Although the market really boomed in the 1980s and 90s, NHL trading cards have a long history prior to that. There were cards made even as far back as over 100 years ago, well before it became the global entity that it is now. Like early baseball cards, hockey cards were first found in packages of cigarettes. The tobacco cards were made from 1910-13 and then there was only one post World War I set made for the ’24-’25 season.
Other companies got in the act, including food and candy companies like Paulin’s Candy, Maple Crispette, Crescent, Holland Creameries and La Pietrie.
Things picked up in ’51, with Shirriff Desserts, which made these cool old hockey coins, York Peanut Butter and Post Cereal all printing hockey collectibles. Parkhurst joined the fray in ’51 as well and Topps came into the picture in ’54. Neither O-Pee-Chee nor Topps made cards for the ’55-’56 season, but they started again the following year. Many of the most iconic players from the era have their rookie cards in those 1950s sets.
Most of the great post-War hockey rookie cards were made by Topps or its Canadian subsidiary, OPC.
Throughout the years, especially in Canada, there have been countless set issued regionally as part of special promotions. Esso even experimented in the ‘70s with printing small hockey cards on soft paper that were given out to people who bought gas.
Most the companies kept printing, though O-Pee-Chee sold its licenses to Topps and then Upper Deck in the mid-90s. There was a lockout that wiped out the entire ’04 NHL season. After all the debris cleared and play resumed in ‘05, there were only one company standing at the time – Upper Deck. They secured an exclusive contract and then after it ran out, while they renewed it, Panini America was also allowed to produce NHL trading cards.
As you can see, hockey cards have their own rich varied history that rivals MLB, the NFL and the NBA. It will be interesting to see what the next 100 years brings.