As a sports fan I've always been attracted to the history of each sport and its heroes. As a sportscard collector, I have always been attracted to the pre-war issues like the 1911 T206 sets and the 1934 Goudey set.
In March of 2003, I became aware of PSA's Set Registry and was astounded by the number of collectors of pre-war high-grade baseball sets. The monetary resources and determination to complete these sets is one thing, but I wondered if there are really enough high-grade examples for all of these collectors to complete their quests? As all of us were taught in Economics 101, low supply and high demand equals happy sellers. That's why these baseball cards regularly bring so much money at auction.
The economic and card population limitations of attaining these cards in high-grade will cause many of us to pursue our baseball passions in mid-grade instead of high-grade. There's no doubt that there are many attractive and available baseball cards in the PSA 4 to PSA 6 range.
But what if your passion is to collect pre-war hockey cards, like me? What can a collector build and how much can I expect to spend in order to achieve my goal? These are tough questions for sure, and I wish the answers were easy to determine. However, four things are for certain. Every collector needs to understand;
(1) the theoretical and actual supply of cards,
(2) the demand of those cards,
(3) your collecting goal,
(4) and your budget to attain that goal.
I'd like to address the first three items on this list as they pertain to pre-war hockey cards.
A little research shows that if you want to collect pre-war sportscards, your choices are limited within the four major sports. For pro football, you have the 1933 Sports Kings and 1935 National Chicle sets. For basketball, you're limited to a few cards in the 1933 Sports Kings set. Baseball has an amble amount of options, and you'll likely have lots of competition from other collectors.
What about hockey? Outside of baseball isn't hockey the only other major sport with lots of options? I bet a majority of the people reading this have no idea what the answer to this question is so let's quickly look at the pre-war hockey cards produced.
The first hockey card sets, generally known as C Series sets, were distributed in cigarette packages by the Imperial Tobacco Company during 1910-1913. The first hockey card set, designated as C56, was issued in the 1910-1911 season, and was called the "Hockey Series" featuring colored portraits of the leading hockey players of that year. This thirty-six (36) card series featured hockey players from the Ottawa, Quebec, Renfrew, Wanderers, and Montreal teams. The forty-five (45) card C55 Series was issues in 1911-12, and the very scarce fifty (50) card C57 series was issued in 1912-13.
It's also interesting to point out that many hockey players during this period were also star lacrosse players. Imperial Tobacco also issued lacrosse sets during this same time frame so many star hockey players were depicted in these sets as well.
After World War I, only one more confirmed cigarette set was issued. During the 1924-25 season, Champ's Cigarettes of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, issued a sixty (60) card set. It's also believed that the forty-nine (49) card 1933 V-129 Anonymous set was issued by the British Consul Cigarette Company, but that has never been confirmed. Several food and candy manufacturing companies produced sets during the 1920's as well. Paulin's Candy, Maple Crispette, Crecent, Holland Creameries, William Patterson, and La Patrie are among those known to have issued sets. All of the sets from the 1920's are particularly scarce in any grade.
From the years 1933 to 1941 there was a hockey card boom as companies such as Canadian Gum, Hamilton Gum, O-Pee-Chee, V-129 Anonymous, and World Wide Gum produced sets. O-Pee-Chee produced hockey cards up to 1940-1941 when production stopped because of the start of World War 2.
Hockey cards didn't appear again until the 1951-1952 season, with the food companies such as Shirriff Desserts, York Peanut Butter, and Post Cereal creating specialty sets to promote their product. The Parkhurst Products Company of Toronto, Ontario, Canada started producing hockey cards in 1951 with O-Pee-Chee returning to the fray, along with a new company called Topps Chewing Gum of Brooklyn, New York, USA, who started producing hockey cards during the 1954-1955 season.
