After basically taking the year off from collecting in 1990, I was back in 1991.
I collected a lot of stuff in 1991 -- because there was a lot to collect. They blew the barn doors off in 1991. Cards and collecting and hobby people in general would never be the same because of '91. There was no going back. The genie was out of the bottle. Everyone had an accountant. We were all going to be stinkin' rich.
And the quickest way to retirement -- in 1991 -- was to buy even more cards.
The card companies were there for you. There were no less than nine major card sets in 1991, the most ever. I'm not even counting things like Classic and O-Pee-Chee Premiere. Nine sets to collect. NINE! For the first six years of my collecting existence I was collecting one solitary set and sticking my fist in a cereal box for another. That was it.
The '91 card season is probably most notable for the growth in "premium" sets. Leaf in 1990 spawned Stadium Club and Ultra in 1991. With that many sets available it's taken me a full year to get up the nerve to continue this series. But I'm ready now.
The 1991 card season was quite an improvement over the 1990 season. There's still a lot of ick in '91 but not as much. So let's give this thing a review. Hold on, it's going to be long. Nine sets, you know.
1991 Bowman -- the front
Plusses: There aren't a lot. ... Bowman kept its set to the standard 2 1/2-by-3 1/2, easing any concerns that it would return to the oversized dimensions from 1989. ... For the third straight year, you get an unobstructed, clear view of the card subject.
Minuses: Just as boring as the 1990 Bowman set. .. I've never liked the purple gradient bar at the bottom. ... I confuse 1991 and 1990 Bowman all the time.
1991 Bowman -- the back
Plusses: As I've said for previous Bowman sets, the statistical information you received with Bowman back then was quite welcome. You couldn't find this information outside of The Sporting News.
Minuses: It's not the easiest to read.
1991 Bowman -- overall
Plusses: Bowman increased its set size for the second straight year and was now at 704 cards strong! ... This Bowman set kicks off with five different Rod Carew cards, something that doesn't get enough attention. ... For the third straight year, the set is numbered by teams. ... Some of the cards receive gold-foil stamps related to various awards won the previous year. ... Rookie cards of Thome, Mussina, Bagwell, Chipper Jones, etc.
Minuses: Once again, I never saw these cards in any stores back in 1991. ... This seemed like the time when Bowman staked its claim to the rookie market -- you may not consider that a bad thing, but it's probably why I don't care about Bowman to this day. ... Nothing about the front of these cards makes me want to buy it. I've read where '91 Bowman was made in the style of '53 Bowman. I don't see it.
1991 Donruss -- the front
Plusses: Ummmm ... it's fun if you're like 6 years old? ... Honestly, this is one of my least favorite sets of all-time, so I'll stop here.
Minuses: I call this set "the Fisher Price set" because it looks like something that would come with the little farm animals and farm people all contained in the same cardboard-and-plastic package. "For 8 years and Under" should be plastered on every 1991 Donruss pack. ... Half the set has blue borders and half the set has green borders. What the hell?
1991 Donruss -- the back
Plusses: You're looking at the same stuff since 1982. Full names and full contract/transaction information is always welcome.
Minuses: Once again, only five years of stats. ... Half the set has blue backs and half the set has green backs. Huh?
1991 Donruss -- overall
Plusses: Well ... it's certainly readily available. ... 1991 Donruss is known, to the new breed of collectors that arrived with the late '80s card boom, as the set that brought us the Elite series, an insert set "limited" to 10,000/7,600/5,000 cards depending on the kind of insert. It created a new kind of frenzy, which was cool for those collectors, and those cards still retain their value.
Minuses: Are these the cheapest cards ever made (Elite cards excluded, of course)? If they aren't, they must be in the bottom 10. ... Wacky "variations" based on the border patterns, which I can't bother to track. ... Possibly the set I would miss the least if it disappeared off the face of the earth. ... This is smack in the middle of my least favorite period of Donruss cards.
1991 Fleer -- the front
Plusses: OK, we're not starting well, are we? I promise it will get better. ... The color choice is certainly daring, I'll give it that. ... Aside from all the YELLOW, I like the design. It is almost stately and it would look quite a bit better with a different colored border. ... If you're a fan of the Pirates or A's (and to a certain extent, the Padres), you're wondering why I'm so hard on this set.
Minuses: The same protocol for viewing an eclipse applies for viewing 1991 Fleer. ... This is somewhat the same problem as 1990 Donruss -- a border color that gets too mind-numbing when it's on every card. ... If this border was color-coded by team it would be one of the greatest sets of the '90s. ... The team logo, a staple of Fleer sets since 1983, has disappeared.
1991 Fleer -- the back
Plusses: Hey! For the first time since 1983, the Fleer card back looks a little different! And it has color and a large head shot, too! I actually like '91 Fleer's backs a lot. ... Phew! There's the team logo. ... Man that card number presentation is glorious.
