Back in 1945, respected Canadian author Hugh MacLennan wrote a novel entitled Two Solitudes and it addressed the tensions between French and English Canadians through a mythological lens. A decade-and-a-half later, those tensions were readily apparent on the ice as the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs battled for NHL supremacy – a rivalry which was perfectly captured in the 1959-60 Parkhurst hockey card set.
Since 1955-56, the Toronto-based company featured the two Canadian clubs in their annual release with the strange exception of the 1956-57 campaign. The four American-based teams were all part of the Topps release during this era, but that would change in 1960-61 as Parkhurst managed to convince the Detroit Red Wings to work with them – essentially creating a monopoly on the three most popular teams in the league for four seasons before the company walked away from making cards.
Sensing that they had to do something to compete with their rivals, Parkhurst decided to hold the 1959-60 Zip Hockey Gum contest in order to win the hearts of young Canadians. Even with the country’s two biggest teams inside packs, they must have known that Topps (who was being distributed in Canada by O-Pee-Chee even then) was not to be taken lightly.
On the backs of several cards in the set (which happen to feature game action), kids were presented with details about what it took for a chance to win an all-expense paid trip for two to a Stanley Cup Playoff game (most likely in Toronto) with the added bonus of dinner at a famous restaurant.
After building the set, kids could then put the cards together with the 20 Mystery Words to spell the magical question – “When added together, how many goals will the six National Hockey League teams score during the regular 1959-60 hockey schedule?”
In order to enter, each contestant had to answer the question as accurately as possible and the closest three guesses would win the incredible prize of a trip to see a Stanley Cup Final game.
Since the product was released relatively early in the season and the contest deadline was set at February 15, 1960, all they could do was make their best guess. In the end, there were six entrants that answered correctly with 1,238.
The winners for the 1959-60 Zip Hockey Contest were publicly listed on the back of the last card (#50 – Cars Parade Prior to the “Flying Start”) in the 1960 Parkhurst Indianapolis 500 card set. Each lucky guesser was listed and it was explained that the three first prize winners were determined by the earliest postmark.
There was an unintended consequence in the hobby as a result of this contest, too. Since it required 10 wrappers to enter, very few 1959-60 Parkhurst wrappers have survived in the hobby as compared to other years.
The Stars Collide
Weighing in at just 50 cards, building a 1959-60 Parkhurst set is still a formidable challenge for collectors today. Part of the reason for this is based on the fact that it is loaded up with tons of Hall of Fame talent. Packs contained four cards and a piece of Zip gum and the design pops thanks to bold background colors. The only negative, perhaps, is the fact that the company did not use much fresh photography.
With the Montreal Canadiens on the precipice of winning their record fifth straight Stanley Cup, the lineup featured the legendary Maurice “Rocket” Richard in what proved to be his final season. He had one more card released the following year, but this one is truly a thing of beauty thanks to the contrasting blue background which loosely resembles a hockey stick.
From there, the Habs roster is a who’s who of greats such as Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, and Bernie Geoffrion. Other popular cards at the time would have also included Dickie Moore and Henri Richard, but it should also be noted that these cards came out around the same time that Jacques Plante first wore a mask during game action. Plante’s card, and that of occasional backup Charlie Hodge, are a bit different as horizontal photos were used. Coach Toe Blake gets the cardboard treatment here as well.
As for the Maple Leafs, they were a team on the rise at the time. Fresh off a loss to the Canadiens in the previous Stanley Cup Final, they had a solid mix of youth and experience which served them well leading up to the NHL expanding in 1967. The biggest stars in the blue-and-white jerseys here are Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, and Frank Mahovlich. There were some strong supporting players, too, which ended up in the Hall of Fame like Allan Stanley, Bob Pulford, Dick Duff, and former Montreal star Bert Olmstead. The legendary King Clancy, who was an executive for the club in retirement, gets the honor of being the final card in the set. Bower and backup Ed Chadwick have horizontal cards like their rival netminders.
For its fifth straight release, the Parkhurst set featured a few cards depicting game action. The design here is essentially the same as the horizontal goalie cards, but the shots are solid. With photos taken at Maple Leaf Gardens, the storied rivalry is on display. The first card in the set, “Canadiens on guard”, shows reigning Norris Trophy winner Tom Johnson and Phil Goyette attempting to keep the puck away from Plante.
Meanwhile, card #25, “Bower in action” shows the grizzled vet fresh off of blocking the puck – which can be seen at his feet. Card #30, “Action around the net” is a bit dull compared to the others, but card #46, “Officials intervene” has some historical significance as it shows the referee and linesmen attempting to break up a potential scrap.
Small Rookie Class
With just seven debuts, 1959-60 Parkhurst manages to deliver a few strong rookie card – two of which featured names which had a major impact on the game going forward.
The key rookie card in this set does not belong to a player as Maple Leafs bench boss George “Punch” Imlach was placed on the checklist. He eventually led the club to four Stanley Cup championships between 1961-62 and 1966-67, but his hard-driving style often clashed with the players. Due to his success here and in Buffalo during the 1970s, he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Another Maple Leafs executive, Stafford Smythe, was also given a card. He was the son of iconic team owner Conn Smythe and ran the club for much of the 1960s as President. His name was carved on the Stanley Cup five times, including recognition of his stint as team mascot back in 1931-32 – the youngest person to ever receive the honor!
However, the rookie card of Carl Brewer may actually be more significant in terms of the impact he made on the game itself. Skating to the beat of his own drum, he often butted heads with Imlach and had the audacity to ask for a fair wage. A talented defender, he was part of three championships and was runner-up for the Norris Trophy on top of making the league’s First All-Star Team in 1962-63. After leading the NHL with 177 penalty minutes in 1964-65, he chose to take up the fight to be reinstated as an amateur while pursuing his education. The Leafs tried to hang on to him, but he instead went to play for the Canadian National Team before eventually returning to the pro ranks with Detroit and St. Louis.
Ironically, Imlach brought a 41-year-old Brewer back to Toronto for the 1979-80 season. The players thought he was a spy in the dressing room for the hated coach and GM, but the reality was much different. A decade later, Brewer was instrumental in the conviction of former friend and NHLPA head Alan Eagleson and the formation of the NHL Alumni Association.
The lone Canadiens player appearing on cardboard for the first time was a huge prospect for the club in the late 1950s. Bill Hicke was regarded as a potential scoring star as the Rocket approached retirement and went on to have a respectable career of his own despite not reaching some incredibly unrealistic expectations placed upon him. Granted, he had already made his NHL debut during the 1959 run to the Stanley Cup and was poised to make a second as the card hit. For the rest of the 1960s, he delivered respectable numbers and was an original member of both the Oakland Seals once the league expanded before finishing his pro career in the World Hockey Association with the Alberta (later Edmonton) Oilers.
Rounding out the rookie card roster are then-Maple Leafs prospects Gerry Ehman, Ted Hampson, and Garry Edmundson. Hampson later won the Masterton Trophy thanks to a career year in 1968-69 while Ehman is best remembered in Toronto for an overtime winning goal against Boston on March 28, 1959. As for Edmundson, he was already 27-years-old by the time this card came out and had only played one regular season NHL contest previously (with Montreal in 1951-52).
Check out 1959-60 Parkhurst hockey cards on eBay here.