It's a set dominated by stars, but that hasn't inspired a lot of collectors to pursue it.
According to the PSA Population Report, the 1964 Topps Football set – showcasing singles with stars surrounding the player photos – has the fewest number of submissions of any 1960s Topps gridiron issue.
"The 1964 Topps set is overshadowed by the 1965 Topps set because of the tall boy aspect," explained Alan Piehl, who assembled the No. 1 All-Time Finest 1964 Topps set on the PSA Set Registry. "The 1965 set also had the Joe Namath rookie which made it very attractive."
The fact that the 1964 Topps set only features AFL players works against it as well. The series was released during the first year of a four-year stretch that saw the Philadelphia Gum Co. produce NFL sets.
The NFL was the more established league, boasting legendary players like Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown and Bart Starr, while the AFL countered with lower-profile stars like Jack Kemp, George Blanda and Lance Alworth.
"The NFL had all of the big boys," explained Piehl. "Everybody bought the Philadelphia cards because they wanted the big stars."
And the Philadelphia cards continue to be more popular today. The PSA Population Report reveals that nearly double as many 1964 Philadelphia cards have been submitted for grading as 1964 Topps cards.
Of course, the Philadelphia set is also larger (198 cards) than its 176-card Topps counterpart, but some collectors feel that the design of the Philadelphia cards – like the league it was representing – was conservative and plain.
"I just love the stars on the 1964 Topps cards," said Piehl, a Denver native who fondly remembers the AFL's run and gun offenses. "They're just fun and the Philadelphia cards were so boring. The (backgrounds on the) Topps cards were bright yellow and then quite a few of the cards were red and green. With the white borders and the stars, the cards are just really attractive."
As noted, the fronts of the white-bordered Topps cards boast a player photo against a color background, framed by stars. The color of the stars and background varies. Each player card also has a rectangular information box on the bottom indicating the player's name, team and position.
Backs feature black text on a blue and off-white background and showcase the card number, statistics, biographical information and a cartoon illustrating a question and answer.
These cards were distributed in one-cent, five-cent and cello packs. The wrappers simply say "Pro Football" on them and don't announce that there are only AFL cards inside. These packs are scarcer today than their Philadelphia counterparts.
"I haven't seen a 1964 Topps wax pack advertised (for sale) in years," said Paul Lemm, who compiled the registry's No. 4 All-Time Finest Set.
Each pack also harbors a 2-1/8" by 4-1/2" team pennant sticker that was folded to fit inside. Eight AFL teams and 16 college teams comprised the 24-sticker set.
Mike Thomas, webmaster of http://www.footballcardgallery.com/, has never seen an uncut 1964 Topps Football sheet. He believes the 1964 Topps cards were printed on two, 132-card sheets, resulting in 88 short-print cards.
One of the most prominent short prints is quarterback turned politician Jack Kemp (#30). Of the 264 Kemp cards submitted, there has been just one PSA GEM-MT 10 and 12 PSA MINT 9s. One PSA 9 garnered $349.98 on eBay in May 2011.
Piehl notes that the George Blanda (#68) was also a short print. Just one PSA 10 and two PSA 9s exist. A PSA NM-MT+ 8.5 sold for $293 on eBay in July 2008.
Along with Blanda, several other Hall of Famers are featured in this issue, including Nick Buoniconti (#3), Len Dawson (#96), Don Maynard (#121), Jim Otto (#148), Lance Alworth (#155), Ron Mix (#168) and the rookies of Kansas City Chiefs legends Bobby Bell (#90) and Buck Buchanan (#92).
"The Chiefs teams from that era were very good," noted Thomas.
Other top rookies in this series are Daryle Lamonica (#31), Matt Snell (#125) and John Hadl (#159). But Piehl says the key card in this set is the last checklist (#176). This checklist is not only a short print but it's extremely difficult to find in top condition.
"The #176 checklist is much harder to get than the #82 checklist," noted Lemm.
Of the 79 evaluated, there has been one PSA 10 and three PSA 9s. One PSA 9 sold for $529.99 on eBay in June 2010.
With only 22 submissions, the Dick Christy single (#111) is the lowest population card in this set, followed closely by the Johnny Robinson card (#105), which has been graded 26 times.
Thomas, Piehl and Lemm agree that the Fred Williamson pasteboard (#152) is also one of the most elusive in high grade. Of the 50 submitted, there has yet to be a PSA 10 and there's just one PSA 9. A PSA 8 garnered $349.95 on eBay in June 2011.
Lemm says that the Jim Dunaway card (#27) is another coveted, short-print common.
"I remember getting that card in PSA 8 and I put it on eBay and I got $1,100 for it," he recalled.
Just one PSA 9 and eight PSA 8 examples exist of the Dunaway.
A number of uncorrected errors are also on display in this set. For example, the man pictured on the Ray Abruzzese card (#22) is actually Ed Rutkowski. Gino Cappelletti's last name is misspelled "Cappalletti" on his card (#5). While both checklists feature names spelled incorrectly: the first (#82) presents Ross O'Hanley's last name as "O'Hanldy " and the last checklist (#176) showcases Lance Alworth's last name as "Allworth." Finally, there's a mysterious Raiders helmet pictured over Bo Robertson's feet on his pasteboard (#151).
Miscuts and poor centering are the most common condition issues with cards from this series.
"A lot of the cards were miscut," said Lemm. "I can't tell you how many times I've sent cards into PSA and they've come back miscut."
These condition issues combined with the dearth of raw 1964 Topps cards still available make completing this set a challenge. Unfortunately it's a challenge that few gridiron collectors have embraced. With that said, there has been a growing demand for AFL collectibles in recent years and that could mean that the "stars" may eventually align to make this a more coveted offering in the future.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Mike Thomas provided scans to the author for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of January 2012.
|Total Number of PSA Submissions for 1960s Topps Football Sets|
|*PSA Population Report statistics as of January 2012|