Minuses: Some of the type is a little too tiny for folks of advancing age.
1991 Fleer -- overall
Plusses: Fleer tried something new, OK? We're going to give them some points for that. ... It might be the most visible set of all-time. Visible from Mars. ... This is the largest Fleer set to date. 720 cards. 720 YELLOW cards. ... If you can get past all that YELLOW, some of the photos are fun. Maybe not as fun as mid-1980s Fleer, though. ... The '91 set has some interesting extra stuff, particularly the Pro Vision cards that come in either black or white borders. The black borders rule.
Minuses: Trading cards shouldn't make you see spots after viewing them. ... The thought of completing the whole set is intimidating, just because of the color. ... Although I wouldn't put Fleer in the same lousy class as Donruss, the 1989-92 period of Fleer is one of my least favorite. ... There will be some joker who declares 1991 Fleer as their favorite set in the comments. That person needs help.
1991 Leaf -- the front
Plusses: Maybe not as classy as 1990 Leaf, but still a mature-looking front. ... The photos are well-presented by using the old-style photo-corners design. ... Pictures are nice and clear.
Minuses: For me, this is a come down from the 1990 set. I'm just not feeling it. ... No team mention on the front.
Plusses: Very similar to the 1990 Leaf design. It's well-designed and elegant, using an added color with the red. ... Complete stats! ... Interesting placement of the card number.
Minuses: I mentioned this the last time: I'm not a fan of silver/gray-dominated color schemes.
1991 Leaf -- overall
Plusses: As the first real premium set, Leaf stayed with what worked the previous year. Elegant set, quality card stock.
Minuses: 1991 Leaf is not nearly as scarce as 1990 Leaf, which you can view as a plus or a minus. The complete set is valued at rock-bottom junk wax prices, a good $60-70 less than a Leaf set from the previous year. ... I still couldn't find these cards anywhere back in '91.
1991 Score -- the front
Plusses: Color aside, I'm a big fan of the '91 Score border design. I like it better than the first three Score sets. ... There are some pretty cool photos in this set. ... The Score logo here is awesome.
Minuses: I don't get the border color choices. Blue, OK. Black, OK. White, yeah, OK. Turquoise???
This is what the black-bordered cards look like in the Score set. That is vastly better than turquoise. Perhaps you set too high a standard in a set when only some of the cards are black-bordered. But I can't help but think that '91 Score would have been even better if another color choice was chosen to replace turquoise. ... The blue and black borders are prone to chipping.
1991 Score -- the back
Plusses: Score continues to have the best card backs from this time period. I like just about everything for this arrangement. ... The giant head shot is tremendous. Score loses nothing by devoting that much space to the photo. ... The always great Score write-ups. ... I love the positioning of the card number.
Minuses: I can't really find anything.
1991 Score -- overall
Plusses: Score packs a ton into its 1991 set. Not only is it 900 cards strong (issued in two series for the first time), but it might feature the most varied and best-presented subsets ever made. Dream Team, The Franchise, Rifleman/K-Man/Master Blasters, the No-Hit Club, Highlights, No. 1 Draft Picks, All-Star teams (cartoons!). Just outstanding. ... A card of an American flag! ... This set is what collecting is all about for me. You get a lot in every pack.
Minuses: The four border colors make the set somewhat disjointed. ... I can see some of Score's fascination with purple combined with orange combined with green, which really hurt the '92 set for me, creeping into the 1991 set. ... There is a tendency for some collectors to not take Score sets seriously. I don't really get that thinking, but maybe it's putting purple type on a yellow background.
1991 Stadium Club -- the front
Plusses: Hold on to your hats. We really have something different here. ... Full-color photos with quality production. ... High-glossy fanciness. ... Some photos that you had never seen outside of Upper Deck. ... These card fronts were mind-blowing at the time.
Minuses: I know collectors who don't like borderless sets. I'm one of those people, although I restrict my quibbling to Topps flagship. Stadium Club is meant to be borderless. ... No team name. No position. ... If you can take off your Stadium Club fan-boy glasses for a moment, the photo quality looks pretty dated. ... Some of the photo selection, particularly a few of the head shots, are dorky.
1991 Stadium Club -- the back
Plusses: Forget about the borderless photos on the front, I was all about seeing that rookie card on the back. What a concept! I LOVED THIS! ... Possibly one of the most interesting card backs of all-time (it ranked very high on my Card Back Countdown several years ago). ... The strike zone stats were also cool and made people forget that Stadium Club wasn't presenting full career stats.
Minuses: That's a lot to digest if you're used to reading the a plain, gray Topps card back. ... Some of the Stadium Club stat presentations became dated, too.
1991 Stadium Club -- overall
Plusses: Anyone who grew up with borderless sets probably doesn't know what the big deal was for Stadium Club. But for the card world, Stadium Club was like watching the first Star Wars movie. What IS this? This is SO COOL. ... Probably the most popular set of 1991. ... You could sign up to become a Stadium Club member and get special Members Only cards.
