Blast From the Packs: Clearly Canadian

I have to admit: Although I started this Blast From the Packs project thinking I would buy certain old boxes of cards, open them, write about them, but more or less stay at arm’s length from becoming a collector of cards again, I am definitely feeling the collecting bug. I bought more protective sleeves, I got a new binder to replace the 20-plus-year-old one that was falling apart, and I’ve been looking on eBay at stuff beyond just the early 1990s boxes I started with.

One of the fun things you can find on the eBay sports card circuit is these grab-bag style collections of random old and new packs. Sellers will offer these by sport, by general era, or they’ll offer truly random selections from a collection of boxes across sports and time and even, as I found out recently, from different countries.

See, I purchased a couple of these from different sellers. The first was just a collection of 1988-1991 baseball packs. They were very straightforward: Donruss, Score, Fleer, Topps. And yes, the Topps pack contains ancient chewing gum.

I haven’t opened those packs yet; I’m saving them up until inspiration strikes. But a second collection I purchased was much more eclectic: I received packs from the years 1988 to 2019, in three different sports, and three of the packs wound up being from Canada.

1988 Leaf (Canada)

One of these packs looked really familiar: A pack marked 1988 Leaf was identical to the pack of 1988 Donruss I had received in my earlier package, except for the inclusion of some French words.

I opened both of these packs to see what the deal was, and as it turns out, Donruss and Leaf were the same company in 1988, with Leaf being the name for the Canadian release of the Donruss MLB set. The designs are identical save for the brand logo on the front of the cards …

… and the inclusion of French translations of the information on the (very boring) backs of the cards.

I remember these black, blue, and red cards from my childhood and I remember not really vibing with them, even back then. Not much has changed. But this is really a very standard set for this era: Crummy cardstock with no gloss, no photos on the backs of the cards, subpar blurry or washed out photography, and a lot of offcenter prints. These are cards I wouldn’t blame you for sticking in your bicycle spokes.

1991 O-Pee-Chee Premier baseball and All World CFL football

Being an American, I would never have seen these packs on racks at stores where I grew up.

I had heard of O-Pee-Chee before, and I knew them mainly for producing hockey cards. I had never purchased any, and I don’t think I was aware that they also produced baseball cards (or any other sport, for that matter). I noticed on the pack that it only contained 7 cards, or roughly half as many as the packs I was used to in that era, and that O-Pee-Chee was a Topps company. So I wondered: Would these cards be just re-branded Topps cards from the 1991 season as the Leaf 1988 cards were re-brands of the Donruss?

It turns out: No. These cards featured a design I was not familiar with, but a not-altogether-unattractive one. The card stock is slightly better quality than the Donruss/Leaf, though the backs of the cards were still left uncoated. The front images, while not the greatest quality, were generally not bad, and I enjoyed the clean white border; thin, team-colored border embellishments with a golden top bar; and small, unobtrusive, italicized name/team/position at the bottom of the cards (even making room for the French translation of each position, like “lanceur” for pitcher).

And the design for the backs of the cards, while dated, was a pleasant surprise as well. Full color, including photos, was still fairly rare for backs of cards in 1991. As with the Leaf cards, these also feature bilingual English/French on the back, but they don’t have as many words as the Leaf/Donruss.

The All-World Canadian Football League cards, on the other hand, were pretty dire, aesthetically. The pack mentioned that signed “Rocket” Raghib Ismail cards were randomly inserted, which would have been a pretty early implementation of autographed inserts in a set. Raghib Ismail was one of the more famous CFL players I can remember, a guy who nearly won the Heisman Trophy as a kick returner and receiver for Notre Dame (which is practically next door to where I grew up) and also played some years in the NFL. I thought, “wouldn’t it be funny if I just happened to pull an autograph in this one random-ass pack?” And then I opened the pack and I gasped to see Raghib’s face looking back at me from the top of the stack. Alas, it was not an autograph, but still! How odd that I would actually know one of the players from this nearly 30-year-old pack of Canadian football cards?

The two best-looking cards from the pack, for sure.

But this design, with the dark blue and the odd diagonal lines, doesn’t do much for me, and it doesn’t help that the photography is pretty amateurish, and the quality of the cards (poor cutting, off-center prints) is suboptimal. This is, for the most part, representative of the more forgettable end of the junk-wax era sports card design spectrum.

That said, I’m going to continue buying eBay grab bags like these in the hopes of receiving more oddities like these. Where else would I get the opportunity to even lay eyes on stuff like this?

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