PSA has currently graded over 3,200 hockey cards from twenty-two (22) pre-war hockey sets. Perhaps the most mainstream hockey sets not included in this list are the 1939-40 and 1940-41 O-Pee-Chee sets which PSA currently does not grade because the cards are 5" x 7" and are very thin. Those specifications mean this issue will require a unique holder (currently, the volume of cards to be graded doesn't justify the cost in creating this holder at this point in time). Hockey cards were also issued in other pre-war sets featuring stars from multiple sports like the 1924 Williard's Chocolates and the 1933 Sports Kings sets.
Figure 1: PSA's Population of Pre-war Hockey Sets
|1923 V128 PAULIN'S CANDY||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|1923 WILLIAM PATTERSON LTD||5||27||30||6||3||0||0||0||71|
|1924 CHAMP'S CIGARETTES||4||9||6||7||18||4||0||0||48|
|1924 V130 MAPLE CRISPETTE||2||3||1||0||0||0||0||0||6|
|1924 WILLIAM PATTERSON LTD||0||1||1||0||1||0||0||0||3|
|1925 DOMINION CHOCOLATE||5||3||3||3||1||0||0||0||15|
|1933 HAMILTON GUM||8||24||18||7||9||8||2||0||76|
|1933 V129 ANONYMOUS||3||14||6||10||12||3||0||0||48|
|1933 V252 CANADIAN GUM||10||29||18||23||22||16||0||0||118|
|1933 WORLD WIDE GUM||58||115||106||93||93||78||5||0||548|
|1936 PROVIDENCE REDS||0||0||2||2||0||0||0||0||4|
|1936 WORLD WIDE GUM||7||36||30||33||60||19||0||0||185|
|* Cards with qualifiers are not included in this statistic. As of September 7, 2004|
Figure 1 is a snapshot of PSA's population of pre-war hockey sets. As most vintage hockey card collectors know, the 1910 C56, 1911 C55, 1933 OPC and 1933 Ice King sets are perhaps the most well-known and widely sought-after issues. Comparing the populations of those sets against some of the more well-known baseball sets (as shown in Figure 2) might leave one wondering if there will ever be a high-grade vintage hockey set assembled.
Figure 2: PSA's Population of Pre-war Baseball Sets
|1915 Cracker Jack||298||910||844||754||1330||1773||21||0||5930|
|1915 Sporting News||8||22||24||23||66||163||33||0||339|
|1922 American Caramel||36||72||73||49||11||3||0||0||244|
|1928 Harrington Ice Cream||8||15||11||8||1||1||0||0||44|
|1928 Tharp's Ice Cream||5||8||5||3||0||0||0||0||21|
|1928 Yuengling Ice Cream||9||15||5||4||0||0||0||0||33|
|1933 Tattoo Orbit||7||22||65||124||106||25||0||0||349|
|* Cards with qualifiers are not included in this statistic.|
With just over 500 pre-war hockey cards in PSA 7 condition or better, it would appear the answer to that question is an emphatic "NO". Are there hidden treasures out there to be found? Sure. Are there some high-grade cards in other grading service's holders? Absolutely. But don't fool yourself. You'll likely never see populations that are within 20% of the T206 or '33 Goudey levels. It also appears that people have kept their baseball cards in a little nicer condition over the years. However, with the relatively small amount of hockey cards graded to date, I certainly won't call this analysis scientific.
It's also evident that the production runs on many of the more widely distributed baseball cards were quite large compared to the vintage hockey issues. T206 baseball cards and C Series hockey cards were produced by tobacco companies in the 1910-11 time period. While the T206 cards were produced by many different tobacco companies, distributed in cigarette packs across the U.S., the C Series hockey cards were produced by Imperial Tobacco to be distributed in Canada, which had a much lower population than the U.S. The same assessment can be stated when comparing 1933 and 1934 Goudey's to the 1930's hockey issues.
Regional baseball issues, which were distributed to much smaller target populations, seem to fall a bit closer in line (in regards to the Population ReportSM numbers) with the pre-war hockey issues.
