O-Pee-Chee

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1990–91 Topps card, left; 1990–1991 O-Pee-Chee card, right

The O-Pee-Chee Company, Ltd. was a 20th-century Canadian confectionery company that produced candy until the mid-1990s. The O-Pee-Chee Gum Company got its start in 1911 when brothers John McKinnon (J.K.) McDermid and Duncan Hugh (D.H.) McDermid started to manufacture chewing gum. According to O-Pee-Chee literature, both brothers had been in the gum business and knew the business very well. The brothers had worked for C.R. Somerville, a gum manufacturing plant in London, Ontario. After the Somerville firm was sold to American Chicle Company in 1908 and the plant moved to Toronto, the McDermid brothers took over the box division and eventually purchased it in 1910 (Somerville Paper Box Limited). Shortly thereafter, they started O-Pee-Chee and produced their first box of Gipsy gum.

In terms of company genealogy, the McDermids owned the O-Pee-Chee Company Limited (as renamed in 1921) and Somerville Paper Box Limited until 1944.[citation needed] They sold Somerville Paper Box Limited to Garfield Weston in 1945 and changed their own O-Pee-Chee Co. Ltd. from a public company (since 1921) to a private company.[citation needed] The company was now run by John Gordon McDermid, the son and nephew of the McDermid brothers. The younger McDermid ran the company until his death in 1953 after which Frank Leahy took over the company. Leahy was the President of the O-Pee-Chee Co. Ltd. before he purchased the company from the McDermid estate in 1961. Leahy ran the business until his death in 1980, after which Gary Koreen stepped in and purchased the company from his wife, Mary-Margaret (the daughter of Frank Leahy).[citation needed]

Trading cards were a big part of the O-Pee-Chee business. Their first card sets were produced in the 1930s: five hockey sets between 1934 and 1938, a baseball set in 1937, a Mickey Mouse set in 1938, and a Fighting Forces set in 1939. They made a few more sets in the 1940s, but it wasn't until the late 1950s that the company started to distribute cards on a regular basis.[citation needed]

After Mr. Koreen sold his company to Nestlé Corporation in 1996, he kept the O-Pee-Chee brand name alive in the card collecting market via licences with the Topps Company and Upper Deck Company. From 1996 to 2004, the O-Pee-Chee name was used under license by Topps; from 2006 to present, the O-Pee-Chee name has been used under license by Upper Deck.[citation needed]

Young Canada's Favourite (written by O-Pee-Chee Company in 1989 or 1990)[edit]

The name O-Pee-Chee is an Torai Khala Aboriginal word meaning "the Robin" as is found in The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It also happened to be the name of McDermid's summer cottage in Grand Bend Ontario.

In 1921, O-Pee-Chee Gum Company was sold to a trust with the intent of incorporating the Company and changing its name to O-Pee-Chee Company Limited.[citation needed] Initially, it was incorporated as a public Company with five shareholders and four directors - all members of the McDermid family.[citation needed]

The sales for the first year of operation of O-Pee-Chee Company Limited were $177,389.84 with a profit of $4,766.92.[citation needed] The products manufactured were chewing gum, mints and various types of popcorn - especially Krackley Nut. In that year, there were 30 employees in the plant and the annual payroll was $31,614.38, including management salaries and bonuses.[citation needed]

The McDermids owned and operated both O-Pee-Chee Company Limited and Somerville Paper Box Limited until 1944 when they sold the Somerville business to Garfield Weston. In 1945, O-Pee-Chee Company Limited was changed from a public company to a private company. For many years, National Novelty Company was a subsidiary of O-Pee-Chee Company acting as a retail outlet, selling candy goods over the counter, and also servicing gum vending machines in the area.

In 1928, a manufacturing facility was built at 430 Adelaide Street in London. Initially, this plant was erected primarily to supply a substantial export gum business to the United Kingdom. From 1928 until 1989, this plant housed some of the most modern gum and candy making equipment available in the world.[citation needed]

During the depression years, the Company operated mainly at a loss. In 1933, a licensing agreement was signed with a Buffalo firm, W & F Manufacturing, Co. who made paraffin chewing gum and novelties. This allowed O-Pee-Chee to sell these products in Canada as well as in Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland. In the mid-1950s, Gurley Novelties, a candle company in Buffalo, New York, also signed with O-Pee-Chee, so candles could be sold In Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and eventually Canada. O Pee Chee sold Gurley Novelty candles under the name Gaybrite and TinselTown in Ireland and Scotland. About this time, Frank P. Leahy joined the firm as Sales Manager and John Gordon McDermid, the son of J.K. McDermid, also became active in the business.

