If you’ve ever had a discussion about the ‘best player in NFL history’, the conversation has probably included passionate quotes like these:
‘Joe Montana is the greatest player of all-time, he was Mr Clutch.’
‘Montana had the benefit of great teams and the actual greatest player: JERRY RICE.’
‘John Elway went to 3 Super Bowls without a single player you could even name, and won 2 others!’
‘I can’t even have this discussion, Johnny U is tops, period.’
Usually these conversations end with a consensus that it is impossible to compare eras, as the game changes too much over the years, yada...yada...
The best thing about football cards, is that you CAN actually compare eras, and unlike some other aspects of society and sports - age is almost always respected.
Classic older cards, whether you're talking vintage graded baseball cards, graded basketball cards, graded hockey cards or football cards, stand out as a smart and safe investment, and provide a great foundation for any portfolio. Vintage cards are comparable to a stable and trusted stock.
Back to the 1930's a few sets set the standard for early collecting, such as the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings featuring players like Red Grange and Jim Thorpe, and the 1935 National Chicle football set led by Knute Rockne and Bronko Nagurski. The heyday of the league and collecting moved into the 50’s with players like Otto Graham and Jim Brown on to the 60’s with the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers when cards became trendier to collect (or place in your bike spokes!).
Any card prior to 1980 is considered to be within vintage range (subjective, of course), with the early 80’s now creeping into the category. Joe Montana’s rookie card and the 1984 set that included John Elway and Dan Marino rookie cards is probably close to ‘vintage’ distinction.
Since the vintage card market cannot be negatively impacted by injuries, player performance or company card printing practices, one of the only real concerns is the counterfeit market. While you may still be able to find traditional vintage cards available from reputable sources and dealers, you may want to consider purchasing graded vintage cards as a safety net.
Three companies own the largest share of the grading market, PSA, Beckett and Sportscard Guaranty, providing a reputable manner of genuine collectibles. The value of a vintage card can increase quite dramatically, if graded highly.
Vintage price-tags generally target a more wealthy collector and dealer audience, but while a player can’t increase the value with performance, the market supply and demand or type of collector certainly can. The key with vintage investing, is to have patience in the re-selling market, finding the right collector or dealer, and buying and selling at the right time, just like any stock or real estate market. Following trends in trade magazines, on trading sites such as eBay or Beckett and going to trading card shows are a good way to stay in touch with the ebb and flow of the trends.
Vintage football cards are a great investment, and it is worth meeting other vintage collectors and dealers to find the right type of cards and channels to buying and selling. There are still plenty of ‘old school’ dealings and investments out there, and this realm mirrors the age group from the era of the cards in some ways.
Just keep in mind, you’ll definitely end up in some discussions about the greatest players ever, and will definitely still have some subjective conversations about the greatest vintage football cards of all-time, with no less controversial opinions! Check out some great vintage PSA graded football cards below.