I remember like it was yesterday, peering over the formica dining table with its spindly steel legs, eagerly watching my mother empty the contents of 3 1/4- inch by 2 3/4-inch inch box of Shirriff jelly crystals into a mixing bowl.
The red, yellow or green sticky granular substance mixed with water and set upon by some kind or other of alchemical magic or so it seemed, would become the family dessert that evening. It couldn’t and still can’t be called Jell-O since US based Kraft-Heinz, formerly General Foods have patented that name. The playfully roly poly jelly slipped pleasantly enough down my gullet, although I’m sure I got sick of it eventually, since I was always begging my mother to buy more of those distinctive packages with special promotion encased in a yellow star- like design on the front of the box.
The Prize Inside: 1968-69 Shirriff Hockey Coins
What compelled a hockey mad young boy to temporally curtail shooting a rubber ball into a barn-made net made of 2 by 4’s and baler twine was something equally thrilling. A tiny shiny plastic coin, about the size of the half dollar coins that were still in wide circulation at the time, with a lightly serrated edge like a poker chip was lodged in each of those Shirriff jelly boxes.
Sometimes the plastic coin, tucked inside a thin plastic pouch, would slide right into the mixing bowl and my mother would let me fish it out and dust it dry. Instead of a stylized sideways embossed impression of one of our nation’s founders, a front- on head and shoulders photo of a National Hockey League player was inside the coin holder, encased by a thin transparent plastic cover. If the coin holder was yellow, I knew it one from my favorite team, the Boston Bruins. Every once in a while, my mother would buy a Shirriff pie filling box. These were longer than the jelly boxes and contained two coins.
I don’t know if the Shirriff jelly, pudding or pie filling made me strong and healthy, but those little plastic wafers remain a touchstone of my childhood . Like the Whitman readers and Canadian Magazine clippings I collected, they are precious artifacts and even totems of that special time in my life. And yes, I still have them all.
Before acquiring three- ring plastic coin holder sheets, I kept my collection loosely stored in a shoe box next to my plastic farm animals, swirl colored marbles and Barrel of Monkeys game. The slightly indented edge of the Shirriff coins made stacking them irresistible for a young boy and sometimes I built them so high, they invariably fell over causing a little damage. At the time, no one really cared.
Like O-Pee-Chee’s legendary miscut hockey cards, the Shirriff coins had factory defects such as little specks of dirt that got trapped under the plastic shield and show up on the white background . Some coins have straight line hair line cracks as much as a third of the way across the front. Discoloration and bending is also evident on some coins where the circular photo and plastic cover didn’t fit flush into the coin holder.
My Ivan Cournoyer coin must have received some special abuse ( I didn’t hate the Canadiens that much did I?) since the edges have worn down completely. I wonder if there was a type of coin play equivalent to putting hockey card in the spokes of bicycle wheels or playing leansies at the back of classroom?
The Peter Mahovlich coin somehow got cracked right in half. The scotch tape I used to put it back together yellowed over years and made the made the plastic cover opaque. But the broken coin has allowed me to examine the innards of the coin and speculate on how they might have been made. The high resolution circular photo on a white back ground is still sharp and glossy. It appears to have been crisply excised with a professional grade cutting apparatus, probably from some kind of master printing sheet.
I amassed exactly 66. 3% of the 176 count 1968-69 Shirriff hockey coin set, representing 175 different players, adding only two more in my second childhood of fevered collecting in early to mid 1990’s. I amassed 14 of the 16 Boston Bruins, but have only four of the 13 St Louis Blues. Hmm… I wonder if I was doing some trading in the school yard? Unfortunately, I accrued only nine of the 42 legendary short prints (21%) which has given this set coin such cache and which we will talk about shortly. The SP’s have pushed up the value of the regular prints by a factor of three, compared to each coin in the three early 60’s Shirriff/Salada sets, all of which presumably had no short prints.
History of Shirriff
The Shirriff food products had a distinctly Canadian origin. Francis Shirriff came from a small rural community in Quebec and was a foodie before that term was chic. By the late 19th century Shirriff had emigrated to Toronto and in 1883 founded The Imperial Extract Company which made and marketed essential oils and fruit flavor extracts. Francis son’s Colin, Frances and William soon joined the patriarch in the family business. In 1903, they made their first marmalade, a traditional old country breakfast topping. Soon the rising company came up with the world famous Good Morning Marmalade, from a secret recipe of specially prepared orange, grapefruit and lemon peels.
