A friend who owns a local collectibles shop recently purchased a lovingly-curated collection of largely paper goods from the family of a lifelong collector who had recently passed away. He let my husband and I look at the collection the other day in case there was anything we were interested in buying. I usually have a lot of different things on my radar, hockey memorabilia among them. I purchased a 1970s Bobby Orr poster featuring a grinning Orr in his Bruins home sweater, glorious hockey hair, posing with all his NHL hardware, but also noticed–and initially passed on–two trading card pages of vintage stickers whose age could easily be approximated from the presence of two teams: the Atlanta Flames and the California Golden Seals.
We went back later in the week and despite going through every binder of Battlestar Galactica cards, Care Bears Panini stickers, and pretty much every other ’70s-’80s non-sports cards imaginable, ranging from M*A*S*H to Charlie’s Angels to Voltron, I could no longer locate the hockey stickers. I assumed they’d been sold, but it turns out our friend had set them aside, and I was able to purchase them from him for $5.
The stickers feature a logo on the top two thirds of the card, with a pennant sticker (for a different team) on the bottom third. This lends itself to some very interesting combinations (I have to think that whoever at Topps decided to pair a Maple Leafs pennant with a Montreal Canadiens logo was deliberately trolling).
While they’re not a complete set and certainly not even complete within themselves, as some stickers have been removed, they are in excellent shape with no color fading or yellowing, and offer a very cool snapshot of many NHL logos as they were some 45 years ago. Some haven’t changed very much at all (Habs, Flyers, Wings, Blues, Isles, Sabres, Rangers, Penguins all look more-or-less similar to today), and some have changed substantially (Kings, Canucks, although the latter’s ’70s logo still shows up on alts and as shoulder patches). But the real treasures to me are the stickers bearing the logos of once-loved defunct teams, who either relocated to other cities, or eventually ceased to exist entirely.
The Flames would move from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980 (and Atlanta would continue their string of bad NHL franchise luck when they lost the Thrashers to become the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets in 2011). The storied Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993, though the Land of 10,000 Lakes did get an NHL franchise back eventually in the Wild. As for the California Golden Seals? They relocated to Cleveland in 1976 to become the short-lived Barons, and disappeared entirely two years later, merging with the aforementioned North Stars for financial reasons. They are still remembered fondly, however, and much Seals-branded merchandise can be purchased today from companies like ’47 Brand and Mitchell and Ness.
But these stickers stand not as a nostalgia grab or a rose-colored nod to the past, but as an artifact of a time where teams like the Seals and Flames and North Stars were active and real, throwing punches and shooting pucks with the other teams that we still know and root for (or against) today. It is not hard to visualize someone opening one of these packs in the mid-’70s, hoping to pull the stickers of their favorite team, but likely appreciating the graphic design and bright colors behind every team’s logo.
Unused stickers like this are a pretty cool find. These come from an era before sports cards became investment collectibles, instead just being a source of fun for people to follow their favorite teams and leagues. I imagine that many of these stickers wound up on dressers and notebooks belonging to enthusiastic young 1970s hockey fans, and are long forgotten today.
But the woman who meticulously filed all of these away in plastic trading card sheets clearly wanted them to remain in good condition, intact on their paper backings, and that is how they shall remain, now indefinitely in the hands of someone who will appreciate them and all the stories and history that they represent.
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