In the end, I think it's fair to compare the population of pre-war hockey cards to the population of pre-war regional baseball issues. I just like to think of Canada as a rather "big region".
In the U.S., sportscards shows are usually 50-70% baseball, and 30-50% everything else. However, you'll be hard pressed to find more than a handful of pre-war hockey cards unless some of our Canadian friends pay us a visit.
A quick search on eBay will usually bring a result of less than 100 pre-war hockey cards at any given point in time. For baseball, you're likely to see in excess of 2,000 pre-war cards for sale. If you review the websites of the major dealers in the U.S. you'll find very little in the way of pre-war hockey. In fact, most U.S., dealers don't carry any pre-war hockey. Of course, Canadian dealers provide the best website's for these cards. Two of my favorites are AJ's Sportworld and Gerry's Sportscards.
After reading how low the supply of these cards are, one might be turned-off by the thought of attempting to accumulate a pre-war hockey set. But here's the good news, of all of the four major sports, hockey cards seem to have the lowest demand at the moment. Hockey is certainly not as popular in the United States as the other three major sports, especially with the pending lock out.
At sportscards shows in the U.S., the supply is very low. It seems that there are very few, if any, collectors that are serious about pre-war hockey unless the show is in Canada or close to the Canadian border.
Perhaps, the best place to judge the current demand for these cards is on eBay and the PSA Set Registry. What I've found in both places is that the collecting community is very small, and most know each other rather well and help each other out whenever possible. There are certainly other pre-war hockey collectors out there, but it seems they buy directly from dealers or fellow hobbyists.
The prices for pre-war hockey are still on the low side for most cards, unless you're talking about a star card that has a population of one or two. Like with any other sportscards, you'll occasionally see a card for an astronomical price when two or more people go to battle but, for the most part, the supply of pre-war hockey cards and the prices realized have been rather predictable and flat.
Some of the photos in this article were contributed by Steve Yawitz, a longtime collector of PSA graded hockey cards.
1910-11 C56 - Steve Yawitz
1911-12 C55 - Basic - 1911 C55 Hockey Set
1911-12 C55 - Master - OTgoal's C55 Ultimate Master
1912-13 C57 - otgoal's C57
1923-24 William Patterson (V145-1) - Steve Yawitz
1933-34 World Wide Gum Ice Kings (V357) - cornelius72
1936-37 O-Pee-Chee (V304D) - Gordon Handspiker 36 OPC D
1951-52 Parkhurst - Teemu
1952-53 Parkhurst - Teemu
1953-54 Parkhurst - Steve Yawitz
1954-55 Parkhurst - J & S Cards 1954 Parkhurst
1954-55 Topps - Teemu
1955-56 Parkhurst - Tigertownsports1955 parkhurst set
1957-58 Parkhurst - tigertownsports cards
1957-58 Topps - tigertownsports cards
1958-59 Parkhurst - LRH999
1958-59 Topps - James58 Topps
1959-60 Parkhurst - 1959 Parkhurst tigertownsports
1959-60 Topps - 1959 Topps Hockey Set 1 A,J. Sportsworld
1960-61 Parkhurst - Steve's 1960 Parkhurst Set
1960-61 Topps - Davalillo
1961-62 Parkhurst - Brendan's 1961 Parkhurst Set
