To collect the 1966-67 Topps Hockey Set "Orr" not to collect it? That is the question.
And the answer is that more and more hobbyists are embracing the challenge and pursuing these elusive pasteboards.
"In the last few years, the (number of cards graded on the) Population Report has tripled on this set," explained Brian Roberts, whose registry set was named PSA's Best Vintage Hockey Set (1948-1971) for 2006.
It only seems fitting to paraphrase Shakespeare for this article. After all, Bobby Orr – whose rookie is part of this set – is to hockey what the revered English scribe was to playwriting.
The legendary blueliner's inaugural single is the highlight of the 132-card, 1966-67 Topps Hockey set. Distributed in wax packs, these cards feature a design that showcases player photos inside a TV screen on the front, accompanied by the player's name, team and position. Unforgiving wood-grain borders surround the photos. Biographical information (provided in French and English), statistics and a card number are included on the back.
Joe Henninger, who owns the No. 3 set on the Registry, says Orr is the main reason for his interest.
"I've always liked the set because it's Bobby Orr's rookie card year and I'm a big Orr collector," he said.
Roberts is also a fan of the Hall of Fame defenseman.
"I live in Oshawa and Bobby Orr played his Junior A hockey in Oshawa and as a kid, I had the privilege of watching him play," he said.
It was Henninger who paid $47,593 for the PSA 9 Orr rookie that was sold by Mastro Auctions in April.
"It's a one of one. It's centered. It's mint and it's beautiful," said Henninger. "Everybody thought it would go for a lot more."
"I kind of figured it was more in the $50,000 to $60,000 range," noted Roberts.
On top of the Orr rookie (#35), the set also features singles of ice legends Gump Worsley (#2), Terry Sawchuk (#13), Jean Beliveau (#73), Phil Esposito (#63), Gordie Howe (#109) and Bobby Hull (#112).
Finding any card from this set in mint condition is a challenge. Of the 5,242 cards submitted to PSA (as of press time), just 67 have been graded PSA 9 or higher. The sole PSA 10 card – a Ron Stewart (#94) – sold for $929 in 2005.
Flaws on the wood-grain borders are the most common condition issue with these cards.
"They've only had 66 (PSA) 9s and that's due to the brown (wood-grain) borders, they chip easily," explained Henninger.
Charlie Courage, who owns the Registry's No. 7 set, agrees.
"Any touch on the corners is very visible," he said.
The paper stock also poses problems.
"It seems like maybe the paper stock for that year is not the best... it has a tendency to want to fray," said Henninger.
One of the toughest cards to uncover in high-grade is Toe Blake (#1). Of the 39 evaluated by PSA (as of press time), there has been just one PSA 9 and three PSA 8s. The wear and tear associated with being the first card of the set is the main reason for the lack of pristine copies. Courage believes that a PSA 8 Blake would fetch close to $1,000. The same condition issues hamper the set's last card, Bobby Rousseau (#132). The top two Rousseaus have been deemed PSA 8s.
Also hard to find in top condition are the checklists. The second checklist (#120) is particularly difficult. Of the 48 sent to PSA (as of press time), the highest grade has been a PSA 8.
"The second checklist is always off-center (top to bottom)... the other thing about checklists is that, back then, nobody cared. All the kids were just checking them off," explained Henninger.
Hobbyists seem to agree, however, the all-star cards – which are the last 12 cards of the set – are the most challenging to find in mint condition. In contrast to the horizontal photo format of the other player cards, these cards employ a vertical design. Three all-star cards – Jean Beliveau (#127), Pat Stapleton (#129) and Frank Mahovlich (#131) – only have one PSA 8 example, with no unqualified examples graded higher.
Roberts points out that the Beliveau All-Star card was the last card in the set to have a PSA 8 example. He believes the All-Star Beliveau would command more than the Hall of Famer's regular card.
"Someone would get $1,000 (for a PSA 8 All-Star Beliveau), no problem," he said.
Roberts says that centering issues plague the All-Star cards. Courage adds that being the last cards in the set doesn't help them either.
"They were the last 10 or 15 cards in the set. I guess the elastic band penetrated through to the cards," he said.
A rare 66-card, U.S. Test version of this set also exists. Roberts has read that this set was introduced in California and that the production was limited to 100 sets. The design mirrors that of the regular 1966-67 Topps set. The only differences are that the borders on the test cards are a lighter shade and the information on the back is in English only.
"According to the records and the bottoms of the boxes... they (the 1966-67 U.S. Topps Test version cards) were actually distributed through the 1967-68 season," explained Roberts.
The test Orr rookie – like several other singles in the set – is hampered by a white stripe on the right side of the front of the card. Roberts says that this white stripe is an indication of authenticity. Counterfeit Orrs reportedly exist without the stripe.
Spurred by interest in Orr, the 1966-67 Topps set and the corresponding U.S. Test set have become two of the most popular hockey issues ever produced. And it's clear that more and more collectors who are faced with the question of whether to collect 'Orr' not to collect are embracing the challenge and pursuing these elusive pasteboards.
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