Made in Canada Hockey Cards have been in existence long before baseball cards and football cards were produced here. The very first hockey cards came out over 135 years ago. In 1879 and 1880 various card sized drawings depicting "Ice hockey" or "Eishockey" appeared. One American card called the game "Ice Polo" and depicted a game between Cottage City and Providence.
As the 19th Century drew to a close many more photos and cards appeared depicting various hockey clubs and colleges in Quebec and New England. The first sets that actually featured named players were made available in cigarette packs from 1910 - 1913. These three "C" sets (C-55, C-56 and C-57), measured 1 1/2" x 2 1/2". They featured colour portraits of the leading hockey players of the day. The top teams in that day were from Quebec, Ottawa, Montreal and Renfrew - which was a club team from Vancouver. Some of the names of the players in these sets have a familiar ring with anyone who follows the NHL today. Names like Georges Vezina, Fred Cyclone Taylor, and Art Ross are some examples. These ended with the outbreak of World War One, and during the war years the only hockey memorabilia to be seen would be from American colleges.
Following the Great War, the West Coast featured the first revival of hockey cards with Victoria and Vancouver producing sets. Other Western Canadian sets and American sets followed into the 20's. The first National Hockey League set called William-Patterson appeared in 1923 featuring players from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Boston. Here is where the first cards of Howie Morenz, Aurele Joliat, and King Clancy debuted.
More food and candy manufacturers came on board as the 20's progressed with the object that if you collected the whole set, you would send the set in where they would stamp it and return it along with at. From these, the O-Pee-Chee Chewing Gum company prevailed due to better looking cards. O-Pee-Chee continued to produce cards up until 1940 when due to the 2nd World War, production ceased. Before they stopped, names like Eddie Shore, Charlie Conacher, Ace Bailey, Turk Broda, Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Syl Apps appeared on cards.
Hockey cards like this did not reappear until 1951 when Parkhurst Products was the lone issuer for the next three years. Topps and O-Pee-Chee rejoined the hockey card promotions, and again due to having more interesting and colourful cards which became more popular, Parkhurst backed out of hockey card production in 1964. By 1968 Topps and O-Pee-Chee were the dominant supplier of hockey cards in North America. Topps supplied the U.S. market while O-Pee-Chee supplied cards across Canada. O-Pee-Chee continued as a major supplier of hockey cards until 1995 when they announced they were discontinuing production and distribution and handed over the responsibility to Topps.
Many issues faced Topps such as competition from other brands, and an overall destruction of the hobby market due to overproduction in the early 1990's by all brands. Some of the other brands that appeared in 1990 were primarily Upper Deck, Pro Set and Score. Poor quality, superior competition, and a host of card errors caused Pro Set to back out by 1993. Of the new brands, Upper Deck achieved the most success with their white stock paper and interesting photography. Other brands came and went through the 1990's, but Upper Deck was the one brand that remained constant.
Another change that occurred during the 1990's was the more common use of insert and parallel sets, as well as one brand now being licenced by the NHL and NHLPA to produce more than just one set per season. These series of events could be called the dark days of hockey card collecting. Over production in the early 90's, more sets on the market in the mid-90's, and harder to find inserts and parallel cards in the late 90's shook out a lot of good collectors who got fed up trying to keep up with collecting every card of their favourite player or team. Thus card companies have had to respond with more and more "limited issue" releases and higher end products to make up for the shortfall in what was once a brisk market.
Since the lockout of 2005, Upper Deck is currently the only licenced producer of NHL hockey cards. Topps does not produce hockey cards anymore, and Pacific has gone out of business. In The Game has signed individual contracts with retired players to use their names and likenesses on hockey cards, and they also have contracts to produce cards of players in the CHL junior leagues, the AHL and Hockey Canada. In The Game cards are not licened by the NHL or NHLPA.
Many collectors have now narrowed their collecting to just a few players, or perhaps just one set per year. With these adjustments over time, we now see as the new millennium progresses, more and more former card collectors coming back. Some only collect food issues such as releases from McDonalds or Kraft, others only collecting "Hall of Fame" players, or only collecting cards from before 1990. With all the changes in the hobby over the years, and especially in the last 15 years there are really "no rules" about card collecting. One can decide for themselves what they would like to collect. Some only collect autographed cards or what is called "game used" cards, where a piece of the players jersey or equipment is embedded in the hockey card. One European collector I know just likes to collect one card of every player who has ever played a game in the NHL and it does not matter which brand of card the player is on. Other collectors that shop here are determined to get every card ever produced of a certain player such as Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Raymond Bourque, Ron Francis or another favourite player.
So if you are new to hockey cards, or are just returning for the first time in years, enjoy browsing through the site, and remember there are no rules regarding what you collect. You may just want to place a small order at first to see how things go, and then place more orders as time goes on. We have been online since 1996 and have no plans of going anywhere, so you can shop with confidence here if you like, and we look forward to hearing from you.
By Thomas Clemmer
Canadian Hockey Cards