Every sport has iconic collectible cards. Basketball has the 1986-87 Michael Jordan rookie. Baseball has the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle and the T-206 Honus Wagner. Pro football has the 1935 Bronko Nagurski National Chicle card.
Hockey is no different. As the puck drops for a new regular season, here is a look at 10 rare, interesting, landmark or simply fun hockey cards to collect. Click the title of each to see them for sale and auction.
Gretzky actually has two rookie cards, but it is his 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee RC that commands the most value. O-Pee-Chee cards were distributed in Canada and had a smaller production run than Topps’ issue in the United States.
Of the 3,464 cards submitted to PSA for grading, only one has come back a gem mint. That PSA 10 sold for $94,162.80 via SCP Auctions. There have been 455 cards sent to SGC for grading, and the highest is a 98 (one card). Seven have graded out at 96.
This one also has variations that only a sharp-eyed collector might find. Print lines can be found on the card back, trailing off the cartoon. Watch out for counterfeits. Buying a graded example from a long-established seller is the way to go.
Gordie Howe 1951-52 Parkhurst RC— This is Howe’s first hockey card, even though he made his NHL debut in 1946 (he scored in his first game, on October 16, 1946). “Mr. Hockey” was No. 66 in the 105-card set, considered the first set of the modern era.
Howe remains an all-time favorite among hockey fans, and it’s easy to see why. He had a 32-year career, and with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings he scored 801 goals and had 1,850 points. Throw in his time in the World Hockey Association, and his totals are 1,071 goals and 2,589 points. He won six MVP awards, six scoring titles and played through seven presidencies (Truman through Carter).
The Parkhurst set had flimsy stock and blank backs. Centering, particularly to the right, was a chronic problem. That makes it tough to find a Howe higher than PSA-8, although there is one graded a 9. One PSA-8 did sell for $11,403.60 in a July 2015 auction by Mile High Card Company. Cards graded by SGC are equally tough to find in high grade, with only three attaining 96.
Bobby Orr 1966-67 Topps — This set looks just like the 1966 Topps AFL football set. It has the same grading issues as those two sets. That wood grain border that frames a television-like shot is dynamic, but it also is prone to showing lots of wear.
Finding a Bobby Orr card (No. 35) in a high grade in this set is a challenge. Orr had a fabulous rookie season, scoring 18 goals and adding 28 assists. He was named the NHL’s rookie of the year for the 1966-67 season.
Only one card graded by SGC has earned a 98. PSA has never graded an Orr at a perfect 10. One card was awarded a grade of 9.
A scarcer version of this card is the 1966-67 Topps USA Test. It was printed in much smaller quantities and has a slightly lighter brown border, and the information on the back of the card was English-only. The actual Topps RC had writing in both English and French, as did all card in the Topps set that year. After all, if you are going to try to sell cards in hockey-mad Canada, one must make a concession to the French-speaking population of the Quebec province.
Mario Lemieux 1985-86 O-Pee-Chee RC — Other than Gretzky, few hockey cards in the 1980s were coveted more than those of “Super Mario.” And Mario Lemieux turned 50 this week. If he had not been plagued with health issues, his numbers would have been higher.
They were pretty good already, with 690 goals, 1,033 assists and 1,723 points. He led the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups and won one as an owner in 2009 (not a bad hat trick).
Lemieux suffered from severe back pain and also came back from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Playing in pain as he did makes his achievements even more remarkable.
Gordie Howe 1954-55 Topps — This was the first hockey set produced by Topps. The 60-card product only included the four teams that were based in the United States — Detroit, Boston, Chicago and New York.
Howe’s the NHL’s marquee attraction in 1954, was card No. 8. He was coming off a season in which he led the league in assists (48) and points (81),
The 1954-55 Topps set is attractive, but the blue bottom borders sometimes hinder a collectors’ ability to find cards in a high grade.
Three have received a mint designation (PSA-9), while SGC has two at 96.
Bobby Hull 1958-59 Topps RC — “The Golden Jet” is the key card to this colorful set, which like its 1954-55 counterpart, only included players from U.S.-based teams.
As card No. 66, the Orr was the final one in the 1958-59 set. Like most first and last cards in a set, the Hull card was prone to wear and damage. Don’t forget, before collectors became grade-sensitive, many kids wrapped their sets in rubber bands or dumped them into shoeboxes. Inevitably, high-grade cards were infrequent.
Only two PSA-9s exist, and the highest grade from SGC is 88.
Hull scored 50 goals during the 1961-62 season, a year after leading the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup title. He would top that mark four more times during his NHL career.
Switching to the World Hockey Association in the 1970s, Hull scored a mind-boggling 77 goals in 78 games with Winnipeg during the 1974-75 season. The 36-year-old added 65 assists. Including his final season with Chicago in the NHL (1971-72), Hull scored 50 or more goals for five consecutive seasons.
Georges Vezina 1911 C55 Imperial Tobacco — Hockey cards during this era could be found in packs of cigarettes.
Georges Vezina debuted with the Montreal Canadiens on December 31, 1910. During his second season, Imperial Tobacco included him in the company’s series of hockey trading cards. This was a 45-card set and featured players from the National Hockey Association (the ancestor league of today’s NHL).
The card has an ornate look to it, and Vezina is featured in a red shirt with an Old English script “C” surrounded by a green maple leaf.
Vezina was a mainstay in goal until he collapsed on the ice on November 28, 1925. He was forced to quit the game and died from tuberculosis four months later. Before the 1926-27 season, the Canadiens’ owners established the Vezina Trophy, presented annually to the league’s top goaltender.
Vezina’s cards typically fetch four figures. Forty cards have been submitted to SGC, and there is one 96 and a 92; the highest PSA grade registered is an 8.
Jacques Plante 1955 Quaker Oats — Parkhurst partnered with the Quaker Oats company to produce a parallel set of cards. These were put into boxes of cereal, and the action shot of the Canadiens’ goalie stopping a shot is spectacular for its time. Even more impressive is that this was an era wh
en goalies did not wear masks.
The Quaker Oats cards sport green ink on the card back (Parkhurst used red) and do not have a trivia question. The Plante card suffers the same fate as other cards in the set — poor centering, and the red box on the right-hand side of the card front fades, allowing the yellow print that features his name to bleed into the red.
Cards became scarce because Quaker Oats ran a promotion that required sending cards back to the company. Collectors who completed the 79-card set could redeem them for a bicycle; those who sent in all the Canadiens or Maple Leafs in the set would receive a pair of skates.
1965-66 Topps Phil Esposito RC — A personal favorite because of Esposito’s work as a founding member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, plus his passionate calls as a radio announcer for the team (“No, no, NOOOOO …” can be a common wail when Phil doesn’t like the play or a referee’s call).
Card No. 116 is part of a colorful Topps issue and depicts Esposito in the Chicago Blackhawks’ red against a blue background. “Black Hawks” is listed as two words on the card. Traded to Boston in 1967, Esposito was the first player to net 100 points in a season (1968-69) and then did it five straight times during the 1970s.
Guy LaFleur 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee — A beautiful design makes this set one of the 1970s’ finest efforts. The front of LaFleur’s card features a player’s photo set against a solid-color background and placed into an oval-like frame.
The team name appears at the top of the card in a modernist-type font.
Simple but elegant.