1923 Fleer Cards are Tough Finds
While the first Fleer cards have not typically sold for big bucks, they are nearly impossible to find
In 1923, the W515 strip card set was issued. These cards, like most strip cards, were blank backed and had questionable artwork depictions of players. Okay, so much of the artwork was bad, but that’s beside the point.
Similar to what other companies did with other strip card sets, some businesses used these cards to promote their own products/services. One of those, ironically, was Fleer. Fleer, of course, would become a baseball card giant once they got a license to legally produce cards of major league players.
Fleer barely altered the cards, keeping the fronts the same and merely printing an advertisement on the back. This, in effect, makes them the first Fleer baseball cards we know of.
Fleer’s advertisement on the backs indicated that these cards were available inside their five-cent packages of Bobs and Fruit Hearts product. While the W515 set includes 60 baseball players, the larger overall issue actually included 120. Others in the set included boxers and actors/actresses. The Fleer ads were printed on the backs of all of the cards as the back advertisement indicates that the complete set of 120 can be found.
The cards are quite rare and it isn’t known how many of them Fleer distributed. We know that because, well, you hardly ever see them for sale anywhere. They are hardly ever seen on eBay and even traditional auction houses rarely get their hands on them.
More concrete evidence that the cards are rare is found in the population reports. The big three grading companies, PSA, SGC, and Beckett, have combined to grade a grand total of nine of these cards to date. The cards are so rare that it is not even known if all 120 cards in the W515 set (including all 60 in the baseball card subset) exist with the Fleer backs. Presumably, they should based on Fleer’s advertisement on the backs. However, that is still yet to be confirmed.
Despite the fact that the cards are nearly impossible to find, that hasn’t really helped the prices for them dramatically.
Take this clean W515 Fleer card of Frank Snyder, for example. The card was graded an SGC 3 and sold in a Heritage 2015 auction. Still, it didn’t even fetch $200. Now, that is certainly a significant premium over what a regular W515 Snyder card would have sold for. At the time, one of those would probably have been under $50. The Fleer printing certainly added to its value but, given that these are the very first Fleer cards produced and, more importantly, their rarity, it’s a little surprising these cards don’t sell for more.
That auction, of course, was from 2015. But here’s a more recent one from 2018 for Wally Schang. The Schang card was offered by Love of the Game Auctions and was graded significantly higher as an SGC 5. The selling price for that one? A modest $132.
Why the low prices on these admittedly tough cards? For one thing, many collectors simply don’t know about them. More specifically, though, strip cards can often be a tough sell. Technically, there are lots of rare strip cards out there and they don’t always sell for a lot of money. In the pecking order of card classifications by interest from the pre-war era, you’ve got tobacco cards, candy/gum cards, and then a significant dropoff.
Still, given the difficulty in finding any cards with the Fleer advertisement on the back, these are cards that I would expect to command more interest.