Was Donruss THAT ahead of its time?

I was browsing eBay this morning and began to wonder about the origin of pack-inserted autographs. Who came up with the idea? Who ran with it first? As far as I can tell, it comes from 1991 Donruss and their now legendary “Elite” series, which I believe was also the first serial-numbered cards ever made. Again, I could be wrong so if you know the true story please let us know.

Below is an auction for the only card I could find from the set. It’s of Ryne Sandberg and if it’s not the first-ever “autograph in a pack”, it most certainly has to be Ryno’s first certified autograph in a pack. It is also numbered to 1,500. I am not entirely sure but I believe there is also a Tony Gwynn from this series.

Could someone help me out? I would love to know what astronomical ratios were set on pulling one of these gorgeous “hits”. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 1 in every 5,000 packs or more.



  1. From a limited research into the release, the odds are estimated at 1:10,000+ packs. Given the enormous production runs of those years, I am sure many of them are still hidden in hobby shops and closets worldwide.

  2. I’m pretty sure that Upper Deck inserted autographed cards of Reggie Jackson in 1990, which would make them the first.

  3. 1991 Score also had Mantle autos and 1992 featured DiMaggio autos I believe. I’m guilty of buying quite a few wax boxes in search of these cards.

  4. Upper Deck inserted 2500 autographed Reggie Jackson Heroes cards in their 1990 set so they just beat barely Donruss to the punch.

    Odds have to be huge, Donruss really let the presses run in ’91, plus a lot of dealers overbought series one thinking it was a one-series set.

  5. I love how they were “limited” to 2500. I opened so much of that crap in the early 90’s and never sniffed an auto. Now if somethings number to 100, its too much.

    My how the time’s change….

  6. From my 2005 SCD Standard Catalog of BB Cards…

    Donruss released a series of special inserts in 1991. Ten thousand of each Elite card was released, while 7,500 Legend cards and 5,000 Signature cards were issued. Cards were inserted in wax packs and feature marble borders. The Legend card features a Dick Perez drawing. Each card is designated with a serial number on the back.

    #1 Bonds
    #2 Brett
    #3 Canseco
    #4 Dawson
    #5 Drabek
    #6 Fielder
    #7 Rickey
    #8 Matt Williams
    no# Nolan Ryan (Legend)
    no# Sandberg (Signature)

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