Inside the Donruss Studio

Innovative, interesting, often beautiful, Donruss Studio was a welcome new entry in 1991, a card set that relied on the personalities of the players.

Though I enjoyed Studio, I only have two complete sets. I had no idea how long lived the Studio concept was. It was a true survivor of the junk era, issued from 1991-98, then again from 2001-05, and once again from 2014-16.

I’m not going to go too deeply into this, only enough to show all the designs. When they’re great, they’re great. When they’re not, they’re interesting. That can’t be said for many other base sets that ran for so long.

1991 – 264 cards

1992 – 264 cards

The first set I completed.

 

1993 – 220 cards

1994 – 220 cards

1995 – 200 cards

Flashback to the 1980’s credit card sets.

1996 – 150 cards

Indicative of the card boom and bust, in five years the set was halved.

1997 – 165 cards

1998 – 220 cards

Last year of the first run, and a sizeable increase in the base set. Once of the offshoots was a 36 card set of 8 X 10s. I bought a box of those.

2001 – 200 cards

Back from hiatus, more border, less picture.

2002 – 275 cards

2003 – 211 cards

This set is absolutely beautiful.

2004 – 270 cards

2005 – 300 cards

Back to the original set length, and a farewell to the Donruss’ MLB license.

By 2014, Donruss was a throwback name, not even a real issue, and the Studio sets were small subset, 10-20 cards per year. In some ways the lack of license doesn’t hurt the core mission of Studio, to capture the faces of the game. Still, these look like hell.

2014

2015

2016

There are many inserts over the years, some quite good, like the Heritage subset than ran from 1991-94. (Here’s Straw from 1992)

Writing this is making me want more of these sets. You too? See you at eBay.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

11 thoughts on “Inside the Donruss Studio”

  1. Jeff, reading ALL of the posts here usually makes me want to jump on ebay and buy. 🙂 Great pics. The first two years are beautiful. Elegant photography. A little like 2019 Stadium Club, but without the nostalgia cards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed! The Studio sets were one of the highlights of an era overrun with concepts that only existed to allow the major companies to keep running the printing presses, and it’s the one line that I’ve kept in my collection from those years. For those of us who think of baseball cards as not just collectibles but also pop art, Studio was the best example.

    But I also agree with you that they could be hit or miss. It’s said about Star Trek movies that the even numbered ones were good, the odd numbered ones not so much. With Studio, it was the opposite. The ’91, ’93 and ’97 sets were striking, and the ’95 credit cards were kind of unique. The even-numbered year sets just didn’t have the same impact, the exception being that the Heritage insert sets looked great every year.

    Sadly, the 21st Century sets just don’t cut it. They finally lost me when they started short-printing the high numbers, and the recent sets are just Panini trying to leech whatever goodwill is left for Donruss.

    But as you say, when Studio was good, it was very, very good . . .

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’d guess complete sets are difficult to find on eBay for two reasons. For the 1990s sets, I’m guessing that sellers generally feel they can’t sell them for more than shipping cost. For the 2000s and 2010s sets, the “complete” sets are likely hard to come by because, as Van mentions, there are all the shortprinted cards. I saw a “complete” 2004 Studio set for $35 on eBay, but it was only numbers 1-200.

        I thought I might have been able to help you out but when I checked my files the only duplicate Studio sets I have are from 1992.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Love 1991. I’ve been meaning to post about it since it’s one of those sets that changes my understanding of what cards could be. I’m 10 short of completing that set build which means I’m into that danger zone where I might just overpay on the last cards just to finish it off.

    I also really like 1993 with those foil signatures proving to be the exception to my dislike of facsimile signatures. I don’t dislike the 2014–2016 versions. That Ichiro in particular I really like. But in general it seems like the quality of the photography now is just not there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Would the 8X10s still be considered baseball cards? They have the dubious distinction of being the largest “cards” I have. Certainly unique. I suppose these were the Great Danes of baseball cards. By coincidence I was looking at a 1991 Topps Cracker Jack mini today. It measures 1.25X1.75 and I had to read it with a magnifying glass. What a great hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL the whole “when does it stop being a baseball card” post is another one I’ve had on my backburner for a long time. Also the Cracker Jack minis weren’t the smallest cards released in 1991. Topps Micro was even smaller.

        Like

  5. The 8X10s are certainly suitable for framing. Lining both sides of a hallway would be ideal. Of course, having an 8X10 of ARod greeting me every day would be a little creepy.

    Liked by 1 person

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