In 1935, the National Chicle Gum Company printed the first set of football cards that featured NFL players. The backs of the cards indicate that the company had planned to print 240 cards (see the second-to-bottom line on the card back below), but they stopped far short of that, at 36. That’s a pity, because the cards are little works of art.
There are six rookie cards of Hall of Fame members in the National Chicle set: Dutch Clark, Ken Strong, Cliff Battles, Turk Edwards, Clarke Hinkle, and Bronko Nagurski. Because so few football cards were printed before 1935, most of the rest of the cards in the set are rookies, too. The single non-rookie card is Knute Rockne, who appeared in the multi-sport 1933 Sport Kings set. Rockne, the Notre Dame coach, is the also the only person in the National Chicle set who was not an NFL player. This suggests to me that some of the cards beyond the initial 36 would have been of college players and coaches. There were only eight NFL teams in 1935, and 240 cards distributed among eight teams would have been 30 cards per team. Rosters were smaller back then (pro-football-reference.com shows 31 players on the Packers’ 1935 roster), and 30 cards per team would have covered practically all of the players in the league.
Three of the teams represented in the National Chicle set either moved or changed names before the next major football card offerings in 1948. The Boston Redskins moved to Washington in 1937. The Pittsburgh Pirates became the Steelers in 1939. The Brooklyn Dodgers became the Brooklyn Tigers in 1944, and they merged with the Boston Yanks in 1945. The Yanks eventually became the Indianapolis Colts, by way of New York, Dallas, and Baltimore.
When I added the National Chicle set to the Vintage Football Card Gallery, I was surprised to learn that three of the players’ names were misspelled. Homer Griffith‘s name is misspelled “Griffiths” on his card, Phil Sarboe‘s name is misspelled “Sorboe,” and John Dell Isola‘s last name is misspelled “Isola”–without the “Dell.” Misspelled names are not unusual on vintage cards, but considering the care taken to design the cards’ images, I would not have expected the cards to have spelling mistakes.
While the fronts of the cards are beautifully designed, the backs are interesting in their own way. Rather than focusing on the players’ stats, as more recent cards do, the card backs give tips on how to play the game, using the players as examples. There are four slight variations of the card backs, having to do with the size and placement of Eddie Casey’s signature, whether his credentials are shown, and whether the copyright line is included on the card. You can see examples of the four variations–as well as a long discussion on which variations appear on which cards–in a thread on the Collectors Universe message board.
You can see the full set of 1935 National Chicle football cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery.