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A Brief History of Donruss

By Patrick Mondout

The Donruss brand came to the attention of card collectors in the 1960s, with a number of non-sports sets. But the Donruss brand really took off after the introduction of its first set of baseball cards in 1981. What follows is a "brief history" of Donruss.

See also: You can also read our Brief History of Baseball cards, Brief History of Fleer, and Brief History of Topps pages.

1954

Brothers Don and Russell Weiner inherit the Thomas Weiner Candy Company - makers of "Super Bubble" bubblegum - from their father in 1954. They rename the company Donruss.

1961

Donruss ships cards in wax packs with Super Bubble gum for the first time. They are called "Idiot Cards" and feature cartoons on the front and back with such friendly phrases as "You made me what I am today..." (flip the card over) "...a no-good bum!" They are in the spirit of the later Topps' Garbage Pail Kids and probably upset easily offended parents.

1969

General Mills purchases Memphis, Tennessee confectionary and non-sport card producer Donruss.

Super70s

Donruss continues printing non-sports cards to distribute with their gum. Notable sets include cards for musical acts, Kiss, Elvis, the Osmonds, movies such as Saturday Night Fever and Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and TV shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man, Dallas, and The Dukes of Hazzard!

1980

Donruss announces the first agreement with the Player's Association to create cards for the '81 season following the landmark decision in the Fleer suit of 1975. (This whole sordid saga is covered in somewhat more detail here.)

1981

The initial set of Donruss baseball cards ships early in the year. It has issues, such as being printed on really thin cardboard, but more than meets expectations of collectors who didn't expect much from the maker of Elvis cards.

Donruss also produced a way-ahead-of-its-time set of golf cards. The cards are almost completely ignored by collectors and especially us kids, who apparently don't find middle-aged white men (with apologies to Calvin Peete) in questionable attire to be proper athletic role models. These cards sold at a steep discount in hobby stores in the early Awesome80s, which is the only reason I ever owned any. The company will produce one more set in 1982 before giving up (golf cards would get their due in the next decade).

Donruss consultant and New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden recommends the company work with sports artist Dick Perez. His watercolor Diamond Kings will be synonymous with Donruss cards for the next 15 years.

1982

After an appeal's court overturns the 1980 decision, Donruss is forced to ship its 1982 cards without gum (puzzle pieces featuring a painting of Babe Ruth by Dick Perez are substituted).

1983

General Mills sells its stake in Donruss to a Finnish company named Huhtamaki that was on a buying spree. That company also bought Beatrice Foods and Leaf and merged the three confectionary companies to form Donruss-Leaf.

Donruss prints too many of its cards for the last time until 1988.

1984

Donruss, which has lost momentum in the baseball card hobby due to overproduction, decides to limit the amount of cards it will produce for the 1984 season. Once this is realized, the set rise in value and become the most valuable set of the decade with 18 months. This is a turning point for the company and their image within the hobby changes dramatically with new products eagerly anticipated.

1985

Donruss produces a late-season "Highlights" set that is very popular with collectors.

1986

Donruss produces a popular "The Rookies" boxed set late in the season.

1987

A new Donruss "Opening Day" set is produced in April featuring only those players who started for their teams on opening day. The innovative set is never repeated.

1988

Apparently ready to cash in on its popularity with collectors - which was a result of limiting production of its cards - Donruss prints and ships '88 cards in excess of demand for the first time since 1983. The cards are practically worthless today and thousands of unopened cases sit in warehouses today waiting for the inevitable trip to a recycling facility.1

1991

According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $134 million for the year.2

1992

According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $127 million for the year.2

1993

According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $77 million for the year.2

1994

According to court records, Donruss' net sales (for a years which included a baseball strike) were $68.4 million for the year.2

1995

According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $47 million for the year and the company lost $7 million on those sales "Although (Donruss) estimated that its net sales could increase in 1996 to $69,800,000, in view of its continuing losses, and the volatility of the trading card industry, it concluded it could not profitably compete in the trading card business."2

1996

On May 29, Pinnacle Brands - another maker of sports cards - purchases Donruss/Leaf licensing and trademark assets (but not the whole company) for $32 million from Huhtamaki Oy, owners of Donruss/Leaf since 1983. While some employees are rehired by the "new" Donruss, the company started by brother Don and Russ Weiner in 1954 is no more.

1998

Pinnacle/Donruss file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from their creditors. The Donruss company itself is shut down and only the name lives on. The "Donruss" and "Leaf" names are later picked up at auction from the debtors by Playoff (another sports card manufacturer) owner Ann Blake.

2001

Early in 2001, Donruss/Playoff reaches an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB Properties for a license to print baseball cards under the Donruss name. They release the first set of Donruss cards since 1998 in April.

With the Donruss brand re-established with a set of current baseball cards, the company simultaneously issues 100 card sets for the 1999 and 2000 seasons. A nice gesture for long-time Donruss set collectors, but it cannot change the fact that Donruss did not exist during those years nor is it the same company that produced the 1981 set.

2004

Playoff/Donruss purchased the "Pacific" sports card company name, giving them the right to market cards under that name. For those of you keeping score at home, Playoff has now purchased the assets and/or names of Donruss & Leaf, Pinnacle (which owned Score and had previously purchased Action Packed), and now Pacific.

2005

With the baseball card market completely flooded with product and rumors of contraction abound, the MLB Player's Association announces on July 25, 2005 that it will only license Topps and Upper Deck to produce cards starting in 2006. A press release from by Donruss/Playoff quotes owner Ann Powell as saying, "We are, of course, disappointed and sad about the future loss of our partnership with baseball and understand it was a very tough decision to make. We will continue to produce and deliver the highest quality baseball products for the remainder of the year. All of us at Donruss love being a part of this industry and remain fully committed to the football and entertainment products in the coming years."

Notes:
1: Okay, it's not that bad. But try selling an '88 Donruss set for more than you paid for it.
2: Schwak, Inc. vs. Donruss Trading Cards, No. 1-98-4840: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=il&vol=app/2001/1984840&invol=3

 
 
 

DONRUSS

The 1981 set contained the first baseball cards from Donruss.


'81 Sets!
'81 Singles!
'81 Unopened Packs!
'81 Lots!
'81 Cases!

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