Hockey card collecting has a rich history that dates back to the early 1900s. Among the most sought-after hockey cards are those produced by O-Pee-Chee, a Canadian company that began manufacturing hockey cards in the 1930s. Between 1933 and 1938, O-Pee-Chee released 180 hockey cards over five sets or series, each with their own unique designations – V304-A, V304-B, V304-C, V304-D, and V304-E. The series and card number are printed on the backs of the cards, i.e., “Series D – No. 97” for the 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee Turk Broda card. Interestingly, Series E has two wrapper variations and two different colored cards, indicating a split series that was likely released over two separate periods. In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the early O-Pee-Chee hockey wrappers, drawing insights into their corresponding sets while diving further into their hobby significance.
1933-34 O-Pee-Chee Series A – V304-A
Series A has 48 cards and was the first O-Pee-Chee ever produced, and for a long time, many believed both Series A and B cards were released during the 1933-34 season. But, as you will see in the discussion for Series B, only Season A cards are believed to have come out in 1933.
The Series A wrapper is a glassine material, as shown in the following photo of one that sold on eBay for $2192.66 in February 2023.
1934-35 O-Pee-Chee Series B – V304-B
Bobby Burrel, who wrote The Vintage Hockey Collector book, and the publisher of many other hockey card databases, challenged the notion that the Series B cards were released alongside the Series A cards and, in his 2015 guide, categorized them as 1933-1935. Richard Scott’s The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story book wrote that the Series B cards were released later that season, at least implying a 1934 date. But the hobby seems to be aligned towards a 1934-35 consensus.
A Series B wrapper was discovered around November 2013.
On the wrapper’s right side, you can see that collectors could get a real Hockey Game for five wrappers and five cents or a 72-card album free for 50 wrappers. No wonder it took so long for the hobby to find a few wrappers, they were redeemed! The albums and games, while a bit pricey, are pretty available today.
On the back of the album, you can read that it was built to hold 72 pictures which is the total number of cards O-Pee-Chee issued over the first two series. O-Pee-Chee teased that it was quite possible they would add to this number later. So if collectors needed another album, they were to send another ten wrappers and seven cents for another one. Clearly, O-Pee-Chee had a release schedule. I think the fact that O-Pee-Chee didn’t offer the album (or game) on the first series wrapper meant the two series were released sequentially (not simultaneously). Plus, what would be the need for two series of cards if they were all released in 1933?
The back of the game also breaks the cards into two series. Funny enough, the game offer has the same offer written on it to get one free for fifty wrappers, but it’s ten wrappers and only five cents (instead of seven cents on the album) this time. Or are there album variations that I’m not aware of?
What’s funny is that the hobby seemed to gloss over an article from Beckett Hockey from March 1993 that shared a Series B wrapper, but Beckett just described it as a 1930s OPC Wrapper in the magazine. I’m guessing most collectors believed it was the same as the Series C wrapper, but it’s definitely a little different.
1935-36 O-Pee-Chee Series C – V304-C
The early O-Pee-Chee Series wrapper confusion has continued until very recently. PWCC sold the following Hockey Star Gum New Series wrapper for $1247, but they called it a 1933-34 Series B Wrapper rather than a Series C.
The New Series C wrapper also offered a premium game for five wrappers and five cents. But I think it may be for the same game offered on the Series B wrappers, even though Burrell has a photo of the red and blue game listed under the Series C checklist. The Series B and Series C wrappers say, “Get a real hockey game,” which leads me to believe it’s the same item. That said, the red and blue colored game matches the wrapper color.
1936-37 O-Pee-Chee Series D – V304-D
The 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee Series D wrapper indicates a set of 36 cards and offers a “…swell new Hockey Game for only 5 Wraps and 5c.” The fact that they refer to the premium game as a “new” game leads me to believe that the red and blue game was a 1936-37 release. Classic Auctions also sold a game with an original mailing envelope and referred to it as a 1936-37 item. The O-Pee-Chee Master Checklist 1911 to 1996 book implies the red and blue game board was a 1936-37 series release as well. And Richard Scott’s The O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Story book said that O-Pee-Chee “produced their second Hockey Stars Game” in 1936-37.
The following Series D wrapper sold for $305 in November 2019.
1937-38 O-Pee-Chee Series E – V304-E
The 1937-38 O-Pee-Chee Series E cards were the last packs issued by O-Pee-Chee until the 1950s. The fact that there are two different wrapper variations, one dated 1938, suggests a second print run. Plus, the series’ two different colored cards match the wrapper colors.
The first wrapper variation is called the “New Series.” The following example is up on eBay with an asking price of $1295.
Lelands sold this less attractive copy for $50, but that was back in June 2005.
The second Series E wrapper has 1938 printed on it, so we call it the “New 1938 Series” variation. PWCC sold the following wrapper for $192 in April 2019.
PWCC also sold this wrapper for $338 in April 2012, which was previously sold by Huggins and Scott (along with two cards) in April 2008 for $850.
Series E also had a premium game offer for five wrappers and five cents. We can associate the yellow and blue game with Series E because Classic Auctions sold one with an original mailing envelope postmarked March 19, 1938, to a collector in Regina, Saskatchewan.
As I wrap up this exploration of early O-Pee-Chee hockey wrappers, it’s clear that these collectibles have offered the hobby a lot. However, there remain two questions that I’m not yet 100% comfortable answering; the official release dates of the Series B cards and the year of release for the red and blue premium game. While we may never know the exact answers (or a collector will contact me soon with the details), this “mystery” only adds to the intrigue and excitement surrounding pre-war hockey card collecting. For now, we can appreciate the beauty and rarity of these early wrappers and their important role in informing the hobby’s history. Happy collecting! And don’t forget to check out the Post War Cards Newsletter.