Topps' initial foray into hockey cards, the 1954 hockey set consists of 60 cards measuring 2-5/8" by 3-3/4” each and representing the NHL's four American teams (Boston, Chicago, Detroit and New York. The two Canadian teams (Toronto and Montreal) had cards in the Parkhurts issue. Various athletic poses on every card were enhanced by large-sized team logos on the cards' fronts and stick designs on the backs. A red-white-and-blue motif characterizes each card. The set is anchored by Alex Delvecchio, Harry Howell, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, and of course, Gordie Howe. Despite the overall desirability of certain “star” cards, the set as a whole appears to have been well-collated and evenly distributed, though tough to find in higher grades due to the fragility of its bottom blue borders.
Sheer drama on ice! Chilly looking white backgrounds and players in colorful uniforms with specks of playing surface flying off the blades of their skates... that's what Americans saw upon glancing at their first home-grown, modern-era hockey cards!
Few series of cardboard collectibles capture the "feel" of their respective sports as effectively as the artistic showpieces contained in Topps' 60-card hockey release produced for the 1954-55 season. The viewer of these items can almost feel the frigid atmosphere of the games. The individually depicted athletes' poses display a palpable quality of "action," and conspicuous details among the graphics include large-sized team logo devices on the cards' fronts and stick designs on the backs. A red-white-and-blue motif characterizes each card, apparently in deference to the presumptive United States orientation of their target audience. (A less subtle, regional bias is evident in the series' actual composition; Boston, Chicago, Detroit and New York squads were well-represented, while Montreal's and Toronto's were not at all.)
For three years prior to the creation of Topps' masterpiece, the Canadian national pastime was ably served in terms of hockey trading cards by that country's own Parkhurst brand. Once it decided to compete, however, Topps hit their mark on the first attempt. The 1954-55 Topps hockey cards assumed a position of prominence that begged comparison to its landmark 1952 baseball effort - and that highly complimentary parallel is still widely acknowledged today.
Composition - Topps used generous 2 5/8" by 3 ¾" cardstock canvases for its initial rink-themed portrayals. These collectibles were the same size as the company's baseball items that had been successfully touted to youngsters upon introduction as "Giant-Sized" pieces and they blew away Parkhurst's relatively coarse-looking offerings. The cards' ample dimensions and the issue's very favorable printing standards enabled the presentation of exciting illustrations featuring Alex Delvecchio, Harry Howell, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk and many other stars, a number of whom eventually gained enshrinement at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Key Features and Rarities - As a rule, a classic card set can be counted upon to incorporate at least one "key" figure or a very rare, standout entry. Fortunately for collectors, the 1954-55 Topps single group of 60 subjects appears to have been well-collated and evenly distributed. As a result, no particular card has gained notoriety by virtue of being simply "harder to find" than its counterparts."Star power" is another matter, however, and the inaugural Topps product had the ultimate: Detroit's Gordie Howe.
Although Howe's "rookie card" resided among the austere portrayals of the 1951-52 Parkhurst gallery, Topps' 1954-55 card #8 of the great player landed in the manner of a thunderbolt on a young hockey-collecting specialty. Like its set-mates, a beautiful, lavishly-hued keepsake, the card delivers a charismatic image, and it's a sight demanding to be cherished. Just as the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, the 1954-55 Howe is sometimes chided (almost always by a non-owner) as "not a rookie." But its role as many enthusiasts' all-time favorite card is equally secure.
Bottom Line - An apparently humble group of just five dozen cards - which, in hindsight, makes one wonder if it was conceived as a "test issue" - the 1954-55 series by itself inspired a new category of collecting. Hockey cards today are sought after with great vigor by devotees of the sport, and they are treasured with the same fervency as those hobbyists whose allegiances lie with baseball, football or basketball. Topps made a small but classy and very well done foray into a new market with its 1954-55 hockey cards. In so doing, the company set the standard for decades of future enjoyment among the fans of a growing sport.