Breaking Down 1990 Donruss Errors And Set Variations

December 3, 2022

While error cards were common at the height of the junk wax era, the 1990 Donruss error cards embodied the term. Usually, a set comes out, and collectors spot a few error cards when they open their packs.

With the 1990 Donruss set, collectors were hard-pressed to find a card THAT WAS NOT AN error card (the same thing applied to 1991 Donruss). This was an anomaly, even going by the junk wax era standards.

This article shall review some of the more notable error cards from the 1990 Donruss baseball set.

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Basics of the 1990 Donruss Set

The 1990 Donruss Baseball set came especially loaded across the deck. It contained 716 cards (Donruss’s largest set) and was packed with numerous stars and Hall of Famers of the era.

It was designed to stand out with its bright red colors and impeccable photographs. The front showcased an action shot or portrait of the player with colorful red borders accented by white/black/grey dots. Its reverse side was horizontal and showcased the player’s career stats, personal information, and career highlights.

Its extensive checklist ensured several subsets were well represented. These included

All-Stars

This subset highlighted players at the top of their game. This exclusive MVP subset was especially error-prone. Its design was similar to the base set with the All-Star written on the upper right.

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Bonus MVPs

This subset highlighted the most valuable player from each MLB team and wasn’t different from the standard card format. However, it had the acronym MVP in orange behind the player’s photograph.

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Diamond Kings

The iconic Diamond Kings subset returned again for 1990 Donruss. It showcased Kings of the Diamond and came with a different card design to the base set. However, the bright red borders are present. This set contains 26 Diamond King cards and a jumbo-sized Nolan Ryan “King of Kings” card that rounded it up to 27.

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Grand Slammers

Featured players who had connected for a grand slam home run in the previous season. It has the same design as the base card, with a powder-blue triangle along with the subset name on the bottom-left. The type of grand slam hit by the player is described on the reverse of the card.

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Rated Rookies

The Rated Rookies Donruss subset highlighted rookies with the highest likelihood of becoming one of the greats. This set was especially loaded with several notable rookies, such as Juan Gonzalez, Bernie Williams, Dean Palmer, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa.

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But 1990 Donruss errors abound

While this was Donruss’s largest set – or maybe because of it – it was filled with numerous error cards which just refused to go away. Packs recalled for correction would come back with entirely new error cards.

This continued until, eventually, I’d like to believe Donruss moved on from attempting to fix the errors. There were at least four print runs, and several cards came back with even more errors each time.

There are all types of errors in this set, from minor printing flaws to double-printed cards, all the way to using the wrong pictures.

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Why there are so many errors in the set?

Error cards got insanely popular in the mid-80s as the hobby experienced an “error card” boom during the junk wax era. With so many cards produced by these card companies, collectors had to find card types worth collecting.

Tough-to-get error cards became that exclusive card type for a while. They were the rare insert chase cards before rare insert became a thing!

Depending on whom you choose to believe, the 1990 Donruss set was filled with error cards for one of three reasons.

  • The sheer size of the set
  • Low-quality control standards of the day
  • Intentional

Low-quality control standard of the day

The 1990 Donruss was released at the peak of the junk wax era. Companies understandably weren’t paying so much attention to spotting mistakes pre-release. When talking about how cards were reviewed pre-release, a former trading card company employee revealed it amounted to one person looking at the cards to spot errors.

Anyone who proofreads a manuscript can agree with how easily mistakes can slip through. Primarily, these card companies relied on these errors being spotted by correctors and then correcting them in subsequent print runs. It’s little wonder error cards were commonplace.

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Was it intentional?

The lax quality control standard might have contributed to a few error cards; however, error cards felt intentional at a point. While there’s been no proof of this, it’s a belief that card companies started purposely creating error cards to add intrigue to their set and attract buyers.

Undoubtedly, error cards drove sales as more people bought these packs hoping to pull valuable error cards. The 1989 Ripken error card was the talk of the hobby, and Donruss looked to get a piece of this “error card-shaped” pie.

To buttress this point, collectors look at sets produced before the “error card boom.” While some error cards were present, they weren’t in insane proportion like the sets that came after.

The sheer size of the 1990 Donruss set

While we can’t rule out the possibility that most error cards in this set were intentional, there’s another reason there were so many error cards. At 712 cards, this set featured a large checklist, especially compared to modern standards

This large number of cards, coupled with the millions of copies that had to be printed, led Donruss to outsource production. According to CSG, Donruss outsourced the work to multiple printers, some of which had never printed baseball cards. Asides from outsourcing their printing, Donruss pushed their product to be the first out that year.

These factors ensured an especially large number of error cards in this set once it was released. They ranged from minor printing flaws and little variations to severe issues such as wrong player pictures and double-printed cards.

