Professional ice hockey leagues formed in the U.S. and Canada in the early 20th century, with the National Hockey League getting its start in Montreal in 1910. Like baseball and football, cards associated with the sport were there from the beginning.

The first hockey cards were issued for the 1910/1911 season by Imperial Tobacco. There were 36 vertical cards in the set, each featuring an illustration of a player on the front and a handful of details about him on the back—you can’t even call them stats.

For the 1911/1912 season, Imperial got a bit fancier, framing each of the 45 players on the fronts of its second, and last, set of cards with hockey sticks. The information on the backs of the cards was also given a more ornate graphic treatment. Collectible cards from this series include Georges Vézina of the Montreal Canadiens—Vézina is one of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s original 12 members.

Ice hockey then went without player cards for two full decades until 1933, when Canadian chewing gum companies O-Pee-Chee and Ice Kings issued separate sets of vintage hockey cards. The Ice Kings set featured black-and-white photos of players, with stats and descriptions on the backs of the cards in English only.

The O-Pee-Chee cards also had black-and-white photos of players on their fronts, but the images were placed against a colored background (red, blue, orange, or green), in the center of which was a large six-pointed star surrounded by smaller stars. Importantly, the backs of these cards were in both English and French, which may have been one reason why the OPC cards, as they are known, continued to be printed throughout the rest of the decade.

Other OPC cards from the 1930s and early 1940s included a diecut series, which allowed the owner to bend the card in the middle so that it could stand up on its own. An unfolded copy of legendary Boston Bruins defenseman Eddie Shore is highly collectible. OPC also produced a black-and-white set of 100 larger 5-by-7-inch cards for the 1939-1940 season and a similarly sized 50-card set the following year.

After World War II, a card company called Parkhurst turned its attention to hockey. Its first-season cards, from 1951-1952, consisted of a tinted photograph of the player on the ...

Parkhurst made cards through 1964, but its license limited the number of teams and players it could feature on its cards—in some years, it only made cards depicting players on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

Meanwhile, in 1954, Topps got into the hockey act, producing cards for players such as Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings. Interestingly, vintage Topps hockey cards from 1954 for Howe, even ones in mediocre condition, are valued more highly by collectors than vintage Parkhurst Howe hockey cards from the same year in better shape. By the late 1960s, OPC got back into hockey cards by distributing Topps cards with its name on it. Of these, most of the collectible ones are the checklists, which most kids simply threw away.

One curious set of cards from the 1970-1971 season is the one distributed by Dad’s Cookies. This series of 144 vertically shaped cards featured stars like Bobby Orr, Tony Esposito, Jacques Plante, and Jean Beliveau, but the cards are a bit of a curiosity since each player posed for his photo wearing an NHL Players uniform rather than his team colors.

Checklist cards from the 1970s for both Topps and OPC remain highly prized, but in 1979, a player entered the NHL who turned ice hockey and the world of ice-hockey collectibles upside down. That player, of course, was Wayne Gretzky. For collectors of vintage hockey cards, The Great One’s NHL rookie card is among the most desirable cards in the sport. Topps and OPC Gretzky rookie cards are equally collectible, mostly because they are the exact same card, except for the branding.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Tom Boblitt moderates this extremely deep, collaborative site dedicated to non-sports cards (tobacco, gum and candy… [read review or visit site]

