The Growth of a Hockey Card Collection

History can come from a wide range of places, especially events that have personal meaning.  Collecting hockey cards with my dad and younger brother as a child produced the only collection that still exists today.  Hockey itself has significant cultural relevance to Canada, and this collection was my first exposure to this.  Secondly, the actual act of a father bonding with his son, spending time together, creating memories is relevant to my personal history, and my development as a person.

I’ll start by briefly explaining who my father is, as he would be the equivalent of a museum curator to this collection.  He was born on a farm in Saskatchewan and moved to Edmonton early as an adult in search of work.  He participated in many sports growing up, and belonged to countless baseball and hockey teams.  Not much for talking, it was really through actions that connected father to son.  Exposing me to countless sports since birth, passing his love of sports was something that connected his childhood to my own.  As I reflect upon our relationship, sports have to make up the majority of our conversations, including spending time on a golf course, and going to Oiler games.

Hockey trading cards are known to exist as early as 1910 where they were dispersed into cigarette packages. (http://www.canadianhockeycards.com)  Hockey cards were merely an accessory, similar to toys in a box of cereal.  They were produced sporadically in between the two world wars then began to emerge in packages of chewing gum.  It was not until the late 1960’s where production was consistent, and collecting never took off on a large scale until the late 1980’s. 

Importance to my own personal history
I can’t remember how or when the collection started.  There was probably not an exact date, but a situation where a couple hockey cards lying around the house would grow into something much more.  I haven’t seen the set since moving in 1997 to my family’s second house, but I am certain that it still exists tucked away in storage.  I’ve never really considered the set to be my own as it grew through the collective work of my father, younger brother, and me.  Although I don’t have access to it, the origins as to when it began was easily identifiable through memory, and an internet image search to identify the collection started with a set of O-Pee-Chee cards in 1989 when I was the age of 6.

The actual act of collecting may actually be more historically significant than the collection itself.  The time ventured on weekends going to comic book/trading card stores as well as the flea market was well spent.  Many life lessons were learned, and not through lecturing but experience.  Learning how to negotiate, to assess values of different cards, and understanding the effects of scarcity were regular occurrences.  Recalling the day that I had been ripped off for the first time also comes to mind.  Usually building our sets of hockey cards by purchasing individual packages, on one occasion we decided to just buy a complete set.  When bringing it home, and going through all the different cards, we noticed an absence of some of the most valuable cards that were the star players of the time such as Gretzky, Lemieux, and Yzerman.  Through my father’s reaction and anger, I understood not everyone can be trusted, and opened my eyes as to what it felt like to be taken advantage of.  Little of this story has anything to do with the collection, and in the historical context to Canada as a whole is completely insignificant.  However stories of growing up, and experiencing such things are situations that almost all Canadians have had, with their own personal events substituted in.

First issue of Beckett Hockey (Sept/Oct 1990)
The collection grew at quite a fast pace after the first year.  As the 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee set was complete, the following years had new brands enter the market such as Pro Set, Score, Upper Deck, and Pinnacle, among countless others.  Instead of buying individual packages, an entire box would be bought...skillfully saving money, while fueling our collective addiction.  With hockey cards becoming popular, and collectors’ items, monthly guides were published such as Beckett Hockey Magazine to give a market interpretation of how much each card was worth.  Now the excitement of opening each package grew, hoping to find high valued cards.  The guide itself was also interesting in that it would show the price changes from month to month.  So now collecting hockey cards became something similar to the stock market with prices fluctuating, and profits to be had.  I can recall selling a couple cards, however this only happened in a rare occurrence.  We weren’t collecting for the money, or profit, but interested in watching in the value of our collection fluctuate.

