The days when hockey cards could finance university

Collectors hope that investing in sports cards in 1991 will pay off handsomely in the future.

Collectible sports cards were big business and everyone was cashing in

Collectors hope that investing in sports cards in 1991 will pay off handsomely in the future. 3:11

Baseball cards on the spokes of your bike? Unthinkable.

"It's a business," said hockey player Gordie Howe, on hand to sign autographs at a sports-card convention. (CBC Archives/CBC at Six)

In 1991 sports cards were big business: companies like O-Pee-Chee, Upper Deck and Topps competed to produce them, and collectors pounced on them, anticipating a big return on their investment. 

'They're worth money'

At a Toronto-area sports card convention, CBC reporter Barbara Ondrusek talked to 11-year-old Donny O'Connell. His collection, she said, had enabled him to save enough money to put himself through university in the future.

"When I was younger, I used to collect them," said O'Connell. "Now, they're worth money ... I like to collect them and sell them." 

Donny O'Connell, 11, hoped his collection of sports cards would one day make him rich. (CBC Archives/CBC at Six)

Rookie cards promised a sizeable return, collectors believed. One dealer told a story of a buyer, anticipating a handsome profit, who scooped up all 18 cards for Tony Amonte, a new player with the New York Rangers.

"The dollar gets in, it's a business," said Gordie Howe, the Hall of Famer and longtime Detroit Red Wings star. "I walked into a card dealer in Plymouth, Michigan and I got a card for 25 cents with my son Mark [another NHLer] and I said 'don't you ever put him in that low bucket!'" 

Even Gary Koreen, president of card manufacturer O-Pee-Chee in London, Ont. — the world's largest producer of sports cards — thought card collecting had got out of hand.

O-Pee-Chee was the only company that still included a strip of gum in its packs of hockey cards.

O-Pee-Chee president Gary Koreen remained committed to including gum with packs of sports cards -- even if collectors complained. (CBC Archives/CBC at Six)

Sugar dust was a problem

"A lot of people are complaining about that," Koreen said. "You've got the sugar dust from the gum, and they're saying it's wrecking the card."

"Kids aren't having the fun that they used to have with the cards," he added. "Now, they immediately put it them a plastic case and put them into a safety-deposit box."

"My goodness, let's have some fun while we're at it." 

But for young collector O'Connell, collecting hockey cards wasn't about fun.

"I don't know, I just want to get rich," he said.