Leapin’ Lou makes it two!

Lou Fontinato - 1957-58 ToppsLeapin’ Lou Fontinato (so named because he’d jump up and down when protesting a penalty, of which he got many, or because of a naughty tendency to leave his feet during hits) actually broke into the NHL in 1954-55.  Topps, for reasons that are not completely clear (but probably involving licensing fights with Parkhurst, my guess), didn’t issue cards in either 1955-56 or 1956-57, so Lou’s rookie card was released during his fourth season.

Lou was the Rangers’ enforcer and was the first player ever to break the 200 mark in penalty minutes, sitting out for 202 in 1955-56.

Lou played 9 NHL seasons and 535 games, but is probably best known for being on the wrong end of a 1959 fight with Gordie Howe.  Howe and Fontinato had had a number of run-ins over their previous few games and had been trading sticks, stitches and insults.  When Howe got involved with rookie Eddie Shack, Fontinato stepped up.

In one article I read, Fontinato said that in the early stages of the fight, things were going fairly well, but he popped his head up to take a peek the very instant Gordie got his right hand free.  The next series of punches broke his nose, cheekbone, split his lip open and generally made a mess of him.  Googling “Howe Fontinato fight” will bring up no small number of them.  Broken face and all, Fontinato finished the game and only ended up missing a handful of games that season.  Gordie rarely had to fight after that.

The Fontinato RC brings me to 64 of 66 cards in the set.  The last two are Dean Prentice and Vic Stasiuk, neither of which are RCs, so I should probably just spring for them.

Lou Fontinato - 1957-58 Topps back

Posted in Vintage Hockey | Tagged , | 3 Comments

1957-58 Topps – and then there were three

Camille Henry - 1957-58 ToppsAt the beginning of the year, when I was looking at projects and goals, I felt there was only one vintage set that I had a reasonable chance of finishing. That was 1957-58 Topps.

This was Topps’ second offering.  It’s not as famous as the ’54-55 debut set, but it has a clean look and a boatload of RCs and has long been a favourite of mine.  I’ve been poking away at it more or less forever.

Camille Henry brings me up to 63 of 66 cards.  None of the remaining three (actually two – one arrived but remains unscanned) are bad ones, though I have four upgrades outstanding and two of those are particularly ugly.

I’ve always liked the backs of these cards, even though the colour choice is a little on the garish side.  I note that Camille is listed at 5’10”, 155.  This is rather slight for a hockey player.  It’s also a lie.  He might have been 5’10”, 155 in full equipment.  He was not a large person.

Camille Henry - 1957-58 Topps back


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Curses! Hoyled again!

Gary Smith - 1971-72 Topps Hockey

Gary Smith set an NHL record for losses (48) in 1970-71.

OK – not so much again as still, but I wanted to get that title claimed before someone else did.  This is a second part of the neat trade I made with Mark Hoyle some time ago.  At my typical glacial pace, I should be done posting it within a year or two.

From the moment OPC and Topps began producing separate hockey sets in 1968-69, the OPC set was always larger.  Obviously, this meant that there were players found in OPC that would not be found in Topps. What I only came to realize in the past year or so was that for much of the 1970s, OPC would also drop a handful of players from the set Topps produced.

I had known for a long time, for example, that Topps had a standard-issue card of Gordie Howe in 1971-72 instead of the OPC retirement special and that they’d also produced a 1973-74 Ken Dryden that OPC dropped as he sat out that season to article in a law office.  What I didn’t know was that there were a bunch of others.  A number were players who had retired or were not playing the season.  A few defy explanation.

Knowing that Mark had a good supply of 1970s Topps, I sent the list of missing players and asked if he had any.  He did.  As a result, he was able to do something that hasn’t happened to me in at least 25 years: he sent me 70s hockey that I’d never seen before.  They’re fascinating.  It’s like looking at extremely well-made customs.

Gary Smith was the Seals’ starter in 1970-71.  He became the first goalie to play more than 70 games in a season and set the single-season record for losses.  It still stands.  (Note – Gary wasn’t a half-bad goalie. He had help losing that often.)

Gary Smith - 1971-72 Topps back

He was traded to Chicago just prior to the 1971-72 season.  Why was he dropped from the OPC set?  I have no idea whatsoever.

Don Marcotte was coming off his best season to date in 1973-74.  He was a big contributor and would be for the rest of the decade and beyond.  Why was he dropped from 1973-74 OPC?  No clue.

Don Marcotte - 1973-74 Topps

You can tell it’s Topps because it’s blue. OPC had no blue cards.

Long-time Canadian national-team player Fran Huck at least makes sense.  He left St. Louis for the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA.  This is his only NHL card.

Fran Huck - 1973-74 Topps

The helmet makes this card look newer than it really is. Looks like an 80s shot dumped into a 70s border.

Bobby Sheehan wasn’t re-signed by the Black Hawks after 1975-76 and didn’t sign with anyone until the Oct 8, 1976, when he inked with Detroit.  It’s possible that OPC dropped him from the set thinking he wouldn’t have an NHL gig that season.  They were sort of right.  He’d be up and down from the minors for the rest of his career, ending in 1982-83.

