PSA Set Registry

Collecting the 1970 Topps Hockey Set

Shining the Spotlight on an Affordable Vintage Hockey Option

by Kevin Glew

It's a set that literally shines the spotlight on some of the biggest hockey stars of its era.

One of the standout features of the 1970 Topps Hockey cards are the spotlights in the background of the player photos. A common complaint about this issue, however, is that Topps didn't shine the spotlight on enough stars. Its O-Pee-Chee contemporary, which also employs the spotlight design, offers twice as many cards and harbors three Hall of Fame rookies - Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler, and Guy Lapointe - that are not in the Topps issue.

But while this criticism is understandable, the 1970 Topps Hockey set does offer cards of Bobby Orr (#3), Bobby Hull (#15), and Gordie Howe (#29), as well as the cardboard debuts of Hall of Famers Brad Park (#67) and Gilbert Perreault (#131).

Measuring 2-1/2" by 3-1/2" each, the cards exhibit a plain, clean design. The white-bordered fronts flaunt a posed player photo against a color background that incorporates the aforementioned spotlights.

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"It's a really nice set to collect because it's very colorful," said Jesse Reeves, who owns the No. 9 Current Finest, 1970 Topps Hockey set on the PSA Set Registry. "If you see the cards, there are five different [background] colors that are featured."

The background colors are orange, red, green, blue, and pink. Team members generally have the same colored backgrounds, but Reeves points out that the Larry Keenan card (#104) presents him with a blue background which is different from the green background on his St. Louis Blues teammates' cards.

All of the photos were snapped off the ice. The Phil Esposito single (#11) is one of the most memorable cards because it showcases the high-scoring center in a hockey pose in his black Bruins jersey while wearing fashionable dress pants.

Reeves says the Topps cards are higher quality than their O-Pee-Chee counterparts.

"The O-Pee-Chee cards are very dull in terms of the gloss," he said. "The Topps cards actually have multiple layers of lacquer, so they're very beautiful cards."

The player's name and position are highlighted in a white border at the bottom above the team name, which is emblazoned in color, all-caps print. Some players traded during the production process are highlighted in their old team's uniform with the logo airbrushed out, but their team name has been updated.

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The backs are horizontal and showcase a black box on the left that includes the player's name, position, team, and vitals (Height, Weight, Born, and Birthplace) above a cartoon player and the card number inside a puck design.

The right side exhibits the player's previous season and career statistics, as well as biographical information. The bio generally discusses their on-ice accomplishments or offers an assessment of their skills, but a few cards share insight into the player away from the rink. Johnny McKenzie's card (#6), for example, notes that his nickname is "Cowboy" and that he's a former rodeo star.

Meanwhile, the bio on the back of Doug Roberts' card (#71) illustrates just how much the NHL has changed since 1970. It states that the Detroit native is "one of a select few in the NHL who was born in the United States." Today, there are over 150 American players in the NHL.

Most of the scouting reports on the card backs offer a glowing appraisal of the player's skills, but that's not the case on Andre Boudrias' single (#121). "Andre was a standout in Junior 'A' hockey, but has not been able to hit his stride in NHL competition," a sentence on the Vancouver Canucks forward's card back reads. The text later states that Boudrias "is of small stature which could prove a hindrance in the 'big league.'" Boudrias, however, would have the last laugh; he ended up tallying 151 goals in 662 NHL games.

Copyright information can be found at the end of the bio. It reads "T.C.G." and "PRTD IN U.S.A." This is one way of differentiating the Topps cards from the O-Pee-Chee singles. The O-Pee-Chee cards also present the biographical information in English and French.

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With the exception of the California Golden Seals (#69 to #76) and the Buffalo Sabres (#123 to #131), cards in the 1970 Topps Hockey series are generally grouped alphabetically by team city name. This order was disrupted, however, if a player was dealt during the production process.

The 132 cards that comprise the 1970 Topps Hockey set are the same as those in Series 1 of the 1970 O-Pee-Chee set, with the exception of card #24. This is the first-series checklist in the O-Pee-Chee set, but it highlights Bob Baun in the Topps series. The last card (#132) in the first series of the O-Pee-Chee set is the Series 2 checklist, while in the Topps set, this card serves as the checklist for the entire series.

The Topps cards were distributed in 10-cent wax packs with gum and one of 33 player sticker stamps. One of these sticker stamps was also inserted into first-series O-Pee-Chee packs. Measuring 2-1/2" by 3-1/2", these sticker stamps showcase photos of many of the biggest stars from the era inside an oval frame.

The 1970 Topps Hockey wax packs have become difficult to track down.

