I am pretty rough on Panini America. That’s not because I hate the company or get off on just being negative. The truth is, the moment Panini America bought up the rights to Donruss & Pinnacle Brands, I was immediately, emotionally invested. Over the past decade, I have seen how the company is being run and how little they care about their customers and it has caused me to speak out. That being said, even a broken clock is right twice a day and I cannot deny that their ‘Downtown’ inserts have hit all the right notes. Panini Downtown, specifically in football, is a Super Short Print insert that’s taken our hobby by storm. It is the equivalent of buying a scratch-off lottery ticket and winning instantly.
Currently, our hobby is divided into two warring factions. On one side you have the old school “collector”, who buys up singles and unopened products to add to their ever-growing personal collection. On the other side, you have the “flipper”, who often is not a collector but instead buys up an entire town’s worth of retail product to flip on the secondary market at 2-3 times the price. These two sides are bitter rivals and I understand why. Flippers have been so successful that they have caused a shortage of available product and have also driven up the cost of said product. This deadly one-two punch has forced many collectors to find new, less costly hobbies.
Ironically enough, Panini’s Downtown insert madness reminds me of a craze that began in 1991 with the introduction of Donruss’ Elite inserts. Elite inserts were the rage of 1991 and created a buzz that shook the collecting world right smack in the middle of what is known as the Junk Wax Era. These inserts were numbered to 10,000 and 5,000 for the signed version. While those numbers may seem outrageous by today’s standards, in the Junk Wax era, it would have been easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find an Elite. Donruss should also be commended for being the second baseball card company to bring pack-inserted certified autographs into the market, behind Upper Deck but still ahead of Topps Company.
Today’s prices have soared and product disappears from shelves the minute they are stocked. This unfortunately is a real problem, however, it is nowhere near as bad as it was in the height of the Junk Wax era. There were stories spreading long before social media, of greedy card shop owners weighing cases of product to find the Elite inserts. Said boxes were located, Elites pulled and sold for ungodly prices, while the rest of the product was left for collectors to essentially chase a dead end. There’s also the fact that an estimated 3,000,000 copies of each card from ’91 Donruss are believed to have been printed. There’s 770 cards in the set so if my math is correct, there’s 2.3 billion, ’91 Donruss cards.
That explains why, to this day, with tens of thousands of video box breaks that have been uploaded to the internet, not one single Elite has ever been pulled on video. Meanwhile, 1/1 Superfractors are found and uploaded almost daily. That’s how extremely rare these Elite cards are. You would need to buy an entire case to try to even the odds but even then you better pray your case isn’t one that has been pre-weighed by a crooked LCS owner from the 90s otherwise you will find yourself with 11,520, 1991 Donruss base cards for your collection. I consider myself a true, die-hard collector but the last thing even I want to do is stockpile Junk Wax baseball cards in my home.
Odds are, we will never see a ’91 Donruss Elite card pulled on camera but that’s okay. We all had a blast chasing the impossible dream back in 1991 and it brings this old collector joy in seeing that same energy on my Twitter timeline every time a collector finds a 2021 Panini Downtown insert. I don’t care if the person who found it opened one pack or five thousand. The moment remains “feel good” no matter the circumstances. It is an instant score to a collector and a flipper. It reminds me of a time when the hobby of collecting sports cards wasn’t so insane, overpriced, and when we could all have a little fun without having to make a car payment for a box of baseball cards. I miss those days.