An odd world we live in. Football card collectors swoon over Joe Montana’s Topps rookie card and ignore not just a card that’s about 10,000 times harder to find but pictures the Hall of Famer in a sort of Fu Manchu style mustache. Behold, ye unenlightened, the 1981 Holsum/Gardner’s football card set and its glorious depiction of a young quarterback on the rise.
The card is a fairly scarce regional issue. High-grade examples sell for around $60 and up and most are now graded because a 10 can often bring a few times that amount. While the set is labeled 1981, the photo on Montana’s card was actually taken in his 1979 rookie year when he grew facial hair after leaving Notre Dame. It was somewhat of an unusual choice to put the young quarterback in the set because at the time of production, he had only a handful of games under his belt as the 49ers starting quarterback.
The Montana card may be what raises the profile of the set, but it’s still among the rarest sets of the era.Each loaf of Gardner’s or Holsum bread (both brands were sold in the Upper Midwest) carried one of 32 player discs. It’s possible they were distributed with a couple of other brands as well but some of that information has sort of disappeared over time.
If you didn’t live in Wisconsin or one of a few other pockets in the region and you didn’t have a sympathetic relative who did, you were out of luck. With 32 cards in the set, you needed to eat a lot of bread in a short period of time to have a chance to complete it but I’ll reveal the reason why some very high-grade examples are in the market later in this article.
The discs came a couple of years after another very scarce set was issued by the bread maker—the 1978 football set that includes one of Walter Payton’s rarest cards. Again, they were issued with very little fanfare and again, the player selection was a little odd.
They’re blank backed and measure about 2 3/4″ in diameter. Licensed only by the NFLPA, there are no team logos or other identifying marks on the cards. There isn’t even a sponsor message on the back.
The checklist includes just three Hall of Famers: Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Dan Fouts. No Roger Staubach, Walter Payton, Steve Largent, Tony Dorsett or any of the famed Pittsburgh Steel Curtain, all of whom were among the stars of the era. You will find dual Archies: Griffin and Manning, Joe Theismann and a few other minor stars. The roster has no defensive players. Many can be purchased for less than $10 in ungraded form.
Complete sets, when you can find them, typically cost around $200-$250, largely because of the Montana.
There were two posters made of thin cardboard and branded by either Holsum or Gardner’s for youngsters to display the set on the wall.
While many of the discs were stained by the loaves of bread, a lot of 1981 Holsum football discs look like they were never inside the wrapper. I know the reason.
I bought them.
As a teenage collector who occasionally set up at local shows, I was always looking for a deal. I took a chance and wrote the company as the promotion came to an end and sure enough, they had some leftovers. I can’t recall what I paid (it wasn’t much) but a full shoebox (yes, an actual shoebox) with two rows of discs later showed up at my door—about 500 or so in all with good distribution. Many of those are no doubt in private collections because you simply don’t see a lot of them on the market.
Sadly, the disc windfall didn’t result in my joining the upper crust. I sold or traded off all but a couple of them over the next few years, long before football cards—and Fu Manchu Joe—began to rise. Eventually I was left with only crumbs. Today, those minty Montana discs would be worth a lot of dough. At yeast I kept one set for myself.
Thanks. I’ll be here all week.