In 1927 Shirriff introduced Flavor Bud, a dissolvable gelatin (animal bones and connective tissue) based fruit extract that made a delectable treat and with General Foods’s Jell-O helped turn the word jelly, then used mostly in medical and technical settings into a household term. After amalgamating with William Horsey’s Dominion (` Mainly Because of the Meat’)grocery chain in 1956, it was estimated that Shirriff made one third of all the gelatin based jelly products in Canada.
Shirriff Horsey merged with US-based Salada Tea in 1957. Salada Tea founder Peter Larkin came up with the novel idea to put loose tea leaves stored in chests into thin transparent foil packages. Shirriff Horsey started placing full page color ads in magazines like The Star Weekly and Canadian Weekly, which were inserted in Saturday editions of newspapers across the country. Some of these ads were promotions for coins of airplanes, following the example of General Food’s comprehensive automobile coin set.Three consecutive hockey coins sets starting in 1960 maintained the Shirriff name. Occasionally, however, coins turn up with Salada on back. These draw a premium in the secondary market. Even though the venerable Shirriff name was subsumed within Salada, it was brought out for the large 1968-69 coin set.
In 1968, another Ontario food company exerted an influence upon me that far exceeded the taste appeal of sticky sweet pink colored gum it was initially associated. Down the road from the province’s capital on the ten year old McDonald/Cartier Freeway (#401), the London based O-Pee Chee candy company released a 216 count synopsis in two dimensional cardboard form, of the first year of NHL expansion, still the biggest of any professional sports league in history.
Taking away the trophy, all- star, commemorative, checklist and, curiously, three duplicate player cards, 193 different players were represented, their 1967-68 scoring exploits, as well as career statistics clearly printed on the back. The 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set was the most comprehensive one yet produced, the previous record holder being the 1965-66 Topps set in which 113 different players spread over six teams were depicted.
O-Pee-Chee was founded in 1911 by the McDermid Brothers who started out making card board shipping box for other businesses. The company’s clever tongue rolling moniker is an aboriginal name for the robin bird which appears in Henry Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha. Soon, candy products like Gipsy Gum, Thrill Gum and Graperoo started coming off the Adelaide Ave. factory assembly line. Starting in 1933, O- Pee- Chee issued five consecutive NHL hockey card sets that were sequentially numbered from one year to the next. In the early 1940’s, the company stayed financially solvent by supplying dried egg yolks to the Canadian military.
Starting in 1958, O-Pee-Chee entered into a licensing arrangement with Topps Chewing Gum, marketing and producing hockey cards and non- sport card trading sets for the both the US and Canadian markets. Beginning in 1965, O Pee Chee started making their own baseball cards, a smaller version of the Topps issue.
By 1968, O–Pee-Chee was ready to create its first standalone hockey hockey set. The run was printed on thinner and lighter card stock than the similar but smaller 132-count 1968-69 Topps hockey set. It was also more poorly cut from the two large printing sheets they came off. There are many variations of player photo team jersey and team names between the two sets, reflecting their time of issue. But that is another article.
Coins & Cards: An Analysis of ’68-69 Shirriff and OPC
Twenty players are present in the Shirriff set that aren’t in the O-Pee-Chee set. A total of 37 players are in the O Pee Chee but aren’t in the Shirriff set. This means 213 players are depicted between the two sets, averaging 17.75 players per each of the 12 NHL teams. Combined, the two sets offer a comprehensive look at the first year of NHL expansion.
Curiously, Chicago and Montreal have more players in the smaller Shirriff set. Boston and New York have the same number of players in each set at 16 apiece. Surprisingly, Philadelphia has the most players between the sets with 22. They also have the greatest number of players that are not in either of the two Sets- 12, including eight O-Pee Chee entries that have no equivalent in the Shirriff set.
Not surprisingly, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the second largest number of players between the two sets-19. Shirriff also has pre-rookie `cards’ of two popular hometown Leaf defensemen Mike Pelyk and Jim McKinney. The Oakland Seals have the least players among the two sets-16. However their cumulative monetary value exceeds that any of the other 11 teams combined. Maybe the most surprising fact is that seven time Vezina winner Jacques Plante is not in the Shirriff set.
Looking at opening rosters of the six new NHL teams, it is quickly noted that most of the names are from the expansion draft held of June 6, 1968 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Quebec City. This, the biggest expansion draft in NHL history, dispersed 120 players, all of whom were part of the six established teams organization over 20 rounds. The last six players, ending with 120th pick Max Mestnik do not have a 1968-69 Shirriff or O-Pee-Chee coin or card. Eighty– or exactly three quarters– of the 120 drafted players have a Shirriff/O- Pee- Chee issue. Each of the six picks in the first round, which were all goalies, appeared. Five out of the six choices in second round, again all goalies, had one. Four of the six picks in the third round, all forwards or defensemen had either a coin or card.