What are the 1990 Donruss error cards?

The 1990 Donruss set is renowned for its large number of error cards. To review them, we shall list every known 1990 Donruss error card by their subset.

Error cards in the All-Stars Subset

Errors especially filled the All-Star subset, as most cards in this subset contained at least one error. Some All-Star had the words “Recent Major League Performance” on their reverse side rather than the correct “All-Star Game performance.

Others had a Yellow Star on the card’s front with a black line running through it rather than the star in front and the line behind the star. Several were missing the “TM” trademark symbol next to the American league emblem on the front of the card.

Some All-Star cards featured a combination of all three errors.

RMLP – Recent Major League Performance Stats Header
BLE – Black Line Extends
MTM – Missing Trademark symbol
A= First print run, B = Second print run, C = Third Print run, D = Fourth print run

Player NameError Type
650a Bo Jackson All StarRMLP, MTM INC (no dot)
654a Howard Johnson All StarRMLP
660a Harold Baines All Star 660b Harold Baines All Star 660c Harold Baines All StarRMLP, BLE, MTM BLE RMLP
663a Rick Reuschel All StarRMLP
673a Ruben Sierra All StarRMLP
674a Pedro Guerrero All StarRMLP
676b Cal Ripken, Jr. All StarRMLP
683a Kirby Puckett All StarRMLP, MTM
692a Ryne Sandberg All StarRMLP
695a Eric Davis All StarRMLP E and R on his name Joined
697a Mark McGwire All StarRMLP
701a Julio Franco All StarRMLP, MTM Partial 19 in 1989 on card’s back
703a Dave Stewart All StarRMLP
705a Tony Gwynn All Star 705b Tony Gwynn All StarRMLP, INC. (dot) RMLP, INC (no dot)
707a Will Clark All StarRMLP
708a Benito Santiago All StarRMLP, INC (no dot)
710a Ozzie Smith All StarRMLP
712a Wade Boggs All StarRMLP, MTM
715a Kevin Mitchell All Star 715b Kevin Mitchell All StarRMLP, INC. (dot) RMLP, INC (no dot)

Error Cards in the Diamond Kings Subset

Unlike the Al-Star Subset, the Diamond King insert errors were more diverse. Some Diamond Kings cards have the No Period after INC on the back error. However, these are pretty hard to find, unlike it is in the base cards.

3a Ruben Sierra Diamond KingsMissing black “notch” on reverse Wrong batting average stat. It should be hit .306 in ’89.
10a Brian Downing Diamond KingsReverse Negative on front
21a Tommy Herr Diamond KingsWrong stats. Only won one World Series, not two. Double Printed
7 Jim Deshaies Diamond KingsDouble Printed
26 Ed Whitson Diamond KingsDouble Printed
1 Bo Jackson Diamond KingsRedone “i” in Diamond Kings White dot error
24 Pete O’Brien Diamond KingsFuzzy red line in DK banner
18 Howard Johnson Diamond KingsBottom of 18 missing on back
659b Nolan Ryan “King of Kings”5000K strikeout milestone on the back

Error Cards in the Grand Slammer Subset

The Grand Slammer subset contained just 12 cards in its checklist. Because of how few cards it had, the Grand Slammer subset was especially free of errors, with just two errors being recorded across the cards.

However, there are several variations of the Grand Slammers. They can be found with up to 5 different splatter patterns and may come with or without black lines in the back borders.

Mark McGwire Grand SlammerA significant gap in the line to the left of his name (where the yellow star is on the All-Star cards)
Todd Benzinger Grand SlammersRed Star rather than a yellow star

Error Cards in the Rated Rookie Subset

The Rated Rookie subset is another small subset with a few recorded errors.

32 Ben McDonald Rated Rookie RCMiddle name is Benard, not Benjamin
33a Juan Gonzalez Rated RookieReverse Negative on front
39 Steve Avery Rated RookieWas born in Michigan, not NJ
44 Pat Combs Rated RookieDouble printed
45 Alex Sanchez Rated RookieDouble printed
46 Kelly Mann Rated RookieDouble printed

Error Cards in the Bonus MVPs Subset

BC12a John SmoltzWrong picture. Photo is of Tom Glavine
BC2a Howard Johnson BC2b Howard JohnsonClean Jersey Fuzzy Blue Triangle on Jersey Neck

Error cards in the base set

Many variations and errors involve black line cutting either above or below the player’s name on top of the card. These have been ignored here. However, you can look at the complete list of line variations/error cards at the end of this article.

