An Official Letter About How Many 1991 Topps Desert Shield Cards Were Made

A few months ago, a memo from The Topps Company was circulated around social media that documented the size of the 1991 Topps Desert Shield print run. Many collectors and dealers have guessed at its size in the past, but we never had source documentation directly from Topps.

1991 Topps Desert Shield #79 Frank Thomas

The 1991 Topps Desert Shield set has become an incredibly popular set, and many had speculated at its print run. Mile High Card Company auctioned off the #1 set from the PSA Registry for $106k back in March 2018. They explained that the cards were distributed in wax packs sent to troops in the Middle East during Operation Desert Shield. They wrote that the cards were identical to the 1991 Topps set, but each had a gold foil stamp embossed with a shield and palm tree with the words “Operation Desert Shield” underneath. They estimated that Topps produced less than 6500 of each card. 

Sports Collectors Daily also wrote that Topps printed approximately 6500-7000 of each card but that sources on the exact distribution varied. However, they noted that many of the cards were discarded. 

A collector on a Facebook forum shared the following image about the cards.

Dealer Letter about 1991 Topps Desert Shield

This seller noted that Topps printed around 6300 cards for each player and that they thought about half of the cards were destroyed because no one knew they would be valuable. So troops told this collector/dealer that few went to mail call to pick any up and that most were trashed in the dumpster, used to make fires, or given to the locals. So he thinks a high estimate of 3000 of each card remains, but I’m not sure the numbers are even that high. The set’s most expensive card is the Chipper Jones rookie, and its PSA-graded population is just 776. Ultimately, many Desert Shield cards are worth grading (I wrote an article about five surprisingly expensive cards), but their populations are minuscule compared to that 3000 card estimate.

Anyway, here is the recently discovered memorandum from December 21, 1990, directly from the Topps company to its employees.

The Topps Company Letter About Desert Shield Cards

It says, “Dear Fellow Employee: As most of you know, we recently produced 500 cases of baseball cards, specially embossed “Operation Desert Shield”, for our troops in Saudi Arabia. Thank you for the terrific cooperation we received on this project. Enclosed is a sample card for you yourself to own. Let it symbolize Topps’ pride in these brave men and women and the prayers of us all for peace. Have a Happy Holiday, a Healthy New Year and come back to us safe and sound.”

So now we know that Topps printed 500 cases of 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards. At 20 boxes per case, 36 packs per box, and 15 cards per pack, for a 792-card set (6 equal sheets of 132 cards), that’s just over 6800 for each card. 

1991 Topps Desert Shield #150 Cal Ripken Jr.

How many of those cards made it overseas, and how many made it back? I’d love to hear what you think down in the comments or over on Twitter, and if you have more information about 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards, please reach out to me; happy collecting!

6 thoughts on “An Official Letter About How Many 1991 Topps Desert Shield Cards Were Made”

  1. I’m really glad to have come across this information. My Step-dad Served during the 91 Desert Storm over in Saudi, and when he returned home from his deployment he had brought back 3 of the 91 Topps Desert Shield boxes. I was 10 going on 11 at that time, and have been an avid card collector. We opened two of the boxes and sleeved them as the packs were opened and they are still in the albums today. The 3rd box is still in the collection unopened and in the plastic. Here within the past couple of years my wife and I have been working on going through my collection to get them sorted, cataloged, and figure out which cards to possibly have graded. Thank you so much for the information.
    Daniel B.

  2. Wow, Love that letter…first time seeing that. Wife and I were both in DS (stationed at Myrtle Beach). We still have our unopened 60 packs.

  3. I was in Thumrait, Oman when they sent two boxes of the cards to our base. I saw them and asked if I could have them. The guys said “sure”. I took them back to my tent, opened them up, chewed the gum and put them back in their boxes. Brought them home and put them away for about 25 years. I pulled them out and realized that I had about 550 cards and only needed a few hundred to complete my set. I did so on e-Bay, only buying from reputable dealers. I completed my full set about 2019. I keep them in two binders. The ones that I brought home from the war, and the ones that I bought on eBay. I thought about sending them all to PSA, but the costs were crazy. I’ll hold onto them for now. One day I’ll sell. $100,000 for a set? Back in 2018?? Let’s see where they go.

    • What a great story, it’s cool that you keep them in two binders. And well, it was $100k for an ultra high grade set. I think $3-10k is more common today.


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