There are few sets that bring a grunt of disgust from an old school hockey card collector more than the 1991-92 Arena Holograms set, but was it really as bad as people remember it?
The answer is undoubtedly yes.
As a bit of back story, the 1991-92 season brought about the war that no hockey card collector asked for – the battle between four different companies making sets of players selected in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.
Each one’s effort was memorable for one reason or another. Classic managed to be the only one of the four companies to secure a deal with Eric Lindros. Smokey’s, a card store based out of Las Vegas, debuted their Ultimate (and bland) line of cards with photos of players taken at an event much like today’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase, and Star Pics seemed to do the bare minimum while mixing in a few legends and young stars.
Why does the 1991-92 Arena Holograms set stand out among this motley crew? The answer is simple…. tuxedos.
Yes, a maker of trading cards decided it would a great idea to have some of the hottest prospects in the game put on a tux and go out on the ice for a photo shoot. Even crazier is the fact that some people actually bought it – including your friendly author for the purposes of completion more than anything else.
Offered as a boxed set of 33 cards with the potential for pulling an autographed card, the sets were sealed and were meant to include a special hologram (what else?) of second overall pick Pat Falloon of the San Jose Sharks. Those breaking open the sets were disappointed to see that the hologram was not there and that likely hurt sales even more.
Capitalizing on a trend in hockey cards at the time, Arena produced both an English and French edition. They let the presses run, too, as 198,000 and 99,000 sets were printed for each respective language. Don’t worry, though, as each set came with a card certifying that it was a limited edition.
From a pure design perspective, the cards did look pretty sharp for the era outside of it looking like photo outtakes from the prom (the theme being Ice Follies, of course!). The checklist was decent in retrospect with future Hall of Famers in Peter Forsberg (oddly listed as a defenseman) and Scott Niedermayer and even had some decent names in Martin Lapointe, Markus Naslund, Yanic Perreault, and Glen Murray. Otherwise, it was a mix of guys who either went on to have fairly solid NHL careers or were on the periphery.
Seriously, the backs.
Each one was individually numbered and since the sets were poorly sealed, sneakier dealers could just crack them open to look inside for their precious Donevan Hextall and Francois Groleau autographs. The lack of security simply added more fuel to the hatred of this set by collectors. Each of the 31 players signed 667 English and 333 French cards and each one was hand numbered. Today, most of them sell for very little, but the signed cards of big name players do still have some value.
Needless to say, there was no sequel for Arena Holograms and while this effort gets full points for creativity, it fails dismally for execution. Folks were buying everything at the time, but it is difficult to know if anyone got rich with these cards. It was all dressed up with nowhere to go but down, but at least the players looked sharp!