Introduction & Background
The Frank H. Fleer Corporation was looking to make a jump into the sports card game to grow its share of the bubble gum market. While Bowman had exited the space, Topps had an exclusive MLB license, so Fleer targeted a single-player set. And in the late 1950s, Ted Williams was one of the few players who had the potential to carry a baseball card set. Therefore, Fleer signed an exclusive license with “Teddy Ballgame” for the rest of his career. Ted’s exclusivity with Fleer cost $5,000 per year for four years.
The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set features 80 cards chronicling his life and career. However, one card has an elusive history, #68, “Ted Signs for 1959.” Card #68 shows Ted Williams signing his 1959 contract with Bucky Harris, the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, Bucky Harris was under contract with Topps. Therefore, early in printing, “Ted Signs” was removed from distribution. Ultimately, this rarity has made the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set more popular today than it was at its release.
Card #68’s Design
#68’s front shows Ted signing his ~$125,000 contract and displays “Jan. 23, 1959 – Ted Signs for 1959” at the bottom, while the reverse explains the picture on the front of the card.
Could Fleer have just forgotten to print it? No, the card appeared on a few uncut sheets that have come up at auction. You can see card #68 on the bottom right of the front sheet, and bottom left of the reverse in the pictures below.
Card #68’s Value
An authenticated copy of this card isn’t cheap. For example, PSA’s SMR lists the card, graded 7, at $475 vs. $15 for a common. PSA-8s are $850 vs. $25 for a common. While 9s are $1750+ against $90 for commons.
Realized auction prices for card #68 exceeded SMR prices in 2019 with PSA 9 copies selling for up to $2700, PSA 8 copies for $891, and PSA 7’s for $560.
Card #68 Reprints and Fakes
Due to the rarity of the card, reprints and fakes were made that were stamped “Sample Copy” on the reverse in red and all capital letters. An article from 2009 in Sports Collectors Digest explains :
At the Fifth Annual Midwest Sports Collectors Convention in Troy, Mich., a fella walked into the room with a reported 300 of the No. 68 “Ted Signs” cards.
The Fleers … were offered in 50-count bricks to several different dealers at the show, and the debate was on.
Ultimately, the folks from “Fleers” were even contacted in trying to determine the authenticity of the cards, but Irv Lerner, a veteran dealer even then and still today 35 years later, ended up blowing the whistle on the scam and laboring furiously to get the word out in the hobby for collectors to be aware of the fakes. Many of them wound up with a “counterfeit” prominently stamped on the back and made their way into the hobby in that fashion.Sports Collectors Digest
However, most forgeries are easy to spot. The best way to spot a reprint/fake is the moire pattern on the suit, along with the more pinkish tone to the card.
Card #68 Acquisition Path in 1959
So, how did collectors complete their 80 card set? Easy, they asked Fleer for one. Topps Archives published a letter from Fleer that confirmed the removal of the card due to “the possibility of legal overtones.” Collectors could request the card, and Fleer promised to send folks multiple copies.
Card #68 in Wax Packs?
A lot of collectors have wondered if card #68 found its way into wax packs. Well, the wrinkle is that there exist both 8-card wax packs and 6-card wax packs.
I believe card #68 was in the 8-card variant. The 8-card variant is so scarce that it was likely a test-issue or part of an early production run. Only two 8-card packs are in the PSA Population Report. Additionally, no one has ever pulled card #68 from a 6-card pack.
With card #68 being pulled from distribution, the popularity of Ted Williams, and the wrapper variation, you get one of our hobbies most unique post-war card curiosities.
Happy collecting, and if you have any further insight, please let me know.
For profoundly popular and publicized cards like the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams #68, it’s important not to put too much faith in PSA’s Population Report. Card #68 is the most graded variety in the set with 907, but that’s a misleading number. That’s because this card is valuable and has enormous demand. So, with a lot of fakes, collectors looking to maximize value look to 3rd party grading for authentication. Hence, there likely aren’t many non-fakes ungraded anymore. Many key card collectors only target #68 in this set and ignore the rest of it. Personally, #68 is the only card in the collection that I might ever buy. So it is not surprising that more #68s exist in the Population Report than any other card in the set.