The year was 1990 and the world as we knew it was quickly changing. The Cold War was coming to an end, the Berlin Wall had fallen and several countries were claiming their independence from the U.S.S.R.. That failed in comparison to the events that started in August of 1990.
A then, little known dictator by the name of Saddam Hussein amassed his army at the border of Kuwait. On August 2nd and with little or no warning, he invaded the small oil rich country in an attempt to reclaim the lost province for Iraq. The overwhelming force ravaged the peaceful county of Kuwait and pilfered most of its resources.
United States President George Bush Sr. quickly called for an immediate withdrawal of the Iraqi army, promising that a large international coalition would remove him by force if necessary. Hussein ignored the demand and claimed he would fight "The Mother of All Battles" if anyone tried to remove him from the newly conquered land. On August 7, 1990 the first U.S forces arrived in Saudi Arabia to prepare for battle. Operation Desert Shield had begun.
In the next few months that followed, patriotism was at an all time high. Yellow ribbons and "Support the Troops" slogans began popping up at a feverish pace. The world had a "bad guy" who picked on "the little guy" and was ready to fight. Desert Shield turned into Operation Desert Storm on January 16, 1991. By presidential order, all coalition offensive operations ceased on February 28 and Kuwait was liberated.
The Topps Company was not immune to this renowned sense of patriotism. With increased competition of higher quality sports cards and seemingly lack luster cards from the past few years, Topps put out the "Desert Shield" baseball cards. They were sent free in individual wax packs to troops stationed in the Middle East. They comprised of parallel cards of the standard 1991 regular issue set with a gold foil embossed Desert Shield logo or stamp can be found on the front player section of the card.
Although, many packs did not make it overseas, the cards were well received by the service people. It was a tremendous boost for morale and a welcomed gift for those stationed thousands of miles away from home. One can only perceive that a few baseball cards could bring out the little kid in the most hardened soldier and detach them, if for just a few moments, from the harsh condition in which they were subjected to. Whatever the reason, Topps had a great idea and brought a new meaning to the term "Pre-War cards."
The card-collecting world was equally anxious to get these cards and many stateside troops sold their cards to local card shops. It was reported that fewer than 7,000 cards of each player was produced, with no complete sets ever issued. The only way to possibly put together a set was to assemble them from 786 individual cards, which were spread throughout the world. This is a task which has still proven to be a challenge, as noted in both the PSA population report and Set Registry. As of this date, the top collection is just over 50% complete. It is arguably one of the more difficult sets to complete in graded form in at least the past decade.
The 1991 Topps set had only one key rookie, Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. Even though it is void of rookie cards, the set is loaded with stars and Hall of Fame players. This set also includes early cards of Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa to name a few. One price guide places a value of the Desert Shield cards at 100x for star cards and about 40x for commons when compared to the 1991 standard Topps issue.
The Desert Shield cards have posed a number of problems for the advanced collector. These cards are frequently found in lesser grade quality. They had to endure the battles of war and survive the arduous trip across the world while, in many cases, thrown into a G.I. duffle bag. By the end of a soldier's tour of duty, which could last more than a year, the cards were either simply forgotten about or tossed aside as eager troops looked forward to their return trip home.
To only increase the level of difficulty, these cards are so highly desired that a number of different forgeries have plagued the market. Many cards that are submitted for grading to PSA have been returned with the explanation of "Questionable Authenticity." They are considered one of the most forged post-1990 card issues in the industry.
Collectors are urged to use caution when making any purchase of ungraded or raw cards. It is highly recommended that before acquiring a Desert Shield card that the buyer is able to fully see the logo/stamp up close and preferably in person.
There are at a minimum of three basic types of forgeries on the market today. Since these cards are identical to the 1991 regular issue, each has to do with the embossed gold stamp. The first and most common fake logo and the most easily identifiable have a shield that comes to a point at the bottom. Overall the stamp is larger as well. An authentic stamp will show a rounded bottom to the shield and measure 13mm long by 15mm wide.
Another fake stamp has a rounded shield but has coconuts in the palm tree that are barely distinguishable when compared to an original. Also, the lowest leaf of the palm tree touches the top border that surrounds the words "Operation Desert Shield" which are slightly raised and very distinct. On an authentic logo, the lowest leaf is well above the top of the border and the words "Operation Desert Shield" are more subdued. The simplest way to identify this forgery is by looking at the American flag. It is, by far, larger and has less of a wave effect than the real version.
The last variation is more difficult to identify and requires a keen eye. The stars on the flag are massed together and appear to fill the flag as nothing more than indistinguishable bumps. Under magnification or with very good eyesight, an authentic version will have clear rows of stars in a series from left to right of 4, 3, 4 & 3. This version is very close to having a real appearance with the stars being the only flaw.
Hopefully, with the information given, collectors will be able to make an informed decision about future purchases and avoid any potential losses incurred by an unscrupulous or uninformed seller.
The 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards have had a strong following since their inception. As stars from the 1990's get voted into the Hall of Fame, their Desert Shield cards should increase in demand and these modern rarities will certainly represent some of the most challenging cards for those pursuing player sets.
For those wishing to complete an entire set, the best advice is to have plenty of patience, a firm understanding of what a real card and stamp looks like and be very cautious of cards that have not been authenticated.