When I bought Fleer's first set in 1981, I was sure that in 30 years I was going to be rich. After all, the first Topps set, released 29 years earlier, was going for big bucks. So it stood to reason that Fleer's first would be worth a bundle some day.
I was wrong. Actually I was wrong on two accounts. First, that 1981 Fleer set can be picked up for less than $20. I think I paid around $15 in 1981. Adjust that for inflation and you see that the '81 set is worth less today than it was when it came out.
But secondly, I was wrong because 1981 wasn't Fleer's first modern set. They put out a set in 1963; or at least they made an attempt.
In 1959 Fleer signed Ted Williams to an exclusive contract and put out an 80 card Ted Wiliams-only set. It wasn't a big seller. The next two year Fleer put out sets that featured retired players. That also got them around Topps' contracts with the major league players. But in 1963 they decided to go after Topps. They signed a bunch of players and released their first series of 67 cards. To try to avoid a Topps lawsuit, the Fleer cards had a cookie in the package instead of gum. From what I've read, the cookies were really nasty; more like dog biscuits than a cookie.
Only two Cubs were in the set....
....and Glen Hobbie.
The design should look familiar. Fleer recycled it in 2003...
...as they celebrated their 40th anniversary. I'm not sure why they decided to celebrate. As soon as the first series was released, Topps did file a lawsuit and Fleer was forced to stop issuing any more cards. That doesn't seem like anything to celebrate, does it?
It took Fleer 18 years and another trip to the courthouse before they put out cards again, cards worth less today than they were worth 30 years ago.