It's all about the George Sullivan card (#44).
That's the story of the 1963 Topps Hockey set in a nutshell.
"The Sullivan card is next to impossible," said Harvey Goldfarb, owner of A.J. Sports World, as well as the No. 2, Current Finest 1963 Topps Hockey set on the PSA Set Registry. "That card is always off-center."
Rich Katz, who owns the registry's No. 1, 1963 Topps Hockey set, agrees.
"It was the hardest card, by far, for me to get in a [PSA NM-MT] 8," he said.
The Sullivan single is frequently found off-center both left to right and top to bottom. One PSA 8 fetched $423.98 on eBay in September 2009, but Goldfarb says this card would command significantly more today.
"You should be able to get between $3,000 and $5,000 for that card [in a PSA 8]," said Goldfarb.
Most hobbyists would be surprised to learn that the Sullivan (who was the coach of the New York Rangers at the time) is the most coveted pasteboard in a set that boasts cards of 14 Hall of Famers, including Bobby Hull (#33) and Jacques Plante (#45).
With this 66-card offering, Topps was once again restricted to producing cards of players from the Boston Bruins (#1 to #21), Chicago Blackhawks (#22 to #43) and New York Rangers (#44 to #65). A coach's card led off each team's segment followed by the team's goalie(s), the remaining players and a team photo card. In its final vintage puck issue, the rival Parkhurst set presented pasteboards of players from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.
The horizontal fronts of the 1963 Topps Hockey player cards feature a posed color photo on the left with a hockey stick design - with the player's name and team on the blade - running down the middle.
"I really like the design of the cards," said Bobby Burrell, author of Vintage Hockey Collector. "With the two photos, it's almost like you get two cards for the price of one."
Black-and-white action photos are featured on the right side of the fronts. However, with the exception of the Glenn Hall card (#23), the players depicted in the black-and-white photos do not correspond with those in the color photos. Similar to the background shots in their 1961 series, Topps once again featured players from teams (Red Wings and Canadiens) that they didn't have a license to produce cards for. In fact, Topps (technically O-Pee-Chee, as these cards were printed at the O-Pee-Chee plant in London, Ont.) was bold enough to showcase two of the Red Wings' biggest stars - Terry Sawchuk on Leo Boivin's card (#5) and Gordie Howe on the Reg Fleming (#31) and Phil Goyette (#58) singles - in the black-and-white photos.
Gump Worsley is also featured on seven cards in the 1963 Topps Hockey set. That may not sound particularly noteworthy until it's pointed out that the Hall of Fame goaltender doesn't have a regular issue card in this offering. A standout netminder with the Rangers for 10 seasons, Worsley was dealt to the Canadiens on June 4, 1963, as part of a package deal that brought Jacques Plante to the Big Apple.
Perhaps by the time this trade was consummated, Topps (O-Pee-Chee) was too far along in the layout process to remove the black-and-white action photos of Worsley. Or more likely, as Burrell theorizes, O-Pee-Chee couldn't be bothered to change the photos.
"They probably just took whatever photos they had available and used them," said Burrell. "I really don't think it mattered much at the time."
Ironically, Worsley is front and center in the black-and-white photos on the pasteboards of Plante (#45) and Gilles Villemure (#46) - the two Rangers' goalies in the set.
Some of the black-and-white photos are also repeated throughout the set, and in some cases on back-to-back cards. The Hall (#23) and Denis DeJordy (#24) pasteboards, for example, both flaunt the same black-and-white photo of Hall.
The card backs feature blue and gray print on white card stock. The card number, player's name, position and team are indicated along the top of the card back followed by the player's 1962-63 stats, vitals (e.g., birth date, height, weight, etc.) and biographical information in English and French.
Some of the information on the backs reveals just how much the NHL has changed over the past 50 years. The Charlie Burns card (#9), for example, explains that he wears a helmet because he had skull surgery. In other words, sporting a helmet in that era - as crazy as it sounds - was not the norm. Also, the Tom Williams single (#12) indicates that he's the only American player in the NHL. Today, there are dozens of Americans patrolling NHL rinks.
