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History of Australian Rules Football Cards

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

As this is being written in 2022, the Australian Rules football trading card market is as buoyant as it has ever been. New releases such as the Select 2022 Optimum sell out in minutes of going on sale to the general public, with the secondary market then driving the prices of sealed boxes sky high as everyone looks to get their hands on boxes in the hope to find themselves a dual autograph, the coveted Daicos Draft Pick Signature card or a Footy’s Finest refractor.

But Australian Rules trading cards have not always been like this.

The history of Australian rules football cards from the 1890s to 2022

Where It All Began

When people think AFL cards, most think back to the Scanlens releases of the 1960’s as being the place it all started, however cards of Australian Rules players go much further back than that.

1894 trading card of Will Crebbin from Essendon

Did you know that the first trading cards of Australian Rules players were in fact made in the USA in the 1890’s? The first Australian Rules players featured on cigarette, or tobacco cards which as the name suggests came in packets of cigarettes. Players from Victoria and South Australia, as well as Will Crebbin from Essendon and South Adelaide’s Jack McGaffin were featured in the 1894 set.

In the early part of the 20th century, Australian Rules players being featured on tobacco cards became more popular. Brands like W.D & H.O Willis, Sniders & Abrahams and Godfrey Phillips all produced tobacco cards featuring many Australian Rules players.

After WW2, companies like Kornies and Argus started using trading cards as promotional material. Tobacco cards had all but ceased to be produced during the war and these companies used trading cards as bonuses with their product. Kornies (part of the Nabisco company) inserted cards in their cereals and The Argus was a newspaper in Melbourne who gave the cards away with the daily paper.

The Start of Scanlens

Signed Graham (Polly) Farmer trading card

In 1963, The Australian Rules trading card changed forever when Scanlens began producing cards.

Scanlens produced cards from 1963 to 1987, with the 1963 release being one of the most sought after sets by collectors. Only 18 cards were produced in this set, 16 players from the VFL and 2 from interstate teams.

During the Scanlens period, cards were produced for all the major leagues around Australia. SANFL and WAFL cards are very popular due to these sets having smaller production runs and being hard to find now.

The 1963 Polly Farmer Scanlens card is regarded as one of the rarest Scanlens cards as many of these were damaged in the production of the set and destroyed.

During the 70’s and 80’s, VFL cards became more popular. They were sold in local shops and generally came with a piece of chewing gum. A packet of 1970 VFL Scanlens cards cost 5c, a far cry from the price of a packet of 2022 Optimum.

The Introduction of Signed Cards

The trading card market in the 1990’s exploded across many sports, and Australian Rules was part of this. In 1993, Select Australia produced it’s first ever trading card release. It was the first time that signed cards had been inserted into packets of cards for people to find. Select had produced AFL stickers since 1990, but their move into the trading card market would be one that would change the world for the collector for years to come.

Teamcoach 24k gold plated card of Rory Sloane

In 1994 Dynamic Marketing would release two sets, their AFL Sensation set as well as their AFL Players Choice set. It would be the only year that they would release cards. Bewick Enterprises released the 4 Quarters cards in 1995 but they too were a one off.

Teamcoach entered the market in 2001 with their first public release. Their cards are designed to be an online game, but they do have short print cards inserted as well although none of these have serial numbers. In 2021 they introduced a 24k gold plated card which could be redeemed from them.

What We Know and Love

Thirty years later and Select Australia are as strong as ever, now releasing four products a year. Each release had autographed cards as well as serial numbered cards which are rarer and as such keep the collectors energised in their products.

The great thing about Australian Rules trading cards is that there is something for everyone. From the collector who likes to chase the older cards of players from yesteryear, to the new breed of collector who searches for the low numbered rarer cards, there is something for everyone.


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