rarest FOOTBALL cards

What’s The Rarest Football Card Of All Time?

For most football card collectors, the rarest cards might not be household names - John Dunlop and Red Grange win the honors.

Updated Sep 29, 2023

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The 1894 N302 Mayo's Cut Plug John Dunlop card is one of the rarest football cards in existence.

However, the 1925 Star Player Candy Red Grange has a lower graded population.

The Cut Plug Dunlop card is often referred to as the 'holy grail' of football cards and is a part of the first football card set in history-the N302 Mayo's Cut Plug set.  

The cards featured ivy league football stars of the day and are the first 19th-century trading cards dedicated solely to football players. 

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Issued in plugs of tobacco, the Mayo cards are hard to find in good condition mostly because of the black borders which are prone to chipping. 

dunlop-mayo

1894 N302 John Dunlop Mayo Cut Plug

Who Was John Dunlop?

As one of the most valuable football cards of all time, some might think John Dunlop was a huge star. However, Dunlop was a reserve halfback for Harvard College when his N302 Cut Plug card was issued. He would later go on to coach the Boston College Eagles from 1897 thru 1901, fielding a 16-16-2 record. 

The Cut Plug issue has a black border around it, which makes these types tougher than their 19th century and early 1900's white border counterparts. Chipping of borders and corners is quite common.

The John Dunlop card is the rarest in the set and was issued without any identification of the player, whereas all other cards feature the player's name on the front of the card. 

At first, the card was referred to as 'Anonymous' but later identified as John Dunlop of Harvard. Dunlop was a reserve player so the value is solely based on the scarcity of the card itself.

All in all, PSA has graded only eight copies of the N302 Dunlop, and SGC has graded five copies, for a grand total of 13 graded copies. 

The last PSA copy sold in 2015 for $7,380 although a few other more recent SGC auction sales went much higher. Here's one example that sold at a PWCC auction in 2020 for a great value, in my opinion. 

The 1925 Star Player Candy Red Grange Is Rarer Than The Dunlop Cut Plug Card

The Star Player cards were a bit of an unknown for some time, but later determined that the cards were produced by Dockman & Sons.  The Grange card is exceedingly scarce - PSA has not graded any copies and SGC has only graded three, thus less than a handful likely exist.

star-player-grange

The 1926 Spalding Champions Promo Red Grange Is Also Quite Rare

The Spalding Champions cards were issued by the Spalding Sporting Goods company. The 270 card set featured players across several sports, including Football, Baseball, Boxing, Golf among others.

The Red Grange card was a promotional issue, and it is believed that Grange did not want his card issued to the public, thus it was never actually released. 

PSA has graded only three copies and SGC an unknown quantity thus less than a handful are thought to exist. 

1926-grange-spalding

Do you have any other football cards that might classify as rare that we haven't listed here?  Let us know in the comments below.

All Vintage Cards

About the author

Chris Rogers, is the founder of All Vintage Cards. Launched in 2018, All Vintage Cards is the hobby's leading resource for vintage sports cards. Chris is also the author of 'The Complete Guide To Selling Your Sports Cards'. Chris remains an avid collector and can be reached at chris@allvintagecards.com.

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