It can only go up from here....right???
The end of the collection is more puzzling to pinpoint than when it began.  After several years, sometime in the mid 1990s the trading card market had become over saturated, along with prices declining, and people losing interest.  The trading card bubble of the 1990s had burst as quickly as it had grown.  Hockey cards have never stopped being made, however after losing status as valuable collectibles, most interest had declined (especially among adults).  As I lost interest growing older, my brother continued with my dad for a while longer, and sporadic attempts were still made to further the collection.  Through trying to identify brands on the internet, it’s hard to recollect when the collecting stopped.  I’m guessing by the NHL lockout in 1994 the collection had largely come to a close.  Too large to count, the collection ended up with tens of thousands of cards stacked in boxes 5 feet high.
The state of the collection also presents a personal timeline. At first while collecting the cards at a young age, cards were on coffee and kitchen tables, organized into sets, and constantly flipped through reading stats of players, or making comparisons. The collection was in use as it grew, and was a speaking point at home. As the collection grew larger, and interest started to wane, it was stacked in a closet, and conversations around it became sparser. Finally as the collecting concluded, it was moved to a storage room and is assumed to be in a similar state today. Other than writing this blog entry, and possibly some questions that may subsequently arise when visiting my parents, the collection will be forgotten, however lessons learned and time spent collecting are ingrained into the person I am. I can only assume that it will be forgotten until one of the three people who contributed to it passes away, and it is discovered once again and will be used to reflect upon the memories it created acquiring it. Possibly in the future, parts of the collection may be passed down to children and grandchildren as sort of a family heirloom.
Relevance to Canadian History at Large

Crazed hockey fan at 2010 gold medal game at Olympics

Collections of hockey cards are also important in the Canadian history it can explain.  Hockey is Canada’s national winter sport, played and watched by millions, and an activity that Canadians take ownership of.  The game is a tradition that gets passed on from father to son (and increasingly from parent to child as girls are given a larger opportunity to play), and is a shared activity that can be enjoyed by different generations simultaneously.  While little space in history teachings or textbooks is devoted to hockey, the sport has a huge impact within the everyday lives of average Canadians. 

Hockey cards in themselves are a form of historical record.  The front of the card is a photograph, a moment in time, depicting an athlete that may be a hero to some, or villain to others.  Hockey equipment has changed since the early 20th century, and small differences from year to year are apparent within these photographs.  Even something as simple as seeing hair styles transform can take observers through changes over time. 
Typical back of a hockey card

The back of cards is reserved for individual players’ scoring statistics, physical attributes, and short blurbs outlining accomplishments.  Before the internet had become such a great source of information, hockey cards were a mode for especially children to have readily available access to these historical records.  Otherwise such data would have to be accessed through the newspaper, books, or possibly a hockey almanac.  The actual card as historical record would lose its status as the information age progressed, however what made it so powerful was its accessibility.

From personal experience, hockey cards also explain a portion of the social interaction that took place between young children through mediums they provided.  Getting together to trade hockey cards with friends was a common occurrence in attempting to complete a set, or simply to trade for your favourite players.  Many friendships were formed along with many fights started over this bargaining process.  A game that was widely popular in my childhood was throwing hockey cards, which had two main versions.  Both involved a form of gambling where you would first have to agree for certain cards to be put forward to be risked.   One version was standing equal distance from the school wall (typically 15-20 feet away), and whoever could throw or “flick” their card nearest to the wall would win the cards wagered.  The other was a sheer display of strength as whoever could throw their card the furthest distance in an open field would win.  So just as playing tag, dodge ball, marbles, or sports themselves, hockey cards were incorporated into games that kids played. 
Thurston method was vastly superior!

I have no idea if trading cards or games associated with them still exist today, or have transformed into different versions. If any readers who spend time with relatives, or have children of their own, have firsthand knowledge please let me know in the comments section below.

