The Fleer Corporation dates its founding back to the late 1800’s and as with most sports card manufacturers, originated as a candy maker. Fleer was the first company to successfully perfect the production process for bubblegum. The Fleer brand is attributed with being one of the first gum and candy manufacturers to include baseball cards in their product. The company first introduced this idea in 1923. Several years later as the bubble gum wars of the 1950’s reached a feverish and cutthroat pace, Fleer landed an exclusive agreement with the one baseball star that rival company, Topps, was unable to come to terms with, the one and only Ted Williams. In 1959, Fleer produced an 80-card set that highlighted his career achievements and personal life.
Building a Brand
The following two years saw the Fleer brand attached to a series of baseball cards that focused on retired players and was called Baseball Greats. In 1963, the company managed to produce a small 67-card set of active players, having lured Dodgers’ great, Maury Wills, away from Topps. Wills served as a company spokesman in the recruiting of other players but with only a few minor stars, the set was ill received by consumers who opted, more often than not, for the powerhouse Topps brand of gum and cards.
Not content to simply make do with what they could in the baseball card market, Fleer began producing football cards for the upstart American Football League (AFL). Topps maintained the rights to the NFL, but Fleer and Topps both were allowed to produce NFL cards in 1961. Fleer eventually lost the football license when another manufacturer Philadelphia, entered the market in 1964.
Without the rights to produce baseball or football cards of active players, the next several years saw the Fleer brand spend more time in the court room than on the candy counter. After numerous legal maneuvers, negotiations and years of lawsuits, Fleer was able to officially break Topps monopoly to produce baseball cards. The one stipulation was that the cards could not be distributed with gum. By now the trading card market had changed drastically with cards being the main commodity and not the gum itself. As a result the court sanctioned condition on the distribution format was a moot point
Back in Production
Now fully committed to the sports trading card market, Fleer ramped up production of baseball cards and in the mid-‘80’s acquired an NBA trading card license after Topps temporarily left the market. One of the biggest coupes the company achieved was the production of Michael Jordan’s rookie card in their 1986-87 set. In 1991 the company produced its first premium brand called Fleer Ultra. Printed in much smaller quantity than the regular Fleer issue, the brand evolved the following year to having the cards printed on a premium card stock and utilizing a double-sided UV coating with gold foil detailing on the front. The set was considered the best of the year and Fleer had proved they could compete in what was becoming a crowded trading card marketplace. Other notable brands produced by the company through the years included Flair, Tradition, Greats of the Game and Autographics to name a few.
The End of an Era
In 1992, Fleer was sold to Marvel Entertainment who seven years later sold the company to a private partnership group. In 2005 the company declared bankruptcy and was acquired by rival trading card manufacturer, Upper Deck. Since Upper Deck’s acquisition of the company, which included all licensing and brand rights, the company has utilized the Fleer brand name in several of its own product releases. In 2012 and 2013, Upper Deck released a series of products across all sports called Fleer Retro. Starting with Fleer Retro Basketball, the brand utilized several of the popular insert sets from Fleer’s past. The product was widely successful with collectors as evidenced by values of some of the cards on the secondary market. Upper Deck’s holding of the Fleer brand, insures that while the company itself may no longer exist its name and innovative brands will live on.
Fleer Card Sets
Browse our database of Fleer card sets, which feature product reviews, set checklists, expert analysis, price comparisons, and more.