1991 IMPEL BASEBALL CARDS

The 1991 Impel baseball card set was a major release during the height of the “junk wax” era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Impel was a small but ambitious card manufacturer that managed to secure licenses from Major League Baseball and the players union to produce full-fledged sets during this boom period.

Released in 1991, the Impel set featured cards showcasing players from both the American and National Leagues. It included a total of 792cards spanning all 30 MLB teams at the time. Impel marketed the set as being the “complete” collection of licensed baseball players for that season. Each card contained a full color photo of the featured player in action along with their career stats and team info on the back.

What set the 1991 Impel set apart from other releases that year was its massive production numbers. Where competitors like Donruss and Fleer were producing cards in the hundreds of millions, Impel upped the ante by printing over one billion total cards for their 1991 offering. This enormous print run was made possible by new high-speed printing technologies that lowered per card costs.

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The business strategy behind Impel’s massive 1991 print run was simple – flood the market with as many cards as possible in hopes of gaining market share through ubiquity alone. Their thinking was that if every pack, box or case of cards contained an Impel card, it would drive awareness and collections of the brand.

This saturation strategy proved highly successful for Impel initially. During the peak of the 1991 and 1992 seasons, Impel cards could be found virtually anywhere baseball cards were sold. Mass merchandisers like Walmart, Kmart and Target heavily promoted and stocked Impel products alongside industry giants like Topps due to guaranteed supply.

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The enormous print runs ultimately contributed to the crash of the baseball card market a few short years later. As collectors and speculators became increasingly wary of the plummeting long term values of the glut of available cards, excitement and demand for new releases steadily declined beginning in 1993. Fewer packs were being opened each year as the bubble burst.

One of the main criticisms leveled against large issuers like Impel was that many of their productions felt lacking in quality when compared to the meticulous standards of the past. With such large runs required to facilitate distribution deals, rushing cards to market sometimes meant image and production shortfalls slipped through that would have been unacceptable just a few years prior.

As with most “junk wax” era brands, Impel’s 1991 set dramatically decreased in collector value and desirability once the market collapsed. Still, for a time it served as a successful player in the overheated late 80s/early 90s card market by flooding the supply chain with ubiquitous cardboard. Its business model succeeded in gaining temporary market share dominance but also demonstrated how excess could destroy long term collecting passion and accelerate a bubble’s burst.

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In the years since, the 1991 Impel set has become mostly forgotten outside of the most die-hard “junk wax” completionists. But it remains an intriguing footnote in the history of the wild trading card boom period as an example of short term massive success through overproduction eventually leading to longer term relative failure. Its story demonstrated the risks of pursuing pure saturation over sustainable collecting value.

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