Bobby Sheehan - 1976-77 Topps

Barry Wilkins jumped to the WHA (Edmonton) for 1976-77.  That explains his absence from OPC.

Barry Wilkins - 1976-77 Topps

I’ve now decided that this will be something I have to chase.  I might not try to polish off those sets, but at the very least, I need to find these unique-to-Topps cards.  That’s the completist in me.  The next step, I suppose, is to find all the Topps cards for which OPC did a complete picture swap.  There are a bunch of those between 1968-73.

Thanks, Mark!  These are really cool.

Posted in Uncategorized, Vintage Hockey | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Minor Monkeying with the custom Gordie

A slightly jaundiced view of the same cardWhen I made this custom on Friday, I mentioned that I still thought the colours were a bit off and this was noticeable in the green of the Hartford sweater.

I found that all the Whalers images in that set were very, very yellow, so I went back to my source image again and played with the colour balance.

I think the result is a better match, though the graininess of the 1980-81 print process is a really difficult thing to emulate.

Posted in Card Design, OPC, Vintage Hockey | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Gordie I never got to pull

Gordie Howe - 1979-80 OPC

I could have pulled this if I’d started just a single season earlier

I missed pulling Gordie Howe cards by a year.

Now, this also means I missed pulling Wayne Gretzky rookie cards straight out of the pack, but I rationalize this by realizing I would have surely dumped them all in trades. I lived in Calgary and nobody in his right mind would have hung onto Oilers if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.  I’d have kept one for my set, but doubles would have been gone, for sure.

As it was, 1980-81 was the season the Flames came to town and my Grade 5 class was just awash in cards. That’s when I got hooked.

Like many kids, I’d lay all my cards out on the floor and pore over them during the game, or dinner, or when I was supposed to be getting ready for bed.  I loved all the stats and info on the back and was always fascinated by players who’d been around a long, long time.

One card that I remember in particular was Hartford’s Rick Ley – mainly because of the cartoon on the back:

Rick Ley - 1980-81 OPC back

This was something.  A guy named Gordie Howe had played the year prior at age 51 (actually 52 by season’s end).  That was notable.  I think I showed my parents.

By Grade 7, I was deep into hockey history and realized just who Gordie Howe was.  Along the way, I read somewhere that as Howe announced his retirement, he said that he really felt he still had another half-season left in him but didn’t want to retire mid-season.  This made me bitter.  If only he’d played that one extra year, he’d have had a card in the ’80-81 set and I’d have had one.  I felt kind of gypped, particularly since I’d gotten to see a copy of the ’79-80 that a friend had and it instantly became one of my holy grails.

A year ago, I made a new final card for Bobby Orr – the one he’d have gotten if Topps/OPC had given him a standard card rather than a farewell special.  I’ve been mulling over trying the ’80-81 Gordie Howe ever since.

In making the Orr, I realized that matching fonts is a pain and it’s far better to cut and paste the bits I need from cards that already exist.  For this exercise, I took three 1980-81 Whalers:

Mark Howe - 1980-81 OPC

Gordie Roberts

Blaine Stoughton - 1980-81 OPC

Mark Howe and Gordie Roberts give me the two names I need and Blaine Stoughton gives me the position.  The Stoughton becomes the base and I’ll sub in the names.

The other thing that became apparent was that most of the Whaler-era photos available of Gordie Howe are actually too good to use directly.  The print quality in 1980-81 was terrible.  All the images are grainy and the contrast is wacky.  Most of the pictures I found were crisp and vibrant.  This just wouldn’t do!

Yet other thing is that most cards from that set have pictures either taken during the warmup or at faceoffs.  I needed something showing minimal action with marginal colour.

I started with this:

then took the bit that I wanted and mucked it up with my photo-editor:

I adjusted the brightness and contrast and pixellated it a little bit so that it would blend in better with the other cards in the set.  I then was able to drop my template on top of it and this is what I got.


Here it is:

Gordie Howe - 1980-81 OPC custom

I’d have liked to pull this, I think.

The colours aren’t bang-on.  Topps/OPC managed to get the greens a lot greener, but this is also a limitation of my source image.  I think it fits overall.

The main reason I wish OPC had made a Howe card that year (other than Mark) was that they went with full stats on the back.  This is what they had to do to crush Dave Keon’s career onto the back of a card:

Dave Keon - 1980-81 OPC back

Imagine that Howe started fourteen years earlier.  It would have been microscopic.

And awesome.

Edit: after some discussion on Twitter, I made a back (based on the Keon above) that shows just how small the text would have to be to show 34 years of stats (32 seasons plus two “DID NOT PLAY” seasons in 1971-72 and 1972-73).

modified Keon with 34 years of stats

That’s pretty small.  Most kids have good eyes, right?  (I didn’t, but hey….)


