It’s just a piece of cardboard with ink on it, but for many fans the venerable hockey card holds some of their most vibrant memories. Our hockey heroes are frozen in time, with handy (and sometimes unreliable) statistics and personal information on the flip. Hockey cards somehow make us feel closer to our favorite players, giving us an insight into careers and teams and leagues decades after they have vanished.
And so the vintage 1970s hockey cards for the World Hockey Association offer us a fascinating peek into the league’s debut, its growth, its talent -- and its passing.
The O-Pee-Chee company issued 52 player cards for the WHA for the 1972-1973 debut season that remain for collectors the most valuable today. (First-season WHA team logo cards were also issued that are highly valuable as well). For the 1973-1974 season OPC issued a very curious collectable – 20 mini-posters that were folded on thin paper down to the size of a single regular card, and then fit into the card wrapper. Unfolded, they were each the size of 9 regular hockey cards.
A real curiosity are the only traditionally-shaped hockey cards for the 1973-1974 WHA season. Quaker Oats manufactured 10 separate strips of five cards each, perforated at each card edge but still connected. The cards were then folded, accordion style, sealed in cellophane, and found in the bottom of Quaker oatmeal boxes! (These cards are also each slightly smaller than a usual issue.) I acquired a still-sealed set of these 1973 “oatmeal cards” in 2010, and reluctantly opened the cellophane wrappers to scan them for the WHA Hall of Fame archive. They looked absolutely new as they folded out to their full size, as if retrieved from a time capsule. For the gallery here we’ve kept each of the five-card strips intact.
A set of 66 standard sized OPC cards returned for the 1974-1975 season, though they were designed in an unusual horizontal layout. The OPC cards for 1975-1976 (a 132 card set), 1976-1977 (a 132 card set) and 1977-1978 (a 66 card set) were in the usual vertical layout, and remain some of the most colorful and dynamic hockey cards of the 1970s.
All together, more than 500 WHA hockey cards were issued during the league’s history, and remain the one type of WHA memorabilia most often collected by fans.
It was uncertain as of hockey-card-press time in 1978 if the WHA merger with the NHL would finally be cemented, so OPC did not issue any WHA hockey cards for what would become the league’s final season in 1978-1979. So there was never an actual Wayne Gretzky major league rookie card, though a phony was issued in the 1990s that is still found easily today. (For a complete list and photos of the later-produced Gretzky cards commemorating his WHA era, visit the bonus sections at our sister site whaRACERS.com).
There have been a few random WHA cards issued since the league merged with the NHL in 1979. Various new WHA Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull & Wayne Gretzky issues have popped up here and there, a 1990s-era Mark Messier-WHA Racers card is a special rarity, and a few of the original 1970s OPC cards have been re-issued in modern sets. The In The Game company has issued some excellent WHA goaltender cards from 2008-2010. They also released a slew of WHA player cards in 2010, devoid of actual team names, though obviously for WHA teams. Much to my personal consternation, some of these cards do not spell the name of my hometown WHA city “Indianapolis” correctly.
Lastly, the WHA Hall of Fame itself has issued (with the players approval) a limited edition 10-card set in 2010. If interest dictates, we hope to create more cards to further honor those who made the 1972-1979 major hockey league so memorable. (You can purchase the Limited Edition WHA HOF card set HERE.)
Hockey cards are just plain fun. After great effort, we are proud to share our collection here at the WHA Hall of Fame.
— Timothy Gassen
© 2010 PCMP LLC
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2010 WHA HALL OF FAME CARDS
1972-1973 OPC CARDS
1972-1973 QUEBEC NORDIQUES TEAM CARDS
1972-1973 LOS ANGELES SHARKS TEAM CARDS
1972-1973 MINNESOTA FIGHTING SAINTS TEAM CARDS
1972-1973 OTTAWA NATIONALS CARDS
1973-1974 OPC POSTERS
1973-1974 QUAKER OATS CARDS
1974-1975 OPC CARDS
1975-76 & 1976-77 PHOENIX ROADRUNNERS CARDS
1975-1976 OPC CARDS
1976-1977 OPC CARDS
1977-1978 OPC CARDS