C is for Checklists

August 14th, 2009  |  Published in ABCs of Vintage Football Cards, error cards, General Collecting Info

1956 Topps football card checklistMy old (2005) Beckett football card catalog defines checklist as such:

A card that lists in order the cards and players in the set or series. Older checklist cards in mint condition that have not been checked off are very desirable and command large premiums.

The first football set to include a checklist card was 1956 Topps. That card is shown here, to the right. Except for 1958, every Topps set from 1956 to 1975 includes checklists. (More recent sets undoubtedly do, too, but my collection stops at 1975.) In both 1956 and 1957, the checklist was short-printed and not numbered, but for both years the checklist is considered part of the set.

1957 Topps football card checklist with Bazooka backTopps printed two versions of the 1957 checklist, one with a Bazooka bubble gum ad on the back, and the other with a Twin Blony ad. The Twin Blony checklist is scarcer, but either version of the checklist is considered sufficient to complete the set. Shown here is a 1957 checklist with the Bazooka back.

In 1959 and 1960, rather than printing standalone checklist cards, Topps put a checklist on the back of each team card. Some team cards have a checklist for the first half of the set, and some have a checklist for the second half. Since there is a team card for each team in the league, each checklist appears numerous times in the set. Redundant, yes, but the kids were reasonably assured of getting the checklists.

Back of 1961 Topps football card checklist #2The second 1961 Topps checklist is unusual: besides listing 1961 Topps cards 78-132, it has a checklist on the back for 36 Cloth Emblem inserts. (See I is for Inserts for a picture of one.) I believe the 36 emblems listed here were distributed with the first series of 1961 Topps cards; they included the NFL teams, the NFL insignia, and some colleges. Twelve more emblems–the AFL teams, AFL insignia, and three more colleges–were released with the second series, but, oddly, Topps did not print a checklist for those. The second series checklist, card number 198, lists just cards 133-198. Perhaps Topps simply did not have enough room on that checklist to include the second series emblems.

Topps checklists from 1962 to 1965 are unremarkable: one or two per set, with a few being short prints. I won’t show them all here, but you can see all of the checklists for all of the sets in the Vintage Football Card Gallery.

1966 Topps Funny Ring ChecklistIn 1966, Topps got weird. Included in 1966 football card packs were Funny Rings, insert cards from which you could punch out silly rings to put on your fingers. (You can usually find some on eBay.) The inserts themselves aren’t odd–cards back then were printed for kids, after all–but what is odd is that the checklist for the Funny Rings is card number 15 in the football card set. Nothing on the Funny Ring Checklist has anything to do with football, but since it is a numbered card in the set, collectors are compelled to have it. No problem, except that the checklist has notoriously poor top-to-bottom centering, so it is hard to find in high grade, and hence it is very expensive. (An article by Kevin Glew about the 1966 Topps set describes the poor centering of the checklists and the woes of the men who collect them.)

In 1967, the Topps checklists again were unremarkable. In 1968 and 1969, though, Topps decided to issue a second series checklist with both the first and second series cards. Why? I’m guessing that they included a second series checklist with the first series to entice kids to buy the second series, but they also put one in the second series in case the kids hadn’t bought the first series cards. At any rate, the checklists issued with each series have the characteristics of the other cards in that series, so there are two variations of each second series checklist.

1969 Topps second series football card checklist, with no border1969 Topps second series football card checklist, with borderFirst series 1968 Topps cards have green printing on the back, and second series cards have blue printing, so the second series checklist can be found with either green or blue printing. First series 1969 Topps cards have no border, but second series cards do, so the 1969 second series checklist comes both with and without a border. Shown here are the two variations of the 1969 Topps second series checklist.

I am not aware of any oddities in the Topps checklists from 1970 to 1975, but I do know that Topps printed team checklists in 1973 and 1974, in addition to the regular checklists. These team checklists were not part of the regular sets. I don’t yet have them in the Vintage Football Card Gallery, but you can see examples of the team checklists on eBay.

Now, on to Topps’s competition:

1963 Fleer football card checklistFleer printed football cards from 1960 to 1963, but only the 1963 Fleer set includes a checklist, and it appears to have been an afterthought. The 1963 Fleers were printed on two sheets, with most players appearing three times between the two sheets. (See my virtual 1963 Fleer uncut sheet for details.) The checklist displaced a Bob Dougherty card on one sheet and a Charles Long card on the other, hence the Dougherty and Long became short prints. The checklist is also a short print, since it appears just twice between the two sheets. Like the 1956 and 1957 Topps checklists, the 1963 Fleer checklist was not numbered, but it is considered part of the set. The borders on the checklist are thin, so high-grade, well-centered examples are rare. The centering of the card shown here is typical.

1964 Philadelphia football card checklist #1The Philadelphia Gum Company printed football cards from 1964 to 1967, and they included two checklists in each set. Philadelphia was consistent from year to year: each of the four sets is a single series of 198 cards, and cards 197 and 198 in each set are the checklists. The 1964 Philadelphia checklists are error cards–they both say 1963–and they are typically off-center, like the one shown here. The 1965-1967 Philadelphia checklists are unremarkable and plentiful in high grade.

Having reviewed the checklists, let’s look again at Beckett’s definition. The first part says a checklist lists, in order, the cards in a set or series. That sounds right. But what about the second part, “Older checklist cards in mint condition that have not been checked off are very desirable and command large premiums”? Well, like the claim that the first card and last card in a set are scarcer in high grade (see the discussion on my virtual 1959 Topps uncut sheet page), I think the claim that unchecked checklists command a premium is greatly exaggerated. Sure, kids marked some checklists, but I’ll bet that more went unmarked than were marked. Not all kids bothered to check off their cards, and even when they did, one checklist would have sufficed, and any duplicates would have gone unmarked.

1961 Topps football card checklist #3No, I think that if a checklist is scarce in high grade, it is because of other factors, namely short printing or poor centering. The 1956 and 1957 Topps checklists are scarce, but they were short printed. The 1963 Fleer, 1964 Philadelphia, and 1966 Topps checklists are scarce in high grades, but it is because they are usually off-center.

On the other hand, checklists that are not short prints and that are not known for centering problems do not command much of a premium. The 1961 Topps #198 checklist shown here (also the last card in the set) lists for $65-100 in price guides, but a PSA 7 sells for about $20 on eBay. Even generously doubling that $20 to get a retail price puts it well below the “book value.” The 1960 Topps #132 Redskins team (checklist on back, last card in set) lists for $28-30 in the price guides, but a PSA 7 on eBay goes for $8-10. Likewise for the 1965 Philadelphia #197 checklist: it is $30 in the price guides, but about $8-10 on eBay. What’s more, I think the prices realized are actually inflated by the price guides: if the price guides didn’t overprice them, would they sell for as much as they do?

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