1991 Topps Is A Classic Set, But Why Is It Filled With Errors And Variations?

February 13, 2023

1991 marked Topps’s fortieth year of thrilling collectors with baseball trading cards. Topps paid homage to this rich history by releasing a set considered a classic by collectors. It served as a preview of how baseball cards would evolve into.

Many collectors remember this set for its “one of every card ever produced” event. Topps randomly inserted copies of every card they made into 1991 packs to build hype for its release.

The Topps 1991 set is an iconic set that resonates with collectors today. However, this iconic set wasn’t free of errors, something that has plaggued many sets of that era.

With over 81 different variations, this is one of the most variation-heavy sets ever created. This article shall review all 1991 Topps error cards.

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1991 Topps baseball was a collector’s favorite

“Finally, a Superb Topps Baseball Card Set”

John Leptich for the Chicago Tribune after the first viewings of the new 1991 Topps Sets in October 1990.

The 1991 Topps Baseball set is a popular and iconic set among baseball card collectors.

Its 792-card checklist was made up of rookies, top stars and legends lighting up Major League Baseball. This set featured an abundance of subsets with several rookies, including Chipper Jones, featured under the Draft Picks subset. Other subsets include Future Stars, All-Stars and Record Breakers.

Topps went with an utterly clean and simplistic look. There’s a grey cardboard, uniform-matching colour borders, the team’s nickname in the bottom right and a “Topps 40 Years of Baseball” logo at the top left.

A bar runs along the bottom of the card and has the player’s name and position. Card backs are red with complete career stats and player vitals.

Asides from the simplistic design, which still resonates with collectors today, one highlight of this set is its stellar photography. Topps capitalized on improvements in photography to deliver a fantastic collection of pictures that stands out even today.

Why are there so many 1991 Topps baseball card errors

The one misstep with this otherwise great set was the abnormal number of errors and variations. This set was released at the height of the junk wax era, and Topps was understandably putting out as many sets as quickly as possible.

Experts estimate Topps printed at least 5 million copies of each 1991 Topps Baseball card. It is challenging to uphold stringent quality control measures with so much volume.

Of course, as is the norm when talking about error cards from the junk wax era, most collectors believe Topps purposely created these error cards. However, the owner of the website Junk Wax Gems has put hours into researching error cards from the junk wax era and has this to say.

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“I do believe that Topps upped the production on this set, being a big anniversary issue with a massive promotion behind it. With that likely came mistakes. There are clearly two, distinct, packaging types for two different market destinations and with each, specific variations are found. … I think most were accidental and the result of Topps wanting to get things right as the presses continued.”

While most errors in this set are minor statistical errors, there are several major error cards, such as wrong photographs and inaccurate teams. Asides from the regular error cards, this set is variation laden. According to the Topps publicist Kenneth M. Liss many error cards were corrected:

“Because of the special nature of this set and because these errors were caught early enough in the run, Topps has decided to correct a number of the 1991 cards.”

Since Topps made efforts to stop their presses and correct large portions of error, the 1991 set has several rare variations in Topps trading card history.

Notable Topps 1991 baseball card errors

1991 Topps #588 Mark Whiten Hand Over Boarder Error

Mark Whiten card is one of this set’s most chased error cards/variations. His hands extend over the border of the card. While several cards in this set have the player’s hands, bats and other body parts extend over the border, Whiten’s card stands out from the lot.

For some reason, Topps decided to correct Whiten’s card. As a result, the value of the few Whiten Hand Over Boarder cards is quite impressive. The average value of the 1991 Topps Mark Whiten card is $80, with sales ranging from lows of $5 to highs of $400 depending on its condition.

1991 Topps Doug Drabek #685 with WHITE inset border

The Doug Drabek #685 is another notable error card from the 1991 Topps set. Topps printed the card with a white border over his picture rather than black.

Topps immediately corrected the error in subsequent runs, as with most errors that make this list. This hard-to-pull card has grown in value over the years. It’s believed only to be found in jumbo packs and costs anything between $20 to $200, depending on its condition.

1991 Topps #603 Wes Chamberlain wrong photo

While not particularly valuable monetary-wise due to the player it depicts, this is a significant error card. The photo on the card is Louie Meadows rather than Wes Chamberlain.

