PSA Set Registry
Collecting Signed Hockey Hall of Famer Rookie Cards
By Kevin Glew
Call it the Gordie Howe hobby hat trick.
In today's collecting world, this would require tracking down his 1951 Parkhurst rookie (1) that has been autographed (2) with both the signature and card in high grade (3).
It's a significant challenge, but even though Howe passed away in 2016, it's not impossible to achieve - and it's a more likely achievement for most of us to accomplish than a true Gordie Howe hat trick which requires a player to record a goal, an assist and a fighting major in the same game.
"Gordie Howe would sign anything," said Jeffrey Griffith, who owns the No. 1 Hockey Hall of Fame Post-War Rookie Card Autographs set on the PSA Set Registry, when asked about the difficulty of obtaining "Mr. Hockey's" signature.
But what makes acquiring a signed example of Howe's and other hockey Hall of Famers' rookie cards so difficult was the long-held hobby belief that collectors should not have these cards signed. Until the past five years or so, it was thought that a signature would devalue the player's most important single.
That mindset has largely changed, and signed rookie cards are now some of the most sought-after singles in the hobby. The competition that collectors face while pursuing the Registry's Hockey Hall of Fame Post-War Rookie Card Autographs set is a testament to this fact. And these hobbyists will tell you that securing a signed Howe rookie is far from the greatest barrier to finishing this set.
In all, collectors are required to hunt down 147 cards for this set, ranging from those autographed by immortals like Howe, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky to those signed by European and Russian players who have returned to their home country in retirement.
Duane Tom, who owns the No. 5 Current Finest Hockey Hall of Fame Post-War Rookie Card Autographs set on the Registry, recently shipped Jari Kurri and Pavel Bure rookies to Finland and Russia, respectively, to have them signed.
"If you don't get these players during their career, it can be pretty difficult to get their autographs," said Tom of the Hockey Hall of Famers that reside overseas.
There are also players who passed away at a young age and others that have become reclusive or refuse to sign autographs. Another challenge can be the cost. Orr, who many feel is the greatest hockey player ever, was one of the first - if not, the first - to begin charging a premium to sign his rookie card. An August 2019 signing with A.J. Sports World advertised his fee as $899 to sign his single. So far, no other hockey Hall of Famers have followed suit, but collectors fear that it's just a matter of time.
On the flip side, there are still Hall of Famers that will sign for free through the mail.
"By and large, I think hockey players are leading the sports world in terms of accessibility," said Casey Harrigan, who collected close to 90% of the Hockey Hall of Fame Post-War Rookie Card Autographs set before opting to sell his cards.
But Harrigan is quick to point out that it was far from easy to build his collection. Pursuing a set like this requires determination and passion and a love for both autographs and rookie cards.
"There's something more intimate and personal about the signature aspect of it," said Griffith, when asked about the appeal of collecting signed rookie cards. "It's one thing to just see the cards themselves, but it's like the signature brings the card to life."
But passion can only take you so far in collecting, and Griffith and Harrigan concede there are signed cards in this registry set that they have never seen and simply may not exist.
"I could have every signed card that has been circulating at some point and my registry still wouldn't be at 100%," shared Griffith.
But this hasn't slowed down his pursuit. Like many collectors, Griffith enjoys the thrill of the hunt.
So, what are the key signed Post-War Hockey Hall of Famer rookies in this tough registry set? Here's a rundown:
1951 Parkhurst Rookies
This registry set forces collectors to track down signed singles of 23 players from the 1951 Parkhurst set. Of those 23, there are eight - Tom Johnson (#7), Bernie Geoffrion (#14), Bill Quackenbush (#26), Harry Lumley (#47), Doug Bentley (#48), Bill Mosienko (#49), Terry Sawchuk (#61) and Harry Watson (#70) - of which there has yet to be an example authenticated by PSA/DNA.
As a group, the 1951 Parkhurst signed cards are key to this set because on top of the long-held belief that collectors shouldn't have rookie cards signed, these cards were also undersized, measuring just 1-3/4" by 2-1/2."
"Generally, when you get an autograph, you want something that will display it well and the Parkhurst card was so small," noted Tom.
Secondly, many of these players passed away before public and private signings became prominent.
"If you have players from the'50s and '60s who passed away in the '80s and '90s, they passed away before the signings really started to take place," explained Griffith.
