History of Football Cards

Football cards celebrated their centennial anniversary in 1988 and today, led by Starr Cards, the hobby’s future has never been brighter. We offer here a history of football cards organized in a pictorial timeline spanning the decades.

— 2011 —

Starr Cards Offers iPhone’s First Football Cards

Palo Alto, California

The first new football card company of the new millennium is also the first to offer the ability to make your own custom football cards directly on the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Starr Cards Retro 75 Football Card Maker has been winning accolades and a fan favorite ever since its debut in the App Store.

2011 Starr Cards football cards

— 1992 —

SkyBox Issues Their First Football Card Set

Durham, North Carolina

SkyBox International was originally formed as Impel Marketing in 1989. SkyBox produced its first card set in 1990 featuring players from the National Basketball Association. Two years later they produced their first National Football League cards.

1992 SkyBox football cards

— 1991 —

Upper Deck Joins League of Football Card Makers

Yorba Linda, California

The success of Upper Deck’s baseball cards in 1989 led the company to produce sets in other major sports including hockey (1990), basketball and football (1991). They were the first trading card company in ten years to be licensed by all four leagues.

1991 Upper Deck football cards

— 1989 —

First Set of Football Cards Released Under the Score Brand

Dallas, Texas

In 1985, Optigraphics started producing a unique style of lenticular motion cards under the name Sportflics. It released traditional baseball cards under the Score brand starting in 1988 and followed a year later with its first football cards. Score invigorating the industry with better paper quality, action photographs, and improved writing on the backs.

1989 Score football cards

— 1981 —

TCMA Applies Its “Pure Card” Aesthetic to Football

Yorktown, New York

TCMA (The Card Memorabilia Associates or Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein) created their first football cards in 1981 patterned after their earlier SSPC baseball card design. According to Aronstein, “I used the 1953 Bowman set as a model. I had always liked the simplicity of that set… Nothing fancy. Just a card.” That concept spawned what collectors often use to describe TCMA’s offerings: The “Pure Card.”

1981 TCMA football cards

— 1970 —

Kellogg’s Takes Football Cards Into the Third Dimension

Battle Creek, Michigan

In 1970, the football card world gained a new entry into the market — The Kellogg Company. Kellogg’s released a set of cards that featured the best football players of the era. Included in boxes of Corn Flakes, the cards were made to appear three dimensional, a relatively novel concept at the time. Kellogg’s intermittently released new 3D sets up until 1983.

1970 Kelloggs football cards

— 1962 —

Post Cereals Offers First Football Card Set

Battle Creek, Michigan

Post’s football cards were available on thick card stock that could be ordered from the company and were also available singly from cereal boxes. Team sheets were printed on thinner chipboard directly from the Post Cereals Company.

1962 Post Cereals football cards

— 1960 —

Fleer Releases Inaugural Football Card Set

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Well established as a gum and candy company, Fleer predated many of its competitors into the business of issuing sports cards with its 1923 release of cards in its “Bobs and Fruit Hearts” candy product. Years later, Fleer launched a card set solely comprised of players in the American Football League.

1960 Fleer football cards

— 1951 —

Topps Tries its Hand at Football Cards

Brooklyn, New York

In addition to baseball, Topps also produced cards for American football in 1951, which are known as the Magic set. Topps did not try football cards again until 1955, when it released an All-American set with a mix of active players and retired stars.

1951 Topps football cards

— 1948 —

Leaf Candy Company Releases Colorized Card Set

Chicago, Illinois

In 1948 and 1949, the Leaf Candy Company produced crude, boldly-colored sets of football, baseball, and boxing stars. Their 1948 football set has the distinction of being the first post-war cards in color.

1948 Leaf Candy football cards

— 1948 —

Bowman Starts Producing Football Cards

Chicago, Illinois

The 1948 Bowman football cards were originally printed on three large sheets of 36 cards each (108 total cards). The third sheet was printed in much smaller numbers, making cards numbered #3, 6, 9, etc. much more difficult to collect than the others.

1948 Bowman football cards

— 1935 —

National Chicle Gum Company Produces 36-Card Set

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Originally intended to be 240 cards, the National Chicle Company football set ended up including only 36 cards — all of which are relatively rare today. The set was the first set to feature players from the National Football League, including six Hall of Fame players. The ultra-rare Bronko Nagurski card, is football’s equivalent to baseball’s T206 Honus Wagner card.

1935 National Chicle football cards

— 1894 —

Mayo’s Cut Plug Creates the First Football Card Set

Richmond, Virginia

The Mayo’s Cut Plug set consisted of 35 cards cards of top Ivy League players from “The Big Three” of football schools: Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The cards featured black and white portraits of the players wearing turtleneck sweaters and hooded sweat shirts sporting the names of their teams in large letters.

1894 Mayo's Cut Plug football cards

— 1888 —

Goodwin & Co. Produces the First Ever Football Trading Card

New York, New York

In 1888, several years after American football began its rise as a staple college sport, a cigarette card of Yale’s Henry Beecher appeared, courtesy of Goodwin & Co. The Beecher card was part of the 1888 Goodwin Champions collection, a series of 50 tobacco cards. The cards were nationally distributed in packages of Old Judge & Gypsy Queen cigarettes.

1888 Goodwin Champions football card

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