One of the most important factors in collecting cards is recognizing the rarity of the item in question. When collectors venture into the vintage era, cards can range in difficulty from fairly tough to outright impossible in high-grade. You have your Goudeys and your Play Balls, your Delongs and your National Chicles. The focus is always on the star cards. You have to search long and hard to find a high-grade 1948 Leaf Satchel Paige or a 1954 Wilson Wiener Ted Williams. These are certainly some of the most desirable and rare cards in the hobby.
Where do checklists fit into this equation? They may not be star cards but, as far as rarity is concerned, pre-1960 checklists are incredibly rare in high-grade.
The first question most collectors will ask is why. Why are checklists so difficult? There are several reasons for this collecting obstacle for high-grade set builders. The general response is simply that collectors actually used them.
Let us go back in time to 1957. Imagine going into the local store to buy a pack of 1957 Topps football cards. As you are opening the pack, you come across a Johnny Unitas rookie card and you're thrilled. A couple of cards later, you come across a checklist for the set. Now after reading this article, you would realize that this card is very valuable. You'd store it safely as you would the Unitas rookie card. Unfortunately, that is not how most collectors viewed checklists back then and they had their reasons.
Since checklists had no numbers on them, collectors figured it wasn't really part of the set. In addition, the vintage checklists would often have different labeling on the reverse, so again, it wouldn't seem like it was part of the set.
Checklists were like wild cards in playing card games. They would only be a part of the game or the set if you wanted them too. Most collectors didn't consider the checklists as part of the set. Instead, most collectors felt that the checklists were simply thrown into packs by manufacturers to help them organize and complete sets. So collectors marked the cards, which is why they were called checklists.
Today, vintage set collectors will tell you that some of the toughest cards in the entire hobby are checklists. Usually, when they are found, they are in terrible shape. Most of the time, these cards will have pen or pencil marks all over them. Other cards are simply mangled from frequent handling. At least some collectors, would set aside their precious Unitas rookies. Yet, when it came to checklists, it appears that nobody cared enough about them to protect them. They were used and discarded or used and truly abused. All I can say is that I wish vintage set collectors a lot of luck when it comes to finding these checklists in PSA Near Mint 7 or better. You have your work cut out for yourself!