Cards from the 1961-62 Fleer Basketball set weren't exactly a hot commodity when initially released, but now, nearly five decades later, the popularity of high-grade examples of these singles is climbing to Wilt the Stilt-like heights.
"The 1961-62 Fleer cards are extremely hot right now," said Michael Rakosi, whose Hall of Fame set boasts an incredible 9.34 Weighted GPA. "The prices for high-grade examples that come up for auction are going through the roof."
Geoff Burt, proud owner of the registry's No. 4, Current Finest 1961-62 Fleer Basketball set, has witnessed the same trend.
"You can't even put a price on a PSA 10 from this set right now. There's really no ceiling," he said.
Distributed in five-cent packs with gum, singles in this 66-card offering measure 2-1/2" by 3-1/2". The fronts showcase a black and white photo in a color background on the bottom, the player's name and position in the middle, and the team at the top. The backs feature biographical information and statistics.
Cards #45 to 66 are In Action singles of the league's top stars. Both the regular and In Action cards are sequenced alphabetically by the players' last names.
"The set is in alphabetical order, except that it's not. Attles begins the set, followed by Arizin. As we know, Arizin is ahead of Attles alphabetically," noted Rakosi.
The last of the "Big Three" vintage basketball issues, the 1961-62 Fleer set followed the 1948 Bowman and 1957-58 Topps sets.
"The difference in that 1957 to 1961 gap between the two major sets was the emergence of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson as superstars," said Rakosi.
The 1961-62 Fleer set offered hobbyists their first opportunity to own cards of Baylor (#3), Chamberlain (#8), Robertson (#36) and West (#43). A number of other Hall of Famer rookies are also in this set, including Walt Bellamy (#4), Hal Greer (#16), Bailey Howell (#20), K.C. Jones (#22), Sam Jones (#23) and Lenny Wilkens (#44).
"I'm intrigued by the early basketball cards because of the big gaps between the production years," said Burt. "With the 1961-62 Fleer set, from a value standpoint, you get the rookies from all the between years aggregated into the one set."
This multitude of rookies is a key reason that Larry Avroch began assembling his No. 6 Current Finest registry set.
"I decided it was a good set to collect because of the Hall of Famers and the rookies, and it was only 66 cards. If I wanted to collect a baseball set, it would be hundreds and hundreds of cards and it would be a lot tougher," he said.
Jeff Forer, who owns the registry's No. 3 Current Finest set, also marvels at the player selection. He lives in Los Angeles and Chamberlain's sister was once his secretary.
"Being a Chamberlain fan and a Laker fan, you've got Jerry West's rookie card, Baylor's rookie card and, of course, Chamberlain . . . It's just a great set," he said.
The Chamberlain (#8) is the set's top rookie. Of the 797 evaluated, there are three PSA GEM-MT 10s and 25 PSA MINT 9s. A PSA GEM-MT 10 fetched $20,400 in a Mastro Auctions sale in May 2008.
There are also three PSA GEM-MT 10s of fellow Laker great Jerry West (#43). One reportedly sold for $37,000. The Oscar Robertson rookie (#36) has also commanded lofty prices in recent years. The sole PSA GEM-MT 10 Big O rookie fetched $25,838.40 in a Mastro Auctions sale in April 2007.
"I always felt that the Robertson rookie was the third-rated card in the set, Chamberlain and West were No. 1 and 2. But, lately, I think the Robertson has been moving past the West," said Forer.
It's the Elgin Baylor (#3) rookie, however, that collectors often tab as the toughest first-year card to track down in pristine condition.
"The most difficult star for me was Elgin Baylor," said Forer. "For some reason, they just never seemed to come up for sale."
Of the 401 Baylors submitted, there has yet to be PSA GEM-MT 10 and there are just nine PSA MINT 9s. PSA 9 examples tend to sell for $2,700 to $3,000, says Rakosi, who believes the Baylor card is underpriced.
There was no one as good as him when he came into the league. I mean he's a guy who could be a superstar in the league today. He'd own the franchise. He had one year where he averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds per game," said Rakosi.
Avroch says the Bellamy (#4) is also elusive in top condition. There has yet to be a PSA GEM-MT 10 Bellamy and one of the six PSA MINT 9 examples sold for $2,250 on eBay in September 2008.
The set's first card, Al Attles, is also evasive in flawless form.
"The Al Attles was very tough because that was card #1," explained Avroch. "I know what I did when I was a kid - and probably a lot of other people used to do it as well - was put rubber bands around stacks of cards. It was card #1 that would usually be on the top of the stack, so it would get damaged."
Of the 212 Attles submitted, there are no PSA GEM-MT 10s and just eight PSA MINT 9s. A PSA MINT 9 sold for $5,100 on eBay in May 2008.
Avroch says poor centering is one of the biggest condition issues with cards from this set. High-grade cards are also tough to uncover because fewer basketball cards were produced than baseball cards in 1961.
"There were so many more of the Topps baseball cards put out at the time because that was America's pastime and basketball was still trying to find itself," said Burt.
This relative scarcity, combined with the tremendous player selection in this set, explains why demand for 1961-62 Fleer basketball cards has increased substantially in recent years.
"It's really the ultimate basketball set," said Forer.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Michael Rakosi provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of press time.