During the 1954-55 NHL season, Topps took their first attempt at producing a set of hockey cards. Never before had any sports card manufacturer mass-produced a set of hockey cards in the United States, showing again how aggressive Topps was in attempting to capture the biggest piece of the pie just two years after their 407-card baseball card set debuted. Parkhurst also produced hockey cards in the 1950’s but for the most part, they were only available in Canada.
The 1954-55 Topps hockey set consisted of just 60 cards which isn’t surprising when you consider pro hockey was still in the ‘Original Six’ era. The only problem here is that only the four American teams were featured in the set (Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers) while the two Canadian teams (Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs) were stiffed. Parkhurst owned the rights to produce cards for the Canadian teams, being a Canadian company.
The roster of superstars would have benefitted greatly from the inclusion of the legendary Canadiens’ roster which includes ten future Hall of Famers including Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard and Jean Beliveau. There were also six players on Toronto’s roster who would eventually wind up in the Hall.
As it is, however, nearly a quarter of the players in the set are NHL Hall of Famers. Harry Howell, Gump Worsley, Andy Bathgate, Allan Stanley and Edgar Laprade of New York; Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Marcel Pronovos, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuk of Detroit; Bill Gadsby and Bill Mosienko of Chicago; and Milt Schmidt, Fernie Flaman and Bill Quackenbush of Boston are all in the Hall of Fame and are all featured in the set.
Cards were a bit bigger than what we know as the standard size now, but right in line with the size Topps had made its staple in baseball. Measuring in at 25⁄8″ x 33⁄4″, the 1954-55 Topps Hockey cards are a quarter-inch bigger on each side than today’s cards. The design of the set has drawn rave reviews from collectors. The red and blue text boxes combine with the off-white background and use of team logos to form a very attractive look.
Backs featured the players’ full names, stats from the previous season while including a few facts about the sport as all old Topps cards did. Topps produced 1-cent and five-cent packs, the latter including six cards plus a stick of gum and an extra wrapper which helped kids accumulate enough to send away for non-sport related prizes, usually assorted knickknacks of little value. The backs were printed only in English, something that would change when Topps issued its second set in 1957-58.
For a few reasons, condition can be a problem when looking to build the 1954-55 Topps hockey set, partly because of the small size of the set. Many of the cards on the top and bottom of the sheet suffered wear in collating and packaging. The blue colored bottom of the card shows even the slightest touch of wear and, of course, the passage of 60 years has had an impact as cards jostle around in boxes. The single cards in penny wax packs were especially affected by the wax and gum. As a result, even common cards in a PSA 9 can command a few thousand dollars, while a PSA 10 would be nearly unheard of for any card in the set.
Among players in the set, the most prized card is the Gordie Howe, who essentially was Wayne Gretzky before Wayne Gretzky was Wayne Gretzky. Since the set gives cards such a huge disadvantage to begin with, just three of the 471 Howe cards graded by PSA have been awarded a 9 with no 10s. While a PSA 6 typically goes from anywhere in the $500-$600 range, a PSA 8 sold for $3,900 in April of 2013.
The final card in the set was Milt Schmidt (#60) and locating a high-grade example is virtually impossible. PSA has never recorded a 9 or 10. The last PSA 7 that went up for auction in December of 2013 brought in nearly $1,200. Just 13 PSA 8 cards are out there and one PSA 8.5 is out on the market of the 198 Schmidt cards graded, meaning that particular 8.5 card could fetch a mint.
Card #1, Dick Gamble, which was often subjected to wear from rubber bands and small fingers, is also rare in high-grade.
Complete sets vary greatly depending on condition. Sets in the VG-EX overall range have been selling for around $2,000. A strong near mint, graded set is valued at around $15,000. You can see 1954-55 Topps hockey cards on eBay here.