Topps did well with their first hockey card design in 1954; it’s perhaps their best-designed set across any sport. And while the fronts of the cards are sharp, the backs may be the most under-appreciated in the hobby. So I wanted to spend this article dissecting Topps’ first hockey set, emphasizing the design of the backs, since I feel most of us tend to neglect to pay attention to the “other side” of cards these days.
The 60-card 1954 Topps hockey set featured players from the four American teams (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and New York). The cards were the same “giant-size” Topps had released for baseball at the time, 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4″. While Topps licensed the cards, most hobbyists believe they were only released in Canada. The set’s key card is of the great Gordie Howe.
The cards came in both one-cent and five-cent packs, which you can see in detail on The Unopened Archive. Five-cent packs had six cards, gum, and an insert wrapper. That second wrapper was used for collectors to send off for prizes. One cent packs had one card and a piece of gum.
The set wasn’t a huge success, perhaps because Topps released a set of U.S. teams mainly in Canada; collectors wouldn’t see another Topps hockey set until 1957.
The design of the fronts is genuinely awesome, with an oversized player photo on a white background, with red and blue colors along the bottom highlighting the player’s name, position, and team. Plus, the facsimile autograph shows clearly against the background. But, the backs of the cards shine too.
Now, what makes a great card back? To me, it’s about design, color, and information; and Topps nailed all three.
The design is clean. The card number is large, within a puck-like-shaped circle in the corner. The blue and red stripes highlight the player’s name, position, and team, similarly to the front’s design. Then you have the blue hockey stick separating the player’s vitals from their biography. The cartoon and generic hockey term/fact add some fun to the back, and the statistics from 1953 are an excellent, simple addition along the bottom.
The cards are All-American with white card stock and red and blue ink.
And from an information standpoint, the only addition one could ask for (and it would make the card too busy) would be career statistics. As it is, though, you can learn a lot about the player and hockey from these cards.
Topps left a fantastic first impression for hockey collectors with this beautifully designed set; the front and backs have incredible eye appeal. There aren’t a lot of sets that you can buy that would look as outstanding presented on a wall from either side as the 1954 Topps hockey set; happy collecting!