We have discussed on several occasions how the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s were not only a field of rapid expansion in the baseball card market but also were a time of significant production advancements. Within three years, we went from cards produced on cardboard stock with pretty basic enhancements to the era of premium and then ‘super premium’ cards. The set considered the first super premium issue was 1991 Stadium Club which featured, for the first time, gorgeous full color, borderless photos and high quality, glossy stock. It’s our eBay Set of the Week and even though today it’s kind of an afterthought, Stadium Club was a smash hit 23 seasons ago.
There were, of course, some really interesting twists to the product. It came out hot from the gates and anyone who could find boxes cheaply could make some real money. Of course it was not until the release of series 2 and all the rookie cards that Stadium Club really took off in the secondary market.
While the first series was popular, because of the rookie crop in series 2, the wax boxes were highly priced almost immediately. There was, however, one catch, which no one knew early in the Stadium Club run. Because of the heat in many areas of the country, many of these cards actually fused together if left in areas above room temperature. I don't know how many cards were damaged and lost to history because of that problem.
In addition, I remember at one point the key rookie card in this set was the Phil Plantier rookie. Plantier was regarded as a prodigious power prospect and while he did have one great season a couple of years later, he retired with less than 100 career homers. However, for a short time in 1991, he was truly the key to the Stadium Club set. Other important rookie cards in 1991 Stadium Club include Jeff Bagwell and Luis Gonzalez.
Interestingly enough, some of the real fame of the 1991 Stadium Club set comes from some, for that time, very unusual photos. The cards people really remember include the Nolan Ryan and Dave Stewart tuxedo cards as well as the Eric Show guitar card. At the time, they drew collector interest almost as much as the key rookie cards.
This release of Stadium Club was so successful that Topps immediately went into the production of a football card set as well as launching the Stadium Club brand into their other sports as well. The company called itself the “home of great photography”. Many appreciated the effort made into making these cards and wish Stadium Club would return as a brand at some point. They might get their wish. Topps used social media to post a card with a ‘Stadium’ brand on it earlier this week, so it looks like we might see them again in some form.
Today, you can buy boxes of 1991 Topps Stadium Club for around $10-15, which seems low even though there are plenty out there. A pre-production PSA 10 Nolan Ryan ‘pitching in a tuxedo’ card did sell for over $500 recently but unless you have graded 10’s, most any single card in the set is no more than a buck or two.
We’ve used eBay Collections to build a group of cases, boxes, singles and sets of Stadium Club, which you can see here.