By the time the Red Borders of Death 1990 Donruss baseball cards started dripping into collectors hands — OK, flooding into collectors hands — slugger Andre Dawson was in the decline phase of his storied career.

But it just didn’t matter.

Not when Dawson had been in every “best player in the game” conversation for a decade, and not when he had become a Chicago Cubs legend with 49 swings of the bat in the summer of 1987.

Didn’t hurt that he was one of the two or three greatest players in Montreal Expos history or that he helped the Cubbies to a division title in 1989, either.

The Hawk was flying toward Cooperstown, and collectors were only too happy to swoop in and scoop up his Hall of Fame cardboard.

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So, yeah, we set aside even his garish red 1990 Donruss card as a keeper, destined for sleeves and sheets and, someday, graded slabs.

That card may not have carried the same weight as Dawson’s 1977 Topps rookie card or those first cards showing him with the Cubs after he signed a blank contract just before the 1987 season, but it was still a must-have.

And, if you ate your Lucky Charms at just the right time and stood in just the right alignment with the moon and the stars late that season, well, you just might have scored something really special.

That special something is the 1990 Donruss Aqueous Test issue card featuring Dawson, or one of 263 other cards that mysteriously sprang from seemingly nowhere.

As PSA tells it, not a lot is known about this “set,” other than it features 264 cards that are pretty much identical to the base Donruss set except 1) the front features a glossy finish that was probably a test of water-based shellacking (“aqueous”) and 2) each card back is marked with a stamp that says AQUEOUS TEST.

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Oh, and it seems a few of these test cards made it into real, live wax packs late in the card year, and maybe even into some cellos.

Estimates put the total print run at between 2000 and 2500 card, or fewer than ten per individual card.

That’s fewer than ten copies of an Andre Dawson card that looks just like one of the most mass-produced Hawk pasteboards the world has ever seen, give or take a bit of gloss or a stamp here and there.

Of course, you’re going to pay a fair bit more for an Aqueous Dawson than you would for a plain old Red Borders of Death Dawson — the most recent copy of this card offered on eBay sold for $50 (affiliate link).

And, of course, since this thing (the Aqueous) is so close to that thing (the base card), counterfeiters have had a go at this test issue.

But no matter how you look at it, this under-the-radar scarcity is just one more example of how great and fun this hobby can be, and how we’ll never, ever run out of mysteries and oddities to keep our minds and hearts racing.

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