By Doug Koztoski
Stiff-arming a would-be tackler; a receiver keeping a laser-like focus on an incoming pass; a quarterback about to toss a tight spiral or perhaps a wobbly pigskin. All of those images, and many others, have appeared on occasion on vintage football wax pack wrappers, but, let’s face it, in most cases, the best treatment those wrappers experienced was getting wadded up and tossed with a wobbly trajectory toward the trash can.
Bob Swick decided early on to bring a certain different destiny to the mildly waxy feeling packaging that once cradled the football player’s cardboard images of their time. “I first bought packs in 1965, so I had ’65 Topps and Philly (Philadelphia Gum) wrappers since I was a kid,” Swick said.
The hobbyist opened new packs for a half-a-century and would “inevitably save at least one wrapper” from each issue.
In the 1980s, Swick noticed a trend of people putting together runs of vintage wrappers so he shifted his game plan into overdrive.
“I started to go back and pick up the older pieces, and it was very difficult, in the pre-internet days, to find any wrappers, compared to today,” he said.
As a matter of preference, basically where Swick completed a set, or at least tried to, he looked to also snag a wrapper to round out the issue.
When the sports memorabilia hobby reached the early 1990s, he noted, “vintage wrapper collecting exploded, as a lot of advanced collectors decided that they had done what they wanted with cards (in certain respects) and then switched over to wrappers and display boxes.”
Around the bursting hobby interest in older wrappers, by the way, Swick began writing about football cards and memorabilia, and over the last decade he has served as both editor and publisher of the quarterly magazine Gridiron Greats.
The initial mainstream football card set did not debut until the 1935 National Chicle issue. That set featured players with fun first names or nicknames such as “Dutch,” “Pug,” “Knute,” “Shipwreck,” “Bull,” and “Bronko,” as in Bronko Nagurski, the famed ball carrier, whose card from that offering remains at the top of many gridiron collector wish lists.
The wrappers from the ’35 National Chicle offering are about as prevalent as clean, crisp tackles on Nagurski back in the day. Expect to pay at least a couple hundred dollars for a mid-range to slightly better condition wrapper from that issue.
As for “modern-era” sports cards, 1948 starts the clock for baseball, basketball and football offerings and Swick said a pair of immensely difficult-to-find football wrappers came from that period: the 1948 and 1949 Leaf sets. Those were two wrappers that eluded the collector, who sold his entire wrapper collection just a couple years ago.
“The ’48 and ’49 Leaf football wrappers (that he bid on but did not win) sold for well over a thousand dollars each (in recent years),” he said.
Another tough wrapper that Swick could never quite latch on to is one from the wildly popular 1955 Topps All-American issue. Even so, the collector said a ’55 All-American wrapper “sold for at least $1,600” in the past few years, and the combination of that sale and those from the late 1940s Leaf sets have been “good for the hobby.”
Swick once owned many of the early 1950s Topps and Bowman football wrappers, but his favorites came from a different time. His top picks include: “1965 (Topps), by all means, I like the ‘tall boy look’ of that set and their wrappers,” the 1967 Topps wrapper for its “psychedelic design,” and the 1964-67 Philly Gum wrappers due to their above average color and graphic design.
Depending on rarity and condition demands, and, of course one’s budget, many of the football wrappers from the 1960s and 1970s can easily be found for $15-$50 each, but others can ratchet up in price faster than you can say “with one stick of bubble gum,” a popular phrase, or something close to it, that appeared on many pack
wrappers of those decades.
A fun dimension
Even though Swick sold off his wrappers in recent years, as he pares down his collection, he believes the future of vintage wrappers in the hobby “is very strong.” He thinks as new people enter the hobby and some become advanced collectors, coupled with “older individuals selling off their collections, more people will gravitate toward wrappers and say, hey, these are pretty neat and I cannot believe I have, for instance, a wrapper from 1958 in my collection.”
Swick noted that approach can serve a collector well, for all wrappers.
“Whether you are collecting a 1967 Topps set or a 2017 Panini set, save the wrapper (or a few of them) and put it with your collection,” Swick said. “It’s a great way to see how the cards were packaged and possibly how much the packs cost, how many cards were in the pack and it’s both historical and educational, while adding to the enjoyment and beauty of the football set you are putting together at the time.”
And that strategy almost always results in several more completed pigskin targets from a tight spiral than errant ones via a wobbly pass.
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com.