In February 2021, I wrote an article called 5 Reasons to Collect Uncut Sheets of Sports Cards. In it, I wrote that uncut sheets are a great way to piece together information about vintage sets. Well, kudos go out to jackies_and_jordans on Instagram for pointing out a great connection between the 1961 Fleer basketball uncut sheet and the availability of the first six cards in the set.
First, in November 2014, Heritage Auctions sold the following uncut sheet of 1961 Fleer basketball cards for $31k.
The sheet was blank-backed with a few creases and surface scuffs. But it was the first time an auction house had ever offered an uncut sheet of 1961 Fleer basketball cards. Fleer released the set as a 66-card single series with 44 base cards and 22 “In Action” cards loaded with stars. You can see that the 6-row/11-column uncut sheet has every card in the set single-printed (there were no short prints or double prints). Fleer printed every card in equal quantities.
But, as jackies_and_jordans points out, all of the cards on the right edge are tougher to find in good condition than the rest, and they happen to be card numbers 1 through 6 in the set (including Elgin Baylor).
You can see in PSA’s population report that cards 1 through 6 have populations of 461, 324, 785 (Baylor), 400, 302, and 308.
However, when you look at PSA’s population report for cards 16 through 21, the pop counts are considerably higher, which is interesting since, as the uncut sheet shows, none of the cards were short-printed. The total graded populations for these cards are 701, 486, 484, 645, 491, and 469.
PSA has only graded 106 1961 Fleer basketball cards as 10s, and just one of those is in the first six cards (Paul Arizin). There are 1423 PSA 9s in the Pop Report, but just 54 from the first six cards. If PSA 9s were evenly distributed, you’d expect 129 PSA 9s in the first six cards. With 7431 PSA 8s, you’d expect there to be around 675, but there are only 359.
Given this disparity, PSA’s Price Guide for cards 1 through 6 is higher than other commons, more considerably so in higher grades.
So what’s going on? jackies_and_jordans shared that the cards on the right edge were almost always cut narrow by Fleer, so PSA would often flag them as “minsize” or “trimmed.” Even cards that make it through grading tend to measure slightly narrow. Unfortunately, Fleers’ quality control didn’t adhere to stringent standards. So the population report is probably much lower for the first six cards in the set because of rejections due to condition sensitivity.
Kudos to jackies_and_jordans for making this connection and pointing out this interesting nuance for the 1961 Fleer basketball set. So, if you’re looking to complete a set and struggling to find nice examples of any of the first six cards, now you know why! Happy collecting!