Brett Hull: The first of many prototype hockey cards in the 1990s
When the hockey card market expanded from two to five companies in 1990, promotional and prototype cards became all the rage. Such cards were given to card shops and collectors to show them what the new cards would look like, and to entice them to purchase the forthcoming sets. But these promo cards took on a life of their own, and were heavily sought by investors and collectors alike.
Released by Pro Set sometimes during the first half of 1990 was a prototype card of Brett Hull. The card was originally packed with a copy of the Pro Set Gazette, a free newsletter that was sent out to collectors who signed up for it.
At first glance, the prototype card could almost pass for the standard-issue card of Hull — the only real differences being the bright blue ink on the proto being swapped out for a darker blue that better matches the St. Louis Blue’s uniforms. There is also a line in the upper right corner.
But it is on the backside of the proto where you see some real differences.
No one gets anything right on the first try, and Pro Set made several small changes that vastly improved the design of their inaugural set:
- The type on the real card is a bit thicker and easier to read.
- Pro Set made the background color behind the text lighter, improving the contrast and making the type even more readable.
- Hull’s 1987-88 statistics — he played for 2 teams that season — are combined and displayed on one line on the prototype card. On the real card, his 1987-88 stats are separated for Calgary and St. Louis.
- Although Hull’s biography is the same on both cards, the prototype separates each sentence with ellipses…like this…whereas the actual card ends each sentence with one period.
- The prototype card uses a different headshot on the back than the real card. Perhaps someone at Pro Set decided to use a profile shot of Hull since they were already using a straight-on photo on the front.
- Speaking of headshot, the bright blue color is used again to surround Hull’s photo on the back. Like the front, the bright blue was swapped in favor of a darker blue. Maybe the initial plan was to use brighter colors instead of matching each team’s uniform colors.
- The prototype card is numbered 1 in the lower left corner, while the real card is numbered 263. Most likely, the number was just arbitrary. Though one could speculate that Pro Set was originally going to order the cards in a random order instead of ordering them by team (first Boston, then Buffalo, etc.).
- Hull’s height and birth date are different on the prototype card.
- Finally, the back of the prototype incorporates gray stripes going across the top and bottom. This was removed from the real version, possibly to streamline the design.
All these changes are minor, but together they made the card more readable and feel less cluttered.
You would think that this card of Hull — which was really THE first spark in the hockey card explosion of 1990 — would have some value 20 years later. After all, it was the herald of the new era in hockey cards.
But then Pro Set did a funny thing: the Brett Hull proto was inserted into packs of their 1990-91 Series One hockey cards — sometimes one or two per box. The card became easy to acquire, and everyone who wanted one had five. The sharp increase in supply quashed whatever demand there may have been.
In retrospect, this was a very collector-friendly move on Pro Set’s part. Up to that point, most hockey fans did not have any reason to subscribe to the Pro Set Gazette, as Pro Set only made football cards in previous years. So putting the Hull proto card in packs of Pro Set gave everyone a chance to get it. You might see this card sell in the $5 range, but if you go to a big enough show you can probably find it for $1 to $2.
Conclusion: This is a relatively easy prototype card to find. Everyone who owns the 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey set should have this card, just to make their sets truly complete. ■