Hobbyists seem to agree that the "Holy Grail" of this signed rookie set would be an autographed Sawchuk single. Widely considered the greatest goalie in NHL history, this 11-time All-Star recorded 103 shutouts and 447 wins in his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers that spanned from 1949 to 1970. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native also won four Vezina trophies (as the league's top goalie), earned four Stanley Cup rings and led NHL goaltenders in wins in five seasons.
Unfortunately, Sawchuk died in 1970 when he was just 40.
"He passed away in 1970, so that only gave him 19 years to sign his 1951 Parkhurst card," said Griffith. "But the 1951 Parkhurst card was not a popular card to have signed."
Harrigan offers a similar assessment.
"I think Sawchuk is the single-most-difficult card to locate," he said. "I've never seen one or even heard of one existing. It would be a real pleasure to see one, but I would be surprised if one existed. His signature is so rare in any medium."
On the other hand, it's surprising that a signed Bernie Geoffrion rookie has not been authenticated by PSA/DNA. Nicknamed "Boom Boom" for the sound his stick made when he shot the puck, Geoffrion was a star right winger on the Montreal Canadiens when they won five consecutive Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1960 and was the NHL's second player to score 50 goals in a season. A two-time winner of the NHL's Art Ross trophy (as the league's leader in points), he tallied 393 goals in his 16 NHL seasons.
Geoffrion was an accommodating signer who lived until 2006, so there were plenty of opportunities to have his rookie card signed. But his 1951 Parkhurst card just didn't seem like an attractive option for collectors.
"I've never seen a signed Boom Boom 1951 Parkhurst, but I have seen and owned many of his cards from the '50s and '60s, so I would assume that at least one exists in the wild," said Harrigan.
Key Vintage Signed Rookie Cards (Pre-1970)
1951 Parkhurst Maurice Richard #4
In 18 memorable NHL seasons, Richard potted 544 regular season goals and helped the Canadiens win eight Stanley Cup championships. The Rocket played in 13 consecutive All-Star games from 1947 to 1959, won the Hart Trophy (as the league's MVP) in 1947 and was the first NHLer to score 50 goals in a season and 500 in a career. For his efforts, the three-year waiting period was waived, and he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.
Richard was active on the show circuit in Canada prior to his death in 2000 at the age of 79, but just three of his signed rookie cards have been authenticated by PSA/DNA. Harrigan owned one of them.
"There are only three of them and I think I've seen each one," said Harrigan. "The old school thinking was people didn't want to get their valuable rookie card signed. A Maurice Richard rookie card was worth a lot of money and his 1951 Parkhurst rookie wasn't the type of item that people would have gotten signed. Additionally, he passed away in 2000, so when he was alive, having that card signed was considered taboo."
1951 Parkhurst Gordie Howe #66
Before Wayne Gretzky, Howe owned virtually every all-time NHL scoring record. Born in Floral, Saskatchewan, in 1928, "Mr. Hockey" played a record 26 NHL seasons over parts of five decades. During his lengthy NHL career, he won six Art Ross trophies, six Hart trophies and was selected to 23 All-Star games. He spent 25 of his 26 NHL campaigns with the Detroit Red Wings and led the club to four Stanley Cup championships. He retired with 1,850 points, which is the fourth most in NHL history.
Howe was an accommodating signer throughout his career and a staple on the show circuit before his death at the age of 88 in 2016. With this said, only 18 of his signed rookies have been authenticated by PSA/DNA. One with a PSA/DNA GEM-MT 10 signature (auto grade only) was being offered for $4,800 on eBay in August 2019.
1952 Parkhurst George Armstrong #51
This long-time Toronto Maple Leafs captain spent a record 21 seasons with the club, notching 713 points in 1,187 games. Between 1949 and 1971, he was selected to seven All-Star games and captained the Leafs to four Stanley Cup wins, including their last title in 1967.
Now 89, Armstrong, for the most part, has refused to sign autographs or participate in signings.
"One of the most reclusive and difficult signers who is a living member of the Hall of Fame is George Armstrong," noted Harrigan. "He won't sign for money. He won't do a show. He won't sign through the mail."
In at least two instances, however, he has relented and signed his rookie card. A pair of them have been authenticated by PSA/DNA, but as far as we can tell, they have never surfaced for sale.
1953 Parkhurst Jean Beliveau #27
In 20 NHL seasons, this Canadiens legend was selected to play in 13 All-Star games and registered 507 goals and 1,219 points in 1,125 games. He twice topped the league in goals, won the Art Ross trophy in 1956 and was a key member of 10 Stanley Cup-winning teams. Following his playing career, he remained associated with the Canadiens and was an obliging signer and popular ambassador for the club. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 83.
