The game of hockey has long celebrated its rich history and this is especially apparent when it comes to hockey cards. In the post-war era, collectors got their first look at legends on cardboard thanks to the Old-Time Greats subset in 1955-56 Parkhurst, but it only focused on players that had skated for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Just five years later, the arrival of 1960-61 Topps hockey gave kids a look back at many legends from other teams as part of its eternally popular All-Time Greats subset.
The names of players like Eddie Shore, King Clancy, Howie Morenz, and Georges Vezina were relegated to the history books for many fans by the time this set was released and the Hockey Hall of Fame was truly in its infancy. Some of the legends were part of the early classes that were inducted between 1945 and 1958, many of whom were still alive when contacted about the chance to be a part of this collection – and based on reports from the era, were more than happy to comply.
Some of these icons helped shape the game itself, like Lester Patrick who leads off the checklist. Others came from the pre-NHL days such as Joe Malone, Cyclone Taylor, Newsy Lalonde, Paddy Moran, Art Ross, and Ernie “Moose” Johnson. Many of the other names here were getting their first cards in 20 years or longer and the sharp design really pops.
It is interesting to note that Topps did have to take a little bit of creative license with some of the cards and changed uniform colors to mask the fact they were playing for clubs they did not have the rights to show on cards. For example, Clancy looks a bit out of place in a green Maple Leafs jersey (although it should be noted that he wore one during a tribute night at Maple Leaf Gardens late in his career).
No Red Wings? No Problem!
For 1960-61, Topps ended up losing one of the NHL’s most popular teams as the Detroit Red Wings ended up signing away their trading card rights to Parkhurst, the company’s main rival in the hockey card arena. Within four years, Topps would end up taking over the trading card license for all six team after their main competition from Parkhurst faded into history. In the meantime, Topps needed to find a competitive edge to win the heart’s of young Canadians.
Printed, packaged, and distributed in Canada by O-Pee-Chee, a sub-licensor for Topps which had sold the company’s hockey cards north of the border since 1954-55, the 1960-61 Topps set was loaded up with another neat gimmick outside of the inclusion of the game’s legends. Each pack contained a piece of clear red cellophane which could be placed on the jumbled back illustration on all 66 cards to reveal the answer to reveal a cartoon and trivia question answer.
Packs of 1960-61 Topps also included a few different offers for premium items such as binoculars, but collectors gravitated towards the Topps Hobby Card Album which was not specific to any sport. Widely available at the time, there were few better ways to store and display your favorite cards during this era as they held about 200 cards. The offer on the pack stated that it would cost 35 cents along with five Bazooka wrappers. The deadline for ordering was February 1, 1961, which leads modern collectors to believe that the product was released during the fall months of 1960.
Robust Rookie Roster
In terms of rookie cards, this set may have just a few – but some of them are of excellent quality. The biggest of them all happens to feature Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita, who was on the cusp of becoming one of the game’s best players and winning what proved to be his only Stanley Cup championship. There were also some decent first issues for other then-active talents as 1959-60 Calder Trophy winner and Hall of Fame builder Bill “Red” Hay of the Blackhawks gets a pasteboard. The New York Rangers teams set in 1960-61 Topps includes a pair of rookie issues as well as 1960 American Olympic gold medal-winning goalie Jack McCartan was smart addition to the set and we also get the first card of Ken Schinkel, who got a lot of work with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the early years of NHL expansion.
The All-Time Greats section of 1960-61 Topps brought collectors rookie card as well as the early years of the game only saw cards issued sporadically. Dickie Boon (whose card has an uncorrected error where he is called “Boone”) predates the first hockey cards as he starred for Stanley Cup-winning squads in the 19th century. Early American amateur hockey star Moose Goheen also gets a card here and he never played in the NHL. There were some players from the old Western leagues who had regional cards during their playing days, but they get major-issue cards here. These names may be somewhat forgotten today, but hockey historians speak highly of players like Dick Irvin, George Hay, and Herb Gardiner. Frank Frederickson and Hugh Lehman also qualify as having rookie cards here even though some did have cards in the impossible-to-find anonymous issue from the late 1920s that do not qualify as a rookie card by traditional definition.
The Rest of the Gang
With a large chunk of three rosters filling up the rest of the checklist, there is still plenty of star power to be found in 1960-61 Topps. Johnny Bucyk leads the pack among the 13 then-active Boston Bruins, but there are two other Hall of Famers in Leo Boivin and Fern Flaman. Bucyk’s fellow Uke Line members are also here in Bronco Horvath and Vic Stasiuk. Horvath’s card would have been popular at the time since he was coming off an impressive 1959-60 season where he tied for the league lead with 39 goals and finished second overall with 80 points. Stasiuk’s card is also special for a different reason as it is the last card in the set. Most of the Bruins cards are horizontal, with the exception of Don McKenney – and his photo was likely much older than the others.
The New York Rangers were undergoing one of the worst eras in franchise history at this time, but there are plenty of legends to pick up from this set. The star power comes from names like Andy Bathgate and Gump Worsley along with other Hall of Famers like Harry Howell and Bill Gadsby. There were also some strong star players from the era like Eddie Shack and Dean Prentice depicted in a Rangers uniform.
Finally, we come to the Chicago Blackhawks, who were then called the Black Hawks. On the edge of capturing the Stanley Cup, their powerful lineup included hard-shooting Bobby Hull, slick defender Pierre Pilote, and the man known as “Mr. Goalie”, Glenn Hall. There are also some decent names that are shown in a Black Hawks jersey here like Al Arbour, Ed Litzenberger, Elmer “Moose” Vasko, and Ab McDonald. Ken Wharram is strangely absent here as he was crucially important to the team’s success in that era.
Summing It Up
The 1960-61 Topps set is a thing of beauty and it demonstrated that Topps was willing to creatively adapt in order to get any sort of edge during its war with Parkhurst for the nickels of Canadian kids. It was innovative in terms of design and content, exploring new avenues when faced with the loss of the popular players from the Detroit Red Wings. While it does only have one key rookie card in that of Mikita, the rest of the rookie roster is solid – especially when you look at the accomplishments of those legends appearing on a major issue cards for the first time.
In the end, Topps would end up prevailing over Parkhurst as it add premiums to packs in 1961-62 and 1962-63 and dominated the scene in tandem with O-Pee-Chee for decades to come. Topps was not messing around here and Parkhurst never knew what hit them until it was too late.