Really, really, really old school design makes for an interesting distraction
Retro-themed sets based on early 20th century design – such as Upper Deck’s “Champ’s” brand of hockey cards, or Topps “Alan & Ginther” baseball cards – are a popular trend with collectors right now. While few can afford the original cards of Art Ross or Georges Vezina, many still can appreciate the look and feel of current cards that base their designs on these old sets. Earlier this decade, Topps made an initial attempt to make a set of neo-retro hockey cards, naming it “C55” and basing the design on a set of cards that is almost a century old.
The 2003-04 Topps C55 Hockey set was released in December of 2003. It derives both its namesake and design from the “C55” hockey cards that were distributed with cigarettes during the 1911-12 season. Though the true maker of the original “C55” set Is unknown, it is generally believed to have been manufactured by a company called Imperial Tobacco. This ancient set featured line-art drawings of hockey players from the early 20th century.
The Topps C55 set tries to copy its predecessor as close as possible, with its use of solid-colored backgrounds and “illustration-like” photos with a mezzotint-like pattern applied to them. For the most part, the old design is a breath of fresh air.
This set was issued in the standard 2 1/2-inch by 3 1/2-inch size, but also had a parallel set that was 1 1/2 by 2 1/2. This review mainly covers the “standard” sized cards, but also touches on the “mini” cards.
Player selection 3 out of 5
One-hundred fifty-five cards comprise this set. The first 130 cards are of veteran players, while the last 25 are short-printed rookie cards. So, you don’t get a whole lot of variety, but all of the big names are represented: Lemieux, Modano, Forsberg, Hull, Jagr, Sakic and so forth. Several prominent rookie cards also appear in this set, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin.
Front design 3 out of 5
The Topps C55 set mimics the old set almost to a “t”. Head-and-shoulder photos of players were modified to appear somewhat like illustrations. The portraits are framed by a hockey stick on either side, while the player’s name is stated at the bottom in capital letters. Decorative elements adorn the upper corners of each card, while the card number is printed on the front.
Other than the somewhat distracting “Topps C55” logo that “floats” above the player’s head, this set is pretty close to capturing the spirit of the 1911 set. Detracting from the set are the portraits themselves – they still “feel” a bit too real, looking like a photograph instead of a drawing.
Back design / stats & info 2 out of 5
The back of each Topps C55 card is also very close to appearance to the old C55 set – from the circle-riveted “frame” that borders the information, to the large circle at the bottom containing the card number. Of course, logos for Topps, the NHL and the NHLPA are on the back too.
While cards from the early 1900s did not have a player’s statistics, they did print the player’s birthplace, the teams that he’s played for, and the years that he played for each team. Topps C55 repeats this convention, but it gets old real fast because many of these guys have played a long time and with several different teams. For example, Brett Hull’s career is stated as:
Has played with
CALGARY FLAMES 1987, 1988
BLUES 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
STARS 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001
RED WINGS 2001, 2002, 2003
Would it just be easier summarize Hull’s career like this:
RED WINGS 2001-2003
See? Less reading, and more to the point. The problem with all these years, though, is that if too many get listed, then the player’s birthplace gets omitted from the card, such as Hull. That brings me to my other point: the Topps C55 cards state that a player was born “at” a location instead of “in” a location. Mario Lemieux was “Born at Montreal, Que., Can.”. The phrasing sounds weird to me.
Overall, the backs are really nothing special. Topps has accomplished their goal of making the cards look like the old C55 set, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.
Ten key players in the set have an “action” variation, where the card shows a full body shot instead of a portrait shot. These count as part of a “complete” set, as these action shots are not short prints.
Regular (left) and Action Variation of card #66 – Mario Lemieux
The entire 165 card set and ten action variants were also issued in “mini” size, measuring around 1 1/2″ wide by 2 1/2″ tall – just like the 1911-12 set.
But apparently, Topps was not content with merely issuing one version of the mini set. Thus, there are numerous different versions of the minis. The differences, though, appear on the back. Where it normally would say “Topps C55” it instead says “America”, “O’ Canada”, “Brooklyn”, “Stanley Cup” or “Bazooka”. Some of these variants are printed with different color inks, such as the “O’ Canada” black backs and “O’ Canada” red backs.
Don’t all these stupid parallel variations just want to make you barf? The only mini version you should keep an eye out for is the “Bazooka” version, as it is alleged that their print run was only five copies of each card.
An interesting idea, this set is worth buying if you have an appreciation for card designs from the early 1900s. The old design makes for a nice diversion from all the holograms and gold foil that saturate the market today.
Five cards of interest…
11 – Owen Nolan – A great portrait of the NHL veteran. (back)
26 – Mike Johnson – Both Johnson and the Coyotes logo on his chest look like bad Picasso paintings. (back)
34 – Oli Jokinen – Some of the portraits are less than flattering like this one of Jokinen – his eyes look creepy! (back)
76 – Derian Hatcher – This card rocks because the photo has obviously been doctored. Red Wings don’t wear red helmets with white jerseys, meaning that Topps did some airbrushing to Hatcher’s uniform. (back)
151- Mark-Andre Fleury – Fleury’s short-printed rookie card is currently the most valuable card in the set. (back)
165 card set
– 130 player cards
– 10 action variants
– 25 short-printed rookies
Card size: 2 1/2″ wide x 3 1/2″ tall
Click here to download a printable checklist
3 thoughts on “Review: 2003-04 Topps C55 Hockey”
The player’s images on the front of the cards look like a cheap airbrushed job and don’t come close to the style of the C55 originals.
For a great site on the c55 cards check out this site if you haven’t already.
has some proof stones and and some history on the process and the cards: