With the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final once again, it is a perfect time to reflect on the team’s rather humble beginnings and examine the first hockey cards featuring one of the game’s most popular franchise.
Before the 1924-25 season, the National Hockey League was in its infancy and limited itself to just two Canadian provinces. In Ontario, you had the Ottawa Senators, Toronto St. Patricks (soon to become the Maple Leafs), and the Hamilton Tigers. Over in Quebec, the Montreal Canadiens stood alone, but the league’s first expansion was about to change things dramatically.
Eager to move into the American market, the Boston Bruins were born when grocery magnate and hockey fan Charles Adams purchased a franchise through Tom Duggan, who was intending to bring the league southward. The deal was sealed on November 1, 1924 and the team began play a month later alongside a second Montreal club that was eventually dubbed the Maroons.
With hockey legend Art Ross running the show, the Bruins were put together quickly with jerseys that were brown and gold to reflect the colors of Adams’ stores. The Bruins got off to a good start by beating the Maroons in their home opener at the Boston Arena on December 1, 1924. A hot start was not in the books, though, as the team lost its next 11 contests. A second victory required overtime against the Montreal Canadiens on January 5, 1925 thanks to a goal from former Western star Bernie Morris who lasted just a month with the team before heading back to skate for the WCHL’s Regina Capitals.
A seven-game losing streak ensued after that, but their next victory was a 1-0 shutout on the road against the Maroons on February 7. Nearly three weeks later, their fourth win of the year once again came at the hands of their expansion cousins with Billy Stuart scoring in overtime.
With the regular schedule winding down, the first-year Bruins managed their first back-to-back victories by beating the Canadiens 3-2 on March 3 before earning their biggest triumph of the year four days later while visiting the Hamilton Tigers. Boston scored twice while shorthanded that night and Doc Stewart kept the crease clear of pucks in what was a truly shocking moment.
Why was this win so important? At that time, Hamilton was on top of the NHL standings and poised to do some damage in the playoffs. With the regular season schedule expanding to 30 games for 1924-25, the players disputed their contracts and decided to go on strike once the campaign concluded. NHL President Frank Calder called their bluff and issued suspensions – effectively keeping them out of the postseason. The Tigers ceased operation soon after and their players were sent to the expansion New York Americans who began play in 1925-26. It was the NHL’s first labor dispute, but it would not be its last.
All told, the Boston Bruins finished in last place during their first NHL campaign with a 6-24-0 record. They combined to score a mere 49 goals while giving up an average of nearly four a night. Coach Art Ross was able to keep his job and there was definite improvement going forward as they went 17-15-4 the next year and claimed their first Stanley Cup championship in 1928-29. Only two of the original Bruins made it to that point as Sailor Herbert and Lionel Hitchman remained, the latter as team captain.
Right Place, Right Time
During the 1924-25 seasons, kids in the eastern part of Canada were starting to get excited about hockey cards. The generation growing up in the aftermath of World War I were first treated to cards featuring NHL players thanks to the hockey-themed chocolate bar produced by the William Paterson Company during the previous season and they returned for a second straight year with the two new clubs along for the ride.
The Paterson set, also dubbed V145-2 by Jefferson Burdick for the American Card Catalog a few years later, included a cool dozen members of the inaugural Bruins roster. The last one of the group, Stan Jackson, was depicted in his Toronto St. Patrick’s uniform and this card reflected his early-season move to Boston.
There are also two new arrivals on the hockey card scene in 1924-25 in the form of sets made by Champ’s Cigarettes and Maple Crispette. Both included members of the Bruins and Maroons, but they are very distinct sets.
A rare tobacco hockey card set following the formation of the NHL, 1924-25 Champ’s Cigarettes is a thing of beauty and was produced by a company based out of Hamilton, Ontario. Dubbed C144 in the American Card Catalog, these are simple sepia-toned cards which are not numbered, but they do feature the first fully-written backs for a hockey card issue. While the early tobacco cards issued from 1910-11 to 1912-13 did list the teams a player had skated for, these cards pushed things to new heights and gave collectors something to enjoy outside of a photo. It is hoped that adults who smoked at the time handed the cards off to kids, but there were certainly also some youth which found a way to get the cards by any means possible.
Only eight Bruins players were included on the 60-card checklist and each one of them was also in the V145-2 set. The photos are either full or ¾ length.
Maple Crispette, otherwise known as V130, was a little bit different as it was included in a popular confectionery product most likely resembling candied popcorn that bore the same name. Likely issued only in Quebec, it focused on local stars from the Canadiens and Maroons along with members of the first Bruins lineup. With a short 30-card checklist, it featured seven of Boston’s players. Interestingly, only surnames were given for the Bruins players and the photos were all close-ups.
It should be noted that five original Bruins were included in all three 1924-25 releases. Those players were Carson Cooper, Hec Fowler, Fern Headley, Jimmy Herbert, and Alf Skinner. Included in both the V145-2 and Champ’s collections only were Herb Mitchell, George Redding, and Werner Schnarr. Lloyd Cook and Smokey Harris were in V145-2 and Maple Crispette while Stan Jackson and Billy Stuart were only in V145-2 since that set was likely produced last out of the three.
Let’s take a look at the players from that expansion season:
Known as “Shovel Shot”, Cooper made the jump from senior hockey and was one of Boston’s earliest stars. During the season opener, he assisted on team’s first goal and then followed it up by scoring their first game-winning tally. He finished the year tied for second on the team in scoring, but he missed over half of the campaign due to injury.
