A couple years ago I was looking to start building a vintage set. I stumbled across a 1963 Fleer card in my vintage box and after a quick search I realized there were only 67 cards in the set. That seemed pretty manageable, so I decided to start scouring the internet for more. Throughout the process I found myself asking more and more questions. Why was the set so small? What’s the deal with Fleer anyway? Why didn’t they make another set until 1981?
So I did a little research, and I present to you The Definitive Guide to 1963 Fleer Baseball.
The Fleer Corporation was founded in 1885 by Frank Fleer and was actually the first company to successfully manufacture bubble gum. In 1923 they made their first baseball card set. This very rare set is believed to have 120 cards, but examples of all 120 have not been found to this point. They didn’t make another set until the 1959 Ted Williams release. They continued with 1960 and 1961 sets of “Baseball Greats” which featured retired players. Finally, in 1963 Fleer created a set with current players that directly competed with Topps.
1963 wax boxes contains 24 packs and sold for a nickel each. Instead of gum, they included a cherry flavored cookie. This was their attempt to circumvent the Topps monopoly, and it seems Topps was not amused. They took Fleer to court and the first series was the only one released.
Topps had a large number of players signed to exclusive contracts, but Fleer had a star of their own. Maury Wills signed with Fleer after reportedly feeling a bit offended by Topps lack of interest while he was in the minors. This led to Fleer owning the rights to Maury’s only rookie card. In fact, Wills didn’t appear on a Topps card until 1967, eight years after his MLB debut.
The 66 card set(plus one unnumbered checklist) also includes quite a few Hall of Farmers. Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, Ron Santo, Bob Gibson, and Carl Yastrzemski are a few of the big names that can be found in the set.
Two short prints add to the appeal of this set. The cards were printed in 132 card uncut sheets, and to ease the manufacturing process the Joe Adcock and unnumbered checklist were alternated in print runs which effectively cut their counts in half. The checklist is the more difficult to find in good condition due to the nature of its intended use.
All the cards except the checklist use a vertical design. The players photo takes up the primary area of the card and is surrounded by a white border. A cartoon drawing of a baseball player is found in a yellow diamond in the bottom left hand corner on most of the cards, however Maury Wills, and his exclusive contract, received special treatment. The diamond on his card called out the fact that he was the 1962 N.L. MVP providing a little “Take that Topps, look who we have” twist. Interestingly, the design is strikingly similar to 1963 Topps design, with the Topps design adding a second photo instead of the cartoon, and the bottom border being more colorful.
The Complete Checklist can be found here.
This was a fun little set to put together. It’s vintage, has a good mix of stars and commons, isn’t overly expensive while at the same time having some value, and most importantly for me it has a cool story attached to it. I’m still on the hunt for a checklist card, but the other 66 cards have all found their way into binder pages!
Completing a few more vintage sets is one of my collecting goals for 2019. Do you have an old set you are working on? If not, what is your favorite vintage set?