However a number of players that saw action during the 1967-68 campaign, who were not in the expansion draft have a O- Pee-Chee or Shirriff entry. Sitting in O- Pee Chee slot #92 in the First Series is the rugged visage of Larry Zeidel, one of the few Jewish professional hockey players. Despite accumulating solid games played and penalty minutes in the American Hockey League in the years immediately prior to expansion as well as having his name on the Stanley Cup, in a short stint with the 1951-52 Redwings, Zeidel went undrafted on that June day in 1968. Zeidel prepared an elaborate brochure extolling his talents which he circulated to the each of 12 NHL teams along with a letter from his doctor, claiming he had the heart and lungs of a 22-year-old. Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and GM Bud Poile took a bite and the feisty Zeidel delivered with a fine 57 game season, playing for a team that would shortly become known for its pugilistic style of play.
On the Shirriff side, similarly undrafted Milan Marcette sits nice and pretty in the Minnesota North Star lineup holding down slot #6 (#67 in master list). Marcette’s Shirriff coin is the only card/coin/ marble/post card/perforated panel issued during his playing career. Milan also has his name on a Stanley Cup. He played in three games during the 1966-67 Leafs playoff run. Marcette had a long career with the Victoria Maple Leafs of the Western Hockey League(WHL), which won the Lester Patrick Cup in 1966.
Besides the two Leaf defensemen mentioned, five other players have pre-rookie `cards’ in the Shirriff coin set. Tracy Pratt, Doug Favell, Noel Picard, Serge Savard and Bill Collins made their cardboard debut in the 1969-70 O- Pee-Chee set. Mike Byers and Paul Andrea appear in the 1970-71 set. Dunc McCallum and Terry Crisp had to wait until the 1971-72 O- Pee-Chee set to get carded. Short-time matinee star and future CITY-TV weatherman Jim McKinney’s card debut. Goalie Wayne Rutledge got his `papers’ in the 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee set.
Six entries in the Shirriff coin set, who did not appear in the 1968-69 O- Pee Chee set- Brian Conacher, Wayne Maki, Jim Watson, Wayne Carleton, Pat Hannigan and Claude La Forge all had earlier Topps cards. La Forge has the earliest entry, in the 1958-59 Topps set. La Forge is also the only one with a Parkhurst issue, in the 1962-63 set . Besides Milan Marcette, Flyers defenseman Don Blackburn has no earlier or later issue.
The most famous Shirriff pre- rookie ‘card’ as mentioned is Serge Savard #17 in Canadian lineup (#91 in master list). The 1968-69 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Hall of Fame inductee is one of the 42 short prints and it is time we talk about them. The 1968-69 Shirriff short prints have imparted an almost mythic status to the set, elevating it in monetary value to second place among post-World War II issues, behind only the 1951-52 Parkhurst set . The short prints could even put Shirriff’s 1968-69 set in the top ten hockey sets of all time.
Chicago has two short prints including two image variations of Dennis Hull. Pittsburgh, St Louis and Los Angeles also have two SP’s apiece. There are two Minnesota #7’s, Oakland # 5’s and Philadelphia #3’s coins for some reason, strangely paralleling the three duplicate players in the 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee set. Although these six players fall within the regular print run or listings of their respective teams, they are all short prints. The duplicate coin for each of the three players has an approximate four times higher value than its companion.
A close examination of Beckett, Charlton and Burrell’s price guides reveals six distinct levels of scarcity and resulting value among the 42 short prints. The scarcest two coins, Oakland’s Garry Jarrett and Howie Young are at Level Six and approximately 10 times more expensive than four coins at Level One. Seventeen players are at Level Three, 13 players at Level Four and two players at Level Five, including yet another Oakland Seal.
Because we know next to nothing about how and when the 68-69 Shirriff coins were produced, it’s hard to determine exactly how short printed the coins are. The presence of the Shirriff SP coins in the secondary market and resulting pricing over the years is the only basis of determining their level of scarcity.
Reflecting Topps’ habit of printing less cards in later series (until 1974) as the Major League Baseball season progressed, Shirriff may have issued fewer coins as the 1968-69 NHL season unfolded, putting them in fewer boxes of puddings, pie fillings and jellies, since they weren’t selling as well as earlier batches. Bobby Burrell, the most knowledgeable person on the planet on hockey cards and hockey related food promotions and the author of three books on the subject, thinks that the SP’s are the result of being inserted in poor selling products like tapioca pudding or celery flavored jelly.
