Edmonton Grads are Subjects on Some of the Earliest Basketball Cards
The famous Canadian basketball team has cards dating back to the 1920s
I got quite a surprise this morning when I woke to find that the Edmonton Grads were the subject of today’s Google Doodle on their home page. While often forgotten, the Grads are one of the most successful sports teams of all time.
Despite their success, many fans and card collectors could not tell you anything about them. And given their heyday began in the 1920s, most people have probably never even heard of them. Hopefully, today’s Google Doodle brings some of their incredible achievements back into the spotlight, if even for only a day.
The Grads were, simply put, incredibly good. Their origins date back to 1912 when founder John Percy Page began coaching a high school team. After graduation, the team stuck together and Page, who was their coach, continued with them. Following high school, they were called the Commercial Graduates Basketball Club. But that name was typically shortened and they became known as The Grads. As the team gained notoriety, they expanded, recruiting players and then playing all over Canada.
From there, the Grads would go to to play in the Olympics. They were allowed to do this because they remained an amateur team. In all, they appeared in four Olympics (from 1924 through 1936) and went undefeated. The team was declared world champions in 1924 by the International Women’s Sports Federation. Typically, the games were not even close. The Grads won the 1924 Olympics contests, for example, by an average score of 60-10. Women’s basketball, while played at the Olympics, was not an official sport — thus, the team did not win medals.
The Grads would continue playing and winning until 1940 when the team was disbanded. In all, they are mostly credited with a 502-20 record (though the exact number is sometimes in dispute) and their 96% winning percentage has given them the record for the highest winning percentage of any team in North America.
Cards of the Grads
The Grads were so popular that they even made their way onto some pre-war cards.
Now, in today’s climate, that would not be surprising. But pre-war basketball cards were not printed in great quantities. There are a decent number of them featuring generic subjects but there are not many basketball cards featuring real recognizable players.
The basketball cards found in the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set are often called the first cards of professionals. But while that many be technically true as the Grads were amateurs, the Grads cards dated those by many years.
All kinds of Grads collectibles are out there, including photos, programs, and tickets. But in terms of actual trading cards, their two most common ones were, unsurprisingly, found in Canada. A third card was issued later in 1961 by Wheaties many years after the team had stopped playing. But in terms of cards from the time when the team was active, these are the primary ones.
The Grads’ “Rookie Card” is probably the 1924 Willards Sports Champions card. The multi-sport set featured all kinds of athletes and the Grads team is pictured as the world champions. This set has since been cataloged as V122.
That card, shown here, is No. 42 in the set and is one of the more popular non-baseball cards. Even in low-grade, it is difficult to find under $40-$50. And sellers familiar with the team and their rarity may charge even more.
The Grads’ other main card is from the 1925 Dominion Chocolate Athletic Stars set, cataloged today as V31. This was another large Canadian candy card set that included all sorts of athletes. While a narrow card like the Willards card, this one is printed vertically instead of horizontally.
Another key difference is that the Dominion Chocolate card includes a picture of Page, the coach, while the Willards card does not.
Collectors looking for this card should know that price is largely dependent on a coupon printed at the bottom. These cards had coupons on them that could be traded in for a prize. Thus, many of the cards from the set are missing the coupon. Cards with the coupons are more valuable with low-grade copies selling for about the same price as the Willard’s cards.
Both cards are also pretty rare as they come from difficult sets. How tough are these cards? To date, PSA has graded only eight of the Willard’s cards and only six of the Dominion Chocolate cards.
Thus, even if you’re ready and willing to buy them, finding them is not always easy. I had to look quite a bit for both of these cards and, while I did eventually find sellers offering them, they are rarely seen, even on eBay.