When Upper Deck entered the baseball card market in 1989, they literally shook up The Hobby. No more were collectors going to have to suffer through awful and low-end, drab sets from Topps, Fleer, and Donruss. Upper Deck cards featured bright, crisp photography and an excellent design, by late-80s standards. We now had a choice and although it was a more expensive one, with ’89 Upper Deck, we got exactly what we wanted.
In my opinion, from 1986 through 1990, it is clear to me that Topps didn’t give a damn about their baseball product and it showed with their consistently blurry, awkward photographs in their forgettable flagship brand. It was after all, Sportflics (a Pinnacle company) who introduced photographs on the front and back of trading cards way back in 1987 and Score (another Pinnacle company) who made baseball card backs interesting again in 1988 in only their first year.
By 1990, companies were catching on. Collectors were tired of fuzzy cards that lacked personality and flair. Donruss, one of the stars of The Hobby their first few years, were hit with growing pains and it showed as their product from 1988-1990 pretty much define “Junk Wax” in quality as much as for overproduction. Fortunately for them, they too got into the high-end market by producing 1990 Leaf, a release that shattered all records. By 1991, Fleer and Topps would join the high-end craze as well.
It’s safe to say with their 1991 flagship and their debut of Stadium Club, that the year belonged to Topps Company. If there ever was a better 1-2 punch in the hobby, I’d love to see it. Those two products hit so hard that many don’t even remember Fleer’s entry into the high-end game for two reasons. One, it was a dud right out the gate and two, because the brand was promoted in magazines as Fleer Elite but mysteriously and without notice hit card shops as Fleer Ultra.
The story behind Fleer’s last minute re-branding of Elite is pretty simple. Donruss’ flagship hit the market first and one of its inserts, which would go on to become one of the most iconic sets of all-time, absolutely became the talk of the collecting world and the most-desired cards of 1991. It’s not know if Fleer Elite became Ultra due to legal threats or simply by conceding defeat at the hands of Donruss. Don’t feel too bad, though. By 1992, Fleer Ultra was a premier brand.
So for the most part, all that has been seen of Fleer Elite is a crudely-edited magazine advertisement which you can find HERE. As you can see, the Kevin Mitchell is in black and white and the logo is blacked out. However, I have had the color scan on my computer for three years but have yet to see it surface on eBay or anywhere else. With TanMan discovering all sorts of prototypes, one has to wonder where this card is today, if it even exists. Surely, someone must have a copy or two in their basement or garage. Perhaps a former employee of Fleer?
Personally, I think the name ‘Elite’ would have been put to much better use by a company like Fleer, who despite several years of “phoning it in”, finally hit their stride in the early-90s so much so, that Marvel Entertainment purchased them for $265 million dollars. Those are figures you will never see again in the world of trading cards. Don’t believe me? Just look at Upper Deck, who purchased Fleer and all its assets for a whopping $6.1 million dollars in 2006.
So next time you’re at a flea market that’s filled with nothing but junk wax and you spot some ’91 Fleer Ultra, make sure to do a double take so you don’t miss out on some hobby buried treasure that’s now been totally forgotten. Sure, you may not sell the booty for $400,000 to some 4-foot tall douchebag with a head the size of Barry Bonds circa-2001 (Hi #VegasDave) but you will legitimately hold in your hand a piece of baseball card history, which in my opinion is way more important than any Superfractor.
Well, except for the 2018 Ohtani Superfractor. I’d sell my soul for that card.
2 thoughts on “Does the Fleer Elite Prototype Exist?”
I remember when you first wrote about this – I’d love an Elite Canseco! That would be so cool!
I’ve seen five or six bloggers who have insane talent in the area of customs, so even if this card doesn’t exist… I’m sure it wouldn’t be too challenging for these guys to make one.