When collectors think “hall of famers,” names like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and Mays immediately come to mind. That’s all fine and dandy, but these same autograph aficionados may want to start taking notice of names like Carr, Lambeau, Ray and Mara.
Autographs from members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are rapidly beginning to take off. Part of the reason has to do with the National Football League’s ever-rising popularity and the other may have to do with many collectors being priced out of the HOF baseball market.
For example, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig may sell for upwards of $10,000-$20,000; possibly even more. Good luck finding a nice Christy Mathewson signed photo for less than $10,000. Heck, there are literally hundreds of thousands of Mickey Mantle signed pieces on the market and you still can’t even find a ball for less than $500.
If you are willing to spend $500-$1,000 for a signed HOF football item, you will likely be getting some of the best stuff the sport has to offer.
Check out these examples of pro football’s “Mr. Everything,” George Halas, whose signatures can be picked up all day on eBay for under 100 bucks. Signatures of the first president of pro football, Jim Thorpe, can be purchased for a little more than $1,000. Photos of Curly Lambeau, the man the Packers named their famed field after and founder of the team, can sometimes be found for about $1,000. All of these iconic figures are pioneers of the gridiron and you can still obtain pieces signed by them for only a fraction of what you would pay for some of their baseball equivalents.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because I am talking HOF football autographs up doesn’t mean they are all easy to find. There are signatures of guys like Tim Mara, Hugh Ray and Charles Bidwell that are nearly impossible to obtain, but if you search long enough, eventually you will track them down. The cool thing about that is once you find a “nearly-impossible” HOF football autograph, such as Mara, Bidwell or Ray, you still won’t have to pay Sultan-of-Swat-like prices.
Talk about potential. Chances are that HOF baseball signatures are nearly reaching their peak. How much more can a Mantle-signed ball go up in value? Did you see the Mathewson single-signed ball that recently sold in Huggins & Scott’s sale for $161,000?
I’m not saying these baseball items aren’t a good investment. They will continue to gradually go up, but HOF football autos are possibly ready to explode.
Here’s another example. You can buy a killer single-signed Ruth ball for $20,000. Throughout the next few years, this ball might sell for another $5,000. But just think if you bought 20 nice football HOF signatures for a total of $20,000. A few Lambeaus, maybe a Mara, a couple Joe Carr’s, etc. If each goes up $500 in the next five years, your investment has appreciated $10,000. The crazy thing is that I think $500 is on the low end. I wouldn’t doubt if they double in price in the next few years.
Now that I’ve hyped these up more than Paris Hilton getting thrown in the slammer, it’s time to share with you my Top 20 Pro Football Hall of Fame autographs:
#1 Jim Thorpe (1888-1953)
Jim Thorpe is widely considered one of the best all-around athletes ever to play. Thorpe was professional (American Professional Football Association) football’s first league president and inducted into Canton in 1963.
#2 Joe Carr (1879-1939)
Carr helped give the NFL stability with his strict enforcement of the rules Carr also developed the Standard Player’s Contract.
#3 Curly Lambeau (1898-1965)
Founder of the Green Bay Packers, Lambeau had a career record of 229-134-22 with six NFL Championships.
#4 Hugh Ray (1884-1956)
Helped develop and streamline many of pro football’s rules. Focused on player safety and stressed the importance of tempo of play.
#5 Walter Kiesling (1903-1962)
Starred as a guard on the unbeaten 1934 Chicago Bears team, Kiesling had a 34-year career as a player, coach and assistant coach.
#6 Charles Bidwell (1895-1947)
Stunned the football world in 1947 when he outbid the Chicago Rockets for the rights to All-American Charley Trippi, signing him for an unprecedented $100,000. With the help of Trippi, coach Bidwell’s Chicago Cardinals won their only championship in 1947.
#7 Bill Hewitt (1909-1947)
Gritty, gutty end who refused to wear a helmet for the better part of his career. Was a star on the Chicago Bears team and was middle man on the forward-lateral which won the 1933 championship.
#8 Tim Mara (1887-1959)
Founder of the New York Giants and a pioneer of the game.
#9 Guy Chamberlin (1894-1967)
One of the league’s earliest coaches, Chamberlin’s 58-16-7 record ranks among the best ever. Was also a player-coach on four championship teams.
#10 Steve Owen (1899-1964)
Defensive giant during the 1920s. Was coach for the 1934 and 1938 champion Giants.
#11 George Marshall (1896-1969)
Played a key part in splitting the NFL into two divisions, with a title playoff in 1933. Marshall was renowned for being flamboyant and controversial.
#12 Arnie Herber (1910-1969)
Packers star quarterback during the Lambeau era. Teamed with receiver Don Hutson to form one of the best offensive combos in league history. Could reportedly throw a ball 80 yards.
#13 John V. McNally (1903-1985)
Extraordinary character on and off the field. McNally was one of the best athletes of his time, with great hands and amazing breakaway speed.
#14 Len Ford (1926-1972)
Exceptional pass rusher who died at age 46. Ford played in four Pro Bowls and recovered 20 fumbles in his career.
#15 Turk Edwards (1907-1973)
One of the toughest, most rugged blockers/tacklers in league history. His career ended in a bizarre pregame coin toss incident.
#16 Benny Friedman (1905-1982)
The NFL’s first great passer. Held the career touchdown record with 66 for many years.
#17 Joe Guyon (1892-1971)
Was Jim Thorpe’s college teammate and NFL teammate on four teams. His career ended with a professional baseball injury.
#18 Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)
Possibly the best motivator in league history. Lombardi was hired by the Packers in 1959 and turned the pathetic Green and Gold team into a five-time NFL champion.
#19 Dan Reeves (1896-1968)
Innovative team owner, Reeves moved the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles. This move opened up the West Coast to major sports.
#20 Cal Hubbard (1900-1977)
Only man inducted into both the Pro Baseball and Football HallS of Fame. Hubbard was the most feared lineman of his time. He was a key component of the Lambeau-led Packers during their championship runs. u
Thanks to Heritage Auction Galleries for the use of the Ford and Thorpe exemplars in this article and thanks to Greenbayantiques.com for its exemplars of Carr, Kiesling and Chamberlin.
Chris Nerat is a columnist for Tuff Stuff and associate editor of Sports Collectors Digest. Check out his blog, Gavel Chat at gavelchat.sportscollectorsdigest.com.