Like baseball cards, the first football cards were printed by tobacco companies, which used images of athletes to promote their products. In 1888, cigarette maker Goodwin & Co. distributed 50 different cards in packs of Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarettes. Most of the Goodwin Champions, as they were called, were of baseball players, but one of the cards in that series was the first football card, an illustration of Henry Beecher, who was the captain of the Yale Bulldogs.

Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco published the first set of cards devoted exclusively to football. Its 1894 series featured the stern photographic portraits of 35 football players from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, which were then the nation’s pigskin powerhouses.

Football remained the poor cousin to baseball until 1935, when a gum company called National Chicle printed a football-card set of tinted photographs of 36 players. The first 24 cards are fairly common, although #9, Knute Rockne’s rookie card, is highly collectible. Other rookie cards of note in the series include Shipwreck Kelly and Bronko Nagurski.

Next came the almost-square 1948 Bowman Gum cards, which featured a black-and-white photo of the player on the front with no writing on it whatsoever. Among the collectible cards in this all-rookie 108-card set are future hall-of-famers Alex Wojciechowicz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins, and George McAfee of the Chicago Bears.

Bowman did not make football cards in 1949, but it did produce cards from 1950 through 1955. All were in color, and in 1952, two sets were produced. The smaller-size 144-card set from that year is relatively common, but the 144 large-size cards include some of the most collectible vintage Bowman football cards around, including rookie cards for Art Donovan of the Dallas Texans, Thomas Johnson of the Green Bay Packers, and Jack Christiansen of the Detroit Lions.

Some of the 160 cards in Bowman’s final 1955 set are also rare, but the big news that year was the purchase of Bowman by Topps. Until then, Topps had only produced a small, felt-back set of college football players in 1950 (collectible cards from this series include the ones for an obscure Brown University player named Joe Paterno and future hall-of-famer Ernie Stautner), and the Topps Magic set from 1951 (it also focused on college players).

By 1955, though, Topps was ready to make its move. In addition to buying Bowman, Topps also released its own All-American set of 100 football cards. Some collectible error cards ...

Key collectible Topps pro-football cards through 1970 range from Y.A. Tittle (San Francisco 49ers, 1956) to John Unitas (Baltimore Colts, 1957), Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns, 1958) to Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings, 1962), and the rookie card for O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills, 1970).

Other gum companies of interest to collectors of vintage football cards are Leaf, whose 1948 and ’49 cards are graphically similar to the ones the company produced for baseball players during the same two years, and Fleer, which produced football cards in the early 1960s. Jack Kemp’s rookie card appeared on Fleer in 1960; Len Dawson’s rookie card was printed in 1963.

Gum was not the only consumable to use cards to drive sales. In 1959 and 1960, Bell Brands packaged cards of the Los Angeles Rams with bags of potato chips and Lake to Lake Dairy of Sheboygan, Wisconsin sold its products with green-and-white Green Bay Packers cards. In fact, regional sets like these are among the toughest to find, with the Royal Castle Miami Dolphins set from 1967 being a Holy Grail of sorts for vintage football card collectors.Like baseball cards, the first football cards were printed by tobacco companies, which used images of athletes to promote their products. In 1888, cigarette maker Goodwin & Co. distributed 50 different cards in packs of Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarettes. Most of the Goodwin Champions, as they were called, were of baseball players, but one of the cards in that series was the first football card, an illustration of Henry Beecher, who was the captain of the Yale Bulldogs.

Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco published the first set of cards devoted exclusively to football. Its 1894 series featured the stern photographic portraits of 35 football players from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, which were then the nation’s pigskin powerhouses.

Football remained the poor cousin to baseball until 1935, when a gum company called National Chicle printed a football-card set of tinted photographs of 36 players. The first 24 cards are fairly common, although #9, Knute Rockne’s rookie card, is highly collectible. Other rookie cards of note in the series include Shipwreck Kelly and Bronko Nagurski.

Next came the almost-square 1948 Bowman Gum cards, which featured a black-and-white photo of the player on the front with no writing on it whatsoever. Among the collectible cards in this all-rookie 108-card set are future hall-of-famers Alex Wojciechowicz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins, and George McAfee of the Chicago Bears.

