In 1981, Mark Rubin of American Legends bought a cut card closeout case of 1979 Topps hockey cards for $30. He thought the Wayne Gretzky rookies inside would be a good investment. However, he didn’t count on the card being worth $400 by the end of the decade. He should have.
Hockey cards’ history was almost as rich as baseball cards. They were prevalent in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the 1910-1912 C55 and C56 hockey cards were as well known in Canada as their American baseball tobacco counterparts. In 1968, OPC started producing the Canadian version of Topps hockey cards. The OPC sets were much larger than their American counterparts and included rookies unavailable in the Topps sets of the same year (Bobby Clarke, Guy LaFleur and Mark Messier to name a few). They even contained extra star cards of Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.
Still, in the early 1980’s, even with the greatest hockey player in the prime of his career, it took time for hockey cards to really catch on. As late as 1984, Rubin remembers acquiring a pair of 1966-67 Bobby Orr rookie cards for the paltry sum of $25 each (unfortunately, only one of the two still remains and the card currently values at $3,000).
In 1988, “The Trade” of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings boosted hockey’s profile which translated to cardboard. By this time, the market for basketball and football cards were exploding and hockey cards joined the pack.
To feed this newfound demand, Rubin made a significant buying trip to Montreal, acquiring a 1951 Parkhurst Gordie Howe rookie, a 1954 Topps Hockey set and a ton of other great vintage cards. Unfortunately, Mark forgot that many of the cards were in screw cases which set off the metal detectors in Dorval airport, causing a few anxious moments.
Happily, the 1990’s yielded innovation and competition with Pro Set, Upper Deck and Score joining Topps.
With Wayne Gretzky as one of Upper Deck Authenticated’s crown jewels, the hockey memorabilia market began to surge and reached a crescendo with the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory in 1994.
After a pair of painful lockouts, hockey cards and memorabilia exploded in 2005/2006. The emergence of rookie superstars Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist has given the hobby the boost it needed to return to prominence.