Hockey’s original gum card era began in a memorable fashion during the Great Depression as Canadian kids were looking to escape from the grim reality of the world around them. With the sport gaining national momentum thanks to radio broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada, the thought of getting a picture of your favorite stars and a stick of gum was a tempting way to spend your scarce pennies. With several gum makers looking to capitalize on a growing market, you needed a gimmick in order to compete. In the case of the 1933-34 V252 Canadian Chewing Gum collection, there was plenty of innovation – but it proved to be a one-and-done for the hobby.
Based out of a factory on Logan Avenue in Toronto, Ontario’s Leslieville neighborhood, the Canadian Chewing Gum Company was best known for making the eternally popular Chiclets brand north of the border. While the company’s reasons for entering the trading card market are unknown, it did produce one hockey card set along with some non-sport issues during this era.
Spelling is Fun
Needing something to set itself ahead of the pack, this collection of 50 cards features a special tab on the bottom containing a letter. The purpose of this was to get kids to collect enough tabs to exchange for a premium board game.
Putting together enough letters to send in for the Home Hockey Game offered up by Canadian Chewing Gum was certainly a challenge for any Depression-era kid. Based on the minimum amount of letters needed to earn the prize, you were looking at 69 cards. At a penny apiece, that would have been a lot of gum – even with the assumption that each pack you open gave you exactly the letters you needed. The distribution of the letters themselves on the cards was fairly even with most of the necessary ones appearing two or three times in the set. Strangely, the company added in the letter “V” on two cards even though it was not needed at all.
The prize itself was dubbed Maple Leaf Home Hockey and featured a bright red box with generic hockey player illustrations. The game itself was endorsed by Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt, adding a celebrity endorsement that resonated with those getting a hard-earned copy.
Solid Player Selection
With packs hitting store shelves at a cool penny apiece, kids were happy to see many of the biggest names from that era. Each of the NHL’s nine clubs at the time had at least five players on a fairly balanced checklist and the local Maple Leafs were heavily represented. The fronts feature full names with applicable nicknames and the players are shown in black and white. The red borders truly standout as a result, but modern collectors may find it a challenge to find cards that still have an intact tab and measure 2 1/2″ X 3 1/4″.
There was one major omission from the checklist as Eddie Shore of the Boston Bruins was not included, but there is a total of 18 Hall of Famers to be found. The key among them is Montreal Canadiens legend Howie Morenz, who is often called the “Babe Ruth of Hockey”.
As for the backs, they are somewhat plain. There are bilingual biographies, signifying that these cards were meant for cross-Canada distribution. The bottom half outlines how to obtain the premium in addition to noting the address the letters needed to be mailed in to.
Key Rookies Galore
To say this set is loaded with rookie cards is a bit of an understatement as 41 of the 50 players are debuting. Granted, many of them appear in the other sets issued in 1933-34.
Of the 41, there are a cool dozen Hall of Fame members and one of them is exclusive to 1933-34 V252 Canadian Chewing Gum. Charlie Gardiner, a goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks was one of the NHL’s best at the time and led the Windy City to its first Stanley Cup later that year. Sadly, he passed away soon after due to a brain hemorrhage. His card is somewhat undervalued today and deserves better from the hobby as one of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.
Other legends joining Gardiner here include Irvin “Ace” Bailey, Dit Clapper, Charlie Conacher, Lionel Conacher, Bun Cook, Red Dutton, Ebbie Goodfellow, Red Horner, Busher Jackson, Babe Siebert, and Nels Stewart. This season is also significant for Bailey, who almost lost his life during a game in Boston after being hit by Shore.
Other rookie cards of note here are Lorne Chabot, Ott Heller, Dave Kerr, and Pit Lepine. The Chabot card is important since he was a Stanley Cup-winning goalie with Toronto and the Rangers and is one of the most glaring misses by the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was one of the greatest from the NHL’s early days, but it seems unlikely that he will ever be inducted – even with plenty of supporting evidence.
As a one-and-done release, 1933-34 Canadian Chewing Gum has an interesting legacy 85 years later. The cards are not the easiest to find today, especially when they are fully intact. Trimmed cards without the tabs turn up fairly often, but there is little demand for them as compared to full ones. At 50 cards, it is a moderate challenge to complete and completists will want to track down the brittle wrapper and the board game premium as well.
During the 2005-06 season, In The Game (upon the suggestion of your humble author) paid tribute to this set and others from the 1930s as part of Ultimate Memorabilia 6th Edition. Each of the 100 cards in the base set were placed on the similar design and assigned letters as part of a redemption program where collectors spelling out the words “Ultimate Memorabilia” could redeem their cards for a complete piece of game-used memorabilia. Limited to nine copies each, the Mario Lemieux card was the key here since it was the only one printed with the letter “U”. Each of the Lemieux cards featured a serial number between 00001/12500 and 00009/12500 and were individually assigned to a game-used piece – with the first in the print run being assigned to a Lemieux game-used jersey.
Other items included pants and skates from Lemieux, and jerseys from Saku Koivu, Pavel Datsyuk, Milan Hejduk, Olli Jokinen, Mats Sundin, and Patrick Marleau. It is believed that those redeeming for a prize did not receive their cards back and the number of cards redeemed was never publicly confirmed.
As far as the original cards are concerned, you can usually find at least a few dozen on eBay.