Fleer metal baseball cards were a unique and innovative product released by the Fleer trading card company in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Made of aluminum rather than traditional paper stock, Fleer metal cards stood out from the typical baseball cards of the time and captured the imagination of collectors. Their production proved short-lived due to unforeseen challenges.

Fleer had been producing traditional gum and candy trading cards since 1956 but sought a new product to drive interest and sales in the late 1980s. Inspired by metal collector cards and coins that were growing in popularity, Fleer’s R&D department began experimenting with aluminum stock for baseball cards in 1986. That year, they produced a small experimental run of 50 different 1986 Topps designs reproduced on metal for internal testing. The metal reproductions were a success and convinced Fleer executives that a full baseball card set printed on metal could be a hit.

In 1987, Fleer launched its groundbreaking Fleer Ultra brand with the first-ever factory-produced baseball card set printed entirely on aluminum rather than paper or cardboard. The 1987 Fleer Ultra set featured 400 total cards including rookie cards of future stars like Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. The cards featured vibrant color photos and were noticeably thicker and heavier than traditional paper stock cards. On the front of each card was a stamped Fleer logo and the words “Ultra Premium Card” to differentiate the product.


The release of the 1987 Fleer Ultra set was a sensation. Collectors were enthralled and fascinated by the novelty of actual metal baseball cards. The cards had an appealing heft and shine not found in wax or paper packs. Overnight, Fleer Ultra became the hottest and most desired set on the market. Sales of 1987 Fleer Ultra far outstripped any of Fleer’s previous releases and demand remained high over the next two years of production as the brand developed a cult following.

Producing cards out of metal rather than paper introduced unexpected challenges. The metal stock was more expensive to source and print on than paper or cardboard. The metal cards were also prone to dents and scratches during the packaging and shipping process in a way that paper cards were not. There were also concerns over whether the aluminum could potentially corrode or degrade over time when exposed to the elements in collectors’ hands.


Nonetheless, Fleer continued to innovate with their metal card line in 1988 and 1989. The 1988 Fleer Ultra set featured 400 cards including stars like Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, and Ozzie Smith. That year also saw the release of Fleer Ultra Update, offering 50 additional cards to complete sets. In 1989, Fleer issued their final metal baseball card set with 400 cards plus an Update subset. By this point, the Ultra brand had become a phenomenon collecting over $20 million in annual sales for Fleer.

The challenges of the metal card production process eventually caught up to Fleer. The high costs and quality control issues proved unsustainable over the long run. In 1990, Fleer made the difficult decision to end their pioneering Fleer Ultra brand after just four years. That year they issued a paper version of their annual 400-card set instead of metal. While collectors were disappointed to lose the novelty and appeal of actual metal cards, most understood Fleer’s rationale given the production difficulties.


Today, complete and high-grade sets of 1987-1989 Fleer Ultra baseball cards remain enormously popular and desirable among collectors. Their brief three-year run on metal made them truly unique in the history of the hobby. Cards from the sets frequently sell for thousands of dollars online. Individual high-value rookie cards like the Griffey or Maddux can fetch over $10,000 in mint condition. Even dented or damaged examples still sell for hundreds due to their novelty status.

Though short-lived, Fleer Ultra metal cards left an indelible mark and remain one of the most innovative products ever created in the baseball card industry. They captured the imagination of collectors in the late 1980s and remain a treasured piece of sports memorabilia history today. While production challenges cut their run short, Fleer Ultra metal cards stand as a testament to one company’s bold attempt to revolutionize the trading card market through new materials and cutting-edge designs decades before their time.

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