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Old 07-29-2015, 10:10 PM
Zach Wheat Zach Wheat is offline
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 1,300
Default 1991 Topps Desert Shield - What We Know & How to Spot a Fake

I was asked by a few others in a thread on the Pre-80 board initiate a separate thread to recap what we know about the 1991 Topps Desert Shield set and "How to spot a fake". Apologies in advance for the long post, but this encapsulates a number of years of research, hunting and review of thousands of cards. I certainly don't consider myself an expert in this area so feel free to chime in with questions, changes & corrections.

Understand Topps Mindset in Producing the Set
In order to get information on the background of production, I have reviewed numerous periodicals, newspapers & articles contemporaneous with this era for information on the set. Why did this set have such a short production run?

Topps marketing spokesman Bob Ibach indicates that, "...Topps isn't patting itself on the back and distributed the set..." with "...little fanfare in order to let the troops have a little reminder of home". Ibach also mentioned Topps did not anticipated many or any of the cards would make it home as the troops had little means of protecting or storing the cards. Seemingly their goal in producing the cards was short term in nature purely as a gesture of goodwill. At this time Pro Set had already distributed several million packs of football cards and Topps did not want to be left out. The cards had to be produced & shipped overseas relatively quickly and converting a set that was already in planning & production seemed to be the easiest way to meet these needs.

Operation Desert Shield took place from August 2, 1990-Jan 16, 1991. That operation was replaced by Operation Desert Storm starting on January 17, 1991. Topps spokesperson, Ken Liss indicates that Topps produced the cards quickly with a short shipping timeframe. A Jan. 1991 issue of the Chicago Tribune indicates Topps "...did this shortly after the first troops were sent to Saudi Arabia, so the cards say Desert Shield..." versus Desert Storm. Production of the cards ceased almost as soon as they started printing them.

The Feb 4, 1991 issue of The Pittsburgh Gazette indicates that "...the Topps cards were issued 2 Months prior..." (so Dec 1990) and that Topps had actually planned the shipment before the war (ie Desert Storm)
began. Timing dictated that Operation Desert Shield was over almost as soon as the cards arrived. In an article in the Myrtle Beach Air Star News, Topps spokesman Timm Boyle again mentions that approximately 5,400,00 cards were produced and that the entire allotment meant for the Air Force was returned to the base at Myrtle Beach unopened. This shipment accounted for approx. 1,500,000 cards. Boyle also mentioned that the production run was approx. 6,800 for each player (my math) or approx. 1/1,000th that of normal production.

Basics of the Set
The set was consists of 792 cards printed in 6 sheets which Topps designated Sheets A - F. Printing was done in one print run as evidenced by the 6 Key Cards detailed later on in this discussion - with each card produced equally. Of the 6 sheets, 2 sheets (A & B) have a bold red "40th Anniversary logo" on the reverse of the card while the remaining 4 sheets have similar, but much more faint impression of the same logo.

In addition, analysis of full printing sheets indicates that the set was probably produced early after the 1991 Topps set had already started production as some statistical changes were made from earlier 1991 Topps cards; however most changes were not included in the Desert Shield set. To date, there are no known data variations (only print ink variations).

On the reverse of each card, near the copyright logo, Topps indicated the sheet where each card was printed. When Topps switched or replaced certain cards in the print run - some times necessitating they change location on different sheets - Topps added the sheet designation to the new card. For instance, if a card on Sheet "E" needed some changes to the stats on the back of the card, Topps removed the card from the sheet, made the changes and then replaced it on, say Sheet "F" except for the reverse of the card would now state that the card was printed on "Sheet E*F*".

There are only 5 Desert Shield cards with a dual print sheet designation (#9 Fletcher, #87 T Jones, #233 Leiter, #676 Chiamparino and #696 Olin). These 5 cards are all situated close to each other on Sheet F*. A 6th card of Cal Ripken is also adjacent but does not have a sheet designation. The Ripken card is the only card in the set without a sheet designation. This data seems to suggest the set was printed in one continuous print run and that there are no print variations.

Glow Backs
It was noticed by illustrious N54 member 4Reals that certain cards had backs that fluoresced under UV light. In fact, it appears that when Topps execs decided to switch printing to the Desert Shield set, they also changed the ink combination on the cards. They added a brightner to the red ink used to print the "40th Anniversary logo" and red trim on the reverse of the cards. After much searching, it became evident that virtually all Desert Shield cards had a 40th Anniversary logo that glowed under UV light. It appears that Topps experimented on several sheets of cards - as some of the printing is slightly off and so is the UV enhanced "red ink". These cards soon became known as "glow back" cards. All known Desert Shield cards - except for a rare handful - are known to have a "glow back".

Which are the Real Checklists?
The checklists of Desert Shield cards do not contain the embossed Desert Shield logo. Even the original sheets have been inspected and found that the checklists do not contain the embossed logo. Unfortunately, PSA grades both error & revised checklists as true Desert Shield checklists. So how can we determine the true Desert Shield checklists?

Three of the 6 checklists (Cards #131, #366 & #527) can be found with errors on them as well as a corrected version. Review of the full uncut printer sheets indicates that the true Desert Shield checklists are the uncorrected "error" versions.

How to Spot a Fake
For all those that have read this far without falling asleep, a true Desert Shield card should by now, be easier to spot. A true Desert Shield card should have the following characteristics:
  • Desert Shield logo should be 13mm X 15 mm
  • Desert Shield logo should have a rounded bottom
  • Desert Shield logo should be "crisp" and not fuzzy
  • The logo can be either goldish or slightly silver - both colors seem to be legitimate
  • Stars on the Flag should not be fuzzy
  • The card should be a Glow Back ie flouresce under UV light. The red 40th Anniversary should jump out under UV light
  • The tip of the bottom most palm leaf should point between the "R & A" in " O P E R A T I O N"; fake logos have the word " OPERATION" shifted slightly to the left.

The last point in the list above is one of the 2 most obvious tells of fake Desert Shield card (the other being the glow back). In every instance where I have been unable to see something obviously fake about a card except for perhaps a slightly fuzzy logo - the palm leaf gave the card away as a fake. I can show examples later on if needed.

I have reached out to Ibach (who runs a marketing firm in Chicago), Liss and Boyle for continuing comments about the set and their time at Topps. No one had any additional information to add - other than to wonder why some looney was inquiring about a piece of cardboard produced almost a quarter century ago.

Apologies for the long post. Enjoy collecting the set and consider us all better educated as we learn together.


Last edited by Zach Wheat; 08-02-2015 at 02:19 PM. Reason: Corrected checklist to read "#131" not #31
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