I was talking the other day about having an “Indiana Jones” moment with the Gordie Howe card – that instant of total wonder when confronted with the reality of something that had only existed (at least in my experience) as legend.
I rarely have that anymore.
It’s mostly the result of having collected for the better part of the past 35 years. There just aren’t that many surprises left. Even if a card is something I don’t have, and there is still an awful lot of that, the likelihood is that it’s something I’ve at least seen somewhere. I still like finding something I’m missing, and I love the look of a completed set, but it’s pretty unusual that a single card will make me stop, sit down and say, “Wow,” while marvelling at the item in front of me. I can only think of a handful of occasions in the past five or six years where it has happened.
This is one of those cards.
This is a 1936-37 OPC V304D card of Charlie Conacher. The gum wars were all but over in 1936-37. There was still a set from World Wide Gum out there, but this would be its last year. OPC would have the gum card field to itself for the next couple of years until abandoning it once the war got underway. (After that, fans were left with ordering glossy pictures from Bee Hive, Crown Brand, etc.)
The V304D set borrowed an idea from the 1934-36 Batter Up cards by National Chicle. The cards are die-cut. The top-half would separate from the image, allowing the card to be folded in half and stood on it’s base, the image projecting vertically. These are all but impossible to find unfolded and somewhat unusual to find without the top having torn off from repeated folds. This set has rookie cards of Turk Broda and Syl Apps as well as the last card of Howie Morenz (and I think King Clancy) and a very late card of Eddie Shore. They tend to get pricey. The one good thing about them is that they aren’t the baseball release (V300) OPC made in 1937. If a perfect Broda is a lot of money, it has nothing on Joe DiMaggio.
This Conacher has been folded and has a small crease, but it’s all still there and neither side has broken off. I caught a break with it because it was listed by a coin dealer and I think that scared off a lot of the card guys. It has the wow factor and is one of those things I can sit and linger over. I have one other name from that set, but it’s not as nice as this one.
This thing is great.
Charlie Conacher is, to my mind, the single most dominant player the Leafs have ever had. In his “old-time great” card from 1955 Parkhurst, he is described as the “most mechanically perfect scorer of modern times” – times that included Howe, Richard, Morenz, the lot. He was big, he was fast, he was tough and he had a tremendous shot. With Joe Primeau at centre and Busher Jackson on the left side, he completed the great “Kid Line,” which dominated hockey for years.
This is pretty much the only footage I’ve seen of Conacher as a Leaf. He’s the big number 9 seen near the end of the clip and he’s in a couple of the rushes seen earlier, though his number isn’t visible.
Between 1930-31 and 1935-36, he led the league in goals scored five times. He finished in the top 4 in scoring four times, leading the league twice. In the first six seasons that the NHL named an All-Star team, he was either the first or second team RW five times.
His hard-driving style of play shortened his career. When he first saw a young rookie named Wendel Clark, Leaf legend King Clancy said, “He plays like Charlie Conacher.” (Conacher, however, was an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier.) Like Clark, injuries took away several of what should have been his prime seasons.
For Charlie, those injuries began in earnest in 1936-37. Still only 26, he hurt a wrist in training camp, then reinjured it in December. He’d only play 34 games combined in ’36-37 and ’37-38, and unlike Clark, who came back eventually and was productive, Charlie was never really the same player again. He’d play three more seasons after leaving the Leafs in 1938, but only managed another 25 goals.
I’m older now, marginally wiser and maybe a little jaded, but this card is pretty awesome.