Most Valuable Football Card Tops $10,000

By Dan Hitt (Beckett)

The hobby’s most valuable football card sold on eBay recently for a whopping $10,101.51 and most collectors have never even heard of the card. No, it’s not the 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski RC. No, it’s not the famous 1952 Bowman Large Jim Lansford SP RC. It’s not even a card of a Hall of Famer or a modern-era signed rookie or “1/1” card.

It does feature a football player, but a guy practically no one has ever heard of. In fact, the real identity of the player (John Dunlop of Harvard) wasn’t even known until just a few years ago since his name and any other identification were inadvertently left off of the card.

This most valuable card hails from a set recognized as the first football card release ever issued. It was sponsored by the Mayo Tobacco company, released around 1894 and included 35 players from one of three Ivy League schools (Harvard, Princeton and Yale), at the time a hot bed of American football.

Mayo also released a number of other trading card sets around that time, some featuring baseball players and some including a variety of other subjects, like boxers or actors. But there are a number of reasons why this card is the most important of all Mayo singles. Being the first exclusively football card set ever issued, it carries a special significance for collectors. Many of the players featured in the set were the top players in the country at the time. Many were All-Americans and several were awarded that honor more than once. But this single card is also much scarcer than the other 34 players in the set.

It could be related to the fact that since the player’s name and school were left off, many were likely thrown out over the years or at least buried within collections of non-sport cards. The real reasons will never be known, but the card is legitimately rare.

This copy is just the second single card we’ve seen sell publicly in the past 15 years. There have been private sales and sales of complete sets that included the “anonymous” card, but just one other public transaction.

Andy Szoke of Bangor (Pa.) Coins and Collectibles was the delighted seller of the card and filled us in on the story behind it.

He had recently returned from a trip to Africa with a commitment to help the Alice Visionary Foundation Project fund the purchase of a new vehicle for a local village there. He began to go through some old collections his store had bought over the years and found a group of old cards to sell to benefit, in part, the charity. He singled out this particular card to sell individually since he thought it interesting that it was missing the player’s identification. The other cards he had from the set were bundled in lots.

Szoke reports that he began receiving e-mailed offers almost immediately on the Dunlop card. Those offers to end the auction early quickly grew to as high as $8,500. That tipped off Szoke that something exciting was going on so he researched the card on Beckett.com and found that we book the single at $12,000-$18,000 (for a card in excellent condition). He couldn’t believe his luck in discovering such a valuable card nestled among stacks of otherwise mundane trading cards.

Although the condition of the card appears to be poor with at least one major crease, the overall appearance is clean, but the scarcity is what elevated the final bidding to more than $10,000.

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