O.K. sports fans it’s time to reach for the history books and flashback in time. This week we are going back to the very beginning to checkout one of the rarest hockey sets around. The 1910-11 Imperial Tobacco C56 series is the earliest major set of hockey cards and is highly sought after. With a scant 36 cards it barely resembles today’s modern monsters; it was clearly a simpler time.
Humble Origins, Humble Cards
It is interesting to note that hockey cards predate the NHL itself. This particular series featured players from the National Hockey Association, which ran from 1909 to 1917. The simplistic design features a lithograph image of the player with a plain white border, which stands in stark contrast to today’s “busy” cards. With a last name/team name front and a short player history on the back, Imperial Tobacco is the model by which cards are still designed.
This C56 series, as it is known, is the scarcest of the “pre-war” era cards. It was followed up by a 45 card C55 series in 1911-12, and a 50 card C57 series in 1912-13. The outbreak of World War One saw the end of this series as rationing and military service took precedent over sports and collecting. It was the mid 1920s before hockey cards made any major comeback.
The White Whales of Imperial Tobacco
As the earliest major set available, the C56 series is one of the scarcest and therefore most sought after sets on the market. Consisting entirely of rookie cards, the set boasts names such as Art Ross (only player with 2 cards), Cyclone Taylor, and Newsy Lalonde.
Lalonde’s card #ed 36 in the set holds the honour of being one of the most expensive hockey cards in history. At a mind blowing $100,000 auction price the card is tied for #1 on the all time list of pricey hockey cards. A 2007 article in Beckett reported that the card, graded only 3/10, had sold at auction. It is one of only two authentic Lalonde C56s to ever pop up on the market. The other 100k card is reported to be a Georges Vezina rookie from the Imperial Tobacco C55 series, and graded as mint, further highlighting the rarity of the Lalonde card.
The thought of a $100,000 card is enough to make any collector foam at the mouth, but shoppers must beware. As with anything of value, fakes are plentiful and can be hard to spot. Much of the market is now online, meaning scammers are harder to root out. Low quality cards are available for under $30cdn on eBay, but so are any number of fakes and “official” reprints.
For this reason I advise collectors to do their research. Know what to look for in your chosen card; research the seller, check his/her feedback, and ask questions. Compare the card to known authentic ones, and ask the seller to have the card authenticated by a professional. When buying online go over pictures with a fine toothed comb. Check for any digital enhancement and avoid stock images at all costs. Above all remember that if something seems too good to be true, than it usually is.
For a extra level of security I strongly recommend that you buy only graded or verified cards. Cards that come with a COA from a reputable company such as PSA are a good option. These companies use professional graders and usually seal the card in a tamper-proofcase. Additionally these cards will always be associated with a tracking number so that you can check it against the company database. Be wary of smaller companies, they are often not as thorough.
All of this may sound expensive, but remember that fake cards are worthless, so invest wisely. For the C56 series expect to pay at least $100 for most decent quality cards and upwards of $1000 for the bigger names.
C56 Imperial Tobacco Checklist
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