The 1961 Topps Football set features AFL and NFL players in the same set for first time, making it the company's largest gridiron offering to that date.
The 198-card issue showcases NFLers (#1 to 132) in the first series followed by AFLers (#133 to 197) in the second. Price guides generally assign a premium to second series commons, but hobbyists insist that first series singles are more difficult to track down.
"There are a lot more PSA Mint 9s of the AFL players," said Bill Miller, owner of the No. 2, 1961 Topps Football set on the PSA Set Registry. "You can get the AFL cards fairly easily."
Mike Thomas, veteran collector and webmaster of www.footballcardgallery.com, agrees.
"There are a lot more high-grade second series cards available than first series cards," he said.
Distributed in one-cent, five-cent and cello packs, 1961 Topps Football cards are tough to find in any form of unopened product. Similar to the Topps Baseball singles from the same year, the fronts of these cards boast a large player photo against a color background, with their name, position and team along the bottom.
Information on the card backs is printed in light blue on white stock. The card number, biographical data, previous season statistics and career statistics are presented on the reverse, as well as a scratch-off area that collectors were encouraged to rub a coin over to "make a photo."
Team cards were only issued for the NFL franchises, and there are also seven cards that showcase 1960 NFL highlights. On these singles, the photo is framed in a TV design, with a slogan along the card bottom.
"The biggest challenge (to collecting this set) is the TV action cards – getting an (PSA) 8 depends on centering and there isn't much leeway on the borders," noted Joe Mancino, who owns the registry's No. 9 Current Finest set. "Centering is a bear on the TV cards."
Three checklists – #67, #122 and #198 – are also included. Because it's the last card in the set, checklist #198 is often regarded as the most elusive in high grade. But according to the PSA Population Report, the second checklist (#122) is tougher to find in flawless form. Of the 118 evaluated, just 32 have been graded PSA NM-MT 8 or higher. In comparison, 161 copies of the final checklist (#198) have been deemed PSA 8 or better.
The rookie cards of three Hall of Famers – Henry Jordan (#45), Don Maynard (#150) and Jim Otto (#182) – are also part of this set. Miller says that the Jordan rookie is one of the set's most highly coveted cards. Of the 168 Jordan cards graded, there have been three PSA 9s and 52 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 sold for $149.99 on eBay in December 2010.
Boyd Dowler (#43), John Brodie (#59), Johnny Robinson (#139), Art Powell (#151), Tom Flores (#186) and Lionel Taylor (#190) are other notable rookies in this set.
More than 20 Hall of Famers are featured in this offering, including Johnny Unitas, who is the No. 1 card. Of the 453 Unitas cards submitted, there have been 13 PSA 9s and 95 PSA 8s. A PSA 9 sold for $912.98 in a Memory Lane auction in September 2008.
The Jim Brown single (#71) is also highly coveted. Of the 561 evaluated, there has been one PSA GEM-MT 10 and 21 PSA 9s. A PSA 9 fetched $859 on eBay in April 2010.
This set also features the first Jim Taylor card (#41) with a real photo of the Hall of Fame Packers running back. In their 1959 and 1960 issues, Topps mistakenly pictured the Cardinals linebacker with the same name on Taylor's cards.
"I believe some people consider it his true rookie card," noted Matthew Putzer, who owns the registry's No. 7 Current Finest set. "The SMR in PSA 8 is actually more for his 1961 card ($75) than his 1959 card ($65) or his 1960 card ($35)"
Packers legends Bart Starr (#39) and Paul Hornung (#40) are also sought after first series cards.
"The Packers of the early 1960s are very popular," noted Miller.
The Jack Kemp card (#166) is the most coveted second series single. One PSA 9 example sold for $170.50 on eBay in October 2010.
According to the PSA Population Report, there are three cards – Leo Nomellini (#64), Vince Promuto (#128) and Browns' Plum Wins NFL Passing Title (#132) – that have yet to have a PSA 9 or PSA 10 example.
Eagle-eyed hobbyists have also identified a number of uncorrected error cards in this issue. For example, the "c" is omitted from Tom Franckhauser's last name on card #27 and Charley Conerly's name is misspelled "Charlie" on card #94. Sonny Jurgensen's name is also mispelled "Jurgenson" on card #95. For more information on the errors in this set, visit Mike Thomas's website at: www.footballcardgallery.com and click on the 1961 Topps Football link.
Though these cards aren't particularly difficult to find in high grade, their blue-bordered backs are susceptible to chipping, noted Miller. And, depending on how hard a collector rubbed a coin over it, the scratch-off area on the card backs may exhibit damage. The color background on the fronts can also sometimes exhibit flaws.
"Print dots are very visible against those solid color backgrounds," noted Mancino.
A flocked team sticker was also included in each pack. Forty-eight different stickers – 15 NFL teams, nine AFL teams and 24 college teams – are required to complete the set. In their original form, these stickers boasted an initial that could be removed. Stickers with the initial intact tend to command a premium. There are also 12 team stickers (nine AFL teams and three college teams) that have two initial variations.
The stickers add another interesting facet to this underrated set, which remains attainable and affordable to assemble in relatively high-grade.
"It is a very doable set in mid- to high-grade without breaking the bank," said Putzer.
But, hobbyists say that high-grade cards are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
"The availability of higher grade cards is much lower today than it was a few years ago," said Miller. "The reason for that is people that collect the high-grade sets tend to keep their cards. So, the cards are just not available on the market anymore."