A trivia question can also be found on the right side of the backs. To uncover the answer to this question, collectors were encouraged to rub a coin over a blank space. Copyright information ("Printed in Canada") is presented up the right edge of the card.
These cards were distributed in five-cent wax packs with gum, as well as in cello packs and vending boxes.
"There were no inserts [in the wax packs] and that was a little surprising because they came off of two inserts prior to that: they had the stamps [in their 1961 set] and then they had the Hockey Bucks [in their 1962 set]," noted Burrell.
There are no Hall of Famer rookies in this issue, but this set does boast the cardboard debuts of notable NHLers Ed Johnston (#2), Ed Westfall (#8) and Villemure (#46). And on top of the aforementioned Hull and Plante cards, several other Hall of Famers are featured, including John Bucyk (#11), Pierre Pilote (#25), Stan Mikita (#36), Doug Harvey (#47), Harry Howell (#48) and Jean Ratelle (#63).
This set also harbors the first card of Milt Schmidt (#1) since the hockey legend retired as a player. Schmidt was the coach of the Bruins and because his single is the set's first card, it was subjected to additional wear and tear when it was placed on top of collectors' piles. Just two PSA MINT 9s exist and one PSA 8 sold for $350.67 on eBay in April 2013.
Though it employs the same photo as his 1961 Topps card, the Hull (#33) is still the most valuable star card in this offering. Of the 253 submitted, there are seven PSA 9s and 87 PSA 8s. One PSA 9 fetched $3,731.75 in a Memory Lane auction in December 2010.
Katz points out that the Plante card is also notable because it's the goaltending great's first Topps card. Prior to being dealt to the Rangers in June 1963, Plante had played 11 seasons with the Canadiens, and during that period, his cards were produced by Parkhurst. There are six PSA 9 Plante cards. One PSA NM-MT+ 8.5 commanded $146.50 on eBay in April 2012.
Goldfarb notes that the Rod Gilbert (#57) card is one of the toughest Hall of Famer cards in this offering to track down in top condition. This card is frequently found miscut or off-center. There has yet to be a PSA 9 example and there are just 17 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 fetched $66.67 on eBay in August 2010.
The Gilbert and Sullivan singles are two of the seven cards in this offering that have yet to record a PSA 9 example (the others are Tom Johnson (#4), Jerry Toppazzini (#18), Orland Kurtenbach (#20), Boston Bruins team (#21) and John McKenzie (#42)). The checklist - which is the last card (#66) - is also elusive in pristine grade. On top of being at the bottom of collector piles, the checklist was often marked by eager collectors while completing their sets.
"The checklist is always going to be challenging, especially when it's the last card in the set," said Katz.
One of the two PSA 9 checklists fetched $375 on eBay in April 2013.
The only uncorrected error in this series can be found on the Ab McDonald card (#37), where his last name is misspelled as "MacDonald."
Katz says poor centering is likely the most common condition issue with cards from this set. He points out that the PSA Population Report, as of September 2013, indicates that there are 93 PSA 8s and 60 PSA 9s with qualifiers out of 11,670 submissions in the Parkhurst series. While there were 448 PSA 8s and 185 PSA 9s with qualifiers out of the 6,250 submissions for the Topps set.
"So you have more than three times as many Topps cards with qualifiers, even though only about half as many of them have been graded," said Katz.
Showcasing cards of players from the Leafs, Canadiens and Red Wings, the 1963 Parkhurst set, which was the company's final vintage puck issue, unquestionably boasts a stronger player selection than the Topps set. But the Topps offering has been holding its own. In January 2012, the then No. 1 set on the PSA Set Registry (8.43 GPA) sold for $12,029.71 in a Mile High Card Company auction. The Sullivan was the sole PSA NM 7 card in that set.
And if you talk to those who have diligently assembled this 66-card set, they will tell you the key is not tracking down the cards of the Hall of Famers; it's all about finding that elusive high-grade Sullivan card.
"For the most part, you can buy PSA 8s for $35 to $40," said Goldfarb. "So for the average collector, it's easy to put a set together. You just have to decide that your #44 [Sullivan] card is going to be a [PSA] 7."
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at email@example.com if you have any additional information or comments. A special thanks to Mile High Card Company for providing scans to go with this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of September 2013.
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