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.
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