Topps’ Canadian partnership spawned some rare baseball and hockey series.
O-Pee-Chee trading cards date as far back as the mid-1930s, when brothers Duncan and John McDermid began the manufacture of sports cards after maintaining an exclusively confectionary concession for two decades.
O-Pee-Chee — the word means “robin” and is of Native American origin — ceased production of its cards during World War II, but later resumed, landing a major licensing coup in the late 1950’s with American card giant Topps, Inc., to become their exclusive Canadian subsidiary.
Not only did the McDermid brothers’ company successfully negotiate to distribute Topps products, but to print them. The successful charter concerned the licensing of baseball cards and later hockey and Canadian football cards. Later, other genres followed, like politically-oriented and television and humor-themed cards, the most well-known example being Wacky Packages.
Initial sets of O-Pee-Chee cards differed from their American originals by superficial differences like the thickness of paper stock, the OPC logo and Canadian origin stamp.
Then, in the 1970s, came the addition of French text for the obvious reasons: not only that a hefty chunk of the Canadian populace were French speakers, but a major league baseball team headquartered in Quebec, the Montreal Expos, came into being. Bilingual card text wasn’t just for the sake of commerce, it became an aspect of a new federal legislation.
Print runs of early O-Pee-Chee cards were but a fraction of Topps sets — by as little as one percent. Therefore, piecemeal or bulk acquisition of early O-Pee-Chee card sets from the Topps charter is considered more foolish than ambitious.
Sets are rarely offered and most pre-1970s OPC star cards are in high demand from player collectors. Finding high grade examples is difficult. Buying through eBay or via larger Canadian dealers are among the few options. Considering their scarcity, OPC’s early baseball issues are probably underpriced by a wide margin. Surviving wax packs are plagued by gum that had a propensity to stick to the top card in the pack, which in later seasons, often contained fewer cards to begin with than the Topps counterpart.
The annual issue of O-Pee-Chee’s Canadian baseball and hockey cards series, which began in 1965 and 1967, respectively, was intended as an answer to Topps’ American card counterparts, at least with regard to baseball. The Canadian baseball series would continue for nearly thirty years, even if the series’ design had nothing to set them apart from their American counterparts for the bulk of their run.
O-Pee-Chee’s hockey cards were unique, and in a turn of the cards, so to speak, inspired an American entry courtesy of Topps. The Topps series surfaced a year later, in 1968, and enjoyed a long run till 1982. Expectedly, the company’s hockey cards are particularly sought after by Canadian collectors, who grew up with them. For collectors of post-1960s rookie cards, the OPC Wayne Gretzky rookie card stands out.
Despite the ups and downs of the North American economy, the devastating baseball strike of 1994, the end of a long relationship with Topps, and the acquisition by and subsequent release from Nestlé Corporation, the O-Pee-Chee name has held on through the decades with the brand now belonging to The Upper Deck Company.