While Topps corrected the error and the new version of the cards has Wes Chamberlain rather than Louie (Bat on shoulder), both versions of this card aren’t scarce.

This overabundant supply of both variations has ensured this card isn’t worth much. You can buy a copy of the error and corrected cards for anything between  $1 to $16 depending on its condition.

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1991 Topps #42 Chris Hoiles with WHITE inset border

Some versions of this card come with a white photo frame, just like the Drabek card above. Like the Drabek card, Topps fixed the error as soon as it was spotted during the printing run.

As a result, the Hoiles variety with the White borders is especially rare, hence valuable. Ungraded copies sell for around $37, while a PSA 10 would cost over $189.

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1991 Topps #459 Tom Trebelhorn MG UER/Pitching and batting/columns switched

While the error on this card is minor, a variation of this card is highly sought after by set collectors. The 1991 Topps #459 Tom Trebelhorn with “A*” in copyright on back. Most Topps cards from the 80s have a printer’s designation mark on the back before their copyright line. This lets the printers know which sheet is which and is usually a letter, an asterisk or a double asterisk.

Only 792 cards appeared on 6 different sheets in the 20+ years Topps cards had printers’ designation. This card is one of the relatively few cards in 1991 set with more than one sheet code. The A* sheet code is scarce and hence fetches a fair price on the market.

1991 Topps #687 John Cerutti 4.46 ERA in 1990

This card has a common error in the stat column on the reverse side. His 1990 ERA is recorded as 4.46, while it was 4.76. Topps corrected the mistake, making versions with the 4.46 stat scarce and thus valuable.

The average value of this card is $9.84, with prices ranging from $4 to $191.

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1991 Topps #279 Jose Gonzalez wrong photo

Topps initially used Billy Bean’s photo in place of Gonzalez’s picture. Topps corrected the error as soon as they spotted it, which makes the error cards with Billy’s photo quite rare. However, the value of this card has remained modest at $1 to $10, depending on the condition.

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A list of notable 1991 Topps error cards

1991 Topps #337 Keith ComstockWrong team logo. A Mariners logo replaced the Cubs logo.
1991 Topps #48 Dennis “Oil Can” BoydThe black border of the end of the anniversary banner is missing. Wrist covers Topps Logo.  
1991 Topps #49 Pat Borders40 stolen bases in 1986 changed to 0
1991 Topps #97 Brady AndersonMonthly Scoreboard for September indicating 2 RBI changed to 3, 3 hits changed to 14
1991 Topps #100 Don Mattingly10 hits in 1990 changed to 101, 1,310 career hits changed to 1,401; .487 career slugging average changed to .504, .297 career batting average changed to .317
1991 Topps #306 Lonnie Smith136 games in 1990 changed to 135, 1,270 career games changed to 1,269
1991 Topps #526 Moises Alou37 runs in 1990 changed to 0, 41 career runs changed to 4
1991 Topps #706 Brad Arnsberg68.2 innings pitched in 1990 changed to 62.2, 144 career innings changed to 138, 3.25 career ERA changed to 3.39
1991 Topps #780 Randy Myers2 losses in 1990 changed to 6, 15 career losses changed to 19
1991 Topps #167 Randy Tomlin“Harriburg” in 1989 and 1990 changed to Harrisburg
1991 Topps #378 Wilson AlvarezAdds two statistical lines, 89 Port Charlotte and 90 Birmingham
1991 Topps #454 Kevin AppierAdds statistical line, 90 Omaha
1991 Topps #593 Mike WalkerAdds statistical line, 90 Canton-Akron
1991 Topps #692 Efrain ValdezThe birth date of 6-11-66 was changed to 7-11-66, adds two lines of copy
1991 Topps #674 Kevin Gross89 BB in 1988 tied for the league lead
1991 Topps #692 Efrain Valdez RCNo lines of text under the stats
1991 Topps #2 George BrettIncomplete circle around the registration symbol on the back
1991 Topps #3 Carlton FiskIncomplete circle around the registration symbol on the back
1991 Topps #9 Darrin FletcherMissing print code on the back
1991 Topps #119 Carl NicholsCopyright printed high
1991 Topps #228 Rex HudlerA black line in the lower right of the photo
1991 Topps #277 Scott CoolbaughFeather in cap
1991 Topps #278 Alex FernandezNo 40th logo on the back RPD
1991 Topps #333 Chipper Jones  Pink blotch on cap
1991 Topps #533 Oddibe McDowellPeriod after name on front
1991 Topps #545 Dale MurphyPhoto frame is concave where the bat touches it
1991 Topps #573 Rich RodriguezMark on the shoulder, blue glove laces

