Collectors of the NFL “Hall of Fame Rookies Set” on the PSA Set Registry are a dedicated lot, focused on the highest grade football cards of the best players of all-time.
For Jason Peeples, it started in Hawaii. A military man stationed in the islands in 1999, he spent his off hours searching a relatively young auction site called eBay for vintage football cards. Peeples and another collector in his unit, Glenn Swanson, eventually shifted their focus to graded cards of NFL Hall of Famers. Nearly four years later, he found the PSA Set registry. And the rest is history.
Peeples and three other collectors decided their quest would not just be acquiring any old graded card of a Hall of Famer, but that player’s rookie card. It was a daunting task but one that hadn’t been explored. Since then, the HOF Rookies set has become sort of a cult classic.
“I went into the PSA Set Registry message boards and started the process of
finalizing a list to submit,” he explained. There were some hotly debated issues about which cards could be considered “rookies”. USFL cards? 1933 Sport Kings? 1950 Topps Magic?
“Eventually five or six other collectors and I came to a consensus and submitted the set request to PSA,” Peeples told SportsCollectorsDaily.com. “The set came live in Feb. 2003. Initially, there were four of us listed, but as fellow football collectors found their way to the Registry it has continued to expand. There are currently 59 registered sets, making it one of the most popular football sets on the Registry.”
There are 182 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame that have a rookie card of some sort, dating back to 1935. It’s a relatively easy group to put together in ungraded form, but attempting to find all 182 cards in high grade keeps this group of 59 pigskin zealots busy. Some try to complete the set in a relatively affordable middle grade but both Peeples and collector Craig Zavgorodni are working on building some of the finest sets in existence and will exhaust all means–and a lot of money–to do it.
“My set has cost me $100,000 to date,” said Zavgorodni, who collected hockey cards once upon a time, but migrated to football. He spent $5,000 on a PSA 8 1935 National Chicle card of Dutch Clark. 18 exist, with none higher. Still, he’s not worried about a market crash anytime soon. “The vintage cards will only continue to rise in value due to their lower populations,” said the Toronto resident. “These are the cards that should be obtained first if you’re serious about completing the set.”
For those with the time to do so, price tracking can prove to be a benefit when on the trail of cards in the set. For Peeples, who values his collection at $84,000, the strategy is two-fold. “First, I track the ending prices of every Hall of Fame rookie card auction that I see on eBay. This allows me to properly gauge a cards value even though it may not have been offered for sale in the past six months to a year. I use that to set a strict price range for myself on each card. Any bid I make will not exceed what I feel is the maximum value of a particular card. This keeps me from over-extending my budget and also prevents me from getting into bidding wars. I bid or snipe my high and hope for the best!”
Collector Jay Groat is collecting the set for fun, but also hopes his work might pay for a child’s college education. “A set is not complete without everyone’s card. The challenges are finding scarcer cards, and more substantially, having the financial resources to obtain the cards needed.”
Peeples recently completed the set, with an average grade of 7.5, good enough for third place on the Registry….behind Zavgorodni. It’s an impressive accomplishment that’s afforded him an excellent perspective on which cards are the most challenging.
“The toughest cards in the set, hands down are the 1948 Leaf in PSA 7 or better. You simply can not find these cards often, and when you do they typically sell at a premium. In the past four years only a handful of ’48 Leaf rookies have been graded as PSA 7 or better. We’re talking less than 30 total and there are 12 Hall of Fame rookie cards from that set.”
Only four collectors have completed the HOF Rookies set, led by the Museum of Sports History’s 8.35 rating. MOSH has held the top honor for the last three years running.
Competition for the toughest cards in the set can become fierce when they appear on eBay or in a major auction. Establishing personal relationships with major dealers who know the Registry guys will pay a high price for the most elusive cards can pay off. Yet a spirit of camaraderie exists between collectors who’ve become friends via message boards or meetings at major card shows.
“As I watch the list of collectors grow on this set, im not surprised by its popularity,” Zavgorodni stated. “Most of us collecting this set keep in contact with others, trying to help them along the way.” Peeples agrees. “Quite often I will be offered a card I need from a fellow collector before it ever sees eBay. I think it’s just good karma
Then there are those who’ve added their own special challenge and twist to the Registry. Eric Wells spends his days piloting private jets and his off hours putting together a set of not only Hall of Famer rookie cards but HOF nominees as well.
“I’m also going after all regional issues of Hall of Fame members,” said the Oklahoma resident. “For example, Ray Nitschke also has a Kahn’s Wieners and a Lake to Lake card for his rookie year. Some of these off-brand issues have been the most difficult,” he said, highlighting the 1962 Union Oil Lance Alworth, 1966 American Oil Dick Butkus and the 1930s matchbook covers for examples. Wells currently occupies the #11 position on the Registry, 99.4% complete.
Peeples and other members of the registry gravitate toward the NFL cards for a couple of familiar reasons.
” I am doing the set because I love football. I migrated towards the Hall of Fame rookies back in 1999 because I felt they were the most under-valued cards with the highest upside. These are the all-time great players in NFL history, and I thought that as football continued to grow in popularity as the number one sport, so would the football rookies. Even now, football is still a bargain when compared to the baseball rookies. Even though the football is known to be much harder to find.”
For Groat, the chase is also about the immortals of the NFL. “Card collecting adds to sports history keeping past players alive today as the day they played. Player positions that are not as well cherished…like a defensive tackle as opposed to a quarterback.. are immortalized through their cards in the Hall of Fame sets.”
To shop for Hall of Fame football rookie cards on eBay, click here.