This is sort of an odd set to write up in that it’s the only one of these profiles for a set I haven’t finished. I have the grand total of six of these cards, so a lot of the images will be things I have scrounged. The more I look at this set, the more I like about it, so I may have to chase this one a little harder.
1974-75 was a bit of an interesting year for hockey collecting. There was a lot of stuff to get. It was the first year of the single-release 396-card set for OPC (not yet profiled), the Topps set if you were south of the border and the first solo release for the WHA. If you went to the grocery, Loblaws put out a pretty solid sticker set in a nice-looking album (imagine a modern Panini album full of ’74-75 players). While at the grocery, if you had a hankering for soup, well, make sure to hang onto the box. Lipton Soup put out a 50-card set, two of which were on the back of each box. Eat lots of soup, get lots of cards. Everyone wins!
It was an interesting time in hockey, too. The WHA was clearly not going away any time soon (though the first merger talks were going to start ASAP if they hadn’t already) and with the most recent expansion (Washington and KC), you now had 32 professional top-level teams (18 NHL, 14 WHA) where ten years prior there had been six. The talent pool had hung in there for a while, but it couldn’t deal with this and the result was an infusion of two types of players – Europeans (notably Swedes) and a bunch of guys without a ton of skill but who could really, really fight. This was the goon era at its peak, and Philly reigned supreme. Montreal would kick off it’s last dynasty a year later and everyone would talk about the return of skill, but they had their edge, too. Just ask Gary Dornhoefer.
The Lipton Soup set is star-laden. There are only 50 cards and no effort was made to ensure that every team was represented fairly (although I don’t think any team other than the expansion teams are missing altogether). This was a set for people who wanted the names (although Vancouver, just a few years removed from expansion, gets its fair share). This is fair enough, since one can only consume so much soup in a single season and nobody is going out of their way to get a third-liner from the Seals when Bobby Orr is on the other box.
The basic set looks an awful lot like 1973-74 Quaker Oats, though the cards are a little larger. You have a basic white border (with a black outline that was absent in ’73-74) with a round-cornered image. The player name and team are along the base in plain text. Really, put this and Quaker Oats side by side and they’re basically the same set.
On the back, there are no wordy write-ups like Quaker Oats had. Instead, vitals and three years of stats are on the back twice, once each in English and French, sandwiching a facsimile autograph.
What sets this set so far apart from the Quaker Oats set is the photography. Unlike any other set that was being released at the time, every shot was game action. Printed surprisingly well compared to what OPC and Topps were doing, these were quite simply the best pictures you could get on cards at any point in the early 1970s. OPC and Topps barely reached this level by the 1980s. They also have some of the best goalie shots since the early 1950s and nothing would reach this level again until 1990-91 Upper Deck. They’re that good.
The only real downside (other than the weak backs) was that the set had to be hand-cut. Getting nice copies of these is difficult and unreasonably expensive. Any time your production process is dependent on the scissor-working ability of a seven-year-old from 1974, quality control becomes a serious issue.
There are two variations of a Salming rookie, but this was not really a rookie-laden set.. There isn’t a last card of note, either. It’s just a nice group of the stars of the day – most of them, anyway. For some reason, there is no Phil Esposito in this set. Guys like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Lanny McDonald hadn’t become stars yet, so you can excuse their absence, but Espo makes no sense at all unless he never came to terms (though by this point, most things were done via the NHLPA).
They liked Salming so much they made him twice, even taking care to spell his name correctly on one of them. (Interestingly, neither of my scans has the spelling error. That means there’s a third variation. Hmm.)
Come for the cards but stay for the
pictures. Seriously. They’re just great and you don’t get this sort of thing again for years.
The goalie shots in this set are great. They’ve got the old masks going and they’re just neat to look at. I love Bernie Parent with that sheet-white mask and the Tony Esposito card is great, too.
The Dryden would probably win this thing if it were cropped a little better and Maniago is neat, but that mask bugs me for some reason.
I tend to like Gary Smith as the best of the goalie cards. He’s making a save and you can actually see most of him:
Ultimately, though, the goalies are all cropped a little weird and there’s one card that captures a moment that really says 1974.
It’s the Hammer.
I get a real kick out of this Dave Schultz card. Dave would set yet another NHL record for penalties in 1974-75 with 472. His card seems to show him being admonished by the referee and feeling appropriate levels of shame. There’s a glove on the ice where he dropped it in order to wail away on someone. It’s a beaut and something to contemplate while savouring your soup:
I like this set a lot and a page of them looks really good together – easily the best of the sets I’ve profiled so far in terms of colour and image. The only reason I don’t rate them higher is the slightly dodgy back, the small size of the set (can you imagine this at 396 cards?), the lack of significant cards and the fact that when you find them, they’re generally bashed to smithereens and look like, well, some kid cut them off the back of a box of soup. They’re still pretty cool, all the same.