Ten of his rookie cards have been authenticated by PSA/DNA. A signed single in rough condition with a PSA/DNA 10 autograph was being offered for $960 on eBay in August 2019.
1955 Parkhurst Jacques Plante #50
One of the best NHL netminders of all-time, this Quebec-born superstar recorded 83 shutouts and 452 wins in a professional career that spanned 19 seasons. He's best known for his heroics in net with the Canadiens from 1952 to 1963. During that stretch, he won six Vezina trophies, earned six Stanley Cup rings and won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1962. Also beginning in 1959, he was the first NHL goalie to regularly wear a mask while playing net.
Plante died in 1986 when he was just 59, so he didn't have much of an opportunity to participate in the show circuit. Aside from the Sawchuk rookie, this is likely the most desired and sought-after signed hockey rookie card of which no one has seen an authentic copy.
1955 Parkhurst Bill Durnan #63
Durnan preceded Plante as a star goalie in the Canadiens' crease from 1943 to 1950. The Toronto native played just seven NHL seasons, but won six Vezina trophies, including becoming the first rookie netminder to capture the honor. The three-time All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup champ also topped the NHL in wins in four seasons and in shutouts in two others.
He passed away in 1972, well before the autograph hobby became as organized as it is today. There has never been a signed Durnan rookie authenticated by PSA/DNA.
1958 Topps Bobby Hull #66
Nicknamed "The Golden Jet," Hull notched 610 goals during his 16-year NHL career. In his 15 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, the imposing left-winger won three scoring titles, two Hart trophies, was a first-team All-Star 10 times and earned a Stanley Cup ring in 1961. But the strong-willed superstar also often clashed with Hawks' management about his contract, eventually leading him to sign with the Winnipeg Jets of the upstart WHA in 1972, when the owners pooled their money to offer him pro hockey's first million-dollar contract. During his seven seasons in the WHA, he notched four 50-goal campaigns, was named the league MVP twice and was part of three championship teams.
"Bobby Hull is an available signer," said Harrigan. "He does a dozen or more signing events every year. He's essentially on the circuit these days. So, if you're interested in getting a Bobby Hull rookie card signed, you can do it, you just have to shell out the money for the rookie card."
There have been 36 signed examples authenticated by PSA/DNA. One with a PSA/DNA Authentic autograph (card not graded) was being offered for $985 or best offer on eBay in August 2019.
1966 Topps Bobby Orr #35
Widely recognized as one of the greatest hockey players ever, Orr was a superstar defenseman for parts of 12 NHL seasons. Though limited by chronic knee troubles, the Boston Bruins blueliner was a three-time Hart trophy winner, a nine-time All-Star and was named the league's top defenseman eight times. He also topped the NHL in assists five times, was the first defenseman to register 100 points in a season and remains the only defenseman to lead the league in scoring - a feat he accomplished twice. He was also the playoff MVP of two Stanley Cup-winning squads (1970, 1972). For his efforts, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its traditional three-year waiting period and inducted him in 1979.
As noted earlier, Orr is still an active signer, but he charges a huge premium to autograph his rookie card. The fee was up to $899 per card for an A.J. Sports World signing in August 2019.
"The price that he charges to sign that card has kept its population relatively low," said Harrigan, "that combined with the expense of the card itself, which has increased a lot over the past couple of years."
Seventeen signed Orr rookies have been authenticated by PSA/DNA. One with a PSA/DNA 10 signature (card not graded) sold for $3,600 in a Goldin Auctions sale in August 2018.
Key Signed Rookie Cards (Post-1970)
1971 O-Pee-Chee or Topps Ken Dryden #45
In his short eight-season NHL career with the Canadiens, this legend won six Vezina trophies and backstopped his club to six Stanley Cup championships. After playing just six regular season games with the Habs during the 1970-71 regular season, Dryden took over as the team's starting goalie in the playoffs and led them to a Stanley Cup title. He would win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie the following season. The five-time All-Star topped NHL netminders in wins and shutouts in four seasons, and since his playing career ended, he has become a best-selling author and a respected politician in Canada.
But while he has remained in the public eye, he has become a difficult signature to obtain. He has also resisted appearing at any paid signings.
"He's just not interested in signing large quantities of any type of memorabilia, let alone a rookie card," said Harrigan. "When Dryden does sign, he tends to personalize [the autograph with an inscription], and a personalized card is considered to be less desirable by the collecting community."
