There is a saying which goes” “Everything old is new again” and for nearly the last 25 years that has certainly been true for baseball cards. There has been a lot of talk about Upper Deck’s 25th anniversary and as important as the 1989 set with the Griffey Jr. rookie card was and then the high numbers which helped to change the rookie card definition, the next year Upper Deck began a process which would truly change how we looked at cards.
What Upper Deck did in 1990 was not a totally new hobby concept. Topps had during the 1960’s and early 1970’s inserted a special item into many of their packs as an inducement for kids to buy more packs. Items such as coins, stamps, embossed cards, team checklists, mini posters, game cards and deckle edged cards were among the inserts Topps touted.
In the 1980’s, after Topps won the right to be the only company with gum in their packs, Donruss and Fleer had to put something in as a sales inducement to keep the lawyers happy. Donruss is more notable for their puzzle pieces which always featured a major retired superstar while Fleer produced a variety of items. In 1986, Fleer also began to have put insert cards in their various packs some of which are still popular to this day. The 1986 Fleer All-Stars were the first of the true modern inserts and the red background set off the player’s photo very well. In addition, the Topps rack-packs of the 1980’s had an “all-star” card with each pack and those were always fun to accumulate because of the quality of players.
However, Upper Deck was able to take this concept and bring it to a whole new level beginning with its ‘high number’ cases in 1990.
It forged a deal with Reggie Jackson to include a special “Heroes” subset with the big hook being randomly inserted autographed cards. Jackson autographed and numbered 2,500 copies in the ‘Find the Reggie’ promotion that helped push sales. There were ten cards in the set, but Jackson signed only one. The others carried facsimile autographs.
Jackson was a natural choice. Even though he was retired, he was still a drawing card and knew the hobby well. He had begun accumulating quite a stash of his rookie cards. Upper Deck getting him to sign 2,500 cards for their product was considered a real coup at that time. While players such as Reggie were signing autographs at many trade shows during that period, this was the first time they were doing targeted signings for a card company.
Another element in the chase was that for every 100th card he added the notation of “Mr. October”. Among the thousands of cases produced by Upper Deck, that meant there were only 25 “Mr. October” Reggie autographs possible. Today, we’d call it a ‘super short print’ and hand numbering would eventually give way to foil stamped on card numbering years later.
The regular Jackson autographed cards were distributed in a ratio that wasn’t even close to one card per case and thus the signed cards are tough to find to this very day. When offered online, they sell for $125-150 each. Complete, unsigned sets are plentiful (remember, it was the overproduction era) and can be acquired for just a couple of bucks.
By the way, if you want a real challenge for the 1990 Upper Deck high number packs, go find card #702 of Mike Witt card with the ‘black box’ on the back. Those cards were tough in 1990 and are still tough to this day. Talk about the ultimate needle in a haystack.
1990 Upper Deck High Number packs were the first of the new breed of packs with the idea of looking for a “major hit”” and it was Reggie Jackson’s autograph that changed the hobby forever.