History of Football Cards

While a distant second to baseball cards in terms of popularity, football cards remain a staple of the trading card market. One of the earliest mass produced sets to feature football cards was the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set, which included players such as Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, and Knute Rockne.

In 1935, National Chicle produced a 36-card set that includes the ‘holy grail’ of football cards, Bronko Nagurski.  After that set was released, there were no major football card issues until 1948, when Bowman and Leaf both produced new cards featuring current NFL stars.

Bowman dominated the early football card market until 1955 when the company was purchased by the Topps Company.

Fleer produced football card sets of AFL players during the early 1960s while the Philadelphia Gum Company won the exclusive NFL trading card contract from 1964-67 and produced some very popular sets that include rookie cards like Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, the final cards from Jim Brown’s career and many of the greats from Vince Lombardi’s Packers.  Topps concentrated on the AFL from 1964-67, including the production of a Joe Namath rookie card in 1965.

Topps cruised through the 1970s without a league license, resulting in some creative airbrushing techniques on some cards.  From Terry Bradshaw to Roger Staubach, Walter Payton and others, Topps has the only rookie cards of many Hall of Famers.

As with baseball cards, the 1980’s saw the beginning of what many collectors have dubbed the “Era of Overproduction.”  As the number of card producing companies expanded, the market became saturated with overproduced cheap sets. Card values began to decline steeply, and many die-hard collectors consider most cards from the late 1980’s through the mid 1990’s as essentially worthless.   They do, however, include some great, cheap Hall of Fame rookie cards for those not interested in long-term value.

The football card industry features more competition than the baseball card industry, with more companies producing a wider variety of sets. Today’s major companies include Topps, Donruss, Score, Press Pass, and Upper Deck. Upper Deck, with their SP Authentic and SPx lines, is widely regarded by collectors as having some of the most popular football cards.  The SP Authentic sets have, for the last several years, featured the most valuable individual cards in the industry; and consequently are among the most collectible sets of the modern era.

Topps has produced some of the best football rookie cards known in the hobby as it continues to share the league license with Panini for current year cards.

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