Posted in OPC, Vintage Hockey | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Maximizing Investment – three different sets from one design

Mickey Slaughter - 1966 Topps FootballIn 1966, Topps released their football set.  The design harkened back to the 1955 Bowman set and depicted a player on a TV screen (one of the big old wooden consoles that vanished after the late 70s/early 80s).  It looked good – good enough, in fact, that it was used for the 1966-67 Topps Hockey set.

Terry Sawchuk - 1966-67 Topps Hockey

Now, Topps Hockey in 1966-67 was produced under license by OPC and was primarily a Canadian product.  Was it thought that US collectors who had purchased football earlier in the year would never see the hockey set?  It’s sort of possible (caveat for later).

Much safer was the next use of the design.  We’ve seen earlier that Topps would re-use or license baseball designs for football (soccer) sets in the UK.  What they also did was license a number of football (US-style) designs to Australian candy-maker Scanlen’s Sweets. Scanlen’s would then produce Australian Football cards with some minor tweaking of the artwork. This is from the 1967 VFL set:

Three Footscray players - 1967 Scanlen's VFL

(Caveat from above)  There is technically a fourth set using this design as Topps also produced a test hockey set for release in the US.  It is a clone of the first series of the Canadian 1966-67 release although the printing of the wood grain is somewhat lighter.  The Bobby Orr RC just happens to be part of that set and retails in the multiple tens of thousands of dollars.  I don’t have one.

The design sharing did not continue to the backs.  This was 1966 Football.  Stats are thin but at least it looks like something:

Mickey Slaughter - 1966 Topps Football back

Hockey, on the other hand, had one of the worst backs of the postwar era.  At least there is actual information on it, sort of:

Terry Sawchuk - 1966-67 Topps Hockey back

Scanlen’s was in its second year in which every card made up part of a puzzle.  This might have been fun for collectors at the time but is somewhat irritating to people who have no idea who these players are:

Three Footscray players - 1967 Scanlen's VFL

The newest Scanlen’s cards I have are from 1980 (which used 1979-80 Hockey as a base).  They still use the puzzle backs.  I think the last cards with actual text came from 1965.

Posted in Australian rules football, Card Design, Vintage Hockey | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Like a well-Hoyled machine

Rich Kelley - 1979-80 Topps basketballI don’t trade very often.

It’s not because I don’t like it or I’m antisocial or anything like that – it’s just that relative to the rest of the blogging world, I collect strange things.  Vintage hockey, OPC baseball, British soccer, Australian football – it’s a bit of an odd mix.

Now, it doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to get something in return that doesn’t fit that profile, but it does mean that whoever I’m trading with has to want the odd stuff .that I tend to have.  Most of my trades fall into the “here, have a pile of stuff” variety.  This is OK.  I like those.  It’s just about finding trade partners who would actually like the piles of things I have lurking haphazardly in the basement.

Fortunately, into that void stepped Mark Hoyle, who had empty spots in his collection that could precisely be filled by OPC hockey and baseball and UK soccer.  He’s a Boston fans and sadly, if there’s one area where I’m thin, it’s Boston teams because I’ve done three other Boston packages in the past couple of years.  I think I really have to go stock up on vintage Boston simply so I can trade it.

What he sent me, though, is to my eyes really exotic.  This is something that, to the best of my knowledge, was never sold up here and I’ve never had any in my possession:


There was also a mix of football (US style), baseball, and some hockey which are all also quite cool, but it was the basketball cards that made this package.  In basketball, just like in baseball, I cheer for an expansion team.  This means that for vintage, I’m team-agnostic and everything is good.

The card above is 1979-80 basketball.  I think this set is gorgeous and I’m going to chase it. The design is sharp and there will be enough players I’ve heard of to make it interesting. My knowledge of the sport is thin enough that other than the top half-dozen names in any given set, the whole thing will be a learning experience.  This should make it fun. Fortunately, the backs of these are pretty info-laden.

Rich Kelley - 1979-80 Topps basketball

Dreadful scan, but the point is clear.  Lots of great stuff in these.  I have a nephew who plays quite seriously.  Maybe now I’ll learn enough to keep up. :)

I also get a kick out of the 1975-76 set:

Phil Jackson - 1975-76 Topps Basketball

I assume this is the Phil Jackson I think it is…

This is a neat set (70s anything is really in my wheelhouse), but what really makes it is the design of the back:

Phil Jackson - 1975-76 Topps basketball

This might be the first set I’ll collect because I like the backs so much.  Could use a touch more text, but it’s great, all the same.

The package had a number of cards from all the standard-sized 70s sets.  It was like getting a sampler and it was perfect.  I see a few things I want to target.  These are a few other highlights:

RUdy Tomjonovich - 1975-76 Topps Basketball

Earl Monroe - 1975-76 Topps basketball

This one is 1978-79:

Don Chaney - 1978-79 Topps basketball

As I said, there was a lot of baseball, football and hockey in there, too.  This stuff, though, was what I wanted in the first post.  So now I think I will collect vintage hockey, OPC baseball, British soccer, Australian football and 1970s baseketball.  Still an odd mix, but at least it’s fun.

Thanks Mark!

Posted in basketball | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments