Recent auction results prove the first color football card set in the post-World War II era is a popular one.
After 13 years without a mainstream football card product, the 1948 season saw two. Bowman followed its baseball debut with a black & white football set, while another company took the competition up a notch.
1948 Leaf football promised kid collectors some bubble gum–and a football card that was part black and white but also part color. They weren’t pretty by today’s standards but in 1948, Leaf was cutting edge and the company’s effort still resonates with collectors today.
Measuring 2 3/8" by 2 7/8", the 1948 Leaf football card issue includes the rookie cards of Sammy Baugh, Chuck Bednarik, Charley Conerly, Johnny Lujack, Doak Walker and others; many of which sell for some impressive prices. A 1948 Leaf Sid Luckman rookie, #1 in the series and graded PSA 8, sold in a Goodwin & Company auction last week for $71,836. One of just two graded at that level, the card is a perfect storm of scarcity, rookie and popularity.
There are 15 Pro Football Hall of Famers in the set–more than one out of seven cards. They find captive audiences in top condition. A PSA 8 Bednarik brought $38,561 in 2007, while an SGC 96 Sammy Baugh rookie brought $37,950 at Hunt Auctions’ March 2008 sale.
Variations are sprinkled throughout the 1948 Leaf football printing process, turning a 98-card base set into a 126-card master set. Some backs are cream colored while the gray-backed high number cards (#50-98) are much harder to find. While the players’ faces, arms and hands are printed in black and white, a multiple color print process makes the cards very distinctive. A PSA 9 Roy ‘Rebel’ Steiner red jersey variation sold in last week’s auction for $19,159.
Leaf spelled Johnny Lujack’s first name "Jonny", Pat Harder’s last name is "Harber" and Jackie Jensen’s first name became "Jackey" in this set. A PSA 8.5 Jensen (red background) sold for $15,114 last week. Lujack’s first name was corrected and Leaf’s use of George McAfee’s nickname "Gorgeous" adorns some of the cards. It’s the rarest of the two.
The recent auction results indicate that plenty of vintage football card collectors are chasing high grade sets and the ’48 Leaf issue is a major challenge in that regard. Not only is Luckman (#1) tough by the usual vintage card standards, several others are notoriously off-center including the last card in the set, Al DeMarco, providing a double whammy for collectors. Finding near mint, fairly well- centered copies is likely to take years.
1948 Leaf on eBay