The 66-card 1961 Topps hockey set isn’t as noteworthy as it probably should be in the hobby. There are only 46 active 1961 Topps hockey sets in the current PSA Set Registry, making it one of the least collected vintage hockey sets. While the set only features players from the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, and New York Rangers, plus a checklist (Parkhurst had the rights to players from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Detroit Red Wings), the reality is that Topps did a lot of things for the first time in this release that helped define the hobby.
First, while OPC produced the set under the Topps license, the cards, wrappers, and boxes had “O-Pee-Chee” and “Made in Canada” printed on them for the first time.
1961 Topps was also the first hockey set that had a premium placed in the packs. Each came with four cards, a piece of gum, and a pair of stamps.
As Twitter’s @CheckListGuy, I would be scolded if I failed to mention that Topps included a checklist for the first time in a hockey set in 1961.
1961 Topps Hockey is also the first set to feature team cards, coaches cards, and rookie card designations on the front of cards (though not for every rookie).
The Bruins team card was also the first appearance by Willie O’Ree on a hockey card. He was the first African-Canadian player to compete in the NHL.
Here’s a bit more information about this hobby-defining set in case you’re interested in collecting it.
While Topps featured three teams, the Rangers cards are the key to the set as three of the four most challenging cards in the set are cards 63 (New York Rangers), 64 (Action Picture – D. Meissner/G. Worsley), and 65 (Action Picture – Gump Worsley). Between those three cards, there are no PSA 10s and only 2 PSA 9s (both of card 65). The other tough high-grade card is card 66, Checklist 1-66, with zero PSA 10s and 2 PSA 9s in the population report.
From a price guide perspective, the cards that are going to set you back the most are Cards 1 (Phil Watson), 22 (Bathgate, Hall in Action), 29 (Bobby Hull), 36 (Stank Mikita), 60 (Jean Ratelle), 62 (Rod Gilbert) and the low pop cards I discussed earlier.
Raw sets come to market from time to time too. This higher-grade example sold for $2218 in September 2021.
The pictured mid-grade set below sold for $1082 in September 2021.
The Stamps are a little more expensive. 4 years ago, in their Spring 2017 auction, Robert Edward Auctions sold a complete 26 panel, 52 stamp set for $1080.
Topps packed a lot of innovation and incredible imagery into their 1961 hockey release. And its small size makes collecting it a little more achievable if you like collecting graded sets with just enough scarcity in high-grade to make it challenging for condition-conscious collectors.
If you decide to collect this iconic set, let me know your progress on Twitter or down in the comments. Happy collecting!