During its decade-long tenure, the American Football League managed to secure a bubble gum card contract but it also landed a deal with an ice cream company that yielded one of the rarest football card issues of the post-War era. The 1969 Eskimo Pie football card set remains a bit of a mystery even now.
The set included 15 two-card panels for a total of 30 players but putting a set together will require patience. Few complete sets have been sold publicly in recent years. In November, a partial set of 11 that had been offered at $3,500, sold for $2,900.
The AFL and NFL had agreed to a merger deal well before the cards showed up on the backs of Eskimo Pie’s ice cream products. It wouldn’t become official until the 1970 season but when the agreement between the AFL and the company was hatched (likely some time in 1968), the rivalry between the two leagues was at a fever pitch.
The cards were issued in two-card panels, separated by dotted lines, which encouraged youngsters to cut them out. Today, however, most Eskimo Pie football cards found in the market remain as complete, two-card panels that include a company message and logo below the images. All are posed head and shoulders photographs.
The set includes a few Hall of Famers including a young Bob Griese, Len Dawson, Lance Alworth and Jim Otto. Joe Namath wasn’t in the set, which might be a disappointment to some but also keeps an already expensive set at least within the sights of aggressive collectors who chase down the 15 panels. Otto and Dawson appear together on one panel but the names at the bottom are reversed.
Four panels are believed to have been short-printed including Marlin Briscoe/Billy Shaw, Gino Cappelletti/Dale Livingston, Mike Garrett/Bobby Hunt and Jim Nance/Billy Neighbors.
Since the panels were hand cut from the packaging, they’re often found with rounded or uneven corners. Having been produced on thin cardboard, some have creases. There were also sticker versions in some products that are even rarer Full panels that are cut well measure about 2 1/2″ x 3″. Graded examples exist, but PSA no longer authenticates or grades them.
1969 Eskimo Pie football cards are among the most rare post-War sports card issues. Even dealers who specialize in vintage football cards rarely have significant quantities. Most panels sell for $100 and up with those containing Hall of Famers often costing more on the rare occasions when they are made available. There are usually a few available on eBay.
Production and distribution information seems to have been lost to time but with such a limited number in the marketplace it would seem to make sense that they were only available for a short time with AFL markets likely a primary destination.