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
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.
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.
General Mills purchases Memphis, Tennessee confectionary and non-sport
card producer Donruss.
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,
Dukes of Hazzard!
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
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
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.
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).
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 prints too many of its cards for the last time until 1988.
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.
Donruss produces a late-season "Highlights"
set that is very popular with collectors.
Donruss produces a popular "The
Rookies" boxed set late in the season.
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
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
According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $134 million for
According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $127 million for
According to court records, Donruss' net sales were $77 million for the
According to court records, Donruss' net sales (for a years which
included a baseball strike) were $68.4 million for the year.2
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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: