Like some of their competitors, The O-Pee-Chee Gum Company didn’t start in the trading card business. However, once they got into the business, O-Pee-Chee quickly became an innovator. Even though they have a niche audience today, O-Pee-Chee’s early hockey cards are pre-war classics, and their baseball cards were as beautiful as they come. Read on as we answer the question, what are O-Pee-Chee cards?
The O-Pee-Chee Company has flown under many card collectors’ radars for decades. It was a Canadian company founded by two brothers. What originally started in 1911 as O-Pee-Chee Gum Company eventually expanded to a variety of products, including chewing gum, mints, and an assortment of popcorn.
The business was expanding, but O-Pee-Chee would soon be impacted by the 1929 stock market crash and the global economic depression. Operating at a loss during the Great Depression, O-Pee-Chee needed to get creative. So they decided to include hockey cards with their gum, hoping this would garner attention and ultimately boost sales. This decision would prove profitable, later allowing O-Pee-Chee to expand into other sports, explore popular entertainment, and collaborate with other big names in the trading industry.
The O-Pee-Chee Company specializes in NHL cards. Since reaching an agreement with Upper Deck in 2006, O-Pee-Chee has focused on producing ice hockey cards. In addition, they made baseball cards, music and television cards, and other unique interest cards in the past.
The 1930s were a blooming point for The O-Pee-Chee Company’s expansion into trading cards. The company’s ice hockey cards took off in 1933, and O-Pee-Chee produced five ice hockey sets by 1938. Because the cards were issued in Canada, where a large population speaks French, the backs of the early O-Pee-Chee cards were written in both English and French.
Around the same time, O-Pee-Chee released their first baseball set. These were less like cards and more like large photographs. A different design was released in 1937, the O-Pee-Chee Batter Ups. These cards were perforated so that the collector could pop up the player to display in an action stance. The cards also included English and French descriptions.
O-Pee-Chee tapered off their sports releases by the end of the 1930s. In the absence of hockey and baseball cards, they released sets that were not sports-related. These included cards depicting Mickey Mouse and the Fighting Forces. O-Pee-Chee would eventually create other novelty cards, starting in the 1960s with The Beatles and continuing into the 1970s and 1980s with Superman, Star Wars, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
In 1958, The O-Pee-Chee Company partnered with Topps. This agreement helped O-Pee-Chee sell Topps’-designed baseball cards in Canada. In return, Topps was able to expand into the hockey market. In addition to baseball and ice hockey, O-Pee-Chee released Canadian football trading cards from 1960-1972. O-Pee-Chee’s agreement with Topps ended in 2004.
Since 2007, Upper Deck has owned the O-Pee-Chee name. The American company uses it exclusively for NHL sets nowadays.
1979 Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card: Wayne Gretzky is inarguably the best hockey player in history. So it’s no surprise that his cards come with a hefty price tag. O-Pee-Chee’s 1979 Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card is one of the most valuable hockey cards of all time. The most recent sale of a PSA 10 was for $1.29 million in 2020.
O-Pee-Chee’s Pre-War Hockey Cards: O-Pee-Chee’s 1930s hockey sets were much more innovative than the other sports cards on the market. O-Pee-Chee introduced colored backgrounds and geometric shapes on cards, showcasing hockey players in full uniform and holding their sticks. In addition, because O-Pee-Chee’s cards took an artful approach, these cards were much nicer to look at than others during the 1930s. All of the 1930s O-Pee-Chee sets are classified as “V304.” Each set released has a slightly different design, designated by an individual letter for each release.
O-Pee-Chee’s hockey cards are reasonably priced and have a substantial base set. The 2020-2021 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set included 600 cards. Most of the set (500 cards) focused on veterans, but there were also rookie and legend cards, league leaders, and team checklists.
As the 2021-2022 NHL begins, Upper Deck will release a new O-Pee-Chee Hockey set in January 2022. Like the previous release, the base set includes 600 cards. In this 2021-2022 O-Pee-Chee release, collectors can find marquee rookies, rookie season reviews, team checklists, league leaders, and season highlights. Retro variations of the base set can also be found, among other hobby box specialties such as OPC Playing Cards, Premier Tallboys Cards, other rare pulls.
Collectors wildly underappreciate Classic O-Pee-Chee cards. Their agreement with Topps allowed O-Pee-Chee to print nearly identical card designs, but some collectors are not a fan of the English and French translation on the back of the cards. For collectors who want the beautiful, Topps-like design but don’t want to break the bank, O-Pee-Chee’s 1965-1992 baseball cards are a great place to start.
Because O-Pee-Chee targeted the Canadian market, they often included extra cards from the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays in their sets that Topps did not release. Gathering these cards for a unique, Canada-only set would be a distinctive set that could garner a good deal of value from the right collector (likely from the Great White North).
The O-Pee-Chee Company has been around longer than many of the trading card companies we respect today. As the sports themselves changed, O-Pee-Chee adapted its designs and made innovative decisions to include multi-language descriptions and focus on foreign players. Today, O-Pee-Chee releases NHL cards in collaboration with Upper Deck. The latest release, the 2021-2022 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set, will debut this January.