For the past 20 years, I have been studying the American Football League with more than your average intensity. The story of the league’s inception, its struggle for legitimacy, the 1965 All-Star Boycott and the myriad of fascinating individuals that made up the AFL caught my attention early on and I’ve yet to let go. Being a collector as well, I have spent a fair amount of time also dealing with AFL trading cards and building sets for my collection. While I can find things to admire in all of the AFL sets of the 1960s, the 1963 Fleer issue is my personal favorite and the one that gave me the greatest amount of joy upon completion.
The final issue in a four-year run of Fleer sets that covered the AFL, the 1963 issue consists of 88 player cards and an unnumbered checklist. Colorful player images are set within a red frame on the card fronts. Player name, position, team name and a team logo are also shown with the entire design set within a simple white border. The overall presentation is crisp, clean and reminiscent of an “American” football league. Card backs have a muted red and white color scheme. Biographical information is found in the top third of the card with text and card number featured below. The set has only one variation in that cards with a number divisible by four can be found either with or without the red stripe at the bottom of the card back. While the cards without the strip are thought to be a bit more rare, there is no real difference in value between the two.
While this set is small in size it is mighty in content. Three future Hall of Fame players have their recognized rookie cards in this set: Nick Buoniconti, Len Dawson and Lance Alworth. Legendary running back Cookie Gilchrist has a 1963 Fleer rookie card as well, although he was previously featured on several Canadian Football League cards. Other AFL stars in the set include George Blanda, Jim Otto, Babe Parilli, Johnny Robinson, Tom Sestak, Clem Daniels, Ernie Ladd, Don Maynard and many more.
Centering is the main issue to plague the 1963 Fleer set. Both left-right and top-bottom centering issues are prevalent and keep the majority of otherwise nice cards from receiving higher grades. In fact, a glance at the PSA Population Report reveals that nearly a full 10% of the 1963 Fleer cards that have been graded have received some sort of qualifier, the majority of which can be assumed to be an OC (Off Center) designation. Individually, card #2 Babe Parilli is the most difficult to find in high grade. Only two have ever been graded PSA 9, with none higher.
The 1963 Fleer set has long been a favorite with collectors and a glance at the PSA Set Registry proves that to still be the case. There are 47 sets entered, with the current finest boasting a 9.01 weighted GPA. On the auction trail, the Registry’s All-Time Finest 1963 Fleer set sold for $27,360 (including buyer’s premium) in a BST Auction in October 2018.