The 1971 Topps Hockey Card Set: That '70s Set

Kevin Glew
Jul 28, 2008

Long-haired lothario Derek Sanderson once quipped that his pre-game meal consisted of a steak and a blonde. In the early '70s, the Boston Bruins center was cavorting in a Rolls Royce, modeling mink coats and partying like there was no tomorrow.

Fortunately for him, he was also producing for his hockey club, consistently tallying more than 20 goals a season and helping the Bruins capture two Stanley Cup championships.

Though his decadent lifestyle would eventually catch up with him, Sanderson was on top of the world during the 1971-72 season, and he remains hockey's ultimate symbol of the self-indulgent '70s.

It's only fitting then that Sanderson's 1971-72 Topps card (#65) commands big bucks. A PSA 9 example sold for $354.99 on eBay this past December.

"At that point (1971-72), he was at the top of his game. His portrait in this set is great. He's just standing there like a knight," said Jeff Ourvan, who owns the PSA Set Registry's No. 2, 1971-72 Topps Hockey set.

It also helps that Sanderson's card is difficult to uncover in high-grade. There are no PSA 10s and just four PSA 9s.

"That one (the Sanderson card) is a killer... you just can't find that one. If you do, you're going to pay for it," said Mike Cable, proud proprietor of the Registry's No. 4 set.

If Sanderson is hockey's ultimate individual symbol of the 1970s, the 1971-72 Topps Hockey set best reflects the decade's style.

"The most appealing aspect of the set is the color, the vivid colors stand out so much.... it just screams I'm from the '70s," said Cable.

Ourvan agrees.

"More than any other Topps set, the design reflects the spirit of the particular times. It's got this bubble font and these bright colors and, to me, it's got this groovy Mod Squad kind of feel to it," he said.

Boasting 132 cards, this series is half the size of its O-Pee-Chee (OPC) counterpart. And while the card size (2-1/2" by 3-1/2") and card fronts are virtually identical to the Canadian set, the backs showcase green text on yellow and gray backgrounds solely in English. The OPC cards feature bilingual backs with black text on a mostly green background.

These cards were distributed in wax packs, rack packs and vending boxes. Included in each pack was one of 24 player booklets. Printed on paper stock, these eight-page booklets feature comics that tell the story of each player's career.

A number of Hall of Famers are featured in the 1971-72 Topps set, including legends like Phil Esposito (#20), Bobby Hull (#50), Gordie Howe (#70) and Bobby Orr (#100). Ken Dryden (#45) is the major rookie card. Unlike the OPC set, the Topps series did not include Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne.

The Dryden card features the legendary goaltender in an action pose.

"It is the only so-called action shot in the set," said Ourvan.

The sole PSA 10 Dryden sold for $2,590.88 in a Mastro Auctions sale in August 2006. Ourvan then purchased this card from the buyer last October.

The Orr card is another key to this set. Two PSA 10 Orrs exist and one of them fetched $3,827.77 in a March 2007 eBay auction.

As with most vintage sets, the first (Goal Leaders) and last (Dunc McCallum) cards of this issue are often found with flaws.

"The No. 1 card in this set is really tough to find. In fact, I'm not even sure that I've ever seen a (PSA) 9 on eBay. I have one of the (PSA) 8s and that was one of the hardest cards for me to find," said Cable. "It's the first card in the set and it doesn't matter if it's a common or a star, it's going to be hard to find in high-grade because of all the rubber band marks."

Just one PSA 10 and two PSA 9s exist of card No. 1.

Dunc McCallum, the set's final card, is equally elusive. Of the 40 submitted, there has yet to be a PSA 10 and there are three PSA 9s. A PSA 9 McCallum sold for $77.88 in an August 2007 eBay auction.

Also difficult to track down in top grade is the checklist (#111).

"Checklists are always tough because people would mark them up. To find them unmarked and nicely centered in a high-grade is pretty rare," said Cable.

Of 129 checklists submitted, there has yet to be a PSA 10 and there are seven PSA 9s.

Thanks to centering issues that plague the entire set, some commons are also evasive in mint condition. Cable says that Murray Hall (#109) was difficult to track down. There are no PSA 10s and just two PSA 9 Halls. A PSA 8 sold for $66.22 on eBay in February 2007.

Two other tough cards are Ken Schinkel (#64) and Doug Favell (#72). There is not a PSA 10 example of either card and there is just one PSA 9 of each.

"The Gordie Howes, the Bobby Hulls and the Orrs – you're going to find them all day long. In any given week, there is probably one of those on eBay somewhere. They're going to be more money, but you don't have to worry about waiting. I waited for over a year to get Doug Favell in an (PSA) 8," said Cable.

In December 2006, a PSA 8 Favell sold for $202.50 on eBay.

Competition for cards like Favell has become more heated in recent years.

"In the two years I've been watching this set, these are really becoming a lot more expensive than they had been. A Wayne Cashman (PSA 9) sold for $220 and there are currently nine PSA 9s. It (the Cashman card) shouldn't be that tough, but the competition is getting really fierce," said Ourvan.

Despite this surge in interest, Ourvan still considers the set a solid investment.

"My hunch is that people are going to be less interested in what rookie appears in what set but more interested in the historical significance of the card and... (that) the presentation of the card reflects what was going on in popular art," he said. "These kinds of sets – like the 1971-72 Topps set – are going to hold a lot of value."

Speaking of investment, Derek Sanderson now reportedly works as a senior investment professional in Boston and provides financial advice to young athletes. Perhaps, in his current position, he can steer clients away from buying mink coats and towards picking up a 1971-72 Topps Hockey set.