The next season saw him take things to a new level as he posted a career-high 28 goals and 36 points. He would be traded to the Canadiens late in 1926-27 before settling in with the Detroit Cougars (and later the Falcons) before playing his last NHL game in 1931-32. He moved into scouting after that and Ted Lindsay was among his most prominent signees.
You can find cards from his playing days on eBay for around $100.
“Sailor” Herbert was a free agent pickup for Boston and he was the team’s key offensive cog during their brutal first year in the NHL. His 17 goals for the Bruins ranked 10th in the NHL, but it was not enough to spark his teammates to produce as well as he accounted for more than a third of the team’s goals.
Herbert, sometimes referred to as “Herberts”, had an even better season in 1925-26 and finished fourth among all points producers thanks to a career-best 26 goals and 35 points. He was done with the Bruins part-way through 1927-28 and eventually would up in Detroit alongside Cooper.
One of the earliest NHL players to hail from Nova Scotia, Jackson had a rough start with the St. Pats early in 1924-25 and was declared a free agent after three games. Luckily for Boston, they snagged his rights on December 17 and managed to tie Cooper for second on the team in scoring. Granted, that total was amassed in twice as many appearances. As mentioned above, his lone card with the Bruins came in the V145-2 set.
You can see Jackson’s cards on eBay here.
Stuart had been around the NHL since 1921-22 and he was just the second player to come from New Brunswick. Much like Jackson, he was cast off by Toronto early in 1924-25 and picked up by the Bruins on December 14 in exchange for cash. Stuart’s presence on the blue line help shore up some of Boston’s weaknesses and he also chipped in five goals to lead club defensemen. He finished out his career with Boston in 1926-27. Stuart only appears in the V145-2 set and his photo depicts him with the St. Pats.
A rookie thrown into the flames associated with playing for an expansion team, Mitchell managed to chip in five points during his first NHL season. One of those points was a goal against Hamilton, the city where he had previously played his senior hockey in. He was back with the Bruins the following year, but only appeared in 26 games before finishing his pro days in the minors with the New Haven Eagles and Windsor Hornets.
Redding’s NHL career was quite brief, as most of his appearances came as a member of the first Bruins club. Another Hamilton senior star convinced to come to Beantown, he did become an interesting historical footnote by stepping into net during a drubbing at the hands of the St. Pats on December 22. After Hec Fowler gave up nine to Toronto, Redding protected the net for 11 minutes and only let one puck get by him. He only played six more games after 1924-25 and spent a few more years in the minors.
The answer to a great trivia question, Harris scored first goal in franchise history and only appeared in six games with the Bruins. In that time, he managed three goals and an assist, but he was either unhappy with playing in the east or rubbed management the wrong way and was shipped off to Vancouver of the WCHL for cash on December 21.
Sometimes referred to as “Curley” or “Gopher”, Headley was purchased from the WCHL’s Saskatoon Crescents and lasted just 13 games in Boston. He did manage a goal and three assists during that time, but he wound up being loaned to the Canadiens for the rest of the season on January 14. He did get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but the Habs were beaten by the Victoria Cougars.
A one-season wonder in the NHL, Headley went back to the western loop to play two seasons with the Calgary Tigers before moving over the American Hockey Association. He played for numerous clubs there between 1927-28 and 1938-39.
A veteran talent that had won a Stanley Cup with Toronto during the NHL’s first season in 1917-18, Skinner had been playing out in Vancouver for several seasons before his rights were sold off to the Bruins.
With only an assist over 10 games with the Bruins, it appeared that Skinner’s best days were likely behind him. In the past, he had been one of the league’s top 10 goal producers. Boston did get a solid return on him, though, as the Maroons sent Bobby Benson and Bernie Morris in exchange on January 3.
Skinner’s Maple Crispette cards are often found on eBay for a minimal investment.
Another player purchased by Vancouver, Cook scored once over four games with the Bruins before setting his sights on playing in an upstart pro league in California. At the time he started with the Bruins, he was 34 years old and was a long way from winning the Stanley Cup with the Millionaires a decade earlier.
With two cards in 1924-25 sets, it should be noted that the one from v145-2 incorrectly lists Lloyd Cook as Bill Cook. This created confusion in the hobby for many years until collector Hart Stoffman pointed out the situation and sought to clarify the error. For those that though Hall of Famer Bill Cook’s card was in the V145-2 set, they were in for a shock and his rookie card was instead shifted properly to several sets issued in 1933-34. You can see a couple of V130s on eBay now.
Another obscure name from Boston’s debut season, Schnarr made 25 of his 26 career appearances with the Bruins in 1924-25. His impact on the scoresheet was negligible, thanks to zero points or penalty minutes. According to reports, he was used primarily in a checking role.
His last NHL game came mid-way through the 1925-26 season, but it is a bit of an anomaly as there is no record of him playing in the minors that year. Perhaps used in a pinch, he only played a total of four minor league games in 1926-27 and 1928-29 before seeing some action with the Guelph Maple Leafs before playing for his hometown Kitchener Silverwoods.
Boston’s original man in net, Fowler lasted just six games with the Bruins before he was sent packing following the fateful beating his pride took in the previously mentioned game against Toronto where he was relieved by George Redding. On the V145-2 card, he is strangely called “Hek”.
His eventual successor, Charles “Doc” Stewart had much more luck keeping the puck out of the net and the defense corps showed some improvement upon the arrival of Lionel Hitchman from Ottawa. Fowler was back in the WCHL soon after and spent some time with the Edmonton Eskimos hockey club before enjoying one last season with the little-known Oakland Sheiks of the Cal-Pro league in 1929-30.
You can find all cards from some of these early hockey sets listed on eBay by clicking here.