The bizarre 1991 Gulf War trading cards celebrating weapons and the American military.
In 1990, after Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait, a coalition of Western forces mounted a response in defense of Kuwait (… and oil). The initial operation of the Gulf War was codenamed “Operation Desert Shield” which was followed by the combat phase of “Operation Desert Storm”. Around the same time the American trading card industry was reaching new highs. Trading cards were expanding beyond just sports. There were cards for TV shows, movies, bands, cartoon characters, etc. It was in this world that Desert Storm trading cards were launched.
For the children
In 1991 Topps produced the Desert Storm trading card series. There were 88 cards and 22 stickers with 9 cards & one sticker per 50-cent pack. There were cards of military leaders such as General Norman Schwarzkopf, political leaders such as President George H.W. Bush, as well as cards for vehicles, weapons, and other military equipment. Topps said these cards were not glamorizing war but instead were offering an “encyclopedic look at this military operation and its personalities and weapons …”.
As for being “encyclopedic”, the cards included numerous mistakes such as card 73 (“Machine Gunner”) which listed the 14 NATO member countries, but in 1991 there were actually 16 member countries (they forgot to list France and Iceland). Topps said their information was provided by the Pentagon and arms manufacturers, shirking any fact-checking responsibility.
Topps ended up producing three different Desert Storm card series, for a total of 264 cards, but they weren’t alone. A host of other companies got in on the action producing similar cards. Pro Set had 350 cards in their Desert Storm series with interesting cards such as Greenwich Mean Time, oil, as well as a card for the U.S. Constitution.
Today the cards feel like a satirical take on America’s love of guns & patriotism – an odd relic of the early ‘90s. Critics at the time felt the cards trivialized warfare, that they were propaganda, and were desensitizing kids to violence. As for their monetary value, because of their popularity they were mass produced and so Desert Storm trading cards aren’t worth much. You can buy the entire Topps first series for $10.
Added info: at the same time as the Desert Storm trading cards Topps also produced Desert Shield baseball cards. The baseball cards were the same as regular baseball cards but with an Operation Desert Shield palm tree crest stamped on the front in gold foil. Also, after 9/11 Topps created the Enduring Freedom line of trading cards which included a collectible Osama bin Laden trading card.