2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee hockey card set. The issue featured an innovative design, a key rookie card, and plenty of stars. It was also the largest hockey set issued to that date.
Here’s a closer look at what became the first modern O-Pee-Chee issue.
1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Basics
Working closely with American brand Topps, O-Pee-Chee produced Canadian trading cards for decades. A gum company, O-Pee-Chee first got into the hockey card market in the 1930s, producing the popular set known as the V304 issue from 1933 through 1938. But after a long disappearance from mainstream issues, they returned in the post-war era to produce their first standalone set in 1968-69 since those early years.
Standalone set is kind of a loose term. O-Pee-Chee produced its own separate set but utilized the same design as the Topps cards. Like many other later O-Pee-Chee issues, however, their hockey set was larger and is the more desirable one among collectors.
The 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee hockey base cards utilized a unique horizontal layout. The featured player stood out in a bold color image in a three-dimensional sort of way against the background, which was a tinted action shot. The player’s name and team were featured in flowchart-type arrows at the bottom with his team logo in the upper left corner. The backs featured the standard cartoon you’d find on older Topps issues as well as some biographical and statistical information. The card number in the set was featured inside of a cartoon hockey puck. Several subsets, such as the All-Star cards with Howe’s shown here, were included, too.
As this is a Canadian issue, text on the back was printed in both English and French. The set is extremely difficult to find in true near mint or better condition, largely because the cards were often poorly cut at the factory.
Packs held six cards and cost a nickel. Boxes contained 36 packs.
The checklist for the set is quite impressive. 216 cards were featured in the set as opposed to Topps’ significantly smaller issue with only 132. OPC issued the set in two series, with the second arriving about midway through the season.
The key rookie in the set is easily that of Hall of Famer Bernie Parent. Parent’s rookie isn’t only the top one in the set but it’s one of the best hockey rookies of the 1960s. But he’s not alone and there are plenty of other key cards here.
The most important in the entire set is the 3rd year card of Bobby Orr. It’s not only an early card of Orr but, as was the case for everyone else, Orr’s first O-Pee-Chee card. Orr is not only featured as a base card, but is found in the All-Star and award (for winning the Norris Trophy) subsets. Other big name stars include Phil Esposito, Gordie Howe, Stan Mikita, Jean Believau, Jacques Plante, Bobby Hull, and more.
There’s also an All-Star set, which means more Hall of Famers to collect.
Also of note are the two checklist cards (No. 61 and No. 121) in the set, which are hard to find in good condition and among the more expensive cards in the entire set.
O-Pee-Chee started its initial post-war set off with a bang and pulled out all the stops. Not only did they create a set of cards but the company introduced a special insert set of stickers.
One sticker was included in each pack of cards and there were 22 in the set. Unfortunately, there’s not a Parent sticker to match his prized rookie card but the insert issue is full of stars. Leading the way is, as you might expect, Orr. Also there are Hull, Mikita, Esposito, Beliveau, Plante, Howe, and several other Hall of Famers and key players.
The stickers had a different look to them from the regular cards. Instead of a horizontal display, the stickers were printed vertically. A player’s head shot was featured on a puck along with his name, position, and team. The top of the stickers gave instructions for using them – push them out, moisten the back, and press firmly to a flat surface. Like the cards, text was in both English and French.
Finally, a card number was printed at the bottom, which was sort of deceiving. While the stickers stated that only 21 were in the set, a 22nd to honor Howe’s 700th goal in December of 1968 was also printed. It’s tough to find one that isn’t somewhat miscut.
The stickers are found only in the O-Pee-Chee issue and were not featured in the Topps set.
O-Pee-Chee made a couple of errors in the set. They switched the photos of Don Awrey (#3) and Skip Krake (#43) and the Barclay Plager card (#177) actually pictures his brother Bob.
For being such an important set produced 50 years ago, the 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee set isn’t too bad in terms of price. The set starts around $800-$1,000 in mid-grade condition, but varies greatly by the condition of the key cards included. The most expensive card, the Orr base card (No. 2), starts around $200 in decent shape.
You can check out the inventory of 1968-69 OPC hockey cards on eBay by clicking here.