Hockey cards may never rival baseball and football cards in terms of the sheer number of issues or US hobbyists who collect them, but there is always a strong following for star rookie cards, regardless of the sport, and hockey is king in Canada. Hockey rookie cards of the 1950s, in particular, featured some of the greatest names the game has ever known, and their relative scarcity, especially in decent condition, makes them highly sought after today.
With several Hall of Famers making their debut during the decade, paring down the choices wasn’t easy, but here is our list of the top 10 hockey rookie cards of the 1950s.
By just about any standard, Gordie Howe is one of the greatest hockey players of all time and certainly the most durable, having played professionally for nearly 35 years. While he made his NHL debut in 1946, Howe did not have a hockey card until he appeared at #66 in the 1951 Parkhurst set, a very basic 105-card issue with blank backs and fragile stock that has nevertheless become a hobby staple.
The 1951 Parkhurst Howe rookie is one of the keys to the issue and always draws a lot of attention on eBay and the auction circuit. High-grade copies are hard to come by and can bring more than $10,000 in PSA 8 or better.
1951 Parkhurst Maurice Richard
Maurice “Rocket” Richard was the NHL’s first big offensive superstar and a key member of eight Stanley Cup championship teams with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1944-45, he became the first player in league history to score 50 goals in a season, and he won the Hart Trophy (MVP) in 1947.
Though he debuted in 1942, Richard did not make his first hockey card appearance until the 1951 Parkhurst set. It’s an extremely popular rookie card that regularly sells for several hundred dollars even in rough, ungraded condition. A PSA 8 copy sold in November of 2013 for more than $6000, and an SGC 96 went for more than $10,000 in July of 2014.
1951 Parkhurst Terry Sawchuk
Terry Sawchuk‘s legend was helped along by his untimely death at the age of 40 after the 1969-70 season, but he had already cemented his place in hockey history by that point. Generally regarded as the greatest goalie in the first 50 years of the NHL, Sawchuk finished his career with 447 wins and 103 shutouts, records that stood for 30+ years.
1952 Parkhurst Tim Horton
Tim Horton was another of hockey’s early durable stars and, in fact, many consider him to be the quintessential iron man by virtue of his 468 consecutive regular-season appearances from 1961-68. That mark still stands as the Maple Leafs’ team record, and it set the standard for defensemen until Karlis Skrastins surpassed it in 2007. An enforcer on the ice, Horton was also a successful business man and co-founded the coffee chain which still bears his name today. He was killed in a single-car accident after a game in 1974 when he was just 44 years old.
1953 Parkhurst Jean Beliveau
The legend of Jean Beliveau started when he spurned the Montreal Canadiens’ advances at age 15 and only grew during a 25-year relationship with the Habs that included 10 Stanley Cup championships. While Beliveau and his father were reluctant to commit to Montreal, the Hall of Fame center eventually spent 18 years with the big club, including the last 10 as the team’s captain. When he retired in 1971, he was Montreal’s all-time points leader and was the NHL’s all-time leading playoff scorer.
Beliveau’s rookie card in the 1953 Parkhurst set is a hobby classic that brings several hundred dollars even in low grades. A copy in PSA 10 condition sold in the summer of 2014 for more than $22,000.
1953 Parkhurst Gump Worsley
Gump Worsley was another workhorse of a goalie who had played more games at the time of his (second) retirement in 1974 than all netminders except for Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall. Worsley was more than just durable, though, as he took home the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1952-53 as the NHL’s top rookie and the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender in both 1965-66 and 1967-68. He was also part of an early failed attempt to unionize professional hockey players in 1963 that eventually led to the founding of the NHLPA in 1967.
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, Worsley made his cardboard debut in the 1953 Parkhurst set. Today, that card sells for less than $100 in decent raw condition, climbing into the hundreds for mid-grade slabbed copies.
1954 Parkhurst Johnny Bower
Although he didn’t make it to the NHL until he was 29 and didn’t stick in hockey’s big league until he was well into his thirties, Johnny Bower made the most of his time on professional ice. In 15 seasons, the Hall-of-Fame goalie recorded 250 wins and 37 shutouts, and he was the netminder for three consecutive Stanley Cup championships for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1962-64.
1955 Parkhurst Jacques Plante
In a professional career that spanned nearly 30 years, goalie Jacque Plante developed a reputation as an innovator who changed forever the way that goaltenders minded the net. In particular, Plante was the first goalie to where a mask during regulation play, and he was also the first to play the puck outside the crease and help call plays from behind his teammates.
Frank Mahovlich, the son of Croatian immigrants, crashed into the National Hockey League with 20 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1957-58 season, which was enough for him to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie. From that base, Mahovlich built a Hall of Fame career that included winning three straight Stanley Cup championships with the Leafs from 1962-64, when he was the team’s top goal-scorer each season. He became one of the first hockey players to publicly push for a bigger contract (which he got in 1962), and later served in the Canadian Senate.
1958 Topps Bobby Hull
Throughout most of its early history, the NHL was a rough-and-tumble league whose stars were known to the general public as much for the bruisings they dished out (and received) as for their prowess on the ice. When Bobby Hull debuted in 1957, his blond-haired good looks and blazing speed gave hockey the Mantlesque matinee idol the game had been lacking. It didn’t hurt, of course, the Hull could really play, becoming just the third player to score 50 goals in a season, and he also led the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship in 1961. “The Golden Jet” went on to raise another NHL great, his son Brett, aka “The Golden Brett.”
Bobby Hull’s rookie card is one of the hobby’s more important issues, and it can bring more than $1000 even in mid-grade condition. Only five of the cards have been graded by PSA at an 8, and only two PSA 9s exist, which explains their five-figure price tags.
Honorable Mention – 1957 Topps Glenn Hall
Although he falls just outside of our top 10, Glenn Hall is certainly deserving of a mention on this list.
Nicknamed “Mr. Goalie,” Hall was one of the most durable players on the ice during his 18-year NHL career, eight times playing in all of his team’s games. Hall wasn’t just a space-filler, either, as he took first-team All-Star honors seven times and won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie three times. He also took home the 1955-56 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie and is generally credited with developing the “butterfly” goalkeeping technique.
With small sets and tons of superstars making their debuts, 1950s hockey sets have a higher concentration of Hall of Fame rookie cards than just about any other era in any other sport can claim. While you can make an argument for other cards, it’s hard to beat this list of top hockey rookie cards of the 1950s.