History of Hockey Cards
Covering 1910-1919 Hockey Cards, the early days of hockey cards feature several popular products. These colorful tobacco cards retain good value and the first set, 1910 C56, even predates the NHL itself. The most pursued set from this period is 1911-12 C55 Hockey. Many big names in the history of hockey appear in these 1910s sets. The most popular is the Georges Vezina rookie card. Collectors may recognize the name, as the award for the top goaltender, the Vezina Trophy, is named after Georges Vezina. Other top rookie cards include Fred “Cyclone” Taylor, Newsy LaLonde, Joe Malone, Frank Patrick, Lester Patrick, and Art Ross, who was the namesake of the Art Ross Trophy. The Art Ross Trophy is given to the regular season scoring leader in the NHL each season.
Although most of the hockey products from the 1910s featured color images, 1920s hockey cards were black and white. The 1920-1929 period is just not as popular or valuable as the previous decade. The 1920s also marked the end of tobacco-issued cards. Top rookie options include Billy Burch, Cecil “Babe” Dye, George Boucher, King Clancy, Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, Bert Corbeau and Bill Cook.
1930s hockey sets saw a little color thrown into backgrounds, but still mainly featured black-and-white images. Values for 1930-1939 hockey cards are more significant than the 1920s, and the products cover most years of the decade. A familiar name to hockey and baseball collectors, especially those from Canada, emerged in the 1930s. O-Pee-Chee immediately became the most popular collection option for hockey card collectors. Popular rookie cards from this decade include Eddie Shore, Turk Broda, Ace Bailey, Charlie Conacher, Sid Able, Toe Blake, Albert LeDuc, and Dit Clapper.
The 1940s hockey cards suffered a period of regression. While O-Pee-Chee emerged as a good option for collectors in the 1930s, the brand would only make 1940-41 O-Pee-Chee before a nearly 30-year hiatus. Several small brands would be the only option for collectors and the industry suffered. In general, the values for 1940-1949 hockey card sets are not strong. There are only a few popular hockey rookie cards from the 1940s. Milt Schmidt and Max Bentley are among the top options.
After a down decade in the 1940s, the 1950s hockey cards saw a resurgence. Parkhurst and Topps both released full-color products during this period. The early 1950s cards from Parkhurst, particularly 1951-52 Parkhurst, feature some of the most valuable and popular hockey cards in existence. The top overall rookie options from 1950-1959 hockey card sets include Gordie Howe and Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Both rookie cards are found in 1951-52 Parkhurst. Other top rookies from the decade include Doug Harvey, Tim Horton, Dickie Moore, Jean Beliveau, Johnny Bower, Jacques Plante, Frank Mahovlich, and Bobby Hull.
The 1960s were another big decade for hockey cards. The 1960s hockey cards offered collectors the most mainstream choices compared to any other period to date. In addition to Topps and Parkhurst, O-Pee-Chee rejoined the ranks. The 1960-1969 hockey sets include the rookie card for Bobby Orr, which is the most popular rookie from the decade. Other top rookie offerings include Stan Mikita, Dave Keon, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Bernie Parent, Jim Pappin, Phil Esposito, Gary Cheevers, Tony Esposito, and Serge Savard.
More big names made their debut in 1970s hockey card sets and the decade has proven to be very popular with collectors. The main products were offered by Topps and O-Pee-Chee, abbreviated as OPC. While the look of OPC and Topps cards are very similar, OPC cards are usually more valuable. The decade also features OPC cards for a competing league to the NHL, the World Hockey Association (WHA). One big name owned the hobby among 1970-1979 hockey cards. Wayne Gretzky, also known as “The Great One,” is still one of the top hockey icons for collectors, and his rookie card is revered in much the same way as Michael Jordan’s rookie card is for basketball collectors. Other notable rookie cards include Bryan Trottier, Gilbert Perreault, Darryl Sittler, Guy Lafleur, Mark Howe, Marcel Dionne, Doug Wilson, Ken Dryden, Bob Clarke, and Denis Potvin.
The 1980s were an up-and-down decade for collecting in general. However, 1980-1989 hockey cards came out of the decade without the same problems seen by baseball. It also helps that the period featured rookie cards for some of the bigger names in modern hockey. Junk wax would arrive in hockey, but that did not happen until the 1990s. Once again, O-Pee-Chee and Topps were the two main options for collectors. While none of the 1980s hockey cards could compete with the Wayne Gretzky rookie card in terms of hobby love, three rookie players were clear favorites for collectors. Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux, and Patrick Roy provide the highest values. Other popular rookies include Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Joe Sakic, Jari Kurri, and Ron Francis.
While 1990s Hockey cards brought the junk wax era to NHL collectors, the decade still started strong thanks to the rookie cards for Jaromir Jagr, Mats Sundin, Mike Modano, Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov. The decade also saw the emergence of Upper Deck as a hockey card heavyweight.