Collectible Football Cards

It is fair to say that football has become the number one sport in the United States, surpassing all others in terms of viewership and money being made. The interest in football memorabilia is now at an all-time high, with collectible football cards just one of the many products that fans clamor for in huge numbers. The reason that trading cards have remained a constant in the football world is due in large part to the fact that they are so affordable. It only takes a few dollars to buy a pack of cards, which may end up containing one that could soar in value in the years to come. With all of that said, let’s take a look at how collectible football cards came to be sought after in the first place.

The History of Collectible Football Cards

Many people look at the modern game and the NFL and still consider the sport to be something of a relative newcomer. Some of the confusion may come from the fact that there have only been 48 Super Bowls, leading many to believe that the game is less than 50 years old.

The First Collectible Basketball Set

In reality, though, football has been around since 1869, with games at that time played at the college level and looking a lot more like a cross between rugby and soccer than how it looks today. You would find college players featured on the first card set ever made. This first set is now known as the 1894 Mayo Set. The players featured were all from Ivy League schools, with the most valuable card from that era being the John Dunlap of Harvard card. It is believed that there are only about 10 of these cards in existence, with some even claiming that it is not even Dunlap whose image appears on the highly collectible football cards.

Chicle Gum Company and Bowman

Things started to change dramatically for collectible football cards in the 1930’s, which was when the Chicle Gum Company issued a 36-card set. The year of release was 1935, and it was the first set to feature players from the National Football League as opposed to college players. It would appear that the players chosen to be part of that set were indeed a good choice. No less than 6 went on to become members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The cards remained somewhat on the fringes until 1948, which was when Bowman became the first company to mass produce cards. It was also in the same year that the first color collectible football cards were issued, which is what many see as a major turning point in the business.

Topps Jumps in on Football Cards

You can’t talk about collectible trading cards of any sport without mentioning Topps. They are arguably the most respected name in the market. It was Topps who took the production of collectible football cards to new levels when they produced their first set in 1948 and first major set in 1951. It was another four years before they brought out their next set.

Fleer Enters the Football Card Market

By the time the decade had drawn to a close, Fleer, a popular gum company, had also entered the collectible football card market.  Fleer did something a little different in that they featured players from the AFL, which was another league that existed before they merged with the NFL in 1966.

Football Cards in the 1960’s and 1970’s

During the 60’s and 70’s, it was not uncommon to find football cards tucked inside popular boxes of cereal. It was nothing more than a marketing trick at that time, but the set that appeared inside Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in 1970 is still one that is very highly regarded and sought after by collectors. The set was comprised of the best players of the 60’s, featuring such legends of the game as Dick Butkus. It was his signed card that was THE card that everyone wanted out of that particular set.

The Card Memorabilia Associated (TCMA)

To this particular point, no-one really thought of trading cards as being something that could be collectible. The reality of the matter was that it was basically kids who bought the cards, sometimes just for the gum, with little thought given to the proper care of the cards that came in the pack. The idea of collecting cards came when The Card Memorabilia Associated (TCMA) entered the picture during the 70’s, delivering sets across a number of sports that were deemed to be “Collectors Series” cards. Nowadays that often is used for autographed cards or those that come with pieces of jersey or footballs, but the TCMA idea was a little different.

TCMA dabbled in baseball cards quite heavily, but also produced football sets that featured players, as well as historic moments in the game across the decades. The layout of the cards is what we are now used to seeing in today’s cards, which is why the TCMA products are often referred to as the “Pure Card.” Despite the beauty of the cards and their success, TCMA finally went out of business in the late 80’s, paving the way for others to copy their style and enter into the collectible football card marketplace.

It was what TCMA delivered that arguably set the tone for how card were produced in the 80’s and beyond. The quality of the cards became better, as did the pictures displayed on the front. Action shots taken from games replaced tired, generic shots, making the cards that much more appealing in the process. It was probably around this time that people started thinking of trading cards as being an investment, which meant taking better care of the cards being purchased. This was especially true of cards that had been autographed by the star being featured, or the rookie cards of players who went on to be legends in the game.

Today and the Future of These Cards

The future looks very bright for collectible footble trading cards, and especially for collectors of cards that were released in prior decades. While companies still make the traditional cards, others like Starr have gone the digital route and made a mobile app that plays on the card collecting craze. As the newer sets go digital, the older cards will start to increase even more in value.

It may be worth checking the attic of your home to see if any of the cards you had as a kid are still stowed away there, wrapped in rubber bands and forgotten. There may just be some money there.

Popular Football Cards Sets

Here is a list of collectible football sets that you should star your focus on. These sets all have enough collector interest where you can more easily find the cards you’re looking for. You’ll also find it easier to sell cards from these sets as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are some other fantastic sets out there, but these happen to be the most popular among collectors today.

1930’s and 1940’s Collectible Football Cards

  • 1935 National Chicle
  • 1948 Bowman
  • 1948 Leaf
  • 1949 Leaf

1950’s Collectible Football Cards

  • 1950 Bowman
  • 1951 Bowman
  • 1952 Bowman Large
  • 1952 Bowman Small
  • 1953 Bowman
  • 1954 Bowman
  • 1955 Bowman
  • 1955 Topps All-American
  • 1956 Topps
  • 1957 Topps
  • 1958 Topps
  • 1959 Topps

1960’s Collectible Football Cards

  • 1960 Fleer
  • 1960 Topps
  • 1961 Flleer
  • 1961 Packers Lake to Lake
  • 1961 Topps
  • 1962 Fleer
  • 1962 Topps
  • 1963 Fleer
  • 1963 Topps
  • 1964 Philadelphia
  • 1964 Topps
  • 1965 Philadelphia
  • 1965 Topps
  • 1966 Philadelphia
  • 1966 Topps
  • 1967 Philadelphia
  • 1967 Topps
  • 1968 Topps
  • 1968 Topps Stand Up
  • 1969 Topps
  • 1969 Topps Four in One

1970’s Collectible Football Cards

  • 1970 Kellogg’s
  • 1970 Topps
  • 1970 Topps Super
  • 1970 Topps Super Glossy
  • 1971 Kellogg’s
  • 1971 Topps
  • 1972 NFLPA Vinyl Stickers
  • 1972 Topps
  • 1973 Topps
  • 1974 Topps
  • 1975 Topps
  • 1976 Topps
  • 1976 Wonder Bread
  • 1977 Topps
  • 1978 Topps
  • 1979 Topps

Modern Collectible Football Card Sets

  • 1980 Topps
  • 1981 Topps
  • 1982 Topps
  • 1983 Topps
  • 1984 Topps
  • 1984 Topps USFL
  • 1985 Topps
  • 1986 Topps
  • 1989 Score
  • 2000 Collectors Edge Graded Uncirculated

What Next?

Consider adding football cards to your collection. eBay is a great place to buy or sell them.

If you enjoyed this article about collectible football cards, you may also be interested in learning about collectible basketball cards or hockey cards. You might want to check on non-sports cards as well.

Recent Posts