If you examine the player cards closely, one can gain insight as to when they were printed and released. For example, the Baun card (#24) showcases him in a Red Wings uniform (with the logo airbrushed off his jersey), but the team name is changed to Buffalo Sabres. Baun was claimed on waivers by the Sabres on November 3, 1970. But as Reeves points out, Baun was promptly swapped by the Sabres to the St. Louis Blues for Larry Keenan and Jean Guy Talbot the next day. So the Topps card was updated to reflect the November 3 transaction, but not the November 4 trade. Furthermore, the Talbot (#100) and Keenan (#104) cards still highlight them as members of the Blues. This could mean that November 3, 1970, was the last day that edits could be made to the cards or that the cards started being printed on November 4.

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As noted earlier, this set contains two Hall of Famer rookies: Brad Park (#67) and Gilbert Perreault (#131). The Perreault is the most coveted. The Victoriaville, Quebec, native was the first overall pick in the 1970 NHL draft and the bio on his card states that his skills are "reminiscent of a young Jean Believeau."

Wayne Kicinski, who owns the registry's No. 10 Current Finest, 1970 Topps Hockey set, grew up in the Buffalo area and coveted this card as a child. "That card was always a favorite of mine," he said. "Gilbert Perreault is like royalty in Buffalo."

The veteran collector, who also possesses the registry's No. 2 Current Finest Gilbert Perreault Basic set, says the Topps rookie is one of the more challenging Perreault cards to find in PSA NM-MT 8 or better. If Topps employed the same sheet configuration as the first series of 1970 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set (which is very likely), then the Perreault card was located in the top row (fourth card from the left). Cards in the top row are generally more susceptible to condition flaws during the production process. Also, because the Perreault rookie was the second-last card in the set, it likely suffered additional wear being near the bottom of piles. Of the 337 evaluated, there has been one PSA GEM-MT 10 and 17 PSA MINT 9s.

This set also harbors the Topps debuts of several other noteworthy NHLers, including Wayne Cashman (#7), Garnet Bailey (#10), Ernie Wakely (#97), and Mike Pelyk (#107).

Kicinski counts 27 Hall of Famers in total in this series.

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"That means that one in every five cards is a Hall of Famer," he said.

On top of  Orr (#3), Hull (#15), Howe (#29), Park (#67), and Perreault (#131), other Hall of Famers in this series include Gerry Cheevers (#1), Johnny Bucyk (#2), Phil Esposito (#11), Stan Mikita (#20), Frank Mahovlich (#22), Gump Worsley (#40), Jean Beliveau (#55), Tim Horton (#59), Bernie Parent (#78), and George Armstrong (#113).

The Orr is the most coveted Hall of Famer card. It offers a full-length posed shot of the Bruins legendary blueliner in his black Bruins jersey against a red background.

"The Bobby Orr doesn't have the clearest of pictures," noted Kicinski. "I couldn't find a completely registered one. I can't imagine in today's day and age, a Sidney Crosby card going through with a blurred image like this. I don't think there's a clear Orr card out there."

Of the 555 submitted, there has been one PSA 10 and 34 PSA 9s.

The Howe card (#29) is another key to this set. It features a grey-haired Howe entering his 25th NHL season in his white Red Wings uniform. With six PSA 10s and 50 PSA 9s, it's one of the easiest star cards to obtain in top grade.

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The Cheevers (#1) is the most elusive star card in PSA 9 or better. Being the first card in the series, it was frequently damaged at the top of collector piles. The five PSA 9s represent the highest graded examples.

Similarly, the checklist, which is the last card in the series, was also regularly damaged on the bottom of piles. Collectors also regularly checked off the boxes on this card. Of the 133 evaluated, there have been two PSA 10s and four PSA 9s.

Two of the toughest commons to uncover in flawless form are the Gary Veneruzzo (#101) and Reg Fleming (#128). The last card that Kicinski needed for his set was the Veneruzzo. If the sheet layout is the same as the first-series 1970 O-Pee-Chee sheet, this card was the first card on the left in the seventh row, an edge-sheet position which generally makes cards more vulnerable to flaws. The Veneruzzo card is tough to find with proper left-to-right centering. The six PSA 9s represent the highest graded examples.

According to the PSA Population Report, this is the second-most difficult 1970s Topps Hockey set to build in PSA 9 or better condition (see accompanying chart). Reeves points out, however, that there are far fewer condition issues with the 1970 Topps Hockey cards than there are with the 1970 O-Pee-Chee cards.

What are the most difficult 1970s Topps Hockey sets to complete in PSA 9 or better?

One of the 1970 Topps Hockey set's biggest attractions is that it remains relatively affordable.

"For anybody thinking of getting into hockey card collecting, this would be a fun set to collect because it's affordable and the cards are easy to find," said Reeves.

But with players like Rogie Vachon featured in this issue being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recent years and the potential for more to be honored in the future, Kicinski believes the 1970 Topps Hockey set could increase in value.

"This set could be the best deal in town," he said.  

For more information on the 1970 Topps hockey set, please https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/hockey-cards/1970-topps/847.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Jesse Reeves, Wayne Kicinski, and Mile High Card Company for providing images for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of April 2017.