1961-62 Topps - tigertownsports 1961 topps hockey
1961-62 York Yellow Backs - Neil's 1961 York Yellow Back Hockey Set
1962-63 Parkhurst - Steve Parthum
1962-63 Shirriff Coins - Neil's 1962-63 Shirrff Coin Hockey Set
1962-63 Topps - Teemu
1963-64 Parkhurst - Teemu
1963-64 Topps - Gads Gems
1964-65 Topps - Theo's 1964 Topps
1965-66 Topps - Joester65
1966-67 Topps - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1966 Topps
1966-67 Topps USA Test - Nick Karos
1967-68 Topps - James67
1968-69 O-Pee-Chee - Joester68
1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Puck Stickers - Joester68PS
1968-69 Topps - Joester68T
1969-70 O-Pee-Chee - Basic - Junior62
1969-70 O-Pee-Chee - Master - junior69
1969-70 O-Pee-Chee 4 in 1 - Junior62
1969-70 Topps - Joester69T
1970-71 Topps - Pucks of Color
1971-72 O-Pee-Chee - GR Hoft - 1971 OPC Set
1971-72 Topps - Pucks of Color
1972-73 Topps - West Coast
1973-74 O-Pee-Chee - Paul's 1973-74 OPC Hockey
1973-74 O-Pee-Chee Rings - Big Shooter's O.P.C. Rings
1973-74 Topps - Peter Cate
1974-75 O-Pee-Chee WHA - Big Shooter's WHA
1974-75 Topps - Sideplate's '74-'75 Hockey
1977-78 Topps OPC Glossy Insert - DSVice 77 OPC Glossy tied with rbdjr1's 1977 Topps O-PEE-CEE Glossy Insert Hockey Set
1979-80 Topps - R. Clark's Favorite Hockey Set
1982-83 O-Pee-Chee - J. Feeley 1982 OPC Set
1985-86 O-Pee-Chee - Turbo's Hockey
1985-87 Hall of Fame Cards - GoSoxBoSox 1985-87 HOF Hockey Cards
1988-89 Esso All-Stars - pondofc
1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Red Army - iceman
1990-91 OPC Premier - pondofc
2001-02 Upper Deck Premier Collection - Chris Renaud's 2001-2002 UD Premier Collection Set
Hall of Fame Players - GoSoxBoSox Hockey HOFers
Bobby Orr Basic Set - Mark Wallys Bobby Orr Set
Bobby Orr Master Set - Mark Wallys Bobby Orr set
Terry Sawchuk Basic Set - RayDBonz Terry Sawchuk Basic Set
Terry Sawchuk Master Set - RayDBonz Sawchuk Master Set
All-Time NHL Top 50 Rookies - Ray Millette - NHL Top 50 Rookies
Miscellaneous Sports and Non-Sports
1887 Allen & Ginter (N28) - NJB's 1887 N28 Set
1887 Kimball Champions (N184) - 1887 Kimball Set - Brian C Daniels
1888 Allen & Ginter (N29) - The Dreier Collection N-29 Allen and Ginter
1909 James Jeffries Playing Cards Boxing - RAS
1910 Champions (T218) - Virtualizard's T218s
1910 Mecca Boxing (T220) - The Kaufman Collection
1910 Mecca Champions T220 Silver Border Boxing - RAS
1911 W.D. & H.O. Wills Boxers Scissors Back - RAS
1923 Williards Chocolate V137 Boxing - RAS
1927 Churchman Famous Golfers - Dave Johnson
1927 Churchman Famous Golfers Large - Vintagegolfcards
1928 Millhoff Famous Golfers - Vintagegolfcards
1928 W.A. & A.C. Churchman Famous Golfers (Large) 2nd - Vintagegolfcards
1930 W.D. & H.O. Wills Famous Golfers - Vintagegolfcards
1931 Churchman Large Golf - Vintagegolfcards
1931 Churchman Small Golf - Dave Johnson
1932 U.S. Caramel - Charles M Merkel
1933 Goudey Sport Kings - Charles M Merkel
1938 F.C. Cartledge Boxing - Gerry's #1 Cartledge Boxing set
1938 F.C. Cartledge Famous Prize Fighters Boxing Glossy - John Grillo's 1938 FC Cartledge Boxing Set
1938 W.A. & A.C. Churchman Boxing Personalities - RAS
1939 John Player & Sons Golf - Arts super golf set
1947 D. Cummings & Sons Famous Fighters - RAS
1948 Leaf Bo
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