With the arrival of World War II, accompanied by sugar and other commodity rationing, O-Pee-Chee Company existed mainly because of war contracts to supply dried egg powder to Europe and the United Kingdom. Employees, who worked at O-Pee-Chee during the war, recall the incident when a boat carrying a load of egg powder was sunk in the St. Lawrence River by a German submarine and the shipment had to be returned to London for repacking. During this time, the only gum product manufactured was Thrills - a product which is still being sold today.

D.H. McDermid died in December 1942 and J.K. McDermid died of a heart attack in 1945 at age 79. J.K. was a charter member of the London Rotary Club and was an active executive of the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. He was a prominent member of the Talbot Street Baptist Church and deeded his property to the congregation where the First Baptist Church now stands in London. John Gordon McDermid became President in 1946 and ran the Company until his death in 1953.

Under the able leadership of the new President, Frank P. Leahy, the Company flourished in the late 50's. In 1958, a licensing agreement was arranged with a manufacturer in Brooklyn, New York, which dramatically increased the future potential of O-Pee-Chee Company. Subsequent to this, in 1961, Frank Leahy purchased the Company from the McDermid estate.

About this time, another licensing agreement was signed with a large candy company located in St. Louis, Missouri. These two licensing arrangements, which still exist today, allowed O-Pee-Chee Company to manufacture and market the products of these two firms in Canada. Immediately, new products became available to the Canadian market which substantially increased the Company's sales volume, allowing for more efficient manufacturing and marketing techniques.

In the early 60's, Beatlemania overtook North America with O-Pee-Chee Company having the rights to manufacture and market the Beatle Bubble Gum Cards for the Canadian market. This was followed by other movie and T.V. "spin off" cards such as Batman, Happy Days, Charlie's Angels and Superman. From 1977 to 1983, O-Pee-Chee produced cards based on popular motion pictures including Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and E.T..

The Company also sells N.H.L. Hockey Cards and Major League Baseball Cards which have always been very popular to children and collectors in Canada.

After working at O-Pee-Chee Company for nearly fifty years, Frank Leahy died suddenly in 1980. Gary E. Koreen, his son-in-law, who had been active in the business since 1968, became President and is now the owner of the business.

In 1989, O-Pee-Chee Company moved into a new plant in London East which accommodates all Manufacturing, Raw Material and Finished Goods Storage plus Offices and Employee Facilities. This investment improves present manufacturing capabilities and provides for future growth and expansion.

O-Pee-Chee sports cards: 1958 to 1995[edit]

In 1958 after the O-Pee-Chee Company entered into a marketing agreement with the Topps Company of USA, O-Pee-Chee promoted annual trading card sets in Canada. Popular with kids, the standard packs included a stick of bubble gum with a stack of picture cards. In that first year, O-Pee-Chee helped produce hockey (1957-58 National Hockey League) and football (1958 Canadian Football League) cards.

In the 1960s, O-Pee-Chee and Topps worked closely together to produce sports and entertainment sets. The three sports promoted by O-Pee-Chee were baseball, football and hockey. Starting in 1961, the printing and production for these cards was moved to the O-Pee-Chee headquarters in London, Ontario, Canada. Those first Canadian sets were the 1961 CFL and 1961-62 NHL sets. While those two sets were unique to the Canadian marketplace, the hockey series did compete against a Parkies hockey series up until 1963-64. Starting in 1965, parts (or sometimes all) of the Topps baseball (Major League Baseball) series was produced as an O-Pee-Chee series in Canada.

In 1964, O-Pee-Chee produced four very popular entertainment card series featuring The Beatles.

