Card of the Day: 1992 Donruss Elite Series Frank Thomas
It’s rare that an insert set lives up to it’s namesake. But when it came to early 90s inserts, there was nothing better than the ultra rare Donruss Elite Series cards. They were unmistakable. When you ripped open a pack and saw that shiny goodness staring at you from the middle of the stack, you knew you struck it rich. During a time when most cards featured dull action shots set inside boring borders, the Elite cards had the wow factor. It had holofoil. It had gloss. It has serial numbering. Did I mention the cards had holofoil!? Today I look at the ever poplar set through the portal that is the 1992 Donruss Elite Frank Thomas card.
Honestly, have you ever seen such a beautiful card in your life? These were produced 16 years ago, yet they remain among some of the most breathtaking cards on the market. There is no jersey swatch, bat sliver or even an autograph (note: some of them were signed, namely Cal Ripken Jr.). Just a simple clean design not unlike the utterly worthless non-licensed foil cards produced around the same era.
These Elite Series cards are serial numbered to just 10,000 copies. That’s not a typo, that really reads TEN THOUSAND. But while such a number would constitute overproduction in this era of cards, that was considered ultra rare at the time. (Side note: If the toughest inserts were serial to 10,000, imagine how many cases of this product were made.) And in their own right they still are tough to find. Go to any show across America and it’s likely you will not run into one of these in a showcase. And if you search eBay, they show up every now and then, but usually you find the commons (like Howard Johnson and Terry Pendelton) and not the stars.
The cards were a genius idea at the time. The first set was produced in 1991, but those lacked the eye-appeal that these 92s have. Most of the 91s were kind of like a glorified base card with a psuedo picture frame-like borders. There was a serial number on the back, but there was no foil.
But in 92, the Elite Series really did become the pinnacle of collecting. There was raised lettering and crisp photo of the player resting inside a mesmerizing holofoil border. One fact that I did not know until this morning — when I selected the card and was reading the back — was this this was designed by one of the hobby’s favorite figured: Dick Perez, the artist for the also popular Diamond Kings set.
The price guide value of these Elite Series cards has tumbled over the years. The image below shows what the cards were running in August 1993 (15 years ago) issue of Beckett Baseball Monthly. As you can see, the Thomas was the best card in the set aside from the Ripken autograph. Nowadays, the card books for about a fifth of the total you see here. I snagged my copy for less than $20, and enjoy it almost more than any recently produced card I pulled from a back, including the Bowman Chrome autographed rookies.
(Side note: This image is taken from a copy of the Beckett magazine I own. This is why I like to save my old price guides. They are a great reference.)