Bronco Nagurski

One of the finest vintage football card sets in existence hits the auction block this month when Memory Lane Incorporated presents its Big Game Auction.

Among the featured attractions is an incredible 1935 National Chicle football set, currently rated as the second best on the PSA Set Registry. Each and every card in this rare set from the early days of pro football is graded NM (8) or higher. The set has a weighted GPA of 8.345, the product of years of searching and acquiring only the finest examples of these highly sought after cards. The minimum bid is $225,000.

The consignor has pieced together a remarkable snapshot of football card history, with all 36 cards appearing virtually as they did when they were pulled from wax packs some 74+ years ago. In fact, one could argue these cards are even better than they were then. The National Chicle cards opened by youngsters in 1935 were plagued by printing flaws and cards that weren't well-centered. There are no such problems with this set.

The 1935 National Chicle set was the first "football only" set ever made and also the first set to consist primarily of professional players. 35 members representing the eight National Football League teams of the day are represented along with the late Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, still an iconic figure in the years immediately after his death in a plane crash.

The art deco style was a National Chicle signature, making the cards similar in design to the 1934-36 Diamond Stars baseball set that was also produced by the company. The vibrant colors and simple design stand out, making it a favorite of football card collectors. The little cards are literally works of art, having been created from original oil paintings.

In addition to the Rockne, the 1935 National Chicle football set also includes the card that is often referred to as the "Honus Wagner of football cards". The Bronko Nagurski is difficult to find in any condition. In a PSA 8, it is nearly impossible. In fact, it's one of only eight that have ever graded "8" or better by PSA. The last PSA 8 example sold for over $66,000 alone.

The amazing set's composition includes one PSA 10 (Jim Zyntell, a 1-1), 13 PSA 9s, 3 PSA 8.5s and 19 PSA 8s. Nineteen cards in the set represent the highest known grade for that card on the PSA Set Registry.

The set was pieced together by long-time collector Greg Pietsch, who actually began the pursuit of National Chicle cards in the early 1980s. As years passed, he began to focus strictly on high-grade football cards, with special attention to the issue that he and his father had enjoyed the most. He began putting his cards into the PSA Set Registry in 2002, with a goal of completing a set in PSA 8 or higher. It was a monumental task.

"I will tell you that I've always preferred a 'pack fresh' look to every Chicle card," Pietsch explained. "Corners and centering are no doubt critical, but eye appeal is just as important to me. If a card looked too aged, I just wasn't interested."

Pietsch not only wanted high-grade cards, he wanted the best examples of them. "I've seen almost all of the PSA 8 Nagurski cards, and I have, at one time or another, owned six of them," he stated. "The PSA 8 in my collection, in my opinion, is the strongest PSA 8 card that I've seen."

His approach was similar for the other Chicle cards in the set. "If I found a great upgrade, I would buy it. If I already owned a PSA 8 card, but found a better card in the same grade, I would buy it. It was a matter of building the best PSA set possible, knowing very well that there were grades within grades."

1935 National Chicle

While much of the attention on the 1935 National Chicle set falls on Nagurski and the other high numbers, Pietsch found that most collectors or dealers don't realize the difficulty in collecting the lower numbered cards in high grade. "Bo Molenda, card number two, is one that stands out to me. It's a really difficult card to find in high grade. It took many years to find a nicely graded PSA 8.

And I haven't seen one since."

The sale of the #2-rated 1935 National Chicle set is a true education for collectors. Pietsch has seen more of them than perhaps any collector in history, having built multiple sets in various grades and then refining his quest with a discerning eye. He knows which cards pose the biggest challenge, which have centering issues and which are more readily available. "My personal opinion is that Bill Tosi, card #27, is hands down the most difficult card to find in any grade, let alone a high grade. Dale Burnett may be a close second. My recommendation is that if you're lucky to find a Tosi in any condition, buy it!"

Interestingly, it's believed National Chicle actually planned a 240-card set. At least that's what's indicated on the backs of the small cards. It's unclear why only 36 different were made. The small roster makes it an attractive target for vintage card collectors who enjoy tackling this scarce issue. However, the opportunity to acquire such a high-grade collection has literally never been possible until now. It's a set truly worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Memory Lane is proud to be able to offer it as the centerpiece of this important "football only" auction.

Bidding is now open for the Big Game Auction. The event will close Saturday, February 6, the night before this year's Super Bowl game. Over 300 of the finest football cards and football memorabilia ever to hit the auction block will be To register, visit www.MemoryLaneInc.com or call 877.606.LANE (5263).