Scott Petterson’s personal collection of vintage ice hockey memorabilia focuses on the history of the Portland Bu… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2016 Upper Deck The Cup Connor Mcdavid *rookie Patch Auto #17/99* 3 Color !2015-16 Ud The Cup The Show Ssp Autograph Connor Mcdavid Oilers 1:378 Group A2015-16 , Upper Deck , The Cup , Dylan Larkin , Auto , Patch , Rookie , 24/992015-16 Ud The Cup Connor Mcdavid Rookie Signature Patches # 53/99 3 Colors1979 - 80 O-pee-chee Wayne Gretzky #18 Rookie Hockey Card Rc Bvg 5.5 Excellent +2015-16 , Upper Deck , The Cup , Connor Mcdavid , Honorable Numbers , Auto 15-16 Upper Deck The Cup Connor Mcdavid Exquisite Rookie Auto Patch #22/97 2012 Ud Industry Summit Michael Jordan Wayne Gretzky Auto /3 Bgs 10 Pristine2015-16 , Upper Deck , The Cup , Connor Mcdavid , Brilliance , Auto , Rare2015-16 Ud The Cup Connor Mcdavid 1/1 Rookie Autographed Printing Plate!!Huge Young Guns 803 Cards Lot..part Of Set.. 2016-17 Upper Deck Young Guns Set 2015-16 Upper Deck The Cup Dylan Larkin Retro 3 /10 Sick Rookie Auto Top Rookie15-16 The Cup Connor Mcdavid Scripted Swatches Jersey Patch Autograph #/35 AutoSidney Crosby The Cup 05-06 Honourable Numbers Rookie Patch AutoConnor Mcdavid Ud The Cup 15-16 Patch Auto Limited Logos /5015-16 The Cup Limited Logos Connor Mcdavid 47/50 Auto Game Used Patch Sick PatchMatt Murray 2015-16 Upper Deck The Cup #115 Rpa Logo Patch Autograph /249 ! Auto2015-16 Ud Exquisite Connor Mcdavid Rookie Signatures Auto 149/149 !!! 1/1 Card05-06 Ud Spx , Rookie Jersey Auto Sp ,179/499 , 2 Colors , Sidney Crosby , #19105 06 Upper Deck Young Guns Rookie - Sidney Crosby # 201Bgs 9.5 15-16 Upper Deck Sp Authentic Connor Mcdavid Auto Rc /999 Rookie Hot Ud1971 O Pee Chee 1971 72 Opc Hockey 111 Checklist Psa 8 Nm-mt Wow Super Popular *2015-16 Ud The Cup Matt Murray Rookie Auto Patch Card #67 Of 249!! 3 Color!!1979 0-pee-chee Wayne Gretzky #18 Rookie Card Psa 6-super High End-see Details2007-08 Ud The Cup Carey Price Gold Rainbow Rc 3-clr Patch Auto /31 *rare*2012 Ud All Time Greats Wayne Gretzky On Card Gold Auto #2/2 1/1 Beautiful Card15-16 Ud The Cup Exquisite Collection Connor Mcdavid Rookie Patch Auto 72/972015-16 The Cup Dylan Larkin Rpa Rookie Patch Auto #06/10 Detroit Red Wings Rc!!2015/16 Connor Mcdavid Rookie Signature Material Placards Jersey Auto #96/125 SkSidney Crosby The Cup 07-08 Limited Logos Patch Auto05-06 Ud Ice , Ice Premieres Rookie Level 1 Sp , 97/99 , Alex Ovechkin , Bgs 102015/16 Upper Deck The Cup Auto Gold Spectrum /12 Wayne Gretzky Wow07-08 Ultimate Collection , Rookie Auto Sp , 60/99 , Carey Price , Bgs 9.5 ,#1582015-16 The Cup Connor Mcdavid Enshrinements Autograph Acetate # 7/992016-17 Artifacts Autographed Patrik Laine Rookie Relic Redemption Ii (16-17)15-16 The Cup Enshrinements Connor Mcdavid 41/99 Autograph Auto Acetate Hot! Rc1979-80 O-pee-chee Opc Wayne Gretzky Rookie Rc #18 First Print Run Skate Lines!15-16 Ud The Cup Connor Mcdavid Limited Logos Game Used Patch Auto /50 2015-16 Upper Deck The Cup Dylan Lakin True Rpa Detroit Red Wings /99 Patch Auto2005-06 Upper Deck Ice , Signature Swatches 2 Colors , Sidney Crosby , Bgs 9 Rc2007-08 Hot Prospects , Rookie Auto Patch , 3 Colors , 144/199 , Carey Price 1979-80 1979 Wayne Gretzky Opc Rc #18 * Bvg Bgs 8 * 0-pee-chee Rookie 1st Print1985 O-pee-chee Mario Lemieux #9 Sgc 98 ( Gem 10 ) Pop 3 ( Psa 10 Crossover??? )2005-06 Upper Deck Ice Alexander Ovechkin Rc Rookie #104 Serial # /99Connor Mcdavid Future Watch Rc Auto 752/999 2015-16 Sp Authentic15-16 Ud The Cup Connor Mcdavid Honorable Numbers Patch Autograph /972016-17 Upper Deck Series 1 Patrick Laine Young Guns Canvas #c1062016-17 Upper Deck Series 1 Auston Matthews Young Guns Rookie High Gloss 10/10!2015-16 Ud Black Ice Signatures Connor Mcdavid Rookie 1/25. ( Bgs 9.5 W/10 Auto2015-16 Ud Black Connor Mcdavid Pride Of A Nation Flag Patch Auto 2/5Wayne Gretzky 2015-16 Ud Exquisite Auto Patch Material Gold 4/10 Hof Legends Hot15/16 Ud The Cup Connor Mcdavid Rc Signature Patches Jersey Patch Auto /99 2cl2016-17 Upper Deck Series 1 Mitch Marner Young Guns Canvas #c912015-16 Ud Black Ice Signatures Spectrum Connor Mcdavid Rc 5/51979 Opc Hockey #18 Wayne Gretzky Rookie O-pee-chee (5 Of 5)1951-52 Parkhurst #4 Maurice Richard Rc Hockey CardConnor Mcdavid 2015/16 Upper Deck #201 Young Guns Rc Rookie Sp Psa 10 Gem Mint1968 O Pee Chee 1968 69 Opc Hockey 121 Checklist Psa 8 Nm-mt Incredible Hot Wow2015-16 Exquisite Rookie / Auto / Patch Max Domi #/25 ( 3 Colors -4 Breaks ) 2014-15 The Cup Mario Lemieux Nhl Glory Autograph #1/10 Pittsburgh Penguins Auto