Up until 1967, the annual O-Pee-Chee (also known as Topps) hockey series was produced in Canada. After an American Topps "test" series was produced in the summer of 1967 (it looked just like the regular Canadian 1966-67 hockey series), O-Pee-Chee and Topps produced two annual hockey sets from 1968-69 onwards. The hockey double (an O-Pee-Chee set in Canada and a Topps set in the United States) coincided with the NHL's 1967 expansion from six to 12 teams. So while the 1967-68 series highlighted a six-team NHL, the two 1968-69 series highlighted a 12-team NHL. Of note, the Topps set would often hit the marketplace first, but would include fewer cards than the O-Pee-Chee series. Also of interest, the card backs were primarily written by Topps, but the O-Pee-Chee card backs added a French translation.

In the 1970s, O-Pee-Chee's last CFL set was produced in 1972. After World Hockey Association cards were first featured in the 1972-73 hockey series, an annual WHA series was produced from 1974-75 to 1977-78.

In the 1980s, O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) produced annual album and sticker series for hockey and baseball (with the stickers produced by Panini). The stickers were so popular that Topps neglected to produce a hockey card series in either 1982-83 or 1983-84. (In fact, the stickers were so popular that by 1987-88 Panini had obtained its own license to produce NHL stickers in Canada).

In 1990-91, O-Pee-Chee and Topps were joined in the NHL card market by Pro Set, Score and Upper Deck. That year, O-Pee-Chee produced a unique O-Pee-Chee Premier hockey series that was wildly popular with card collectors. Both an O-Pee-Chee and O-Pee-Chee Premier hockey series was produced in each of three successive seasons, but then in 1993-94 and 1994-95 only a Premier series was produced. As for baseball, the O-Pee-Chee Premier MLB series was produced from 1991 to 1993 while the last O-Pee-Chee MLB series was produced in 1994.

French language required on cards[edit]

In 1970, due to Canadian federal legislation, O-Pee-Chee was compelled to add French-language text to the backs of its baseball cards.[1] It also happened to be the year after the Montreal Expos began play in the majority Francophone province of Quebec. The practice of making bilingual cards had already been established for hockey. While O-Pee-Chee baseball sets were typically smaller than their Topps counterparts, its hockey sets for the Canadian market were larger. O-Pee-Chee also occasionally produced independent card sets of particular interest to Canadian collectors, such as one for the 1973 centennial of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Effect of hockey lockout and baseball strikes[edit]

The 1994 Major League Baseball strike and 1994-95 hockey lockout and the accompanying damage to the baseball card industry hit O-Pee-Chee particularly hard. The company announced that it would leave the card business and refocus its efforts on candy. However a number of changing circumstances have kept them in the card business as well as candy.

The 1994-95 hockey season would be the last for O-Pee-Chee as a full company, though the Topps marketing arrangement would keep the name alive. In 1996, O-Pee-Chee was bought by Nestlé Corporation. In 1995-96, Topps included O-Pee-Chee cards in its signature product as a parallel set. It would do the same in 1998-99 when it returned to the NHL market after a two-year hiatus. Later that year, O-Pee-Chee was re-introduced fully, as Topps used the company name for its Chrome set. One year later, O-Pee-Chee would once again have a base brand set.

O-Pee-Chee cards would continue to be produced through the 2003-04 hockey season. Prior to the start of what would have been the 2004-05 season, the NHL and NHLPA did not renew hockey-card licenses with the Topps Company (as well as In The Game or Pacific Trading Cards). Instead, the hockey market entered an exclusive five-year agreement with the Upper Deck Company to produced licensed NHL cards.

In 2006, Upper Deck entered into an agreement with O-Pee-Chee to revive the O-Pee-Chee brand. Upper Deck's initial O-Pee-Chee Hockey product was released during the 2006-07 season.

Vintage O-Pee-Chee cards are much sought-after today for their market value, and cards for popular players command high prices.

References[edit]

  • Vintage O-Pee-Chee hockey card checklists
  • O-Pee-Chee hockey card image archives
  • O-Pee-Chee Central baseball collectors site
  • "O-Pee-Chee Trading Cards, 1933-34" in Backcheck: A Hockey Retrospective at Library and Archives Canada
  • Print editions of Canadian Sports Collector, including a five-part series on the history of O-Pee-Chee (published 2005).
  • Print edition of Charlton Hockey Cards (2006). Trajan Publishing.
  • Print edition of Vintage Hockey Collector's Price Guide (2006). Burrell, Bobby.
  • Beckett, Dr. James et al. (2002). "Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide". Beckett Publications-Dallas, Texas ISBN 1-930692-17-X