In this, a sequel to the first article on colleting baseball pennants, we will deal with football pennants as a collectible: which ones to get, which ones you will never see and which ones need a bit more time until they appreciated. According to the Football Encyclopedia, the first professional football team hailed from Latrobe Pa, debuted on August 31, 1895 and defeated Jeannette by a score of 12-0. Football came to New York on Dec. 28th, 1902 when Syracuse, along with Pop Warner, played the Philadelphia Nationals at Madison Square Garden and in that same year, Connie Mack organized a team called the Philadelphia Athletics starring Rube Waddell. But football, as we know it, really began with the formation of the American Professional Football Association in 1920, the forerunner of the NFL. Eleven teams signed up at $100 each in 1920 to join the Association. They were the: Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Dayton Triangles, Akron Professionals, Massillon Tigers, Rochester NY, Rock Island IL., Muncie IN., Hammond IN, Chicago Cardinals, and the Chicago Staleys (soon to be Bears). The Green Bay Packers joined in 1921. In 1922, the League changed its name to the National Football League and the rest was history. Of course, I could just keep going through my 1959 edition of the Football Encyclopedia and list fact after fact as they relate to players, teams, etc., but that book has been written and I can shed no new light on the history of the game, a history that any fan probably already knows. So let’s talk pennants.
What is the most valuable and elusive football pennant you may ask? The answer would be the one that nobody has seen yet. Any pre-1930 pennant, at least ¾ size or larger, would be a prize in any collection and in any condition as they just plain don’t exist, PERIOD. Teams like the Akron Steels (1921-26), Boston Redskins (1929, 1932-36), Brooklyn Tigers (1926, 1930-44 often called the Dodgers, a rare pennant but out there), Buffalo Bisons (1921-29), Canton Bulldogs (1921-26), Chicago Staley’s (1920-22), Cincinnati Reds (1933-34), Columbus Tigers (1921-26), Dayton Triangles (1921-29), Duluth Eskimos (1923-27), Frankfort Yellow Jackets (1924-31), Hammond Pros (1922-26), Hartford Blues (1926), Kansas City Cowboys (1924-26), Kenosha (1924), Los Angeles (1926), Louisville Colonels (1922-23, 26) Milwaukee Badgers (1922-26), Minneapolis Marines (1922-24, 1929-30), New York Yankees (1927-28 and not the Yanks) , Newark (1930), Orange (1929), Oorang Indians (1922), Pottsville Maroons (1925-26), Portsmouth Spartans (1930-33), Providence Steamrollers (1925-31), Racine Legions (1922-24, 1926), Rochester Kodaks (1921-25), Rock Island (1921-25), St. Louis Browns (1923), St. Louis Gunners (1934), Staten Island Stapletons (1929-32), and the Toledo Maroons (1922-23). Of all of the teams listed, I was told by a collector that he was getting a Marines pennant and that he had a Duluth Eskimos, or so he thought as the pennant has a football theme artwork but the team name is not mentioned. This is an important point when, and if you are offered one of these early NFL pennants, if it only has the city or town name without the name of the team, it is always possible that it is a town team or school. On teams such as Rock Island or Kenosha where no teams are listed, any pennant with football artwork of the pre-1930 era and with the city name, would probably fall into this same category and would not be as valuable of a pennant as one with both the team and city name to confirm that the pennant is indeed an NFL pennant and not an early college or town team. Any pennant of any team, which no longer exists, especially in top condition, should command a king’s ransom given the fact that almost none exist. I would estimate that any pennant ¾ size or better in excellent condition would sell in excess of $2,500, but how much in excess would depend on the final two bidders knowing full well that this might be the only chance in their lifetime to acquire one of these gems and therefore the sky is the limit on price.
Remember, if only the city is listed but great early football graphics, then the value would be about the same as a similar period college pennant such as U of M, Notre Dame, Harvard, Yale, etc. Early pre-1920 oversize college pennants with killer football graphics such as players with nose guards, flat top helmets, etc. generally sell in the $500-1,500 range (the higher end for examples with stunning graphics). I would value a Massillon, sans Tigers name, in that same range. Even pre-1930 NFL teams that continued past the second war (1945) have substantial value. Any pre-1930 Bears, Packers, Cardinals, Rams, Lions, Giants, Eagles, or Steelers pennant would easily sell in the $500-1,500 range and if it is over size (31-32”), it may sell for at least $2,500 or more similar to the early defunct teams. Also, watch for pennants of the short lived Boston Yankees who were part of the NFL in 1944-45, which are rare, but available usually in the $500 range.
After 1940, pennants of current NFL teams, in excellent condition, generally sell in the $100-250 range with premiums for the hottest collectible team, the Green Bay Packers, who lead the “pack” when it comes to collectible NFL pennants. The best 1950-60 NFL pennants are those that feature a team roster listing the various players, these types of pennants, depending on team, should sell in the $500-1,000 range. Also, watch for World Championship pennants that list both teams playing, as these are really rare and you will be hard pressed to find any pre-1960 examples with both teams listed so when you do, you will have to step up. Any championship two-team pennant from the 1950’s will sell in excess of $500 in nice condition. We have never seen a pre-1950 example. Can you imagine what a 1933 Championship pennant listing the Giants and the Bears or a 1936 Packers vs. Boston Redskins might realize?
