fronts.

Through 1989, when they produced 25,000 Tiffany sets, Topps actually released print run numbers publicly.

1991 Topps Nolan Ryan

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That wasn’t the case in 1990 and 1991, but you can get some idea of relative print runs based on the PSA Population Report. For 1991, PSA has graded about 16,000 base cards and about a third that number of their Tiffany counterparts.

The most valuable glossies are pretty much who you would expect — Chipper, Nolan, Maddux, Ripken, Griffey, Big Hurt etc. Add in the RCs of Bagwell and Pudge again, too, in Traded form.

You can expect to pay $10 or more for stars in PSA 8, all the way up to $1000 or more for the Tiffany Chipper rookie.

1991 Topps Desert Shield

The 1991 Topps set debuted just as America was engaging in the first Gulf War.

To honor our troops and maybe give them a tiny taste of home, Topps produced a parallel of their base set, designated as Topps Desert Shield. The cards are exactly the same as the normal Topps cards, except for the presence of a gold foil Desert Shield emblem stamped on card fronts.

Exact print runs of Desert Shield baseball cards aren’t known, but standard estimates put the total number of sets at between 6500 and 7000. That’s still quite a few by today’s standards, but it’s tiny when you consider the typical flood of each issue from the early 1990s.

Couple that with the wartime conditions under which most of these cards first saw the light of day and that they had to make a long trip home to find their way into American collections, and it’s little wonder these cards are hard to come by in top condition.

While PSA has graded close to 60,000 Desert Shield cards, just about 12,000 check in at PSA 10. That may seem like a lot until you consider that collectors aren’t too likely to submit “new” cards unless they think they’re in top shape.

1991-Topps-Desert-Shield-Chipper-Jones

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The relative scarcity of pristine Desert Shield cards has led to some big prices on the secondary market, including …

  • PSA 10 Chipper Jones rookie cards that sold on eBay for north of $15,000 and $13,000 in May and June off 2019, respectively. Check them out here and here (affiliate links).
  • A Griffey “10” (affiliate link) that brought around 10 grand in May 2019.
  • A high-grade, partial set of 339 cards (affiliate link) that hauled in nearly $3900 in May of 2019.
  • A Nolan Ryan Record Breaker (#6) that sold for more than $1300 in late May 2019.

It’s commonplace to find PSA 9 Chippers RCs selling for well over $1000 on eBay, and PSA 10s of most of the eras superstars approach that level, as well.

Because of the set’s high profile among other cards from the 1990s, there have been plenty of counterfeits to hit the market over the years. That fact probably helps drive the graded card market, too, as having the PSA or BGS stamp gives you at least some assurance you have the real thing.

1991-Topps-Desert-Shield-Ken-Griffey-Jr

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Be careful if you pursue these babies, though, and watch out for telltale signs like …

  • foil shields that are bigger and brighter than others when compared side-by-side (the real ones are generally the smaller ones)
  • pointy shield bottoms on the Desert Shield emblem (real ones are more rounded)
  • blobby, non-distinct coconuts (they’re clear on real copies)
  • palm leaves that touch shield borders (real ones don’t)
  • obscured stars on the flag (more like simple points on some fakes)

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