The Golden Era of Inserts: Exploring the 1991, 1992, and 1993 Donruss Signature Series Cards

In the early 1990s, Upper Deck made waves in the sports card industry with its innovations. In my previous articles, I showcased the 1991 Autograph Heroes Series and their groundbreaking 1990 ‘Find The Reggie’ promotion that sparked the frenzy for inserts. Unwilling to be overshadowed by their competitor, Donruss took inspiration from Upper Deck and launched their own line of inserts called ‘The Elite Series.’ These inserts, the first of their kind, featured machine-stamped serial numbers, limited to 10,000 copies. But Donruss didn’t stop there. They expanded the ‘The Elite Series’ by introducing Legend cards, numbered to 7,500, adding another level of exclusivity. But, the true crown jewels of Donruss’ inserts from 1991 to 1993 were the highly sought-after Signature Series cards. With a mere 5,000 copies, these cards became the ultimate collector’s items. In this article, I’ll dive into the 1991, 1992, and 1993 Donruss Signature Series cards, exploring their significance, scarcity, and enduring appeal among sports card fans.

The 1991 Donruss Elite Series cards helped change the face of the hobby in the early 90s. The eight-card series was inserted in both series of packs in numbers to 10k. Baseball Card Pedia wrote that Donruss inserted one Elite Series card at a rate of approximately 1 per 75 boxes. The Legend Series card was a Dick Perez drawing of Nolan Ryan, was numbered to 7500, and was also available in both series. Also part of The Elite Series was The Signature Series autographed Ryne Sandberg card that was serial-numbered to just 5000.

1991 Donruss Elite Signature Series Ryne Sandberg

Despite a print run of 5000 Sandberg cards, PSA has only graded around 120. Perhaps because of an estimated print run of over 3 million copies of each base card, there are a lot of unopened junk wax boxes still out there. Prices vary slightly, but you can probably track down a slabbed Sandberg Signature Series card for $200 to $400.

Interestingly, the box designs that you commonly see on the market don’t feature any markings advertising The Signature Series, but a few ads later in the print run call out the Sandberg’s card value skyrocketing 33% between March and April.

1991 Donruss Baseball Advertisement

A few boxes and wrapper variations feature the ‘Limited Edition Series’ cards, but they are far less common than the ones that say Win Instantly on the packs. Here’s a wrapper that says Win Instantly, but on the back had a note about looking for the limited edition series cards.

1991 Donruss Series 1 Wrapper with Limited Edition Series Ad

Also, most packs had 15 picture cards, and the following box and packs featuring the Limited Edition Series only have 10 picture cards; perhaps they were a Canadian release. If you know, shoot me an e-mail.

1991 Donruss Baseball Series 1 Box and Packs with 10 Cards
1991 Donruss Series 1 10 Picture Cards Wrapper

In 1992, I think Donruss knew what they had in the Elite Series, notably the Signature Series with Cal Ripken, and the advertisements highlighted the cards.

1992 Donruss Baseball Advertisement

The base series cards continued the numbering from the 1991 release (9-18), but the Legend Series card belonged to Rickey Henderson rather than Nolan Ryan. It also had a silver, holo-foil design. But the highlight was the Elite Signature Series autographed card of Cal Ripken Jr.

1991 Donruss Elite Signature Series Cal Ripken Jr.

Both series boxes noted that 5000 personally autographed Cal Ripken cards were randomly inserted.

1992 Donruss Baseball Series 1 and Series 2 Boxes

Of the 5000 Ripken signed, PSA has only graded around 170, and the prices have really shot up in the last year, with prices for the highest graded samples pushing $1k. 

Radicards wrote a great article breaking down the statistics of pulling one of Ripken’s cards, and it came out to 1:25 cases, or 1:500 boxes, or 1:18k packs. Other estimates have been made closer to 1:12500 packs. Either way, not high.

Also, I’m not sure where I found this photo; it’s been in my archives for ages, but here’s Cal Ripken signing all the cards.

Cal Ripken Signing His 1992 Donruss Signature Series Cards

Donruss continued with the same format in 1993. However, they doubled the number of Elite Series cards with 18 cards in the set that featured a silver-holographic cracked-ice foil pattern. These base cards were still serial-numbered to 10k and carried on numbering from the 1992 set with cards 19-27 exclusive to series one packs and cards 28-36 inserted in series two packs. The Legend’s series, numbered to 7500, featured Robin Yount.

The Signature Series featured Giant’s slugger Will Clark. It would be the last year of the Signature Series autograph. PSA has graded around 45 of them, but it’s sort of hard to tell when you look at the PSA and PSA/DNA population reports. They routinely sell for between $80 and $150. Unfortunately, Clark’s signature doesn’t appear very clearly on most cards.

1991 Donruss Elite Signature Series Will Clark

The boxes and packs focused on the Diamond Kings rather than Elite Series cards.

1993 Donruss Series 1 and 2 Boxes

From their introduction as a response to Upper Deck’s innovations to their limited quantities and exclusive numbering, the 1991-1993 Donruss Elite Series, Legend Series, and Signature Series cards embody the excitement and allure of the early ’90s insert craze. The three Signature cards would make for a great little subset in any collection, adding a touch of rarity and nostalgia from the era of overprinting. Happy collecting, and don’t forget to subscribe to The Post War Cards Newsletter over on Substack.

Leave a Reply