Minuses: Sadly, glossy cards lose their gloss over time. There are some sets that more prone to bricking than Stadium Club, but Stadium Club cards that stick together make me sad. ... Because they're borderless cards, the cards have a sameness to them that really can confuse when you're comparing different Stadium Club sets. ... Like Upper Deck when it first came out, it was a bit pricey.
1991 Topps -- the front
Plusses: Some of the best and most interesting photography that Topps had placed in a flagship set to that time. ... A semi-iconic design that has increased in appreciation over the years. ... The first horizontal photos in decades.
Minuses: At the time, '91 Topps was slammed for a hum-drum design that didn't match up with other card sets issued that year. I can see where it could be considered a little dry. ... There are still quite a bit of boring head shots in this set.
1991 Topps -- the back
Plusses: (*shrug*) The monthly scoreboard is somewhat interesting although it's pretty much a concept that Fleer had used for several years. ... Some of the write-ups are interesting.
Minuses: Compared with the other card sets out at the time, this card back seemed as backward as it gets. This was your father's card back, maybe even your grandfather's.
1991 Topps -- overall
Plusses: A set unappreciated in its own time that grew into a cult classic among card bloggers. ... Topps showed that you can produce an interesting set and still retain that traditional cardboard feel. ... Topps pulled out all the stops for its 40th anniversary, inserting certificates for older Topps cards in packs (I never found one). It even gave away a grand prize of a complete set for every one of Topps' 40 years.
Minuses: Topps sure gave ammunition to its critics who wanted it to keep up with Upper Deck by issuing a rather staid set with a card back that looks like the 1989 zzzzz-fest. There was a perception that Topps was resting on its laurels here.
1991 Ultra -- the front
Plusses: I really love some of the photos in this set. ... The basic design is clean, straightforward and awesome, although I wish it wasn't gray.
Minuses: Because of the obsession with gray/silver at the time I often confuse '91 Ultra and '91 Leaf.
1991 Ultra -- the back
Plusses: Well, it sure grabs your attention. Not one, not two, but three photos of the player, with a team logo kind of floating in the air. ... It's a colorful back. You're certainly not mistaking it for Topps.
Minuses: There's not a lot to offer here. Limited stats, a pretty poor use of space. Compare this back with the Stadium Club back and Ultra falls on its face.
1991 Ultra -- overall
Plusses: The second premium set to make its debut in 1991, Ultra showed that Fleer could be about more than bizarre yellow borders. ... Fleer kind of had a reputation for haphazard photos at the time so this boosted the company's status.
Minuses: At just 400 cards, it barely feels like a set, especially for the time. ... Stadium Club kind of wiped up the floor with Ultra in '91, although I think the photos hold up better in Ultra than Stadium Club.
1991 Upper Deck -- the front
Plusses: Upper Deck continues to be all about the photo in its third year of existence. ... The logo on home plate is a nice look.
Minuses: I really don't like this version of Upper Deck. It's my least favorite of the early Upper Deck years and even into the mid-1990s. .... There's a lot of sameness between 1989, 1990 and 1991, it was difficult for me to distinguish between the three for a long time.
1991 Upper Deck -- the back
Plusses: Once again, UD really makes a name for itself with its backs. ... The hologram logo is a little home plate!
Minuses: Always confusion with how you orientate the backs of some Upper Deck cards. Now the card number is sideways! ... Limited stats.
1991 Upper Deck -- overall
Plusses: For the folks who noticed it, 1991 Upper Deck completes the trip around the bases with its "2nd-to-home plate" design (1989 was "home-to-first" and 1990 was "first-to-second"). ... A massive set of 800 cards (including the high-number set issued later in the summer) with a ton of rookies stuffed into it. ... There were a number of "Heroes" insert sets honoring folks like Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan. The Baseball Heroes look became so iconic with collectors that Upper Deck later issued a few sets based on that design.
Minuses: I didn't collect Upper Deck at the time, but if I did, I sure would have been sick of the look by this time. Too much sameness. ... These cards are more available than any other Upper Deck set. There's a store on the other side of town that trots out plastic containers of about fifty 1991 UD cards each every so often. They just sit there because no one wants them. ... UD was still giving the 666 number to a Dodger, a tired joke that wasn't funny the first time.
OK, that's all of them.
It's time to declare the winner.
My man, Otis! (That's Otis Nixon in the picture, not Alex Cole).
This was an easy pick for me this time.
Ranking: 1. Stadium Club; 2. Topps; 3. Score; 4. Upper Deck; 5. Ultra; 6. Fleer; 7. Leaf; 8. Bowman; 9. Donruss
Total ranking: 1. Topps-6; Upper Deck 2; Donruss-1; Fleer-1; Stadium Club-1