Thanks to Upper Deck’s trail blazing debut in 1989, card manufacturers were forced to enter the high-end card game just to keep up. In 1990, Donruss introduced Leaf, which blew every product out of the water so Fleer decided to prepare a proper response for 1991. Their effort, titled Fleer Elite, was supposed to be the next big thing but flopped. That wasn’t their only mishap, though. By the time they paid for advertising, Donruss put together a nasty lawsuit as they had just created the Donruss Elite inserts, which ultimately became a stand alone product. Fleer, had no choice but to change the brand’s name to Ultra and then sat by and watched as all their hard work flopped.
Looking to rebound from their 1991 mess of a debut, Fleer Ultra came back in 1992 with a much more suitable, high-end product which was a favorite among collectors that year. What many don’t know is what options Fleer had to choose from when preparing their sophomore efforts. First, let’s start with a scan of a front and back of a 1992 Fleer Ultra card, taken from COMC because I’m not in the mood to scan my own.
For starters, this card features three, bright and crisp photographs and a card back that could easily be featured as a front. No one in the hobby was putting out anything close to this in 1992, including Topps’ Stadium Club line. Fleer most definitely struck out with ’91 Elite/Ultra but hit a bomb to center field with their second effort and only improved with future releases.
So now that we have seen the final product (who hasn’t?) that hit the market in 1992, a much more innocent time for us all, let’s take a look at what was left behind on the cutting room floor. Below are images found on Photobucket that belong to FCB member, “MRMOPAR”. He sold the Will Clark set of 3 for $300 but still has others available, including the Jose Canseco set you see below.
I know what you’re thinking. These scans don’t really do much due to the quality. I completely understand so check out the images below of Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas’ ’92 Ultra card that was issued and the one that almost made it. Call me crazy but it looks like the people at Fleer chose the wrong design. What’s interesting is that the card back features Jose Canseco’s 1988 season but reads 1992, which implies it is a promo for 1993 Ultra.
Whatever year they are, this to me is baseball card history. If only more promo/prototype images of iconic brands were available to the public. For example, I’d love to see an early take on 1993 Finest or 1997 Bowman Chrome, for example. There’s a whole section of collectors out there who find this kind of stuff absolutely fascinating. Here’s hoping some of this early 90s stuff is still out there waiting to be discovered.