O-Pee-Chee was a 20th-century Canadian company that produced candy, and later trading cards. It was started in London, Ontario in 1911 by two brothers, John and Duncan McDermid. The name was taken from Opechee, the robin's name in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem The Song of Hiawatha.
Like a number of candy companies in the U.S., O-Pee-Chee got into the business of selling sports cards with bubblegum, producing cards of ice hockey players as early as 1933. It continued making hockey cards into the early years of World War II and briefly tried a 40-card set of baseball cards in 1937.
After the war, O-Pee-Chee got back into the trading card industry by making arrangements with Topps, a leading U.S. maker of trading cards, for a license to print and distribute Topps products in Canada. This began in 1965 with baseball cards, with the O-Pee-Chee cards simply a rebranded version of the Topps design and marked "Printed in Canada" on the back. In 1968, the license was extended to hockey, and O-Pee-Chee also began producing cards for Canadian football, something Topps had been doing earlier. Similarly, O-Pee-Chee periodically distributed other Topps-originated products, usually non-sports trading cards such as Wacky Packages.
In 1970, due to Canadian federal legislation, O-Pee-Chee was compelled to add French-language text to the backs of its baseball cards. 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.
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, and 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 03-04 hockey season. Prior to the start of what would have been the 2004-05 season Topps, along with In The Game Trading Cards and Pacific Trading Cards Inc., had their license renewals revoked by the NHL Players Association, leaving Upper Deck as the sole fully licensed trading card company for North America's top hockey league. Topps and O-Pee-Chee have not been in the hockey card market since, save for one commemorative card the US company created in 2005 as part of their Chronicles product, which commemorated the lockout.
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 such as Howie Morenz, Georges Mantha and Albert Leduc command high prices.
O-Pee-Chee first produced baseball cards in 1937 with a forty card set. In 1965, the company produced a licensed version of the American Topps set of that year, but it only issued cards 1 to 283, instead of the full 598 card Topps set. O-Pee-Chee continued to produce smaller versions of the Topps sets until 1971.
The 1971 O-Pee-Chee basebeall set was identical to the Topps set of the same year, except for some updates to include late player trades (since the O-Pee-Chee print run occurred later than the Topps print run). The 1972 set was again smaller thant he Topps set of that year. From 1973 to 1976 both companies issued a 660 card set, albeit with some minor variations, including cards reflecting late trades.
In 1977, the O-Pee-Chee set was reduced to 254 cards and had a different numbering scheme from the Topps set. The set contained all of the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos players, had different photographs on several cards, and reflected late trades. In 1978 the set was reduced to 242 cards, and from 1979 to 1981 the set contained 374 cards. The 1979 and 1981 sets were branded O-Pee-Chee on both front and back.
From 1982 until 1989 O-Pee-Chee issued 396 card sets, half the size of the same year's Topps sets, and fully branded O-Pee-Chee. The 1990 and 1991 sets were branded Topps, and were basically a bi-lingual Canadian printed version of the 792 card Topps sets of the same years. In 1992 the fully branded O-Pee-Chee cards returned with a 792 card set, with much the same content and design as the Topps set of 1992. From 1993 until the end of baseball card production, O-Pee-Chee cards were of a substantially different design from the Topps issue of the same year.