During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Topps and O-Pee-Chee were the only kids on the hockey card block. Topps first entered the hockey card market with the 1954-55 series. Between 1951-52 and that set, Parkhurst was the only manufacturer providing product. The two would run together for over a decade, splitting the six team league in half. Parkhurst cards featured players from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens. Topps featured players from the Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. In 1963-64, Parkhurst produced their last series. O-Pee-Chee had originally produced cards in the 1930’s and 1940’s but went on hiatus until being resurrected in the 1960’s.
Besides the obvious, like labels on the back stating who the manufacturer was, there are several ways to tell a Topps card apart from its O-Pee-Chee counterpart in an era when both were basically clones of each other.
The Topps hockey cards were printed on slightly different stock or cardboard. Topps generally had darker colours on the backs. The Topps cards were also prone to, what I call, the ‘Topps stain’. Greasy finger prints stood out quite prominent and permanent on the back of Topps cards. The fronts of the Topps cards seemed to be more glossy than their cousin’s cards.
The 1971-72 series is a radical exception to the rule. The fronts are the same on both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee cards but the backs are quite different. Topps has a green and yellow coloured back and are oriented with the print going across the shorter width. The OPC hockey cards are oriented the opposite way on the backs and are coloured a pastel green and black.
The number of cards is much higher in the O-Pee-Chee series. This is understandable with O-Pee-Chee being a Canadian company selling product to the hockey starved Canadian market. The reciprocal was in effect for baseball cards during the same era with the Topps sets being much larger than the OPC series.
One major difference that makes identifying the difference between Topps and O-Pee-Chee unmistakable is the language on the back of the card. The informative blurb on Topps cards is only in English whereas OPC is in both English and French. Interestingly, on the O-Pee-Chee cards, at times the information was different in English that is was in French.
Currently, Topps is out of the market. O-Pee-Chee exists but in name only, really. Upper Deck is behind the OPC brand now and the cards are no longer produced in London, Ontario, Canada.