When we talk about pre-war cards, baseball is the sport most commonly referenced. They generally hold the highest values are are easily the most collected. But early football cards have a strong following, too. And, along with Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski cards are the most sought after of the earliest NFL cardboard.
A bruising running back who also starred on defense, Nagurski was bigger than most linemen of his day. After a great college career at Minnesota, he went on to play several seasons with the Chicago Bears and was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary all-time team.
Nagurski was featured in many sets long after his retirement from the sport and even still appears in newer releases today. But here are some of his most famous cards from his days as a gridiron legend.
1935 National Chicle
The 1935 National Chicle is not only the granddaddy of all Bronko Nagurski cards, but it’s also the most popular vintage football card of all time.
The set is considered by most to be the first true set of professional football cards. Nagurski was a professional player by the time this set was released but is pictured as a collegiate athlete with his Minnesota uniform. It is most commonly cited as Nagurski’s rookie card. The cards have a similar look to the 1930s Diamond Stars baseball cards with an art deco type of design.
A PSA 6 Nagurski sold on eBay earlier this year for just over $50,000. However, the card has reportedly sold for much more in higher condition. A PSA 9 was sold by Memory Lane for $350,000 in 2011.
1930s Diamond Matchbook Covers
Bronko Nagurski is also found in the 1930s Diamond Matchbook sets. These ‘cards’ were actually the covers of small books of matches. One side generally included a picture of a player with the back offering a small biography.
Issued by the New York-based Diamond Matchbook company, you can find these in all sorts of condition today. The most valuable ones will have unused matches intact on the inside. Most, however, have the matches removed. Low-grade ones have the striker torn or cut off.
Diamond Matchbook issued these with all sorts of athletes in the 1930s, including baseball players and hockey players. Several football sets were issued and Nagurski is on a couple of different covers with this version shown here the most popular. His matchbook cover and the cover of Red Grange are the most valuable ones in the issue. These unique collectibles featuring Nagurski generally start in the $50-$100 range but full those with the matches still included are more valuable.
1938 Dixie Lids
This card is one of Nagurski’s more common issues as well, though it is still somewhat rare.
These cards were actually lids from the tops of ice cream products. They are referred to as Dixie Lids and all sorts of famous people were included in their sets, including baseball players, football players, and actors and actresses. Because they were lids on food products, they are difficult to find in high-grade condition as they weren’t really treated as standard cards were.
Along with these lids, it is noteworthy to mention that Nagurski also appears on 8×10 premiums issued by the company. They’re really works of art–and while the stock used was just a heavy paper, they’re very attractive. Sammy Baugh also has a Dixie Premium.
1937 Kellogg’s Pep Stamp
In 1937, Kellogg’s created four-card ‘stamp’ panels of popular athletes and personalities. Nagurski is one of the football players featured in the set that often goes under the radar of collectors.
These stamps can be found individually. However, ones with the entire four-stamp panel are more valuable. Each stamp includes a picture of a subject with his name inside of a yellow banner, like the one shown here.
The stamps are somewhat rare but despite that, the prices for them aren’t out of control. When you can find the Nagurski, it will usually start around $50-$75. Full unperforated panels, however, will often cost $150 or more.
As I documented here before, Nagurski was also a professional wrestler and appeared on all sorts of wrestling cards. However, his 1955 Parkhurst Wrestling card is by far and away the most popular of these. In fact, the card is even pursued by football card collectors — likely because Nagurski has so few football cards from his playing days.
Like others, Nagurski is pictured in wrestling trunks inside of a ring with a backdrop of fans. 1955 cards had a card number in one of the corners as well and Nagurski, as shown here, is No. 97 in the set.
This one isn’t a pre-war issue and Nagurski even has a few earlier wrestling collectibles. But this is recognized as his key wrestling card and today, it starts at around $75-$150 in modest condition.