Over the blog’s history, I have written about 1991 Topps Desert Shield Cards quite a few times. In October 2022, I wrote about how many Desert Shield cards Topps printed, detailed the Chipper Jones card in October 2021, and shared five surprisingly expensive cards from the set in August 2021. Cards from the set have also popped up in a few other summary-style articles. Now, it’s time to write about the Desert Shield unopened products. See, the 1991 Topps Desert Shield display boxes and wax pack wrappers are identical to “regular” 1991 Topps cards, which makes authenticating them particularly tricky. In this article, I’ll chat about how that authentication is done.
The basic principle is that an authenticator, like the Baseball Card Exchange, has to open a few packs from a box to see what’s in them while also asking the owner about the box’s provenance. And only packs from a complete wax box can be individually authenticated (while also inspecting seals, etc., of course). Three big sales and a group rip provide all the details, which I’ll discuss next.
One of the best sources is a write-up from Lot #1616, A Potential 1991 Topps Desert Shield Wax Pack Collection (33), which sold for $8400 at Robert Edward Auction’s 2019 Summer Auction.
Part of the description reads, “When we approached Steve Hart of Baseball Card Exchange about authenticating this box, he told us he was unable to do so without some sort of provenance. He relayed to us the story of several of the authenticated boxes on the market, which came about when one individual went to BBCE with several boxes of purported Desert Shield cards, Steve took all the packs out and mixed them all together and began randomly opening packs to confirm the presence of Desert Shield. When enough packs were opened to support the claim, the remaining packs were put back into boxes and wrapped as Desert Shield.” In this case, the consignor opened one pack, and REA opened two more that revealed Desert Shield cards. So, before folks ask, every BBCE-authenticated 1991 Topps Desert Shield box is a frankenbox.
A few years earlier, in November 2017, Heritage sold the following 1991 Topps Desert Shield Box with 28 unopened, and 8 opened packs.
Beneath the description, they included a note from Steve Hart, who said, “This box is a partial box that contains 28 unopened packs, plus the cards from the 8 opened packs. The reason that we had to open the 8 packs is to confirm that these packs are indeed the Desert Shield version. Topps did not in any way make a difference between these boxes and the regular common 1991 Topps baseball wax box. The only way that we can tell a box is in fact a Desert Shield box is by opening some packs. Therefore, we took 2 boxes of 1991 Topps Desert Shield and opened 4 random packs from each box. All 8 of the packs yielded Desert Shield cards. We were then able to put 4 packs into one of the boxes and wrap is a full, complete Desert Shield box. This box we will wrap and label as a a partial box with 28 of 36 wax packs, along with the 8 open packs of cards. Of the 8 open packs of cards, they include the following cards: Ozzie Smith, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Andre Dawson, George Brett, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Chipper Jones.”
In August 2022, a collector put the following box of 1991 Topps Desert Shield up for sale on a Facebook group for $60k.
He wrote, “I visited with Steve Hart this week and another expert or two and we believe there to be only 9 of these in the world. If you’re not familiar these were a Topps offer to our troops in Desert Storm and the box or packs cannot be differentiated from the regular 1991 packs without opening them. Steve cannot authenticate a box of these without opening several packs. So he must have someone with multiple boxes so that he can take out and open several packs from each box and then feel comfortable taking the remaining packs to make a box to then wrap and authenticate. So indeed a rare and tough box and a product that I feel that is unlikely that we see an influx of wrapped boxes in the future.”
For those who may still not trust this authentication method, there was a group rip of 1991 Topps Desert Shield boxes back in Feb/Mar 2013 on the Collectors Universe forums. BBCE opened two boxes of Desert Shield cards and encapsulated them in the best tamper-proof case they could find at the time with a business card.
Collectors have shared receipts from the rip that show that packs went for $125.
More recently, in July/August 2022, REA auctioned off a pack that likely came from this CU Forum rip; it sold for $1020
Collectors have opened a lot of packs from this rip over the years, all with legitimate Desert Shield cards inside of them. One collector then submitted the best cards from the pack to PSA and got three PSA 10s, four PSA 9s, and a PSA 6 Robin Ventura card.
- 73 1 21457409 MINT 9 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 73 CRAIG WORTHINGTON Card
- 74 1 21457410 GEM MINT 10 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 213 FRANK WILLS Card
- 75 1 21457411 EXCELLENT-MINT 6 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 461 ROBIN VENTURA GRAY INNER FRAME Card
- 76 1 21457412 GEM MINT 10 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 481 EDDIE WHITSON Card
- 77 1 21457413 MINT 9 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 610 ANDRES GALARRAGA Card
- 78 1 21457414 MINT 9 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 734 JOHN RUSSELL Card
- 79 1 21457415 MINT 9 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 766 JEFF ROBINSON Card
- 80 1 21457416 GEM MINT 10 1991 TOPPS DESERT SHIELD 792 MIKE GREENWELL Card
I’ve also seen a few 1991 Topps Desert Shield packs with a more modern BBCE Sticker on the back of the same case. I’m unsure if there was another group rip or if BBCE had leftover packs from previous authentications.
Ultimately, though, no authentication method is perfect, but with 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards, the technique BBCE uses is as much of a guarantee as any of us will get.
If you have the budget to pick up a pack and the will to rip it, please let me know about it in the comments or over on Twitter, and happy collecting!
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