As in all trading card sectors, there are rare hockey cards. A sighting of one is like seeing the Loch Ness Monster – minus the whole 'not existing' part. Having one of these cards is definitely a feather in the cap of the collector who has it – and while some can be expensive, they don’t necessarily have to be in the hands of only the 1%. For all people know, some of these cards could be sitting in an attic, just waiting to be found.
Of course, the truly rare vintage hockey cards from the pre-World War II era are going to be the most rare. Among the best cards of all time are the 1910 C56 Art Ross, Cyclone Taylor and Georges Vezina. The 1923 V145-1 King Clancy and Howie Morenz, the 1933 OPC Eddie Shore and the 1937 World Wide Gum Conn Smythe are on PSA's list of the greatest hockey cards in history.
However, the card that tops the list that combines scarcity with desirability is the 1923-24 Paterson's Candy Bert Corbeau. Part of a promotion to entice kids to buy more product for a chance to win free skates, only a few exist today.
From the post-War era, the 1966-67 Topps USA Test series with its lighter color borders and English-only backs are highly sought after, especially the Bobby Orr rookie. The only PSA 8.5 copy of that card sold for more than $70,000 in the fall of 2010.
Rare hockey cards can include more modern examples like Wayne Gretzky’s rookie O-Pee-Chee card (even in far less than mint condition, it can sell for as high as $1000), although the price is more of a reflection of the player than the scarcity. High grade examples are what's rare. Condition is everything when it comes to rare hockey cards.
In terms of modern players, low production autographed rookie cards of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin can run into the thousands…or just a few hundred. Those are really manufactured rarities, however.
Do your homework if you’re bidding on an auction site – some people like to put “RARE” in their description to try to inflate the value of the card they are selling.
Some other hard to find cards are from regional sets– since the lower supply of these cards leads to more demand.
When it comes to rare hockey cards, though, it’s all going to come down to what your own criteria of the word is and what kind of scope you want to have in terms of your search. Do you want cards that are hard to find from a certain era, a certain player, a certain team? Once you have done that, then you can focus on the type of cards you want to build your collection around.
All the best ones are tough to find, ooze history and have legions of collectors lined up to get them. However, even the lesser known players from these sets are very rare in general. Your local mall show isn't likely to have a dealer who has them at hand.
You'll have to head to the big Canadian and American card shows to see them in person, but it's far easier to simply check out vintage graded hockey cards on eBay.