1961 Fleer Basketball Cards: How To Detect A Fake

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A Reprint of a Wilt Chamberlain rookie card.

With the big run-up in Michael Jordan rookies over the past few years, vintage basketball cards from the 1960’s and 1970’s have followed, showing significant price increases.

While I authenticate a lot of Michael Jordan rookies, I’ve started to get a lot of requests from one set in particular- 1961 Fleer Basketball.   I love this set, it features some of the most valuable basketball cards in the hobby and in my mind is one of the best designs of all basketball card sets. 

However, with the popularity, comes more counterfeits and reprints, with unsuspecting collectors getting scammed out of thousands of dollars.

Thus, I want to provide a new guide for the 1961 Fleer Basketball Set.  This should be everything you need to know to help identify a real card from a fake.  

If you have any ’61 Fleer cards you’d like me to authenticate, shoot me an email at chris@allvintagecards.com

Examining An Authentic 1961 Fleer Basketball Card

The '61 Fleer basketball set is chock full of stars, including rookie cards of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson.  It's truly a classic design and in my opinion one of the best designs among all vintage basketball sets.

The fronts of the card feature a top box with the name of the team and logo in a bright colored background.  The lower half of the fronts feature a shadowed image of the player with a darker color background.  Note the colors vary across the set.

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An authentic '61 Fleer Oscar Robertson rookie card.

Here's the back of an authentic '61 Fleer card.  The left of the card is a lighter color non colored cardboard background and the right side of the cards has an aqua background.  The text of the back of the card is a forest sort of green.  

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Back of an authentic '61 Fleer Oscar Robertson rookie card

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A closer look at the text on back of a real '61 Fleer Robertson rookie card

I'm posting the back of an authentic '61 Fleer Chamberlain card as well.  You'll notice the print is a bit different but it's only because the Chamberlain images were a bit higher quality.  I wanted to do this to show you how different images taken in different light or of higher quality can change the overall look.  Note these were both taken from eBay, thus this is a situation i'm sure many collectors will have to encounter.

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chamberlain-back

Back of an authentic Chamberlain rookie--bit of a clearer image

A Look At 1961 Fleer Reprints And The Differences Between Authentic Cards

I've come across several variations of '61 Fleer Basketball reprints and they are often quite good and tough to tell from an authentic card.  

Here's one common reprint version of Chamberlain's rookie that can commonly be found on eBay for a few bucks

chamberlain-fake

And let's compare this to the original Chamberlain card:

chamberlain-rookie-real

An authentic '61 Fleer Chamberlain rookie

So, here's how to help distinguish an authentic from a fake, based on the front of the card.

1. Card is too bright of a white. The original '61 Fleer cards have a bit of an off white tint.  You'll notice with the fake that it is a pristine white front.  Now of course someone could try to age the card, usually with a liquid, and then well, it's wrinkles you're looking out for

Although here's an actual aged reprint which still looks super white

2. Compare The Dark Red Colors.  Look at the dark red behind Chamberlain and how it almost looks like a photocopy, whereas on the original, you can see the brightness of the colors printed with a solid ink.  I highly recommend David Cycleback's guide on authentication for more details on early card printing.

**Side note, I always recommend buying a cheap common card along with a reprint of whatever cards you are examining in order to try and snuff out the differences.  I'm awaiting a reprint from eBay and will update this post with some better closeups soon.

So let's take a closer look at the back of a real Chamberlain:

Real Chamberlain-back of card. Courtesy Heritage Auctions

Now here's fake back.   You can see that fake back has some noticeable wrinkles created in order to make it seem authentically aged.  Watch out for those marks. Also the back text on the fake is more of a black color and not the darker green on the original card.  

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Back of a fake Chamberlain rookie card

The other big thing to look out for--if the card is centered, the green bar on the right of the card should not go all the way to the right. Check the real card above where I have circled the white space.  (*Note if the card is miscut or off-centered there will sometimes be no space and occasionally some green will show up on left side of the card.   Case in point, here's an off-center Chamberlain rookie:

chamberlain-rookie-off-center
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