OPC's Missing Link
Updated: Apr 28
If you're an O-Pee-Chee set collector, you need to own 1992-93 Topps. Wait... what?
I knew there was something wrong with 1992-93 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) cards when I opened the first pack. But it took me years to figure out exactly what.
I began collecting complete sets of OPC in 1985. That was a great year, of course, with Mario Lemieux making his cardboard debut. I continued collecting through 1992-93, the last season OPC produced cards in their London, Ontario factory. The last main set they released was 1992-93 OPC.
In the early '90s, I was loyal to the OPC brand. When Pro Set, Score, and Upper Deck entered the market in 1990-91, providing collectors with more options than ever, my main focus remained OPC. Today, sets from the early '90s are viewed as junk wax, but at the time my only concern was continuing to add to my OPC collection.
1992-93 OPC was released with an emphasis on it being OPC's 25th anniversary, which was prominently displayed on wax packs, boxes, and factory sets. An insert set included a card from each of the 25 years the company had produced its own cards under the Topps license. And, perhaps a minor detail, but a red maple leaf appeared on the packaging as well. Not surprising, given that OPC was a Canadian company, but it was a first that I could remember.
When I opened that first pack, something about the cards seemed off, though it was difficult to say exactly what. Perhaps it was the metallic blue bar in which “O-Pee-Chee” was written multiple times. At the time, I hardly gave it another thought, and while I was a bit disappointed in the look of the cards themselves, I happily completed the set.
The highlight was the 25th anniversary insert set, which contained reprints of prominent past OPC rookie cards, including those of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Mario Lemieux. As it turned out, this was the last season I collected cards before taking a break for a few years.
By the time I returned to the hobby, there was a new tool for collectors to use: the Internet. For someone in a relatively remote area, with only one card shop and a Sunday flea market that was the closest I had to a card show, I suddenly had access to cards that I never did before.
It was during my early days of eBay (I've been a member since 1997) that I first came across the 1992-93 Topps set. From my following of Beckett Hockey, I knew that Topps and OPC had released different sets that year, but this was the first time I had ever seen the Topps cards in full colour, front and back. After going through as many cards as I could find, it finally struck me why I never really liked the 1992-93 OPC set. It really wasn't an OPC set. Not as I had come to expect, anyway.
I bid on, and eventually won, the Topps set from eBay.
The Topps cards reminded me of the OPC cards I had grown up with, and for good reason. For the 24 years prior to 1992-93, OPC simply cloned the Topps design for its own cards. (There were a few exceptions, of course.) What jumped out about the Topps design was the colour-coordination with the team featured on each card. The inner borders, as well as bars behind the player name and the team nickname were all colour matched to the team. It was a simple design element, one that Topps had used almost every year, and one so obviously missing from the OPC cards.
The backs of the cards were just as revealing. Two statistics that Topps had added in recent years - "Game Winning Goals" and "NHL Playoff Record" - were present on 1992-93 Topps cards, but missing from 1992-93 OPC cards. Both were also present on 1991-92 OPC cards from the previous season.
Finally, the clincher for me that clearly showed that 1992-93 Topps was the rightful successor to 1991-92 OPC, was the structure of the set. The Topps set included two specific subsets that were a continuation from previous OPC releases. For the third consecutive year there was a 12-card All-Star (AS) subset, and for the second consecutive year a Super Rookies (SR) subset.
As an OPC collector, I had to have the Topps set in my collection!
Over the years, I have come to appreciate the set even more, despite its being worth very little. You can pick one up today for between $25 and $40 CDN, about the same price I paid for it in the late '90s. Personally, I don't get too caught up in the junk wax label. Sometimes enjoying your collection means forgetting about its monetary value, or in this case, lack thereof. Besides, am I not going to include this set in my collection because the market tells me it's worthless? Hardly.
It's worth noting why this set holds so little value. The first reason, which is commonly known, is the overproduction by all card companies in the early '90s. (Hence the junk wax label.) The second reason, less discussed, is the lack of rookie cards (RCs) present, due largely to the competition beating Topps in the race to produce them. Martin Brodeur, Pavel Bure, and Eric Lindros all appear in a Topps set for the first time in 1992-93, but each player's RC had already been issued by one of the other companies two years before, in 1990-91.
As for the 1992-93 OPC set, I have come to view it as an anomaly. It's understandable that OPC wanted to do something different to celebrate its 25th anniversary, especially if the company knew it would be its last year producing cards. In hindsight though, I wish they had chosen to simply clone another Topps set. They still could have created their own anniversary packaging, and included their insert set. But they should have used the main set that Topps had already produced. Instead, what we got from OPC fell short of the standard collectors had come to expect from the brand.
It goes without saying that I prefer the 1992-93 Topps set over the OPC. In fact, it's not even close.
As strange as it sounds, my run of complete OPC sets ends with 1992-93 Topps.