Another highly sought after type of football pennant is the short lived AAFL (1946-49), a new league, which formed after the end of the second war. Teams included the Baltimore Colts (1947-49), Brooklyn Dodgers (1946-48), New York Yanks (1946-49), Buffalo Bills (Bisons 1946-49), Chicago Rockets (Hornets 1946-49), Cleveland Browns (1946-49), Los Angeles Dons (1946-49), and the San Francisco 49er’s (1946-49). Of these, the rarest of all is the Chicago Rockets or Hornets and any Buffalo Bisons marked pennants, which would sell in the $1,000 range if one is discovered. Of the Colts, Browns, and 49ers, the pennant would have to be marked or dated to the AAFL period in order to bring a premium over the post AAFL teams of the same name. As for the other team pennants, they do surface but the Dodgers and the Dons are more highly sought.
Another impossible pennant to obtain would be any dated All-Star pennant. The All-Star contest, which first took place in 1934, pitted the reigning championship team against the nation’s best college players. I have seen generic All-Star pennants that feature the familiar college player in his now famous red, blue and silver uniform with the stars on the shoulders, but I have never seen one dated. Any pre-1950 pennant listing the players would be a treasure, if indeed, one exists.
If you are still with me by now, you will notice that the one common thread of collectible football pennants is the point that early (pre-1930) football pennants of defunct teams are not only rare, but impossible to find and regardless of when or what one sells for, it is very likely to only increase in price. Pre-1960 Championship, All Star and defunct team pennants are not that far behind in value, and again, are grossly under priced when usually encountered. Next in line, value wise, are any post-1960 pennants for the pre-Super Bowl Championships and especially the first five Super Bowl pennants. A first Super Bowl (Jan 15, 1967 Green Bay 35-Kansas City 10) pennant in top condition would sell in the $1,000-1,500 range. Game number two and three should sell in the $700-1,000 range with four and five selling in the $4-600 range. Prices for Super Bowls (six through ten) generally sell in the $200-400 range and after that, they usually drop down in price to the $100 or less range as availability increases each progressive year. Pre-Super Bowl Championships, if both teams are listed, should sell in the $1,000 range as well, but if the pennant only lists one team with the word Champions on the pennant, these examples will usually sell in the $3-500 range and although are tough to find, they are not rare. I would buy any of the nice condition pennants from the first five Super Bowls as they are getting tougher to find by the day with demand unabated increasing.
Next in order of collectibility would be any 1950-70 defunct team such as the old AFL, Dallas Texans or the New York Titans, each of which have been selling on eBay in the $200-400 range and are still a real bargain for today’s collector. Post-1970 NFL pennants with the league logo in the bottom corner generally sell below $30 depending on the team and the condition. AFL (1960-69, before they merged with the NFL) marked examples and any early AFL team pennant seem to be getting very strong prices and have a huge following among collectors, especially teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers or Boston Patriots, which would sell in the $300-400 range. The post-1970 NFL marked pennants are at the bottom of my investment list.
Speaking of defunct, we must touch on the last two failed attempts at a new league, the World Football League (WFL) of 1974 and part of 1975, and the United States Football League (USFL) of 1983-85. Both of these doomed leagues were only around for one to three seasons and most of the pennants from these teams surface with some regularity. The old WFL has been gone for over 30 years and I would start hoarding mint examples from this league, especially given today’s prices, which almost never top the $100 range, with most examples selling in the $20-50 range. Teams like the Florida Blazers, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia Bells, Jacksonville Sharks or Express, Memphis Southmen, Birmingham Americans or Vulcans, San Antonio Wings, Chicago Fire or Winds, Detroit Wheels, Hawaiians, Portland Storm, and the Shreveport Steamers.
The USFL, which debuted in 1983 with 12 teams, has been gone for over twenty years now and again, pennants sell for next to nothing, usually in the $20-30 range, but they too should prove to be a solid investment down the road.
Let’s recap what to watch for:
1. Pre-War defunct team pennants. Buy them in any condition and pay what it takes, but don’t plan on doing much buying as they simply don’t exist.
2. Pre-1930 anything, regardless of what team, just try and find one.
3. Pre-1960 two-team Championship pennants. You might see 1 or 2 come up for sale every year and you should buy them if they are nice.
4. Pre-1960 player roster scroll pennants, especially the hot teams like the Colts, Browns, or Packers.
5. First five Super Bowl pennants, which are valuable and only going up in price.
6. Next five Super Bowl pennants, which are still cheap at today’s prices.
7. Any pre-1960 dated All Star pennant. Good luck finding since I have never even heard of one.
8. Pre-1970 AFL marked (and unmarked) pennants, which have a large following, dwindling supply, and good investment potential.
9. Pre-1970 defunct teams since they aren’t making any more.
10. WFL pennants. Put them away now.
11. USFL pennants, Ditto.
12. Post-1970 regular season, single team pennants, which are numerous in supply so there is no hurry. I recommend spending your money elsewhere if you have a choice.
13. Early (pre-1920) college/team pennants. Stick to the large oversize examples with excellent graphics (nose guards, flat tops, etc.) Scarce works of art, which are fairly under priced at today’s level. Good upside potential.
And there you have it – my observations as they pertain to collecting football pennants. Remember to buy what you like and buy the best and rarest pennant so that your investment will pay off for years to come. Also, if you have any of the really rare pennants mentioned in this article, email some pictures to me at email@example.com and we will share them on the site.
Next up in this series – basketball. Until then, happy hunting. David Bushing