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Backstory: A Major Hobby Find of the Most Serendipitous Kind

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Backstory: A Major Hobby Find of the Most Serendipitous Kind

Backtracking to my early years as a hobby historian, I was merely studying all things hockey at that time. I had no intention of becoming a historian; rather, it was just a matter of osmosis taking hold over time.

Serendipity will have its way with me throughout this backstory regarding a find of an undocumented Howie Mornenz card, and a famous comic book artist Jimmy Thompson, both tied into a fine dinning and a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The story arc of this journey began back in the year 2001 while your writer was visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame. Towards the end of my stay, I wandered around a somewhat hidden, six-foot-wide aisle behind the inter-active shoot-out rinks. Low and behold, I finally got to see some hockey cards on display but to my great surprise, there was a full unopened wax box of 1954-55 Topps hockey, locked behind a glass display. I just had to take a quick snapshot of this box.

(This box happened to be on loan from Gary Koreen, the past owner of O-Pee-Chee Gum, out of London, Ontario and eventually be sold in 2004 at the Mastronet auction for $85,531.25)

The interesting part of this heavenly vignette is that the photo had to be taken on an angle to avoid the glare of glass reflection and unbeknownst to me at the time, this photo would include two other questionable pieces that should have never made it into the picture. To the right of the box is a pewter figure affectionately called the "bubble boy", this piece was from the O-Pee-Chee Gum Company, said to be given to employees in the late 1970’s for their notable service. Last but not least, the Stoodleigh's Sports Series card of Howie Morenz, he was noted as numbered three in the series which I simply passed it off as a sequenced artwork cut-out from a newspaper that the Hall had mounted on thick cardboard and honestly it had the appearance of a flatted-out matchbook, so it did not draw too much attention at this time.

For the first few years after my visit to the HHOF, not a thought of the Morenz card would enter my mind until I occasionally dug out the photo of the 1954-55 Topps box I took and developed, yes, I used a real camera and had to take the film in to get develop. Nevertheless, the hobby still had no information on the Stoodleigh's Morenz card from my internet searches and conversations with fellow collectors.

It wasn't until one day, while on the phone with a fellow seasoned collector who specializes in mostly non-sports and is a fountain of knowledge in his industry. I'm not sure how the topic of the conversation came up, but I asked him if he had ever seen a Stoodleigh's card, and he gave me the most glib answer possible "why yes, I just sold one", which left me stunned to discover it was another Howie Morenz. What are the chances that someone who isn't even into hockey, had just sold the very card at the previous Toronto Sports Card Expo a few months earlier? Apparently, there are no truly stupid questions.

This fellow hobbyist did provide me with the name of the gentleman he sold the card to and though active pursuit, it finally came into my possession a few months later. So, now there are two Howie Morenz cards confirmed, so my previous notion of a newspaper clipping turned into the belief of it being an official issue through Stoodleigh's restaurant. Now we can look into the history of this restaurant and see how it relates to these cards.

Astutely poised at Shuter & Mutual Street in downtown Toronto was the Stoodleigh's Restaurant, one of a few locations which was known for fine dining and catered affairs. The name was adopted from a manor in Devonshire, England and certainly has that air of nobility to it, which one would think that the name could only be properly announced by scholar graduates of Harvard or Oxford University’s. Now try and say it as you think they would...Stoodleigh’s… ok, one more time now...Stoodleigh's… ah, you got it now!

Based on the restaurant's location, a great deal of hockey ticket holding fans would reserve a pleasant evening out at Stoodlegh's Shuter & Mutual St location and indulge in a lavished meal at this well venerated establishment, then afterwards, take a quick stroll up to 68-88 Mutual Street to see a Toronto Maple Leaf game played at the Mutual Street Arena Gardens.

The Stoodleigh’s slogan of “Old Fashioned Goodness” was well suited as they were storied for their prime-rib dinner and apple pie. With residing just down the block from the "Arena Gardens" (as it was often referred to back then or sometimes just "The Arena"), this would make for a popular destination for hockey players too. Having a large protein-based meal the day of a game was presumed to strengthen one’s play, so it was thought back in the 1930’s, an era of liver pills being promoted to cure most maladies and certainly a time of dietetic naivety.

The cards from this elusive set measure 1 15/16” wide by 5” tall and were printed on thick cardboard stock. A partial latter half of Toronto Maple Leaf home team game schedule resides on the back of each card which ends on March 23 1933, last game of the regular season for the Leafs.

With a somewhat recent find, we have now confirmed there are eight cards in this Toronto Maple Leaf heavy set. The players on these cards are: #1 King Clancy, #2 Lorne Chabot, #3 Howie Morenz, #4 Harold Cotton,#5 Tom Daly (Leafs Trainer), #6 Ace Bailey, #7 Lester Patrick and # 8 Red Horner.

The Stoodleigh Sports Series of cards, may have been produced and issued to keep patrons reassured that this establishment remained boosters for Maple Leafs hockey club. This would ring-true at the time of this release more than ever as they would soon encounter a business change unlike, they had ever experienced before with the opening of the newly built Maple Leaf Gardens, now located a few blocks away.

With Maple Leaf Gardens grand opening in 1931-32, The Arena Gardens became defunct as it would no longer hosting NHL games. Although, they still would entertain many other functions, although they did so without the frequency or the capacity of 7,500 fans that professional NHL games would draw. This particular Stoodleigh’s location would encounter a fairly hefty loss of revenue due to the decline in convenient patronage.

