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1950’s Hockey Cards: What’s Missing?

When George Kennedy, owner of Parkhurst Products, began printed production of post World War II hockey cards issued with bubble gum, the dominant team in the National Hockey league was the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the early 1950s, this torch was passed to the Detroit Red Wings until the Montreal Canadiens began their half decade of domination starting with the 1955-56 season. It has been more than 60 years since the early Parkhurst picture cards were first distributed. Despite the explosive growth of the hockey card market in the late 1980’s—directly corresponding to the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles—there remain five significant variations and related facts of which most collectors are unaware.

1951-52 Parkhurst – Missing Colors

Legend has it that Parkhurst Products Ltd., issued 14 million hockey cards in 1951-52. That number corresponded to one for every man, women and child in Canada at the time. Regardless of how many were actually made, these 1.75 inch by 2.5 inch blank-backed cards were unceremoniously randomized in a cement mixer and before five randomly chosen selections were manually placed in one of four different colorful boxes, which one could then buy for a nickel. Not surprisingly, Ted Kennedy, the captain of the Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maples Leafs, is prominently featured on this “wrapper.”

Although they are quite rare, a card will occasionally be discovered which is missing one of the color passes. These cards occur at a frequently of one in a thousand and maintain an unusual appearance. The main reason these color-missing cards are so obtrusive is because everyone is standardized on what the cards from this legendary set are supposed to look like. Compared side-by-side to the regular cards, these gems appears ghostlike and are always an auspicious find.

1953-54 Parkhurst #91 Fleming Mackell – Variations & Blank Backs

At a size of 2.5 inches by 3 5/8 inches, the 1953-54 Parkhurst hockey cards were bigger—more than double the surface area of the 1951-52 Parkhurst issue. While the cards are numbered from 1 to 100, there are, in reality, at least 103 different cards, thanks to printing problems associated with #91 Fleming Mackell of the Boston Bruins. Mostly commonly, the 1953-54 Parkhurst #91 Fleming Mackell is found with no biographical write-ups on its reverse side in either English (top box) or French (bottom box). Less frequently found is the variety that has everything printed on the back. The toughest example of 1953-54 Parkhurst #91 Fleming Mackell, however, is the one where only the French (bottom box) biographical write-up is printed while the English (top box) biographical write-up is missing. Finally, a few of the no Bio examples can be located where a hint of the French text can be seen along the periphery of the text box, creating a fourth possible variation, similar to the 1958 Topps Baseball #433 Pancho Herrera where some or all of the “e,” “r” and/or “a” at the end of “Herrera” is missing.

1953-54 Parkhurst hockey cards are much more available than those from the previous year (1952-53 Parkhurst hockey) because Mr. Parkie, George Kennedy, did not correctly judge the demand for each year’s product. Topps Chewing Gum made a major market impact in 1952 by printing larger-sized baseball cards and George Kennedy similarly tried to capitalize on this market interest by putting hockey and other issues into full production in 1953. Because of the diversity of subjects and limited press time for each product, the cards were printed within a specific time frame and some sheets got stuck together. When this happened, only one of the two uncut sheets received printed backs. When the cards were cut and separated, black backs were created and put in packs.

1954-55 Parkhurst – Premium & Blank Backs

Correctly determining the total number of subjects in the 1954-55 Parkhurst hockey series can be difficult for many collectors. This is because most price guides are printed in the United States and there have been very few Canadian publishers who have undertaken advanced study of this set. Most price guides indicate that all of the first 88 individual player cards come with either a regular (i.e., biographical) or premium back. This is erroneous. First, there are only 57 of the 88 player cards that can be located with a premium back. Furthermore, each of these 57 premium backs cards can be found with only one of 3 different premium offers. In other words, there are 100 cards in the set, 19 premium cards with the hockey glove offer, 19 premium cards with the camera offer, and 19 premium cards with the gift list. Therefore, a master set of fully printed and pack-issued cards would include 157 total subjects.

If one also included blank backs, which are very rare occurrence within the 1954-55 series, a collector could theoretically amass 257 cards with different backs. A good example of this blank back phenomenon is the 1954-55 Jacques Plante In Action, which was the top card in the pack and adjacent to the piece of gum. This card was in a pack well beyond 1954 and the gum leached into the card, creating a permanent reminder of its origin. The card is in superb shape and because of the gum stain, it is believed to be the only black backed example from this year which can be definitely proven to have originated from a wax pack. Black backs are rare from the 1954-55 Parkhurst series and one has to search extensively to find one.

1955-56 Parkhurst #3 Tim Horton – Defense Error & Tan Backs

Many collects do not pay close attention to different card stocks on hockey cards, a practice which has evolved significantly in the baseball card market (e.g., 1952 Topps Baseball #131 to #190 and 1954 Topps Baseball #1 to #50). Despite this, there was both gray stock and tan stock used for 1955-56 Parkhurst hockey cards. The tan stock was used in wax packs that were sold primarily in Quebec. The gray stock was used for vending and wax pack cards from Western Canada to Ontario. As a result, tan stocks are twice as tough to find as gray stocks on 1955-56 Parkhurst. Furthermore, tan stock cards are much tougher to find in grades of NM-MT 8 or better because 100% of the tan stock was sold into the hobby during the 1955-56 National Hockey League season. There were simply no boxes left over from factory production.

Probably the most famous card that has eluded many hobbyists is the inversion of text error which occurs on the 1955-56 Parkhurst #3 Tim Horton. If one looks closely, he can observe that on approximately 1 out of every 100 examples, the number “3” and the word “DEFENSE” are inverted in the red text section. This error was corrected early and it has become the most valuable card in the set, not counting the Quaker Oats short-printed varieties.