Bowman did not make football cards in 1949, but it did produce cards from 1950 through 1955. All were in color, and in 1952, two sets were produced. The smaller-size 144-card set from that year is relatively common, but the 144 large-size cards include some of the most collectible vintage Bowman football cards around, including rookie cards for Art Donovan of the Dallas Texans, Thomas Johnson of the Green Bay Packers, and Jack Christiansen of the Detroit Lions.

Some of the 160 cards in Bowman’s final 1955 set are also rare, but the big news that year was the purchase of Bowman by Topps. Until then, Topps had only produced a small, felt-back set of college football players in 1950 (collectible cards from this series include the ones for an obscure Brown University player named Joe Paterno and future hall-of-famer Ernie Stautner), and the Topps Magic set from 1951 (it also focused on college players).

By 1955, though, Topps was ready to make its move. In addition to buying Bowman, Topps also released its own All-American set of 100 football cards. Some collectible error cards include Gaynell Tinsley and future Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, whose bios are swapped on the backs of some cards. Other famous cards are the ones for Illinois quarterback Red Grange, Carlisle halfback Jim Thorpe, and a card labeled The Four Horsemen that depicted the Notre Dame backfield.

Key collectible Topps pro-football cards through 1970 range from Y.A. Tittle (San Francisco 49ers, 1956) to John Unitas (Baltimore Colts, 1957), Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns, 1958) to Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings, 1962), and the rookie card for O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills, 1970).

Other gum companies of interest to collectors of vintage football cards are Leaf, whose 1948 and ’49 cards are graphically similar to the ones the company produced for baseball players during the same two years, and Fleer, which produced football cards in the early 1960s. Jack Kemp’s rookie card appeared on Fleer in 1960; Len Dawson’s rookie card was printed in 1963.

Gum was not the only consumable to use cards to drive sales. In 1959 and 1960, Bell Brands packaged cards of the Los Angeles Rams with bags of potato chips and Lake to Lake Dairy of Sheboygan, Wisconsin sold its products with green-and-white Green Bay Packers cards. In fact, regional sets like these are among the toughest to find, with the Royal Castle Miami Dolphins set from 1967 being a Holy Grail of sorts for vintage football card collectors.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Football Card Gallery

Vintage Football Card Gallery

This great database of pro and collegiate football cards from the 1950s and 1960s offers scanned images of cards fo… [read review or visit site]

