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    

1981 Topps #216 Joe Montana Rc Rookie Hof Psa 10 Gem Mint Centered " Pristine "1998 Playoff Rookie Ticket Randy Moss Rc Rookie Auto Minnesota TwinsJohn Elway Brett Favre Auto Peyton Manning, 1/1 Nfl Logo Man, Aaron Rodgers LotJameis Winston 2015 Panini Contenders Draft Cracked Ice Rc Autograph # 21/23 Fsu2007 Sp Authentic Adrian Peterson Rc Auto /399 Rookie Autograph Ssp Ud 3 Colors2014 Panini Flawless Gold Andrew Luck Auto Patch 4/10 Indianapolis Colts2014 Immaculate Peyton Manning~auto 3 Color Jersey Patch Dirt# 1/49 Broncos 1/1Jameis Winston 2015 Panini Contenders Draft Picks Bowl Ticket Rc Auto 15/992012 Panini Contender Rookie Ticket Andrew Luck Rc Rookie Auto Colts2014 Topps Supreme Book Dual Autograph Patch Peyton Manning Tom Brady 15/15Brett Favre 1/1 2010 Plates Patches 1/1 Autograph Nfl Shield #1/1 Favre 1/1 Auto2011 National Treasures Cam Newton Rpa Rc Rookie " Panthers Logo " Patch Auto 2012 Topps Strata Andrew Luck Clear Cut Patch Rookie Rc Colts Auto 49/75Jameis Winston 2015 Panini Contenders~bowl Ticket Auto Rc #ed 3/99~fsu~bucs~ssp2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham Jr Rookie Helmets Nfl Shield Logo 1/1 Giants1989 Score #246 Deion Sanders Falcons Rc Rookie Hof Bgs 10 Pristine " Flawless "2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham Jr. Mike Evans Sammy Watkins 1/1 Triple Nfl Shield2012 Topps Strata Rookie Auto Dual Andrew Luck Robert Griffin Iii Rg3 Rc 09/101958 Topps Football #62 Jim Brown Cleveland Browns Rc Rookie Hof Psa 7 Nm1957 Topps Bart Starr #119 Rc Psa 6 Ex-mt Rookie CardDerek Jeter Huge (20) Count Graded High End Rookie Lot 1992 1993 Sp Topps BowmanPeyton Manning Auto Patch 2014 Panini Flawless 7/10 Broncos Sick 2011 Exquisite Julio Jones Rookie Auto Patch 9/99 Bgs 8.5/10 Auto2014 Immaculate Premium Patches Peyton Manning 3-color Patch Auto 8/102014 National Treasures Peyton Manning Prime Signings Auto #d 01/10 1/1 Ssp2014 National Treasures Peyton Manning Jsy Patch Auto /10 Jsy Patch /25 Lot ReadMassive Ken Griffey Jr Brett Favre Lou Gehrig Auto Autograph Insert Lot!!1986 Topps Football #275 Reggie White Rc Rookie Hof Psa 10 Gem Mint " Pristine "2014 National Treasures #5 / 5 Aaron Rodgers Auto Green Bay Packers Ssp**rare***1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card #148 Graded Sgc 88 Nm-mt Psa 8 Sweetness!!2004 Ulimate Collection Tom Brady Autographed Game Jersey Patriots Auto 18/252014 Ud Exquisite Donte Moncrief Rookie Patch Auto Spectrum True 1 Of 1 Ole Miss2013 Five Star Eddie Lacy Gold Rc Quotable Auto "go Pack" Sp 25/25 Packers 1/1!Tom Brady 2014 Topps Five Star Football #fsa-tbra Auto PatriotsTom Brady 2015 Panini Contenders Draft Picks Alumni Ink Auto SspHuge Game Used Relic Auto Patch Rookie Rc Lot Collection Bgs Psa Kris BryantOdell Beckham Jr. Huge (150) Count Lot 2014 Topps Chrome #117a Rookie Rc!!!!!1972 Topps # 200 Roger Staubach Psa 8!!!! Super Nice!2014 Teddy Bridgewater National Treasures Rookie Patch Auto /99 Teddy Bridgewater Rc Auto Pink Bca Refractor #/75 Sp 2014 Topps Chrome Football Teddy Bridgewater 2014 National Treasures 2/25 Auto Patch Rc2012 National Treasures Ryan Tannehill Auto /15 Logo Patch Gear Rookie On Card!! Tom Brady 2000 Pacific Autograph Rookie Rc /200 Bgs 9.5 W/10 Auto 2004 Leaf Certified Ben Roethlisberger Mirror Green Auto Quad Fabric 4/52013 National Treasures Century Materials Walter Payton Bears Laundry Tag 1/12014 Immaculate Peyton Manning Premium Patches Platinum Auto Sp 1/10 Broncos 1/1Aaron Rodgers Mashawn Lynch 2015 Contenders Connections Dual AutoRyan Tannehill 2012 Panini Contenders Rookie Variation Auto Sp Psa 9 Mint $225+2014 Panini Immaculate Tom Brady Patriots 3 Color Patch Auto 2749 Rare Signed!Andrew Luck 2012 Panini Contenders Rookie Ticket Auto /550 Bgs 8.5 Autograph2011 Timeless Treasures Tom Brady Auto 4/5 Ssp! 2014 National Treasures Ben Roethlisberger Notable Nicknames Auto "big Ben" 7/25Huge Vintage Football Lot 1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton Rookie Card 1955 - 1980Teddy Bridgewater 2014 Topps Chrome Camo Refractor Rc Auto /99 - Bgs 9.5 / 10 -Brett Favre 2014 National Treasures Auto Notable Nicknames #d /252015 Panini Contenders Melvin Gordon Wis (chargers) Rc Bowl Ticket Auto /99 Sp2014 National Treasures Derek Carr /15 Rookie Patch Jsy Auto Rc 3 Card Lot Look2012 Topps Chrome Andrew Luck Refractor Rookie #rc Indianapolis Colts (rare)!1972 Topps Football Full Complete 351 Card Set 25% Ex 60% Vg/ex 15% FairBlake Bortles 2014 Panini Contenders Rookie Ticket Cracked Ice Auto 19/22 Rc