The hobby of hockey-card collecting has been reinvigorated by a global pandemic, an abundance of free time and…Michael Jordan? So you might want to dig through your closet to see if you’re sitting on a million-dollar rookie card.
A lot has changed with hockey-card collecting over the past 30 years. Heck, a lot has changed in the past two years. Those small pieces of cardboard we grew up with haven’t been this hot in three decades.
Collecting hockey cards was a modest little hobby until 1990, when it exploded in popularity. “To me, 1990-91 was the peak of the golden era of hockey cards,” said
Jason Masherah, president of Upper Deck, a company that makes trading cards licensed by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. “You had the culmination of incredible rookies, new licensees, huge print runs and Wayne Gretzky was playing in the United States. That level of interest in hockey cards had never been seen before.”
But by the mid-1990s, hockey cards had settled back down to a niche hobby, more popular in Canada, less so in the U.S., and only really appealing to diehard fans. Then it boomed again in 2020, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, the 2019-20 NHL season was paused while the league figured out how it could operate during a pandemic that had spiralled out of control. Next, people were asked to shelter at home, to help slow the spread of COVID, while governments determined what to do. Concerts, vacations and other plans were cancelled. Many people, with money to spend and no place to go, turned to at-home hobbies. For some, it was drawing, baking bread or working out. Others discovered – or rediscovered – sports-card collecting. “The idle time renewed their interest,” said Joe Daley, owner of Joe Daley’s Sports and Framing. “People had time on their hands, had money to spend and, for whatever reason, got back into the cards they had stored away in their youth and decided they should do that again.”
Daley, a former NHL and WHA goalie from 1968 to 1979, opened his sports-card shop in Winnipeg in 1988 – just before hockey cards first spiked in popularity. And hockey-card collecting hasn’t been this popular in 30 years. “Until the pandemic hit,” he said, “we haven’t seen this type of flurry in the card industry since the early 1990s.”
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.