It had been nearly 40 years since the Frank H. Fleer Corporation last created baseball cards. After its 1923 strip card release, the company made its triumphant return to the baseball card market by snaring an exclusive deal with one of the game’s biggest names: a larger than life figure who was big enough to have a set made where every card was about him. Thus was born the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set.
Fleer’s first modern baseball card set was gave young collectors another option aside from Topps. With Bowman no longer in the mix, Topps was enjoying an exclusive MLB license. Fleer’s set didn’t directly compete with the gum card giant since the set included only Ted Williams cards. However, the release helped pave the way for the company to produce future sets, like the 1960 and 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats releases, that included more players. Fleer hung onto the Williams exclusive until the end of his career.
The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams cards were standard size, 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ with full-color images. There are a total of 80 cards in the set and the release features Williams’ life from his childhood to the then present day as a current player for the Boston Red Sox. Cards were initially distributed in packs of six, which were sold for five cents.
The fronts include Williams’ name in a baseball in near the bottom of the cards as well as a title depicting the scene in the image. Backs include a card number inside of a Fleer logo crown, a biography related to the image on the card and “Baseball’s Greatest – Ted Williams” at the top.
Without a doubt, the key card in the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set is No. 68. The card highlights Williams signing his 1959 contract. Fewer copies exist of that one compared to the other cards in the set because printing of it ceased early when the set was being created. It seems Red Sox GM Bucky Harris was under contract to Topps and thus, couldn’t appear in a Fleer set. Fleer stopped the presses and pulled #68 but not before some of them had already been printed. Some collectors even consider the set complete without it but better examples can be found on eBay for $400-$1,000.
Due to its rarity, stamped reprints have also become popular. These often include the words “Sample Copy” on the back in red.
The set includes a history of Williams’ life and he is the focal point of the set. However, other baseball players were included as well. No. 2 is a hit since it features the legendary Babe Ruth, who was Ted’s idol, as indicated on the card. Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx was on No. 11. Legends Joe Cronin and Eddie Collins were also prominently featured. Both were included on No. 39 while Cronin was also included on No. 55 with Collins also on No. 9 and, alongside Ruth, on No. 75.
Aside from baseball, a few other sports were spotlighted in the release. Williams was an avid fisherman and No. 54 depicts the Hall of Famer in that role. Then, there’s No. 67 with Williams pictured with legendary golfer Sam Snead. In addition Williams and star football player/athlete Jim Thorpe are shown together on No. 70.
Some of the more memorable cards in the set feature the slugger’s legendary achievements. Card No. 8 is a rookie card of sorts, identifying Williams in his first full season of baseball in 1937. There’s the card that talks about Williams hitting .400 in 1941, No. 17. No. 19 and No. 33 reflect upon his Triple Crown seasons. No. 56 and No. 57 also detail two milestones – his 2,000th hit and 400th home run, respectively. And as you might expect, the military stints that interrupted his career are featured on numerous cards as well.
1959 Fleer Ted Williams Pricing
This set, despite being produced during Williams’ career, is very affordable. Many cards are often available for under $5 ungraded. Some of the more popular cards, such as those with Ruth, sell in the $20-$30 range. In raw, mid-grade condition, sets are mostly in the $400-$600 range.
Looking for wax? While not easy to find, unopened product does sometimes surface. But with buyers in search of high-grade cards, you can expect to pay a hefty price for unopened packs or boxes. An unopened wax box of 24 packs, for example, sold for nearly $18,000 at auction in 2014.