When it comes to pre-war cards, baseball issues are by far and away the most popular. However, a reasonable selection of early pre-war football cards exist as well, even though the game was still just becoming established before World War II. The 1894 Mayo set, 1935 National Chicle set, and the Beecher card (arguably the first real football card) from the N162 Goodwin Champions set are all well-known. But here are some early key football issues that are a bit under the radar.
Red Grange 1937 Donut Corporation of America Thrilling Moments
This rare set featured famous athletes and historical figures. The Babe Ruth card is the most valuable card in the set but the Red Grange can’t be overlooked.
These cards are rare as they were only found printed on boxes of donuts and most were discarded (there are a few on eBay). While the cards don’t really depict players as they truly looked, the method of distribution and scarcity makes them attractive to fans of vintage football cards.
Like the others, the Grange card is rarely seen. A PSA 5 was auctioned earlier this year for nearly $200.
Bronko Nagurski 1938 Dixie Lids
In 1937 and 1938, Dixie Lids experimented with putting pictures of baseball and football players (as well as other athletes and non-sports celebrities) onto the lids of ice cream products. The 1937 set didn’t include football players but Bronko Nagurski and Sammy Baugh were issued in 1938.
The lids have a resemblance to some sets like T206 in that they were produced for a number of distributors and they are found with numerous ice cream brand names on the other side. A decent copy of Nagurski’s issue generally starts around $75-$100. He’s also featured on a beautiful oversized send-in premium from the same promotion.
Unlike other issues on this list, this card doesn’t feature a specific player. But it does show a specific team in the Harvard football squad. The T51 Murad set included 150 base cards (more with variations) depicting various unknown athletes participating in a variety of sports and activities representing numerous schools.
The Harvard football card isn’t as valuable as the more famous Michigan card in the set. However, it is desirable as it features actual on-field play and seemingly pits Harvard against rival Yale on the front. This card can be found for as little as $10-$20 in mid-grade condition.
Sammy Baugh 1939 Ross Jewelry Matchbook
Many pre-war collectors are familiar with the famous Diamond Matchbook issues of the 1930s, which featured athletes in a number of sports. But a smaller, far less known regional issue was also produced in the decade as Ross Jewelry distributed a set of matchbooks featuring players from the Washington Redskins in 1939.
The release included a total of 20 players led by star Sammy Baugh and schedules for the 1939 season were found on the inside. The Baugh matchbook cover is relatively affordable, starting at around $40-$50 for one in decent shape. Full matchbooks containing the original matches are more valuable.
Knute Rockne 1933 Goudey Sport Kings
The 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set is full of legendary players. It was one of the earliest most prestigious multi-sport releases and included players such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, and arguably the first professional basketball cards. Another figure in the set is the legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, who had been killed in a plane crash just a few years earlier.
Rockne’s card is a little more common than others on this list but still goes a little unnoticed as it’s not quite as popular as the Grange or Thorpe cards. You can usually find a decent one for $250 and up.