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Tom Boblitt moderates this extremely deep, collaborative site dedicated to non-sports cards (tobacco, gum and candy… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2014 Topps Strata Football Nfl Trading Cards 24ct. Retail Box Auto Or Relic/box2014 Topps Strata Football Nfl Trading Cards 24ct. Retail Box Auto Or Relic/box1984 Topps #63 John Elway Hof Rc Rookie Psa 10 Gem Mint " Super Hot Card " 2012 Panini Contenders Andrew Luck Bgs 9.5 W 10 Auto /75 #201b Sp Rookie! Hot!$!Mint 2005 Playoff Contenders Aaron Rodgers Auto Rc Bgs 92012 Topps Finest Superfractor T.y. Hilton Rc Rookie Patch Auto 1/1 ColtsHuge (25) Count Rc Lot Mike Trout 2011 Topps Update Rookies #us175 Rare!!!2014 Panini Immaculate Collection Peyton Manning Auto #40/49 Nfl Logo Patch 1/12012 Topps Chrome Football Bw-1 Andrew Luck Rookie Card Blue Wave MintClean 1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton Rc Rookie Card Psa 8 Nm-mt High End2012 Finest Superfractor Ty Hilton Colts Rc Rookie Jumbo Jersey Auto 1/1 Bgs 9.52012 Panini National Treasures Andrew Luck Rookie Auto Patch /49! Hot!$! 1998 Peyton Manning Dan Marino Stadium Club Cosigners Autograph Bgs 9 W/10 AutoAdrian Peterson 2014 Immaculate Auto 3 Color Jumbo Jersey Patch #1/5 *greatest2012 Panini Contenders Andrew Luck Rookie Rc Auto Psa 10 Gem Mint2015 Jay Ajayi Bowman Chrome Superfractor 1/1 Rc Auto Rookie Card Miami Dolphins1998 Sp Authentic Peyton Manning Rookie Sgc 96 Rc 1524/20001976 Topps #148 Walter Payton Rookie Psa 8 Nm-mt Chicago Bears2012 Russell Wilson National Treasures Rc Auto Rpa Black #/25 Super Rare! 1976 Topps Football #148 Walter Payton Hof Bears Rc Rookie Psa " Strong Appeal "Andrew Luck 2012 Topps Chrome Rookie Rainbow (-) Red Refractor Gold All Bgs 9.52012 Topps Chrome Andrew Luck Blue Refractor #/1992014 Panini Immaculate Collection Pro Bowl Logo Patch Peyton Manning #2/2 #1/1Drew Brees 2014 National Treasures 'notable Nicknames' #d/25 Auto1981 Topps Football Joe Montana Psa 9 #216 Rookie CardCharles Woodson 2014 National Treasures Auto 02/10 Green Bay Greats Packers Wow!2012 Certified Andrew Luck Dual Jersey Auto Rc # 83/299 Very Rare Sp Rookie2011 Playoff Contenders J.j. Watt Rc Auto Rare Mint Texans BadgersHuge (12) Count Rc Lot Derek Jeter Graded Bgs 8.5 1993 Sp Foil Rookies #279 Rare2000 Tom Brady Playoff Contenders Autograph Rookie Rc #144 Psa 10 Gem Mint!2012 Topps Chrome Purple Refractor Andrew Luck Colts Rc Rookie 105/499Quad Rookie Nfl Logo Shield Patch 1/1 Derek Carr Sammy Watkins Clowney West Rc2012 Topps Chrome Gold Refractor Ty Hilton Colts Rc Rookie Auto 10/10 Bgs 9.52014 National Treasures Colossal Derek Carr Rc Auto 2/2 Nike Swoosh RaidersHuge (50) Count Rc Lot Mike Trout Graded Bgs 9.5 Psa 9.0 2011 Bowman Draft #101Andrew Luck /49 $600+ Mint Rookie Auto Jumbo #12 Jersey Patch Rc Sp 2012 Limited2015 Clear Vision Melvin Gordon Auto Jersey Clear Choice2014 National Treasures Von Miller Denver Broncos Sicl Nfl Logo Patch Auto 1/1Gex 2014 Panini Black Gold Johnny Manziel Rookie Auto/jersey #3/25 Browns Rau-jf2015 Panini Clear Vision Eric Dickerson Auto Card /50Melvin Gordon Auto 08/25 - Chargers1974 Topps Football Complete Set Nm/mt Psa 7[simpson 1--staubach] Psa 8 Unitas 1984 Topps Usfl Steve Young Jim Kelly Reggie White Rookie Card Rc Mint2001 Topps Archives Rookie Reprint Johnny Unitas On-card Auto Sp Bgs 9.5 / 102012 Topps Chrome Refractor Russell Wilson Rc Rookie Auto 170/1781998 Bowmans Best Peyton Manning Rookie Autograph Card# 7a Auto!!1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown Rc Vintage No Reserve Hof LegendBill Parcells Auto #10/10 - 2015 Panini Clear Visions - Visionary Signatures WowSam Bradford-2010 Exquisite-rookie Signature Nameplate Patch Auto-4/5-ou Sooners2015 Panini Clear Vision Football Phillip Dorsett Rookie Jersey Auto /502015 Panini Clear Vision J.j. Watt On Card Auto #07/50 Clear Signatures2014 National Treasures Century Mike Evans Sick 3 Clr Pirate Ship Patch Auto 2012 Topps Chrome Pink Refractor Russell Wilson Rc Rookie Auto 19/75 Bgs 9.5 2012 National Treasures Ryan Tannehill Rpa 18/99 Auto Dolphin Head See Desc...2004 Spx Swatch Supremacy Tom Brady Jersey Auto 89/100 Patriots2012 Panini Contenders Rookie Ticket 225b Russell Wilson Rc Auto Sp/25 Bgs 9.51966 Philadelphia #38 Gale Sayers Rookie Psa 7 Nm Chicago BearsJadeveon Clowney 2014 National Treasures Nike Swoosh 1/1 Auto Vert Book--rookieAdrian Peterson-2011 Exquisite Masterpieces Auto Booklet #2/10 -oklahoma Sooners2012 Topps Chrome Blue Refractor Russell Wilson Seahawks Rc Rookie 128/199