Ask most collectors about the legendary Bronko Nagurksi and they will usually talk about his football career. For good reason, too. The Canadian-born Nagurski is inducted in both the College and Professional Football Halls of Fame. Nagurski was a three-time professional champion and seven-time All-Pro. His name generally pops up as one of the sport’s finest players.
But what many don’t know is that Nagurski was also a popular professional wrestler, too. In the early 1930s at the height of his popularity as an NFL star, Nagurski began a wrestling career. The sport was surely different from today’s WWE days. However, even without televised matches and all the glitz and glamour of today, the sport was a big attraction.
Wrestling used to be a territorial sport for the most part. As a result, many wrestlers were limited to a particular promotion in a specific region. But Nagurski’s name was a big draw and he would become a champion in many different parts of the country, including California, Minnesota, and New York. Nagurski was also a two-time champion of the National Wrestling Association.
Wrestling cards and collectibles weren’t quite as big as baseball issues. But wrestling cards were around at least as early as the late 19th Century and continued into Nagurski’s time. Aside from photos and programs, Nagurski isn’t only many other types of items. But here are few cards where he’s depicted as a wrestler.
Bronko Nagurski 1955 Parkhurst Wrestling Card
Nagurski’s most famous card is certainly his 1955 Parkhurst card. It’s the most common one and generally the easiest to find. The 1955 and 1956 Parkhurst wrestling set included legends from that sport and Nagurski is found on Card No. 97 of the 1955 issue.
Nagurski is shown here in the ring with a backdrop of ‘fans’. The card is somewhat common but also holds some value. In decent mid-grade condition, the card generally starts around $75-$100.
Most collectors looking for Nagurski cards will often start here and with few actual cards, some even consider it to be his rookie issue, despite the fact that it was produced more than 20 years after his debut in the sport.
Bronko Nagurski 1938 Dixie Lids Card
Another contender for a potential wrestling rookie card is Nagurski’s 1938 Dixie Lids issue. The card is a much earlier production than Nagurski’s Parkhurst card. But the Dixie Lids ‘card’ is, in reality, the lid of an ice cream product. The Dixie Lids are very much collected but not all agree that they are necessarily a trading card.
Further muddying the issue is that Nagurski is pictured as a football player and listed as both a football player and a professional wrestler on it. The outer edge of the card calls Nagurski an, “All-American Fullback and World’s Champion Heavyweight Wrestler,” while also citing his affiliation with the Chicago Bears. The card certainly qualifies as a wrestling card but it is also a football card as well.
The card is very popular and not inexpensive – for an ice cream lid, anyway. $200-$300 will buy a pretty respectable one.
Bronko Nagurski 1938 Dixie Lids Premium
Nagurski is also featured in Dixie Lids’ premium set from the same year. These premiums were 8″ x 10″ in size and included a color photograph. Backs had a biography of the player in question.
The premium is a larger, more complete version of the image on Nagurski’s Dixie Lids card. Instead of merely a closeup, it offers a full body picture, clearly depicting the star in a football uniform. The picture clearly identifies what most collectors suspect when they see his Dixie Lids disc – that he’s pictured on those as a football player.
However, the back also mentions his wrestling career, citing his undisputed heavyweight wrestling championship and his stellar 266-1 record to that time. Even though it’s mostly considered a football issue, it is also pursued by some wrestling fans, too.
The premium of Nagurski isn’t terribly easy to find. It’s not ‘rare’ per se but is not as easy to locate as his Dixie Lid disc.
1930s Bronko Nagurski W467 Exhibit Card
Nagurski is also seen in the 1930s W467 Exhibit card set. Now, ‘seen’ might be the wrong word to use here. That’s because the card is extremely rare. To date, actually, there might be only a few confirmed cards in existence.
The black and white exhibit card pictures Nagurski in a wrestling stance and is also one of his earlier issues, given his career began in the early 1930s.
The card is available and out there somewhere. But my guess is that if you are able to locate it and the seller is aware of its scarcity, you might need to pay a hefty sum.
1937 Bronko Nagurski Ink Blotter
One of Nagurski’s earliest ‘cards’ is an ink blotter from 1937. Ink blotters were sort of like oversized cards with most sized around 3″ x 6″ or 4″ x 6″. They are collected today, although many were discarded over the years. Part of that is because they were used by people to wipe off excess ink from fountain pens and, once they became too marked up, they were generally useless.
This particular blotter features Nagurski and was used as an advertisement. From 1937, it’s one of the collectibles that exist from his days as an active wrestler. Here, Nagurski was advertised as defending his title against Bob Kruse at the Portland Civic Auditorium. Specifically, we can date it to August of 1937 as that is the calendar printed on it.
This is another ultra rare item and to date, the only one I’ve seen is pictured here. Because of that, it’s difficult to place a true value on it.