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Courting Pre-Rookie Cards - A Murray's Potato Chips Tee-Pees Story  

Updated: May 26

Possession is nine-tenths of the hobby and the other tenth is the chase. Kevin Lawr has long been in the one-tenth  percentile when it comes to his journey of 30 years as a sports card and collectible dealer and has been void of  finding any these 1956-57 Murray’s Potato Chips, pre-rookie hockey cards. Kevin, a St. Catharines resident, which is the very city where these cards were produced, has now joining the nine-tenth club with the satisfaction of  acquisition of a handful of these very scarce cards. Whether you’re a collector or a dealer, the drive is the same, to  either acquire for your personal collection or help to provide for your customers through acquisition. 


The Tee-Pees played at the Garden City Arena and acquired their name in 1947 when George Stauffer, president of  Thompson Products Ltd. bought the "St. Catharines Falcons" for $2,500 and renamed the team the Garden City Tee  Pee Junior "A" Hockey Inc., or better known as the St. Catharines Tee-Pees: The Tee stood for Thompson and the Pee  for Products. The Tee Pees were affiliated with the AHL Buffalo Bisons and when Chicago Black Hawks made the  Bisons their number-one farm team, they inherited the Teepees by default. 


These OHA (Ontario Hockey Association), St. Catharines Tee-Pees group of 16 different players cards were issued in  collaboration by, with or within Murray’s Potato Chips (Robert A Murray Ltd), a somewhat local company, out of Fort  Erie, Ontario, which is about 30 minutes away from St. Catharines. This set is highlighted by pre-rookie cards of two  Hall of fame members Stan Mikita, and builder Rudy Polius plus five other who played in NHL: Roy Edwards, Ed  Hoekstra, Ron Maki, John McKenzie, and Matt Ravlich. 






This elusive set is comprised of 16 hockey trading cards and were printed on two dissimilar card designs: all "Black  Script" (2 5/8" x 4 1/8"), with 10 of the 16 cards being of this type. The additional six cards are slightly smaller (4" x 2  1/2") and have red highlights or referred to as "Red Script" on the product, player, and team names given to a slightly  different card design. Only a small handful of each of these players have been discovered to date, some more than  others but are generally the "Black Script" versions. With much of the "Black Script" design, we do note that many of  those cards have examples of ink transferring, resulting in lower conditioned cards. 



An intriguing fact: TeePees is spelled as one word on the "Red Script" cards, but on the "Black Script" there is a space  between TEE PEES , yet Tee-Pees with a hyphen can also be found within their programs. There are no duplicate  players within the "Red Script" and the "Black Script"; they are either on one but not the other. According to player  statistics and what is mentioned on the back of the cards in their biography, both of these types of cards were  released in the same year 1956-57, despite the fact that this set is sometimes found to be listed as being issued in  1957-58, which is incorrect.  


We have yet to confirm the origin of these cards, but we can speculate about who issued them and why. We believe  it's simply too easy to say that these cards came inside the Murry's 10¢ Potato Chips bags because they are obviously  a bit too big. We'd prefer to approach cases like this from a different perspective, as we feel this card set was  provided as part of a redemption promotion and or sweepstakes. 



Another more plausible explanation for the origin of these cards is that they were created through booster clubs, an  often-overlooked source for these types of cards and collectibles with a supporting commercial sponsorship. Booster  clubs, or other community-based organizations, are special groups of passionate supporters who volunteer to  promote the team, hold fund-raising events to raise money for special projects, and create promotions with sponsors  who typically cover production costs in exchange for advancing their company's brand recognition on a specific  product or contest. 


In the midst of writing this article, some newly found information that may help to corroborate my inclination is through another OHA squad, the Peterborough TPT Petes. A 1965-66 program contains much new information on a  half-page dedicated to praising Crown Life Insurance Company for funding the production of a team card set in  collaboration with the booster club, which offered a contest and prizes for collecting the set of player cards. This is  one of the first instances we've confirmed a booster club and a related contest with a team-issued card, which helps  to frame up the Tee Pees card theory quite nicely.



Using the booster club theory to support the presence of these Murray's Potato Chips, St. Catharines TeePees cards,  the six "Red Script" cards appear to be part of a contest, given distinct difference in design and red colored highlights.  The "Red Script" cards are also more difficult to obtain than the "Black Script". Furthermore, the six "Red Script" cards are unique in that they show a full playing line perspective, including a coach, goaltender, two defensemen, a winger,  and a center.  


As a result, we are short of another winger, and might it be Bobby Hull, as has long been speculated to exist? There is  no reason why they would not have included a Bobby Hull card in this set, given that he was a notable player for the  Tee Pees during the year these cards were printed. This leads your writer to believe that the cards were part of a  contest, with the red script cards most likely being the key cards to completing the set for a prize or reward of some  kind, and that the Bobby Hull, if rumors are correct, may be the keystone card of this extremely uncommon set.  


How apropos is it that Bobby Hull is pictured representing Hawkins Potato Chips during his early years with the  Chicago Black Hawks, just some years after the Murray's Potato Chip promotion.  



Strangely enough, St. Catharines had its own hometown potato chip manufacturer, Lever Potato Chip Company Ltd.,  which was founded in 1953. However, they had already sponsored their own Junior B hockey team. This left an  excellent opportunity for the sponsorship by Murray's Potato Chips, to help upsell their chip in "Lever" county.  



If you are ambivalent about the pre-rookie card mosaic, don't feel left out. They are finally gaining recognition in our  collecting community, and the more information we can provide on scarce sets containing players before their rookie  cards were issued, the better the hobby will be going forward. 


More information can be found on these Tee Pee hockey cards and many other scarce sets that can be found on the website and app: Needuum.com.



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