With this said, Dryden has signed a small quantity of his rookie cards. Seven of his O-Pee-Chee rookies and four of his Topps rookies have been authenticated by PSA/DNA.
1979 O-Pee-Chee or Topps Wayne Gretzky #18
"The Great One" owns more than 60 NHL records, including marks for most career goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857). The Edmonton Oilers legend also possesses single-season records for most goals (92), assists (163) and points (215); plus, he racked up four, 200-point seasons. No other NHL player has even had one. And if his regular season accomplishments don't wow you, Gretzky also has the most playoff goals (122), assists (260) and points (382), and his resume boasts nine Hart trophies, 10 Art Ross trophies, two Conn Smythe trophies (as playoff MVP) and four Stanley Cup rings. For his efforts, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its traditional three-year waiting period and inducted him in 1999.
Gretzky is still generally a willing signer in person, but he does not do show appearances.
"Gretzky is hard to access," said Griffith. "But I have seen him sign a few more rookie cards recently. There was an urban myth or legend that he wouldn't sign rookies for a while, but they're starting to appear with modern autographs now. But the thing with Gretzky is you have to find a way to access him, and that's a chore unto itself."
Harrigan says if you happened to bump into Gretzky somewhere, he's likely to sign, but the quality of his in-person autograph is not very good.
"If you're just looking for a card without any regard for the condition or for autograph quality, it's not particularly difficult to get one," said Harrigan. "He's a great signer in person. He signs for his fans if you see him on the street or if you see him going into an event."
Eighty-three signed O-Pee-Chee rookies have been authenticated by PSA/DNA and 54 Topps rookies. One O-Pee-Chee card that was not issued a number grade but had a signature authenticated by PSA/DNA sold for $1,825 on eBay in May 2019.
1979 Panini Sticker Valeri Kharlamov #151
Kharlamov was an outstanding left winger for CSKA Moscow for 14 seasons. In 436 games, he tallied 293 goals and 507 points and was named MVP of the USSR Elite League twice and to its First All-Star Team seven times. Though he never played professionally in North America, he is best known in Canada for tallying seven points in seven games in the 1972 Summit Series and for helping the Russian national team to two Olympic gold medals and eight golds at the World Championships. Sadly, he was killed in a car accident on August 27, 1981, when he was just 33 years old.
Hobbyists say Kharlamov is the toughest "modern" Hockey Hall of Famer autograph. Not only did Kharlamov die when he was young, but his 1979 Panini sticker was not widely available to North American collectors. Griffith adds there were also obstacles to getting a Russian player's autograph via the mail during Kharlamov's life.
There has never been a signed example of this sticker authenticated by PSA/DNA, and Harrigan says it's unlikely there will ever be one.
1985 O-Pee-Chee or Topps Mario Lemieux #9
Nicknamed "The Magnificent One," Lemieux was a nine-time NHL All-Star who won six Art Ross trophies, three Hart trophies and averaged almost two points a game. He also captained the Pittsburgh Penguins to two Stanley Cup championships and was named the Conn Smythe Award winner for each of those playoff runs. His resume also boasts gold medals at the 1987 Canada Cup and at the 2002 Olympics. For his efforts, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its traditional three-year waiting period and inducted him in 1997.
As owner of the Penguins, he has remained in the public eye, but he's a far less accommodating signer today than he was early in his playing career. He does, however, participate in signings, but his autograph price is one of the highest among ex-NHLers.
There have been 39 signed Topps rookies authenticated by PSA/DNA and 32 O-Pee-Chee singles. A PSA/DNA authentic O-Pee-Chee rookie (with no card grade) sold for $525 on eBay in May 2019.
1992 Upper Deck Paul Kariya #586
After being selected fourth overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 1993 NHL Draft, Kariya proceeded to enjoy a 15-season NHL career that saw him score 402 goals and 989 points. Along the way, he was selected to seven All-Star games, collected two Lady Byng trophies (for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct), registered seven 30-goal seasons, two 100-point seasons and earned a gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Olympics.
Until his Hall of Fame induction in 2017, Kariya had almost disappeared from the public eye. Dating back to his playing days, he hasn't been an enthusiastic signer and has never done a public signing.
"The nice way to word it is that he's immensely private," said Griffith, who is a Ducks season ticket holder. "It would be shocking if he ever did a signing, let's put it that way."
Four of his signed 1992 Upper Deck rookies have been authenticated by PSA/DNA.
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