Well over a year ago, I got the bright idea to take a retrospective look at some of the legendary sets in the history of football cards, particularly those that have been revisited over the years by modern card manufacturers. That first “Look Back” article explored the world of 1894 Mayo, the first all-football card set ever produced. Today, we’ll take a look at another first for the industry: 1935 National Chicle.
In 1935, the National Chicle Gum Company produced the first ever nationally distributed football card set. The entire set consisted of just 36 cards, but it appears that National Chicle intended the set to extend to 240 cards, as noted at the bottom of the card backs (see below). As the first all-football set since the 1894 Mayo set (Goudey’s 1933 Sport Kings set was multi-sport and only contained 3 football cards), nearly the entire set is made up of rookie cards, including 6 Hall of Fame RCs. The lone non-rookie is #9 Knute Rockne, who was one of those three football Sport Kings. The legendary Notre Dame coach is also the only non-NFL player to be included by National Chicle, which leads many to believe the company intended to reach into the college ranks to fill out its 240-card checklist. Each card in the set measures 2 3/8″ x 2 7/8″ and features full-color, painted imagery. The card backs, in stark contrast, contain only plain text and actually give football playing tips, rather than focusing on player statistics like modern cards. Another note of interest for the 1935 National Chicle set is that it contains 2 of, if not the 2 most coveted and valuable football cards in existence: Rockne and HOF Bronko Nagurski’s rookie card.
Two legendary cards and a rather unique card back
Interestingly enough, even with the sudden retro-happy trends of the card industry, there are only two real National Chicle throwback sets of which to speak. The first was produced in 2009 by Upper Deck and was actually an insert set within another retro-themed product, 2009 Philadelphia. The set was heralded as an authentic tribute to the original NC set. The card size and the painted look (including the generic football-themed backgrounds) were a very good representation of the legendary set. However, the checklist was anything but similar. The 100-card set consisted of 19 historical figures, 10 cars, 10 airplanes, 10 trains, and 51 football players. Other vintage card sets did include such an odd assortment of subjects, but National Chicle did not. The 2009 Philadelphia insert set also included 50 autographed parallels — all of football players.
Upper Deck’s 2009 rendition had a similar style but drastically different checklist
Topps also tried its hand at a National Chicle tribute in 2009, making it the focus of a seperate product. The base cards featured all original painted artwork…but unfortunately the similarities to the original National Chicle set seem to end there. The Topps cards were standard modern sized and the product had a very modern feel overall. Topps decided to include typical inserts such as sticker label autographs, game-used relics, various insert sets, and a slew of base card parallels. Somewhere between the dual autographs and the printing plates, the original magic of the 1935 National Chicle set seems to be completely lost. Topps did pay proper homage in one way, although I assume unintentionally so. Similar to the 1935 set, 2009 Topps National Chicle was originally intended to be a larger set than it ended up being. The base cards are numbered from 1 to 200, but the set only consists of 197 cards (including 49 RCs), with numbers 59, 99, and 191 never being printed. Obviously 98.5% of the intended checklist is a far cry from the 15% completion of the original set, but it is an interesting link between the two.
Topps’ 2009 rendition took a legendary theme and plugged it into a modern template
There has been one additional National Chicle tribute in recent memory, but from a different sport. While most companies borrow baseball designs to produce “fresh” football products, Topps actually did the opposite in 2010 when it essentially took the 2009 football product and just swapped out footballs for baseballs. The baseball card community greeted the faux throwback with mixed reactions.
For more information on the legendary and original 1935 National Chicle set, please visit these sites:
Nearmint’s Vintage Football Card Blog
Nearmint’s Vintage Football Card Gallery (excellent site for info and images of all 36 original cards)