113a Kelly GruberIncorrect birthdate; was born 2/26
170a Kirk McCaskillIncorrect birthdate; was born 4/9
217a Scott GarreltsIncorrect birthdate; was born 10/30
368a Kirk GibsonIncorrect birthdate; was born 5/28
489 Sammy Sosa RCIncorrect birth date; was born 11/12
523a Andy NezelekIncorrect birthdate; was born in 1965
343 Kevin Brown“Signeed thru 1990” in first line of bio on back
437 Dan QuisenberryMissing league leader “*” for G and SV in ’85
67 Walt WeissBreak in stats border on back
111 Roberto AlomarWhite dot right of helmet
233 Eric DavisE and R on his name joined
573 Lance JohnsonPart of ‘L’ missing in name on front
716a Bartlett Giamati  Cropped larger
307 Duane WardLine break on front bottom border

Value of the 1990 Donruss error cards

Like most over-printed sets released in the junk wax era, little value can be found in the error cards of the 1990 Donruss set. Even though most of these error cards were quickly corrected, they’re still very common.

Donruss printed millions of these cards, so there are so many of them out there. Hence, most error cards from this set are worth a few cents or a dollar at best.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t any valuable error cards from the 1990 Donruss set. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any valuable error card from the 1990 Donruss set.

1990 Donruss #23 Juan Gonzalez Reverse Negative Error Card

One of the valuable error cards in this set is the Juan Gonzalez reverse negative error card. Gonzalez was one of the most feared hitters of his time, and the reverse negative error is a significant one.

Since Donruss corrected it almost immediately, relatively few copies are available, making it hold some value. The highest PSA 10 sale was $623 in 2021, while the lowest PSA 10 was $62 in 2017. A PSA 8 is valued at $26, while ungraded cards sell for $5.

This is quite fair, considering most error cards from this set are valued at less than a dollar.

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1990 Donruss Bo Jackson #650 Double Error Card (NO “TM” and no Dot after INC)

One of the most popular players in the world in the 90s, Jackson’s error card still retains some value today. Individually, these errors aren’t worth much and would fetch $5 at most.

However, cards with both errors are especially valuable to collectors. A glance at eBay’s sales history would show several sales above $100.

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1990 Donruss #665 Nolan Ryan King of Kings

Of the three variants of the Nolan Ryan card, the 5000k on the back error card holds the most value. A PSA 10 is valued at around $60, while PSA 8’s typically sells for $10 – $12. Not much, but very fair considering the value of other error cards in this massively overproduced set.

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1990 Donruss #1 Bo Jackson Diamond Kings White dot

The number one card in this set for a reason! Jackson was insanely popular when this set was released, having just played his first All-Star game in 1989. The error card with a white dot on his cap is especially valuable, with collectors paying up to $350 for a PSA 10. There’s even a PSA 5 sale for $900 on eBay though there have been talks of a wash trade.

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1990 Donruss #705a Tony Gwynn All Star No Dot after INC

This is one of the few “No Dot after INC” cards from the 1990 set that has retained its value well. Ungraded cards sell for $1, while a PSA 10 is valued at $80.

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1990 Donruss #4 Mark McGwire Grand Slammers error card

This card is missing the yellow star at the top left of the card where his name is. Ungraded copies easily sell for $3 – $5, while a PSA 10 has sold for $40+.

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1990 Donruss #290 Bobby Bonilla No Dot after INC

Like almost all “no dot after INC cards,” this card is especially tricky. A glance at its sales history would show you several sales of over $2,500 for a PSA 10 and $1,200 for an ungraded copy!

However, this card is not rare by any means, and this might be one of those times where eBay sellers are “wash trading,” as we’ll also see ungraded copies sell for less than $10. Additionally, most are sold by users with 0 feedback, and the auctions had just one bidder. This is a pointer that it might not be a “real sale.”

If you absolutely must purchase this card, buy one of the cheaper versions, as there’s nothing special about the highly-priced cards.

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As is apparent, PSA 10s are where collectors can find some value in this set. However, the size of the 1990 Donruss print run means that even PSA 10s aren’t particularly rare. Donruss printed millions of cards, and the PSA has graded hundreds of thousands of PSA 10 cards from the base set. This has ensured its card value has remained on the low side.

Aqueous Test 1990 Donruss variation

While not error cards, there exists an Aqueous Test version of the 1990 Donruss that is especially valuable. The Aqueous Test set is surrounded by mystery. However, we know that Donruss produced these high-gloss cards before the official printing of the base set.

They are identical to the base cards of the 1990 Donruss set but can be easily distinguished by the words “AQUEOUS TEST” diagonally printed across the back of the cards. The cards were a test run for an experimental water-based coating and weren’t meant to be released to the public.

