Sports cards have been around for close to 150 years. That said, the modern hobby where cards were the main selling point and not the premium didn't really take off until around the 1950s when Bowman and Topps squared off against one another. For football cards, it was an era of gorgeous designs. It also saw the hobby debuts of several all-time greats. Jim Brown, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Frank Gifford and Tom Landry are just some of the legendary football rookie cards of the 1950s.
Football cards don't have the same rich history as their baseball counterparts. While they existed before the 1950s, there weren't a ton of football sets. That's what makes the decade so important to gridiron fans. 1950s football cards took the sport into mainstream collecting.
When looking at the top 1950s football rookie cards, one set stands out in particular, 1952 Bowman Large Football. While the cards are beautiful, much of their status comes from the number of short prints. In 1952, Bowman experimented with two sizes for football. 1952 Bowman Large Football was a new size. And with all new things, there's a lot of trial and error.
As a result, many cards are tougher to find than others. The domino effect carries over to card values where players who might not normally be worth a lot are all of a sudden among the most valuable vintage football cards. This rings loudest with the 1952 Bowman Large Jim Lansford. Although he played in a handful of NFL games, the card is one of the most desirable of all-time. The reason? It's tough to find, particularly in high-grade condition. Positioned on the bottom corner of one of the set's sheets, a lot got damaged as Bowman perfected the new dimensions. As a result, the 1952 Bowman Large Jim Lansford can outsell rookies from legends like Jim Brown and Bart Starr. By comparison, the Lansford in 1952 Bowman Small doesn't cause much of a stir at all.
A common theme among football's top rookie cards of the 1950s is how relatively inexpensive they are compared to 1950s baseball cards. Sure, some can go well into the thousands when professional grading is taken into account. But there's nothing like the prestige of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle or the rookie cards of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax or the other top 1950s baseball rookie cards.
Below is a list of the top 25 football rookie cards of the 1950s. While value is one of the primary criteria, it's not the only one. When values are close, the player and overall iconic status of the card was also taken into consideration.
Top 25 Football Rookie Cards of the 1950s
Click on the card name or image to shop for singles on eBay.