Since this set marked Topps’s fortieth year of creating trading cards, Topps tried to correct all errors as they were spotted.

As a result, this set has tons of variations – from different border colors to statistical information. For example, there are over ten variations of the 1991 Topps Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd card.

1991 Topps black light test

Another rare variation of the 1991 Topps set is the “Dark Topps Logo or Black Light Test Variation”. Some cards from the 1991 Topps set appear darker to the eyes and glow to reveal a bold Topps logo when viewed under a black or UV light.

The spread for this variation is entirely random and restricted only to the 1991 Topps regular sets. They’ve been no Dark Logo Tiffany or Traded cards. Topps never addressed the reasons for the Dark Logo parallel; however, it’s a fun variation with ample demand.

Some collectors have found a way to spot the Dark Logo cards without using a black light. The non-glow cards have a dark red border and a logo on the back. The glow cards have a more orange-colored border and a fainter logo which glows under the black light.

1991 Topps Desert Shield

Perhaps the most sought-after 1991 Topps variation is the Desert Shield version. The 1991 Topps Desert Shield set was produced by Topps exclusively for military personnel deployed to fight the Gulf War in the Middle East. The set was Topps’ way of honoring troops and giving them a tiny piece of home.

The 1991 Topps Desert Shield baseball set was identical to the 1991 Topps baseball but for the gold foil Desert Shield emblem (a palm tree and shield) on the front player section of the cards. With a print run of 5,000 per card, they are significantly rarer than the regular Topps cards and hence more valuable.

We covered everything about this truly valuable variation in this article on the 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards.

Desert Shield Error Cards

  • Most of the errors in the Desert Shield set are statistical errors with Topps using a wrong stat of a varying stat from their standard Topps 1991 set.
  • Storm Davis #22 – (Front) Copyright logo in Upper left corner above Topps in white border area; 1991 Topps regular issue has both. Desert Shield cards do not have the copyright logo.
  • Dennis Boyd #48 – Desert Shield cards have 40th Anniversary logo which covers wrist fully with black border and it appears as if the wrist is behind the border.
  • Pat Borders #49A – Desert Shield cards have 1986 – “40 steals in Kinston”) 49B (0 Steal in Kinston)
    Don Mattingly #100A – Desert Shield cards 10 hits in 1990) 100B (101 hits in 1990)
  • Randy Bush #124 – No print code on back of card, bottom, to the left of 1991 Topps copyright. This was corrected in the Desert Shield cards and have a D* Print Code.
  • Dwight Evans #155A – Desert Shield cards have “In 1982, Led league w/162 games in 1982”) 155B (tied for lead…..)
  • Jose Gonzalez #279A (Photo Billy Bean) – 279B Desert Shield cards have the correct photo.
  • Lonnie Smith #306A – Desert Shield cards have incorrect stats stating In 1990, played in 136 Games) 396B (corrected not found in DS set and was 135 Games in 1990)
  • Keith Comstock #337A – Desert Shield cards have incorrect Cubs logo on front.
  • Moises Alou #526A – Desert Shield cards show incorrect stats in the 1990 Pirates line, 37 runs in 2 games.
  • Wes Chamberlain #603A – Desert Shield cards have incorrect photo with Louie Meadows with bat on right shoulder. 603B (correct photo –smiling no bat on shoulder),
  • John Cerutti #687A – Desert Shield cards have 4.46 ERA in 1990. 687B (4.76 ERA in 1990); 4.76 ERA is correct.
  • Brad Arnsberg #706A – Desert Shield cards have incorrect data stating 68.2 IP in 1990) 706B (62.2 IP in 1990)
  • Randy Myers #780A – Desert Shield cards have incorrect stat line for losses – 15 Career losses) 780B (19 Career losses).