This story just gets more fascinating just when you think it couldn't get any better! The talented artist who sketched these skilfully penciled likenesses, turns out to be quite famous in the comic book world. Here is a little history behind the man commissioned to sketch these hockey cards.

George "Jimmy" Orlando Thompson was born in Toronto in 1907 and lived on Havelocke St. with his parents and sister. As a young man, the small in stature Jimmy worked at his father’s photography shop, which prepared him to enter the work force at a photo lab for a Toronto newspaper.

His freelance sports cartoon artistic endeavor started around 1925, he sketched for many newspapers across Canada and within the United States. At this time, he was certainly talented enough to be considered one of Canada’s prominent sports cartoonists.

Thompson used the same unique signature style throughout his career, confirming he was one in the same person who penciled the Stoodleigh's cards, especially by his signature " M's" in his name that resemble hearts.

During the late 1920’s and into the 1930’s, Thompson spent much of his free time travelling with National Hockey League teams, mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs, gathering information first hand on out-of-town games while rubbing elbows with top hockey players and NHL brass such as Frank Calder and the likes.

In 1928 Thompson insured his arm for $25,000, confirming that he was fully and completely going on to be an artist as his primary career.

These “road trips” fortified Jimmy’s inside hockey knowledge for his new radio show called the “Jimmy Thompson’s Sports Column of The Air”. This show ran for two years, 1932 to 1933, Monday to Thursday at 5:45pm on the CFCA radio station.

Thompson met with much competition through these years in the field of sports radio and writing, especially with the likes of: Wes McKnight (Bee Hive), Ted Husing, Harry “Red” Foster (Crown Brand), Graham Macnamee, and of course, the king of them all, Foster Hewitt who was renown for commentating the Toronto Maple Leafs home games. Jimmy soon went back to his drawing and left radio.

Jimmy sketched anonymously on several syndicated features for the Philadelphia Ledger in the 1930s, including the pioneering Sunday feature "Hairbreadth Harry". He entered comic books in their infancy; Jimmy’s first features were "Indian Lore" and "Indian Love," for publisher David McKay's "Magic Comics" and "King Comics." In this vein, he created what is arguably, the first graphic novel, the 64-page "Red Eagle," for publisher David McKay in 1938.

His greatest volume of published work, as with many other 1940s comic book artists, was in the super-hero genre. Thompson worked for Timely, Fawcett, DC and Famous Funnies in the '40s. His artwork can be found on features such as "Mary Marvel," "The Human Torch," "The Angel." "Music Master" and "Sub-Mariner." But Jimmy is best-known for his long stint on the DC Comics feature "Robotman”. He also contributed to a couple of Western-themed features for DC before he left the comic-book field.

From the late 1930’s and on, Jimmy spent the balance of his life in the USA due to his close affiliation to all the American based publishing companies for whom he sketched for. Sadly, during his short but illustrious career, George "Jimmy" Orlando Thompson died at the young age of forty-one at the Deaconess Hospital in Billings, MT, on September 16, 1949.

Getting back to the Stoodleigh's cards and much like this issue, some unknown hockey card or any type of premium issued that are void of promotional advertisements, particularly those from the pre-war era, can occasionally be attributed to radio broadcasts. Show sponsors would underwrite the daily or weekly prizes given to listeners who would mail in an answer to a questions poised on the live aired show. These types of promotion were often a ploy to fortify patronage but a win-win regardless.

It is of your writer's belief that through the Jimmy Thompson radio program, likely sponsored by Stoodleigh's restaurant, that these cards were acquired, much the same as Fost Hewitt did with the 1931 CCM hockey photos and the 1932 General Motors Toronto Maple Leaf puzzle, etc. The rarity of these cards commensurate with Thompson's less popular sports radio show among his stalwart broadcasting piers.

Interestingly enough, the similarities of Stoodleigh's hockey set undeniably match the premiss of the 1932-33 O’Keefe hockey coasters issued in the same year and were also drawn by a famous Canadian artist: Lou Skuce. It could even further be assumed that Stoodleigh’s had borrowed this hockey card idea from O’Keefe, as we know these coasters came out at the beginning of the season in October whereas it appears the Stoodleigh's cards were release sometime in January.

For a few decades, Stoodleigh’s had consistently purchased advertising space within the Toronto Maple Leaf programs, prior to and after these cards were issued. It would seem that they had some close ties with the Toronto team and hosted many special functions for the Maple Leafs. This advertisement was taken from the opening game program at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931, you can see how carefully worded this endorsement was.

Within the last few months, your writer had purchased a scrapbook, from Australia nonetheless, it contained many newspaper clippings from 1932-33 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Western Hockey League players. Also within the scrapbook were players with the header "Inside Hockey" drawn by Jimmy Thompson, which seven out of the eight players are from the Stoodleigh's set and have the exact same pictures and write-ups!

The Howie Morenz card that I purchased was graded by PSA, only through the provided and supported information that you have basically read here. Another four cards reside in the sanctity of Hockey Hall of Fame Archive. While the somewhat recently found set, has maybe yet to find a home and or we might just see them come to market sometime soon?

With the sheer few number of cards that have been found from this set is the real question here and would make anyone wonder if the set is truly complete at eight cards. There were many more "Inside Hockey" photos in the scrapbook. Here is a look at more of Jimmy Thompson's work and there could truly be a few more of these cards that could be suited to extend this set of eight.

By consolidating a over two-decade old photo and a find of one other Morenz card, plus the recent full set, this has resurrected the hobby’s appetite for finding more or even additional cards from this elusive hockey series and surely has put Stoodleigh’s back on the menu.


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