The name O-Pee-Chee was synonymous with hockey cards for more than two decades. While the London, Ontario company had its beginnings in making gum, the company would ultimately be best known — especially in the 1970s and 1980s — for its annual set of hockey trading cards. Richard Scott’s new book, “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story,” gives the history of the long-gone company that gave hockey fans many long-lasting memories.
Scott previously authored “The Wayne Gretzky Collector’s Handbook” and “The Parkies Hockey Card Story,” among several other books on hockey cards. He starts his latest work with a 14-page history of the O-Pee-Chee Gum Company, beginning in 1911 when the McDermid brothers established their business. The company eventually included hockey player photo cards with its gum to help boost sales. Scott cites old O-Pee-Chee company literature, prior articles and interviews with former owner Gary Koreen in his telling of the company’s history.
“The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story” then has a write-up about every O-Pee-Chee hockey set, from its inaugural “Hockey Card Gum” set in 1933-34, to the Topps sets in the 1950s (which were sold in Canada by O-Pee-Chee) to the “classic” O-Pee-Chee brand sets of the 1970s and 1980s. Each recap gives vital information about the set, such as the number of cards, number of rookie cards, size of the cards (annoyingly measured in millimeters!) and the original pack cost. Earlier sets are only given one-page recaps, while sets from 1965-66 and up are allotted two pages and include the 10 most-interesting cards from each set.
Note that this book does not have prices or comprehensive checklists; that’s not a drawback. Listing every card and/or prices isn’t necessary to enjoy this book, and would actually distract from its purpose of telling the story behind O-Pee-Chee, sharing little-known information and highlighting the cards themselves. (But if you need a checklist, Scott also just released “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Master Checklist“, which lists every O-Pee-Chee card from 1933-34 to 2017-18.)
Towards the end, the book feels a bit rushed. Scott consolidates over 10 years of information on Upper Deck’s O-Pee-Chee cards from 2006-07 to now into just two pages. He also gives very quick histories on OPC’s baseball, Canadian Football League and non-sports sets.
Eight pages reprint almost every OPC hockey card wrapper. Unfortunately, these are rendered in black and white. In fact, the entire book lacks color, which is the only major drawback in an otherwise fine piece of work.
Quote that epitomizes “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story”: London, Ontario may never have had a National Hockey League franchise, but it has always been the heart of one of the league’s most popular traditions: hockey cards. After more than 80 years, the O-Pee-Chee hockey card — originated in London — is the most enduring and endearing brand in the hockey collector’s marketplace.
What I like about “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story”: The book gives a solid history of the company and gives many rare details you don’t often hear about. For example, did you know that OPC supposedly made 6 million packs of its 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set? Or that a special album was made to hold the 1960-61 Topps Hockey set? Information like this makes the book a joy to read.
What I do not like about “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story”: Other than the front and back cover, the book is entirely in black and white. That is a shame. Wrappers from pre-1970 are not very easy to find, so picturing these in color would have been a service to readers. Also, many of the other OPC hockey sets — such as the 1980-81 Super Photos, 1987-88 “Mini” Leaders, the yearly hockey sticker albums, and 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Premier — are touched on, when they could have been expanded on in greater detail.
While the lack of color and being scant on some of the offbeat OPC hockey sets makes this book feel a bit incomplete, it is still full of invaluable information. “The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story” highlights many of the best OPC hockey cards that you may have overlooked, forgotten or didn’t know about. Older hockey card collectors will especially enjoy reading and reminiscing. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.