Another reason for reduced production was that less recognizable names remained to be coined as the bottom of teams’ rosters was reached. The ones that turned up may have less treated less carefully if not outright discarded. Only diehard kid collectors, like myself would have wanted and kept all these no-name players. Unsold cases of product with the coin promotion that had exceeded their freshness expiry date, may have been thrown out after being returned to the Shirriff factory or even right at the grocery store.
Looking at sequence of hockey card releases in late 60’s, it would appear Levels One, Two and Three of the Shirriff short prints came out after the November release of the 132- count Topps hockey issue before the two O-Pee-Chee series, approximately January and March. This hypothesis can be illustrated by looking at two players who bounced around the league before and during the first two years of expansion. Larry Hillman, has his name on three Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs . But GM Punch Imlach was tired of the journeyman part-time defenseman’s services after the last Leaf run and Hillman signed with the new Minnesota franchise before the start of the 1967-68 season. The Topps Hillman card shows him in Toronto uniform, although he is stated as being a North Star and is found in the Minnesota lineup on the checklist.
After playing 12 games with Minnesota, the Montreal Canadiens acquired Hillman and he appears on O-Pee-Chee card #48, although he still in the Minnesota lineup on the First Series checklist. Hillman was traded after the 1968-69 season and appears in a Flyers uniform on his 1969-70 O-Pee- Chee card. Amazingly the 1969-70 Topps issue still shows still shows him in his Toronto Maple Leaf uniform even though Hillman had ceased to be a Bud for over a year!
Hillman’s 1968-69 Shirriff coin Minnesota # 12( #74 in master set) is crucial in chronicling the long career with many stops of this player who toiled for ten professional hockey league teams , since it is the only issue showing him with the North Stars.
Howie Young is one of only a handful or so of NHL to have a solo appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He is one of even fewer NHL players to appear in a feature Hollywood movie. The famed pugilist whose season penalty minute record seemed invincible and caught the attention of the Henry Luce media conglomerate played for Detroit in 1967-68 and appears thusly on his 1968-69 Topps card. However Young’s acquisition by the Oakland Seals is noted in the chevron bar at bottom middle of the card. It appears Howie never played for the new Bay Area team though.
Chicago acquired Young’s services early in the 1968-69 season and so he appears on his first series 1968-69 O- Pee-Chee card #82. However Young is still in the Seal’s listing on the checklist, right before John Brennenam #83 and after Carol Vadnais #81. Now it gets a little complicated. As mentioned, there are three players in the O-Pee Chee set with two cards each. Young’s second series issue #151 show him in a different Black Hawk photo, but this time he is properly in the Chicago team lineup on the Second Series checklist. There is also new biographical write up and comic drawing on the back of this card.
The ultra- rare Level Five Howie Young Shirriff coin Seal #12 (master list #121), which even non- hockey memorabilia collectors and casual investors know about and might be one of the top ten most valuable hockey issues in the modern era, establishes for all time Young’s brief association with the new Oakland franchise, showing him in crisp genuine dark green Seal uniform.
One other Shirriff short print coin bears scrutiny. A Level Two coin of Skip Krate Los Angeles #11 (master set #60) shows the North Battleford, Saskatachewan native in a proper King uniform.
As most hockey card aficionados know and price guides note, Krate and fellow Bruin defensemen Don Awrey had an acute identity complex in the late 1960’s. For two straight years Topps/O Pee Chee couldn’t figure out who was who, putting Krate on Awrey’s card and vice –versa. They got things half right the following year when the right Krate appeared in the Kings’ lineup in the 1969-70 set. However, Skip continues to inhabit Awrey’s Bruin card from that year. When the Topps/ O- Pee- Chee 1970-71 card issues came out things were finally set right.
Two slots before Krate is the aforementioned Wayne Rutledge. A great card by Mr. Burns shows the battle scars of this unsung warrior from between the pipes. Rutledge’ s only other card, the Third Series 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee Third Series WHA issue neatly bookends five years of collecting hockey issues in my first childhood. With the release of the rather lacklustre 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee set and my entry into high school collecting images of hockey player seemed much less unimportant.
There would be other parallel duplicate hockey sets in the early years of expansion, like the 1970-71 Esso Power Play stamp issue, the 1971-72 Sun newspaper post card sized photo issue and the 1972-73 Sargent sticker set. For those so inclined, the first two of these three sets offer pre rookie `cards’ of Rene Robert (Sun photo #225) and Phil Myre (Esso stamp #18) . Topps/ O-Pee Chee official rookie cards of these players came out as much as three years later.
However, the two 1968-69 NHL issues discussed herein are unique and bear close scrutiny, because of the high value of each set, especially the Shirriff coins and the fact they encapsulate the first season of perhaps the most important event in NHL history since its formation in 1917. They’ve also got a special place in my memory as the first set I ever collected.