Every blog needs a raison d’etre, and one thing that has stopped me from writing too much on this site was that I had no real focus other than “things that don’t really make sense to post on PPP,” which really isn’t sufficient. I’ve been reconnecting with baseball in a much more significant manner these past few years, and I’ve been reading a lot of the baseball card blogs. There is a staggering amount of good writing out there. There are now a half-dozen baseball sites I hit before I make my first hockey stop, and that’s saying something.
One thing I enjoy are the sites that walk through vintage sets and teach us a bit about the players. It fills in a lot of my knowledge gaps and teaches me about things I’ve never really studied in detail. Where there is a bit of a lack, though, is in a couple of areas where I have spent a ton of time – OPC and vintage hockey.
Therefore, surrounding the posts about baseball cards in which I basically display all of the things I don’t really know, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the stuff that I do, and the place I’d like to start is with 1964-65 Topps hockey.
1964-65 Topps was the first set in 10 years that actually included every team in the league. Unlike baseball, where players signed individual contracts with Topps, Bowman, both or neither, hockey rights were done at the team level. What this meant was that Parkhurst (the hockey equivalent of Bowman) was the only company to produce cards of Toronto and Montreal from 1955-56 through 1963-64, while Topps had Chicago, New York and Boston. In a pretty serious coup for Parkhurst, Detroit changed sides for 1960-61, moving to them from Topps.
Parkhurst walked away from hockey cards after 1963-64, leaving the field to Topps alone. Given free reign, Topps responded with a set that was not only it’s biggest in terms of number of cards, teams and players included, but also physically larger than anything that they had done before. (I always interpreted this as kind of a triumphalist move on their part, though it probably wasn’t.) They never made cards of this size in baseball (so far as I know), though they would use this format in both football (1965?) and basketball (1969-71).
The set was produced in two 55-card series. Due to the way the sheets were laid out (9 rows of 11 cards), a full fifth of the set was short-printed. In the first series, this included major stars like Bobby Hull and Jean Beliveau, not to mention the second-series checklist, which is absurdly expensive as a result. Second-series cards are harder to find and the short-prints, though lacking major stars, regularly fetch upwards of $200.
Topps hockey cards were almost always distributed in Canada by O-Pee-Chee (from London, ON), and after 1960-61 were actually all printed in Canada by OPC. (I saw a 1957-58 Topps wrapper that suggested it could have been even earlier, but the “Printed in Canada” designation is really a ’60s thing.) OPC, who’d made their own cards during the Gum Wars era of the 1930s, didn’t put out a new set under their own banner until 1968-69. Aimed at the Canadian market, Topps cards prior to 1968 were all bilingual.
The “Tall Boys” cards were the standard 2 1/2″ width, but stood over a full inch taller than normal at 4 11/16″. The main impact of this seems to have been that they were too tall for a standard shirt pocket, so significant creases in the upper third (or lower third – see Andy Bathgate above) of the card are not at all uncommon.
I don’t know if it’s my favourite set, particularly, but it’s complete and happens to be scanned, so I’ll be walking through it card by card, in between expressing things I only vaguely remember about baseball, or other hockey that I find interesting or amusing. We’ll start with #1, Pit Martin. I hope it’s interesting.