Saturday, June 25, 2016

More, More, More

Topps began a mostly uninspiring run of cards across all lines starting around 1974 that would continue through the end of the decade.  There were some exceptions of course but the painstakingly designed graphics of the previous quarter century were giving way to a more homogenized look once they became an established public company.  This of course was a look also shared by their Canadian partner, O-Pee-Chee. More subsets and more efficient packaging (more cards, less wrapper, less gum) were what Topps was moving towards as rising prices from the oil embargo had changed the economics of the time. Looking back on it, it's clear the second golden age of Topps (roughly spanning 1961-73), which was part of a lineage going back to the heady post World War 2 years, essentially ended within a year or so of their first IPO in 1972. That's OK though, we'll muddle through.

Finishing off our look at the 70's NHL regular issues (stay tuned for the WHA and standalone sets) brings us to 1974-75 and the first season both Topps and O-Pee-Chee both came out with one big issue all at once. Card counts:

Topps: 264
OPC:   396

There's not much to say on either front. The cards were pretty generic and only Topps had an insert (a reverse from the year prior):

This OPC card of Billy Smith looks like it was taken in his den-check out the baseboard heater in the background! Still, the card stock and sharpness of printing were much better in Canada:

The insert was a very basic scratch off game with no graphic elements to speak of.  Topps also issued similar inserts with their Football and Basketball sets this year as well.  Not many people seem to be aware of these:

The first standalone WHA card set came out for 1974-75 and will be looked at in an all WHA post coming next.

The 1975-76 sets are even more bland than their immediate predecessors:

Topps: 330
OPC:   396

That Topps count means double prints abounded, 66 subjects in all; a scourge that was spreading to their other sports lines as there is nothing more double printed than DP's from the mid- 70's and later! Copyright dates have been added for Topps (but not O-Pee-Chee) and also the NHLPA:

O-Pee-Chee's claim to fame this season was poor cutting I guess, I could not square this one up for the life of me:

For the first time since they both began co-issuing cards, neither Topps nor OPC had an insert this year, although a standalone cloth sticker set (look for an upcoming post) was issued in the US and O-Pee-Chee had their WHA issue.

1976-77 saw a bit of brightening and a reduction by Topps:

Topps: 264
OPC:   396

A much better design than those of the prior two years makes this much more appealing visually. Topps had some crazy cuts as well, check out the back of the Daigle card, which is squared up:

O-Pee-Chee once again with the better stock, which made things easier to read for sure. Look, you can even see they added their own copyright date:

Topps also included a nice Glossy Photo insert this year, 22 in the set, while OPC for some reason did not.  Note the copyright date, which is pretty rare on Topps or OPC cards of the era:

1977-78 was virtually a repeat of the prior season, even the inserts made a return (across both lines):

Topps: 264
OPC:   396

Here is Topps with its muddy reverse:

And the super easy to read OPC:

The picture quality definitely went up a notch this season.

The Glossy Photo inserts looked quite similar to the prior year's but here are some subtle differences (and player changes). In addition, each company offered inserts with both rounded and square corners, which is somewhat bizarre.  Topps first:

Not sure if the rounding machine went bust or not.  There seems to be very little difference in pricing though as squares just go for a hair more:

And now OPC.  Except for the copyright, they look identical to the Topps offerings:

1978-79 brought card counts of (wait for it):

Topps: 264
OPC:   396

This might be the worst design of the "bland era".  Look at this Topps version:

Stop me if you've heard this before but the O-Pee-Chee's are a model of legibility yet again. This Reed Larson card also displays a classic OPC rough cut along its top border:

Inserts prevailed on both sides of the border.  Topps had a nice "combo" white back sticker, 16 in all, that mixed a larger team logo with three smaller stickers designed to be stuck on a kid's helmet or stick. It's really quite a nice little set:

O-Pee-Chee had a two-sided insert of dubious collector value, namely six different premium offers and ads designed to push a product called Super Bazooka:

I like the way it was assumed you could navigate the French only text on one side and the English only on the other! How you feel about the poster premium being an official Topps/OPC product is entirely up to you. The non O-Pee-Chee address makes it a third party item to my mind and the five other inserts all had different premiums on them.

1979-80 is, of course, the most famous hockey set of its time thanks to the inclusion of Wayne Gretzky's rookie card. Once again we rest at:

Topps: 264
OPC:   396

The full bleed blue border and inventive reverse design make for a compelling set.  I'll use the great one to look at both Topps and O-Pee-Chee.  After all, it's the hockey card of the decade (and last 35 years):

That's also a much better design than the previous season's effort.  O-Pee-Chee brings the clarity but know this, that dark stain on the front of the Gretzky card (between the L & E in "Oilers") is a printing flaw that exists on a lot of his rookies and is often a lot longer than the one seen here:

Topps repeated their sticker inserts, even adding five more, while OPC demurred. Helpfully dated (as were the one issued the year before), these also have a premium offer that was being pushed by them across their sports cards lines this year:

O-Pee-Chee though, did offer a pack configuration with a stick of Hockey Bubble Gum that may or may not fall into the insert category but with a wrapper bearing team logos on the interior. This bubble gum was also issued on its own over a roughly two or three year period to boot and will be looked at in the upcoming "standalone" post I have planned.

I have remarked before that 1980 is the last year of the decade of the 70's (do the math) so the 1980-81 season's offerings will conclude my look at over 30 consecutive years of hockey issues (including a two season hiccup!).  Once again, no variance in the set counts:

Topps: 264
OPC:   396

The Topps cards had a scratch off feature on the front:


The scratch off overlays were not limited to the regular issue cards either. Yeccch!

O-Pee-Chee did not conduct this ill-advised experiment:

An insert from Topps gave us sixteen 5" x 7" team posters but was five teams shy of the full 21 in the NHL at the time! Check out the commodity number (product number) along the right edge:

The Whalers, Jets, Nordiques and Oilers all missed the cut. Those four teams were absorbed into the NHL when the WHA mercy killing occurred in 1979, while the Calgary Flames were also omitted, having moved from Atlanta before the start of the season. Topps either didn't have good team photos to use given all the merging and moving or just plain didn't care enough to provide OPC with production materials. The latter option gets my vote.

More hockey to come...hope all y'all are liking this lengthy look.


buckstorecards said...

1980 Topps with the scratch-off puck is the worst design in hockey card history. I'll take bland. I'll take ugly. But having to damage the card in order to figure out what player(s) is/are featured on it was awful.

Eric C. Loy said...

I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with you about the OPC cards in 1974-5. The legibility and quality of the printing went straight out the window with some of the high numbers. It looked like at least some of the printings were done with very light ink on "particle paper" recycled cardboard.

The 76-77 cards are fun as the OPC cards have the Barons while the Topps cards have the Rockies, that makes for some quality airbrushing. The OPC high number cards in this set are distinguishable by the lack of a dot on the front after the player name. There is a great uncorrected error in OPC that year too, a goaltender gets his name spelled KcKechnie on the front.

77-78 OPC high numbers have many printing differences from the rest of the set, and some odd picture and player choices.

78-79 OPC high numbers again have some interesting player choices, and a few of them have no autograph on the back.

toppcat said...

Eric, thanks for the comments. I briefly debated doing more in depth looks at each set but Bobby Burrell really has all the goods in his book and on his site so to my mind it would be something that isn't necessary. After some thought, I don't think I'm going to do more long arcs like this anymore.