The Last Word
History does not have to be some grand event, or defining moment to be relevant.  Looking at the big picture can often distort attention from equally important everyday life when trying to understand the past.  Through writing this entry and reflecting upon my past, it has become evident that the hockey card collection on its own probably his little historical significance personally, or as a part of the Canadian historical record.  The significance truly lies in the act of collecting, along with the relationships and memories that have formed.  While I am unable to recollect most of the contents of my collection seems of little importance.  A common theme of identity often arises when people choose to seek history.  While politics or significant world events may be appropriate to capture the history of a nation, the narrative that is relevant to individuals can often be in events and rituals that are unique among the family unit.


  1. Sports card collection could be one of the most popular collection in North America. There are so many kind of sports card. Some of them are really expensive right? Is this the way that every teenage boy to connect themselve to the sports community? It is really a excited topic!

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      They used to be pretty popular, however as technology has taken over, playing cards seem to be less trendy. The appeal of a trading card loses its appeal when content is so easily searchable on the internet.

      The typical age group collecting was probably younger than teenagers however. Although some teenagers did collect trading cards, it was most likely hardcore enthusiasts, or those who were trying to make a quick profit during the boom years of trading cards as collectibles.

      For children, it was definitely a way to connect themselves to the sporting world that they were just entering. Cards allowed for children to recognize more players in the league, and gave them more opportunity to follow players they liked more closely.

      Some cards are expensive, however these tend to be older cards now, which predate 1988 when they were more mass produced. A Wayne Gretzky rookie card used to sell for as much as $900 I believe, however am not aware if this is still the case today. Most sets from the 1980's and early 1990's have lost over 90% of their value from their peak.

  2. Neat! My significant other happened to be reading over my shoulder just now and he enjoyed you post.

    I like to think that things like pond hockey, street hockey and collecting cards are indeed an important part of the lives of young boys at a certain time in history, so your collection may be more historically significant than you think. Do you think that perhaps such things like card collecting is dying art, like letter writing and other things dependent on the print medium?

    1. Ah, glad to entertain, even if it was just to bring up memories from the past.

      I agree that playing hockey, collecting cards, and other such activities were important aspects of childhood activities at the time. I just didn't think that such things really made up a large part of historical narrative that is presented. Maybe a case could be made that it is more historically significant, however the point I wanted to get across was that the personal memory or nostalgia of the collection has a deeper personal meaning, than a broad academic one.

      I do believe that collecting trading cards, writing letters, or even such things as newspapers or comic books all seem to be losing momentum. With the digital age that we live in, new sources of multimedia just offer so much more content and opportunity for interaction. However with all these technological gains also comes with a loss from owning items that are unique. I wonder 20 years from now if all books come in digital form, and what people will think of the library of books that we have collected?

  3. I totally agree. We collect things during our lives to remember our own personal history, and the academics 100 years from now can worry about whether or not they were historically significant!

    I remember about 10 (maybe more?) years ago everyone talked about the "paperless society," which of course never came to pass. I can only hope that if enough people remain attached to print books publishers will always make them. If not, people many years from now will be puzzled at the idea of having to turn pages.

  4. I really liked your post, for I feel I have a similar connection to this theme. Although I am a girl, I have an extensive hockey card collection. My Dad was the initial collector and when I was a little girl, I added to it. This made me think back to all the times my coffee table was covered with random cards, in different piles. I never really thought about the historical implications something like this could have, or the actual "art" of collection.


    It must be a guy thing because I asked my "significant other" to come here and view my entries and this is the first post he decided to read. Maybe its a testament to how popular hockey is to us as Canadians.

  5. Glad you enjoyed it. It's nice to hear that some girls have similar collections, as it seemed only boys had hockey card collections when I was growing up. I have yet to ask my mom what she thought of the whole collecting process as she was not involved, and not a hockey fan. I wonder if she sees the same merit as I do in the time spent forming the collection. Hopefully such collections are able to demonstrate how parents pass on personal interests to their children.

    Hockey seems to have a huge impact on a sense of community within Canada. From playing street hockey, shinny, and on organized teams seem to made up a large part of many Canadians' lives. This goes further to parents and relatives supporting children and bringing family and friends closer together.