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The Aqueous Test Set contains just 264 cards, and PSA estimates that only 2000-2500 Aqueous Test cards were ever released to the public. The complete Aqueous Test set is made up of the following;

  • Nine Diamond Kings cards
  • Nine Rated Rookies cards
  • Ten MVP cards (BC1-BC10) cards
  • 236 regular issue cards

Due to the scarcity of the Aqueous set, it is very popular with collectors. They are a must-have for any 90s player collector. This demand, coupled with how few of these cards exist, ensures they hold their value exceedingly well.

Aqueous Test cards commonly sell for hundreds of dollars, with the Juan Gonzalez reverse negative selling for over $1,200.

Due to how valuable these cards are, thousands of fake Aqueous Test cards are on the market. Here’s a quick guide on spotting fake Aqueous Test cards and the list of Aqueous Test cards on the market.

How to spot fake Aqueous Test cards

There are a few ways to be sure you’re looking at an authentic Aqueous Test card.

All Aqueous Test cards are missing a “dot” in “INC” on the copyright line on the reverse of the card.

  • All Aqueous Test cards have the words “AQUEOUS TEST” printed diagonally across the back. The word is not stamped, so the ink from each letter would look flush with other text rather than an overlay.
  • The word Aqueous Test is ALWAYS in the same place for every player. Additionally, Donruss printed it with the same font, size, and style. Any other font, placement, or style is a counterfeit.
  • Only 264 Aqueous Test cards exist, and they are listed at the end of this article. Over the last two decades, no new Aqueous Cards appeared on the market, no new card has surfaced. Any player not on the checklist below is more likely a counterfeit.
  • The back of the card has more gloss.

With a population of fewer than 3,000 cards, Aqueous Test cards are one of the rarest cards from the early 90s. Collectors found the first Aqueous Test card in early 90s Donruss wax boxes labeled “Donruss Canada.”

These boxes were packed full of 1990 Donruss cello packs with Aqueous cards. Other Aqueous Test boxes surfaced in 2012 when an eBay seller sold eight unopened Aqueous packs. There have been no new Aqueous test cards since then.

Blue/White Test Cards

These cards showcase the same images as the regular cards but have a blue or white border rather than red. There’s not much official information on the Blue/White Test cards. However, like the Aqueous Test cards, these cards were never meant to hit the market.

There are only 228 unique blue/white test cards, and they are sold for a hefty sum compared to their regular 1990 Donruss counterparts. The Bo Jackson Blue/White Test has sold for hundreds of dollars, while any other name should fetch anything from $30 – $39 on the market.

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List of Star (and semi-star) players in the blue/white set

  • 551 Dave Winfield
  • 577 Mark Grace
  • 578 Larry Walker
  • 588 Carl Yastrzemski Puzzle Card
  • 639 Jack Morris
  • 643 Mike Schmidt
  • 650 Bo Jackson
  • 659 Nolan Ryan 5000 Ks
  • 665 Nolan Ryan King of Kings
  • 676 Cal Ripken AS
  • 678 Goose Gossage
  • 683 Kirby Puckett AS
  • 689 Bernie Williams
  • 692 Ryne Sandberg AS
  • 695 Eric Davis AS
  • 697 Mark McGwire AS
  • 705 Tony Gwynn AS
  • 707 Will Clark AS
  • 710 Ozzie Smith AS
  • 712 Wade Boggs AS

1990 Donruss Previews variation

To promote their 1990 set release, Donruss sent a pack of two cards from a 12-card promotional set to master distributors and dealers that purchase directly from Donruss. This “Previews” set has the same design as the regular 1990 Donruss cards, but its reverse side has the words “1990 Preview cards/ No. XX of 12”.

There are only 12 cards in this “Previews” set, and the back of the card shows the player’s card number in the sequence. Collectors especially seek these cards and can sell them for anything from $30 to $200, depending on the player.

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List of players in the Previews cards.

  • 1 Todd Zeile
  • 2 Ben McDonald
  • 3 Bo Jackson
  • 4 Will Clark
  • 5 Dave Stewart
  • 6 Kevin Mitchell
  • 7 Nolan Ryan
  • 8 Howard Johnson
  • 9 Tony Gwynn
  • 10 Jerome Walton
  • 11 Wade Boggs
  • 12 Kirby Puckett

Bottomline of the 1990 Donruss Error cards

Donruss’s most extensive set was filled with errors, intrigue, and an array of variations. While most error cards from this set aren’t worth much, several cards still hold their value incredibly well.

Cards such as the Gonzalez Reverse Negative card and the Aqueous test cards, while not an error, are still sold for quite impressive sums considering they are junk wax-era cards. While these cards might not have significant monetary value, they have an incredibly substantial nostalgic factor.

any of today’s sports collectors grew up or began collecting cards during this period, and cards from the era have a special place in their memories.

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