Coming off a wild season where Gordie Howe retired, Wayne Gretzky rose to prominence, and the New York Islanders won their first of what proved to be four straight Stanley Cup championships, Canadian kids were ready to bust open packs of 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee.
No one could possibly expect then that this set would prove to be arguably the decade’s best in terms of rookie and star content, but time has proven it to be a true winner. In the wake of a strike by employees which saw the 1980 baseball release only trickle into the marketplace, O-Pee-Chee ramped up production slightly. However, packs and boxes (which contain 48 packs) are quite scarce compared to those from subsequent years.
There is also a major differences between the Topps and O-Pee-Chee versions of this set. Topps, which contained 264 cards versus 396 in O-Pee-Chee, also had a “Who Am I?” Coin Rub-off Quiz feature which covered the player’s name in black wax that could be scratched off. Topps packs also included a folded team photo for 16 of the NHL’s-then 21 clubs.
This week’s edition of Vintage Pack Facts takes a look at a product that is heavy on star power – and Hall of Fame rookie cards.
- Despite the fact that collectors were able to get a card of Gretzky during his first season in the NHL, those found in packs of 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee are still important to the hobby. He is featured in the All-Star, Record Breakers, and League Leaders subsets and they can all be had at reasonable prices. His main card, though, will be a bit more expensive and features him in action against Ryan Walter of the Washington Capitals on either November 13, 1979 or January 16, 1980. This card, #250, also has an uncorrected error as it states he played in 52 games for Edmonton in 1978-79 instead of 72. As a result, his total games played is also inaccurate. This mistake would also be repeated until it was finally corrected in the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets.
- The biggest draw to this set for many collectors is the fact that it contains rookie cards for Raymond Bourque and Mark Messier. Centering and rough cuts can be an issue for these hobby treasures and any other card in the set as O-Pee-Chee tended to cut their cards using heavy wires which would shift the stacks of sheets while making their way down the pile. There are three other Hall of Fame rookie cards to chase, though, as we can find Michel Goulet, Mike Gartner, and Rod Langway in packs.
- All told, there are 64 cards in the set which feature at least one member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. This means that the average pack will contain close to two of them on average – which is a solid ratio.
- An interesting aspect to this set is the fact that any cards featuring members of the newly-relocated Calgary Flames are closely-cropped within the first 264 cards in the set while the remaining 132 have the Atlanta Flames logo airbrushed away. The Team Leader checklist featuring Kent Nilsson does note Calgary as the team’s location, but that is the only reference to the move in the set.
- One of the coolest cameos in the set is a bit tough to spot, but Gordie Howe makes a background appearance on his son, Mark’s, All-Star subset card. He is blurred in the background, but it is definitely Mr. Hockey making his unofficial farewell. To this day, it remains puzzling as to why Gordie didn’t get his own card here – or even a special tribute card like he did in the 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee set.
- OPC touted having “all 396 cards in one series” on the front of its box, while the Topps box promoted the team poster inserts.
- For the third straight season, O-Pee-Chee did not include any sort of insert. However, collectors could take advantage of an offer for the traditional O-Pee-Chee hockey card locker that would set you back $2.00 along with five wrappers. There was also an offer for plastic gun with suction cup darts for 60 cents and the obligatory five wrappers.
- More Pack Facts after the gallery…
- In addition to 20-cent wax packs which contained 12 cards and a piece of gum, there were two more ways for collectors to get their hands on 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee cards. Returning for a second straight season was the blister (sometimes referred to as cello) packs which were loaded up with 25 cards and a package of the “super soft” O-Pee-Chee Hockey Gum. On top of that, there were wax rack packs which contained four of the regular 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee packs which were sealed up in cellophane and stapled to a yellow and blue headed card (see gallery above). Both of these concepts would not be repeated by O-Pee-Chee moving forward and either type of packaging is incredibly scarce today.
- Wax boxes sell for $5,500 and up today. The rare four-pack racks are about half that. Wrappers are generally available for $10-$20. You can check eBay inventory here.