O-Pee-Chee sports cards: 1958 to 1995
In 1958 after the O-Pee-Chee Company entered into a marketing agreement with the Topps Company of USA, O-Pee-Chee promoted annual trading card sets in Canada. Popular with kids, the standard packs included a stick of bubble gum with a stack of picture cards. In that first year, O-Pee-Chee helped produce hockey (1957-58 National Hockey League) and football (1958 Canadian Football League) cards.
In the 1960s, O-Pee-Chee and Topps worked closely together to produce sports and entertainment sets. The three sports promoted by O-Pee-Chee were baseball, football and hockey. Starting in 1961, the printing and production for these cards was moved to the O-Pee-Chee headquarters in London, Ontario, Canada. Those first Canadian sets were the 1961 CFL and 1961-62 NHL sets. While those two sets were unique to the Canadian marketplace, the hockey series did compete against a Parkies hockey series up until 1963-64. Starting in 1965, parts (or sometimes all) of the Topps baseball (Major League Baseball) series was produced as an O-Pee-Chee series in Canada.
In 1964, O-Pee-Chee produced four very popular entertainment card series featuring The Beatles.
Up until 1967, the annual O-Pee-Chee (also known as Topps) hockey series was produced in Canada. After an American Topps "test" series was produced in the summer of 1967 (it looked just like the regular Canadian 1966-67 hockey series), O-Pee-Chee and Topps produced two annual hockey sets from 1968-69 onwards. The hockey double (an O-Pee-Chee set in Canada and a Topps set in the United States) coincided with the NHL's 1967 expansion from six to 12 teams. So while the 1967-68 series highlighted a six-team NHL, the two 1968-69 series highlighted a 12-team NHL. Of note, the Topps set would often hit the marketplace first, but would include fewer cards than the O-Pee-Chee series. Also of interest, the card backs were primarily written by Topps, but the O-Pee-Chee card backs added a French translation.
In the 1970s, O-Pee-Chee's last CFL set was produced in 1972. After World Hockey Association cards were first featured in the 1972-73 hockey series, an annual WHA series was produced from 1974-75 to 1977-78.
In the 1980s, O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) produced annual album and sticker series for hockey and baseball (with the stickers produced by Panini). The stickers were so popular that Topps neglected to produce a hockey card series in either 1982-83 or 1983-84. (In fact, the stickers were so popular that by 1987-88 Panini had obtained its own license to produce NHL stickers in Canada).
In 1990-91, O-Pee-Chee and Topps were joined in the NHL card market by Pro Set, Score and Upper Deck. That year, O-Pee-Chee produced a unique O-Pee-Chee Premier hockey series that was wildly popular with card collectors. Both an O-Pee-Chee and O-Pee-Chee Premier hockey series was produced in each of three successive seasons, but then in 1993-94 and 1994-95 only a Premier series was produced. As for baseball, the O-Pee-Chee Premier MLB series was produced from 1991 to 1993 while the last O-Pee-Chee MLB series was produced in 1994.
Vintage O-Pee-Chee cards are much sought-after today for their market value, and cards for popular players command high prices.
French language required on cards
In 1970, due to Canadian federal legislation, O-Pee-Chee was compelled to add French language text to the backs of its baseball cards. It also happened to be the year after the Montreal Expos began play in the province of Quebec. The practice of making bilingual cards had already been established for hockey. While O-Pee-Chee baseball sets were typically smaller than their Topps counterparts, its hockey sets for the Canadian market were larger. O-Pee-Chee also occasionally produced independent card sets of particular interest to Canadian collectors, such as one for the 1973 centennial of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.