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1991 Topps A*B* sheet code variations

Most Topps cards from the 80s have a printer’s designation mark on the back before their copyright line. This lets the printers know which sheet is which and is usually a letter, an asterisk or a double asterisk.

Only 792 cards appeared on 6 different sheets in the 20+ years Topps cards had printers’ designation. Most 1991 cards from the A* sheet were discovered with an A*B* print designation at the bottom right of the reverse of the card.

This variation has only been spotted on cards with the “bold 40th Anniversary” on its reverse side, and they are incredibly rare. They sell for anywhere between $5 to $300, depending on the player depicted and the card’s condition.

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The following cards have been found with the A* B* designation.

  • 13 – Mariano Duncan
  • 54 – Gary Mielke
  • 63 – Milt Thompson
  • 72 – Junior Ortiz
  • 76 – Jerry Browne
  • 83 – Daryl Boston
  • 120 – Joe Carter
  • 123 – Greg Harris
  • 153 – Bryan Harvey
  • 155 – Dwight Evans (error version only)
  • 170 – Carlton Fisk
  • 177 – Reggie Harris
  • 178 – Dave Valle
  • 190 – Matt Williams
  • 192 – Rob Deer
  • 193 – Felix Fermin
  • 213 – Frank Wills
  • 216 – Greg Gagne
  • 223 – Allan Anderson
  • 237 – Rick Cerone
  • 242 – Mike LaCoss
  • 248 – Tom Gordon
  • 250 – Dennis Eckersley
  • 265 – Mark Gubicza
  • 270 – Mark McGwire (correct version only)
  • 272 – Jeff King
  • 284 – Billy Spiers
  • 290 – Steve Sax
  • 297 – Manny Lee
  • 312 – Charlie Hayes
  • 314 – Gary Pettis
  • 317 – Mike Fitzgerald
  • 345 – Len Dykstra
  • 382 – Mackey Sasser
  • 384 – Gerald Perry
  • 422 – Rick Reuschel
  • 440 – George Bell
  • 453 – Bill Schroeder
  • 454 – Kevin Appier (error version only)
  • 463 – Dwight Smith
  • 475 – Teddy Higuera
  • 478 – Kurt Stillwell
  • 480 – Dave Magadan
  • 481 – Eddie Whitson
  • 509 – Glenallen Hill
  • 532 – Kirk McCaskill
  • 538 – Bip Roberts
  • 584 – Kevin Brown
  • 595 – Bill Landrum
  • 610 – Andres Galarraga
  • 622 – Jack Daugherty
  • 642 – Hal Morris
  • 644 – Chuck Crim
  • 650 – Jack Clark
  • 664 – John Farrell
  • 667 – Kent Anderson
  • 677 – Bill Ripken
  • 716 – Bob Geren
  • 718 – Steve Crawford
  • 756 – Jeff Huson
  • 781 – Daryl Hamilton
  • 783 – Joel Skinner
  • 785 – Scott Fletcher

Value of 1991 Topps error cards

As with most cards from the junk wax era, the insane number of cards printed has placed a firm ceiling on how valuable these cards can get. Experts estimate that Topps printed over 4 – 5 million copies of each card.

However, despite such numbers, a few 1991 Topps error cards are quite valuable. With an average price of $5 to $8 for commons and more for Hall of Famers and other big names, wise collectors can find monetary value in collecting this set.

Collectors looking for the most ROI can chase cards from the Desert Shield variation, as they’re especially valuable.

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Bottomline on the 1991 Topps error cards

The Topps commemoration of its fortieth anniversary made this set an important part of Topps history and an essential component of any baseball collection. The set’s assortment of impressive photography and tons of variation has cemented its place in the heart of collectors.

Topps issued several variations of the 1991 sets, and its popularity resides in this variety. The 1991 Topps series has something for every collector. While you might not make a four-figure sale by collecting these cards (unless you have some Desert Shield), this set is an essential part of Topps’s rich history.

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