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Vintage Football Card Values

The Vintage Football Card Gallery includes approximate retail values for many of the cards pictured. Use the Football Card Search on the left side of this page to find the cards you are interested in.

The values on this site are my own estimates, based on the demand for the cards and their availability. Some of the values differ significantly from the prices shown in the popular price guides. The sections below explain why.

Problems with the Price Guides

The traditional price guides make some assertions that I have found to be invalid, or at least way overstated. The price guides consider unmarked checklists scarce, for instance--as if kids years ago marked nearly every checklist they got--but I have not found unmarked checklists to be particularly scarce. (For a discussion about this, see the last paragraphs of my blog article C is for Checklists.) The price guides also presume that kids beat up the first and last cards in a set, thereby making them scarce in high grades. I have not found that to be true, either.

At the same time, the price guides ignore factors that can greatly affect a card's scarcity, such as where it appeared on the full printed sheet. (See U is for Uncut Sheets.) As a result, the guides artificially inflate the prices of some cards, and they fail to reflect that some cards are far scarcer--and thus command higher prices--than others.

Besides the price guides, there are services that track actual sales prices, typically for graded cards. While actual sales prices are usually better indicators of market value than the prices in a price guide, the services often have limited sample data. If a card has sold in a certain grade just two or three times in a year, I don't give those sales prices much weight when making a buying decision.

How I Estimate Card Values

To get the prices in the Gallery, I crossed the methods used by the traditional price guides and the sales-tracking services. This hybrid method is the way I value cards when making my own purchases. It groups cards of similar desirability and scarcity together, considers recent sales prices for all of the cards in each group, and uses averaging within each group to get approximate values for individual cards. Like the traditional price guides, it uses generalizations, but those generalizations are based on real population data. Like the sales-tracking services, it uses real sale prices, but by grouping similar cards together, it gets larger sample sizes, and those larger sample sizes increase my confidence in the results.

Estimates are estimates, of course, and no guide is going to be perfect. One problem is that it is impossible to predict what a rare card will sell for at auction. If two collectors with deep pockets both want a card badly, the sky is the limit. If only one of them sees the auction, the card could go for a bargain price. For rare cards for which I had limited data, I just took stabs at the values. If you see a price with a few zeroes on the end, it's probably one of these stabs.

The Process

In short, here are the steps I used to estimate card values.

  1. Group the cards in a set by the players' stature: commons, minor stars, stars, etc. This is subjective, and it is similar to what the other price guides do.
  2. Rate the scarcity of each card by looking at the PSA and SGC population reports.
  3. Search for recent sales for each card.
  4. Plot each card's sales prices vs. its scarcity on a graph.
  5. Do curve-fitting on the graph to get average card values based on scarcity.
  6. Assign a value to each card, based on its scarcity.

Here is an example graph. The points represent sales prices for individual cards; the lines represent averages for the group based on scarcity. The values in the Gallery fall on these lines.

Graph of 1948 Bowman football card prices

How to Interpret the Prices

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