L is for Leaf

October 23rd, 2009  |  Published in ABCs of Vintage Football Cards, Football Card Oddities, Football Card Trivia  |  8 Comments

The Leaf Gum Company printed football cards in 1948 and 1949. The cards from the two years are very similar. In fact, except for the variations in the 1948 cards, for players who appear in both sets, the fronts of the cards appear identical. The backs are different for the two years, fortunately, and the copyright date on the bottom of the back tells which year a card is from. Shown here are Leaf’s two Herb Seigert cards, the first from 1948, and the second from 1949.
1948 Leaf Herb Siegert football card1949 Leaf Herb Siegert football card
The images on the Leaf cards started as black and white photos, and then someone colored the images’ backgrounds and the players’ uniforms. On some cards, such as the Harry Szulborski card below, the coloring makes it look as if the player’s head was cut out and pasted on a colored background.

1948 Leaf Harry Szulborski football cardMy favorite feature of the Leaf cards is that many have both the player’s first name and nickname on the front: ‘Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, ‘Bullet’ Bill Dudley, Charlie ‘Choo Choo’ Justice, and so on. A quick bit of trivia: which player’s nickname is in double quotes? Answer: Clyde “Bulldog” Turner‘s.

The 1948 Leaf set consists of 98 cards, with cards 1-49 being easier to find and cards 50-98 being difficult. The set features both pro and college players, with slightly more than half of the cards being pros. The bigger stars of the day–mostly pros–are concentrated in the first half of the set, and most of the college players are in the second half.

1948 Leaf Pete Pihos rookie card with yellow numbersThe set contains many variations: mostly in the colors used, but in the players’ names as well. The 1948 Leaf set composition page on PSA’s web site lists most of the variations, but I don’t believe it is complete. It lists two variations of the Pete Pihos rookie card, for example, one with yellow numbers and one with blue. I have also seen a variation with greenish numbers, though. It is pictured here with the yellow-numbered version for contrast.

Because there had been no major football card issues since 1935 National Chicle, all of the 1948 Leaf football cards are rookie cards. Fourteen of the players in the set are of Hall of Famers, making it a key set for Hall of Fame rookie card collectors. Fortunately for those collectors, only two of the Hall of Fame players–namely Leo Nomellini and Chuck Bednarik–are in the tougher second half of the set. (Nomellini and Bednarik were both still in college at the time.) An article by Kevin Glew on the Collectors Universe web site lists the Hall of Famers and describes the other challenges facing 1948 Leaf collectors.

Compared to the 1948 Leaf set, the 1949 Leafs are not very interesting. The 1949 set contains only 49 cards, all pro players, and there are no new players in the set. Also, as I wrote above, there is no perceptible difference in the card fronts for players who appear in both sets. So Leaf’s 1949 offer was essentially half of 1948’s cards, but with different backs.

One odd thing about the 1949 set is that it is skip-numbered, with the numbers of its 49 cards scattered between 1 and 150. When I first learned this, I wondered if Leaf had intended to release more cards to fill in the gaps. It turns out, though, that they also skip-numbered their 1949 baseball set. That suggests to me that they were trying to trick kids into buying more cards, even if they already had the whole set. I’d call that just plain mean. It’s not surprising that this was Leaf’s last football set.

You can see all of the 1948 Leaf and 1949 Leaf cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery.

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  1. CPAdave says:

    October 27th, 2009 at 8:49 AM (#)

    Another great article. I had no idea about the skip numbering. That does sound pretty shady.

    BTW, I love the crazed look on Bulldog Turner’s 1948 RC. I would not want to mess with him!

  2. Tony Olney says:

    October 30th, 2009 at 2:39 PM (#)

    Great article. I collect Leaf HOFers and search for them almost daily and am challenge to find mid grade centered cards. Sometimes the ’49s are good filler cards until the right ’48 comes along. I got a really nice PSA 5 ’49 Baugh for low money and it looks great on display.

  3. nearmint says:

    October 30th, 2009 at 3:19 PM (#)

    Pretty creative, Tony, using the 49’s as fillers for the 48’s. They look just the same, so why not?

    I agree with you about centering: there can be a huge difference in attractiveness between a nicely centered PSA 5 and a poorly centered one.

  4. OTWCards says:

    January 9th, 2010 at 12:20 PM (#)

    The 1948 Leaf cards also were printed on two different stocks. There was a cream or white stock that is most common and a gray stock that is less common in the low numbers, but appears more regularly in the high number series.

    There is also a myriad of color variations within the set and white background versions of the cards where the background color was never printed. Sadly, most of the white background variations remain uncataloged, although I have the them as part of my master list although PSA, Beckett and Krausse refuse to accept this data.

  5. nearmint says:

    January 10th, 2010 at 5:14 AM (#)

    Hi OTW, thanks for your comments. We have the real expert here now!

    I dug up an old Collectors Universe thread with one of OTW’s uncatalogued white background cards. It’s the Girard card, about the 8th post down.

    There are variations in other football sets that I have not seen recognized, either. There are the striped/non-striped 1963 Fleer cards, blue- and purple-background 1963 Topps cards, and a 1969 Topps Jim Turner card with either a red or yellow dot. I haven’t tried to get these catalogued, but I can imagine how frustrating it could be.

  6. OTWCards says:

    April 30th, 2010 at 6:55 PM (#)

    It wouldn’t be so frustrating if Krausse, Beckett and PSA remained consistent with regard to the variations. In the sets you mentioned, they do not recognize ANY of those variations. However, in the Leaf set, they recognize a small number of the White Backgrounds, several of the jersey number variations and some of the jersey color variations. It should either be all inclusive or all exclusive and not what the whim of the editor was when he talked to the person that had the limited number of variations when the guide was structured.

    Having submitted my findings along with photographic evidence, I still find it interesting that all parties pass the buck and would rather wait until one of the others makes the edit. I guess it’s too difficult to edit the set or in Krausse’s case, correct the fact that Hendren is NOT a rookie in the 1949 set as he already has a card in the 1948 set. In fact, all 48 of the 1949’s are repeats of the 1948 set throughout both series.

  7. 1948 Leaf Football Cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery | Nearmint's Vintage Football Card Blog says:

    November 30th, 2010 at 3:54 PM (#)

    […] more details on the 1948 and 1949 Leaf sets, see my earlier blog article, L is for Leaf. I also updated that article over the weekend, adding links where appropriate to the 1948 cards in […]

  8. 1949 Leaf Football Cards | Nearmint's Vintage Football Card Blog says:

    April 25th, 2011 at 6:47 AM (#)

    […] backs of the cards in 1949, so it actually is easy to tell the two years apart. My earlier article, L is for Leaf, includes pictures of the backs of both 1948 and 1949 cards. Leaf also changed the card numbers in […]