Its composition is as colorful as it borders.
Comprised of 170 cards with multi-hued borders, the 1963 Topps Football set introduced collectors to the Wildman, the Secretary of Defense and purple sky variations.
"I just love the colors on the cards," said Joe Mancino, who owns the No. 7 Current Finest set on the PSA Set Registry. "I think the 1963 Topps set is the most attractive football set of the 1960s."
Like the 1962 Topps issue, cards are sequenced by teams. On the card fronts, the top border and most of the side borders surrounding the player photo are the same color, while a frame housing the player's name, team and position along the bottom boasts a different colored border.
Featuring orange text on off-white stock, the backs showcase the card number, statistics and a cartoon and quiz question. A piece of red cellophane paper (included in packs) was required to read the answer to the question.
"You held the cellophane over a part of the back of the card and you were able to read the answer," explained Mancino.
These cards were distributed in rare one-cent and more common five-cent packs. According to Mark Murphy's The World's Best Unopened Pack, Wrapper & Display Box Guide, these cards were also available in cello packs and in six-pack wax trays. Cards in these trays were reportedly issued in 1962 Topps Football wrappers.
By examining miscut cards, matching same-colored borders and employing his extensive knowledge of sheets from the era, Mike Thomas, who owns the No. 1 Current Finest set on the PSA Set Registry, has recreated a 1963 Topps Football sheet on his website.
Thomas believes that this series was printed on two, 132-card sheets. Ninety-four cards were on both sheets, while 76 short print cards were only included on one sheet. Thomas was able to determine that the 11 cards for each team were printed in the same row on the sheets. As a result, the first card in each team series was on the left edge of the sheet and the last card was on the right edge. These sheet positions make these cards more vulnerable to condition flaws (miscuts, etc.). For more information, visit Thomas's website.
Among the rookies in this set are Don Fleming (#22), Jim Marshall (#107), Timmy Brown (#111) and Charley Johnson (#146). Five Hall of Famer rookies – Deacon Jones (#44), Bob Lilly (#82), Willie Wood (#95), Ray Nitschke (#96) and Larry Wilson (#155) – are also featured.
Hobbyists say that the Jones (famously nicknamed the Secretary of Defense) rookie is not particularly elusive in top condition. Of the 417 submitted, there have been seven PSA MINT 9s and 115 PSA NM-MT 8s. A PSA 9 sold for $2,869.35 in a Mile High Card Company auction in June 2010.
The Nitschke is the most coveted rookie in this series. In fact, the Wildman's card may be the most sought-after single in the entire set. Of the 441 evaluated, there are seven PSA 9s and 78 PSA 8s. A PSA 9 fetched $3,272 on eBay in September 2010.
More than 30 other Hall of Famers are also included in this issue. Johnny Unitas is the set's first card and is difficult to uncover in pristine condition. Aside from the regular wear and tear associated with being the first card, this single was also located in the second row on the left edge of the sheet.
"Centering seems to be an issue with the Unitas cards," noted Mancino.
There are just three PSA 9 copies (with nothing grading higher). A PSA 9 commanded $4,339.20 in April 2007.
The short-printed Jim Brown single (#14) is also highly coveted.
"I think the 1963 Brown card is popular because it's a nice portrait of him," said Thomas.
One of the six PSA 9 Brown cards fetched $3,150 on eBay in May 2009.
According to the PSA Population Report, the Bob Gain (#23) and Ed Brown (#122) cards have been submitted the fewest number of times (35). Both are short prints and are located on the edges of the sheet. Gain is the last card on the right in the top row of the sheet, while Brown is the first card on the left in the third row.
Located on the bottom right edge of the sheet, Claude Crabb (#168) is another difficult card to find in flawless form. No example has graded above PSA 8. Mancino says this was one of the last cards he needed to complete his registry set.
"Claude Crabb and Ed Brown are both always off-center," said Thomas. "You can't find any that are well centered."
Claude's first name is also misspelled "Claud" on his card. It's one of five uncorrected errors that have been identified in the set. On Sonny Jurgensen's card (#110), for example, his last name is misspelled "Jurgenson." Similarly, Charley Johnson's name is misspelled "Charlie" on his pasteboard (#146), while Bill Kilmer's card (#136) incorrectly lists his college as "San Francisco 49ers." Finally, the second checklist (#170) incorrectly spells Jim Prestel's last name "Prestal."
Steve Behme, who owns the registry's No. 2 All-Time Finest Set, has also uncovered 116 cards that have "purple sky" variations. These cards showcase a darker colored sky in the background than the blue sky seen on most singles. Behme believes that the "intentional application of red ink, in the sky and background areas, during the earliest production of the cards" is what caused the purple sky background. He speculates that the red was masked out of the sky and background later in the production process. To view the different colored skies on these cards, visit Behme's registry set online.
"I wish I could travel back in time to witness the production of the 1963 Topps Football set," said Behme, who has been researching these purple sky variations since 2004. "I do not see a trend in the set. All I know is 116 cards were initially produced with the 'purple sky' and subsequently edited to produce the common 'blue sky' variety."
In Behme's experience, the purple sky variations are more elusive in top condition than the blue sky singles.
"Purple variations are harder to find, some (are) very difficult to find in high grade," he explained. "Likewise, some are easy to find such as Frank Varrichione (#42). The ratio of purple to blue in general is about 1/5, which may seem common enough. Condition rarity is key. For me, it was much harder to find examples graded PSA 8 or higher, and I was always looking for higher grade."
The purple sky variations generally don't garner a premium.
Behme also found a variation of Frank Youso's card (#102) that showcases the offensive tackle with three color lines on his left knee.
"It seems tough to find in high grade," said Behme. "The example I owned was the only one I had seen graded PSA 8."
Chipping on the borders is the most common condition issue with cards from this series.
"Flaking is an issue on the borders of these cards," said Thomas. "It's not quite as bad as the 1962 (Topps Football cards), but the colored borders show the wear more easily than the white ones do."
Mancino says that high-grade cards from this series seem to hold their value well.
"I don't know whether this set will ever be a big-ticket item," he added. "But I think if you're a collector and you want to put a nice set together, you can put a nice set of PSA (NM) 7s together for a pretty reasonable price."
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 February 2012.