Updated: Sep 13
Would Lord Stanley of Preston be pleased to discover that throughout its first 100 years, only a small handful of trading cards in the hobby have been devoted to The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America? Although I could be mistaken, very few, if any trophy cards from the other major sports have been issued that predate the 1990s.
The Stanley Cup is the World’s Professional Hockey Championship Trophy. Originally awarded to the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada in 1893 by Lord Stanley, who was the Governor-General of Canada at that time. The first winners of the cup were the M.A.A.A. Montreal.
Hockey's first Stanley Cup card was produced by Tobacco Products Corp. of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1924-25 and issued through their brand of Champs Cigarettes. It was assigned the American Card Catalog or ACC number C–144 by Jefferson Burdick. This unnumbered 60-card set was centered around a consumer-based promotional contest that was cited on the Stanley Cup card, which could be used as a substitute for four players who were not included in the set due to late acquisitions or trades. Any patron who filled out an entry form indicating which hockey team they believed would win the NHL Championship that season and sent in the complete team set of player cards (if one of those players was named on the Stanley Cup card, you could submit it as a player replacement). A completed submission would be eligible to share in $500 in cash prizes from Champs.
There is also a very rare Champs cigarette package that has the Stanley Cup pictured on the back of the pack and is associated with this issue but needed only an honourable mention as it is not actually a card, however it could be, if hand-cut from the cigarette package.
Given the trade dates of these players, indirectly stated on the Stanley Cup card, it is very likely that this set was launched at the beginning of the NHL season, sometime in December, 1924. Additionally, there is a newly discovered substitution-insert player replacement card very that closely resembles, it's brethren, Stanley Cup cards for its intent but instead it just features the names of the players who were either traded or signed after the set was created on the front while the back remained blank. This substation- insert card also lists eight additional player names that are different from those found on the Stanley Cup card and additionally includes the phrase "or any Player signed after January 15". The production of this substitution-insert card most likely took place in January 1925, a month or so after the set's debut. Thus, we raise the question that if the rarely seen Stanley Cup card was pulled early from the set and replaced with this afore mentioned substation-insert card, would that make this Cup card, dare I say, a short-print? However, we also know the Cup card was used as representation of four players to help fulfil a team set and is very tough to find on those merits alone as many would have been submitted in contest entries.
Instead of the customary placing of the details on the back of the cards, as were most premium offers at the time, the information for this card offer is mainly found advertised in the local media but also vaguely stated on the substation-insert and Stanley Cup card. According to newspaper ads, an "entry sheet" was available from your neighborhood tobacconist. Since none of these entry papers have been discovered to date, it is unclear how many player cards would constitute a team set? To further complicate matters we know that each team count of cards in the set varies: 8-Boston Bruins, 11-Hamilton Tigers, 9-Montreal Canadiens, 11-Montreal Maroons, 8-Ottawa Senators and 12-Toronto St. Pats. With eight being the lowest number of team players in the set, this may well have constituted a team set?
Some additional and noteworthy information regarding the 1924-25 hockey season that is somewhat related to the set. Each team played a 30-game schedule that started on November 29, 1924 and ran until March 13, 1925. The Hamilton Tigers would finish first overall to win the regular season championship, which was a very close race of the top 4 teams right to the end. The Toronto St. Pats finished second, Montreal Canadiens third, and the Ottawa Senators fourth. The two newly added teams from this season, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons, not surprisingly would finish in the bottom two spots of this six-team league.
Surprisingly enough, the NHL regular season Champions, Hamilton Tigers players went on strike before the start of their playoff games. Their demand for an extra $200 per player to play the additional six playoff games was not stated in their contract but was turned down by the team owners. The Hamilton players were thus suspended and each given a $200 fine, excluding them from the playoffs.
Due to the suspension of the Hamilton Tigers, the semi-final playoff series between the third-place Montreal Canadiens and second-place Toronto St. Pats—who were already scheduled to play each other in the first round. The winner was supposed to then face the Hamilton Tigers in a fight for the NHL championship to go on to play for the Stanley Cup.
Although, under these circumstances, there was some talk at the time about allowing the fourth-place team, the Ottawa Senators, advance to the playoffs due to the Hamilton Tigers team being suspended. Unfortunately, the league did not give the Senators this right to play which should have been considered under these unique circumstances. The actual Stanley Cup Championship would be played between the NHL Champions vs the (WCHL) Western Canadian Hockey Leagues champions, who were the Victoria Cougars. Montreal went on to win the series over Toronto and became the NHL Champions. Although, in the end, the Montreal Canadiens lost their Stanley Cup final battle to the Victoria Cougars.
In conclusion, this Champs Cigarette set became quite challenging to complete because if you participated in the contest you had to mail the player cards in from the NHL Championship-winning team you selected. Regrettably, those who chose the Hamilton Tigers to win and sent in their cards, would naturally be dismayed and there is no indication that their cards were even returned in this debacle. Although the prizes were awarded to those who chose the NHL League Champions, the Stanley Cup card was utilised as an emblematic representation of this Champs set and on the cigarette box and might be considered somewhat erroneous to promote this set but certainly the end-game, so to speak, regardless, a highly sought after and revered card in our hobby's history today.