A Familiar Bufford Trade Card Image Variation Spotted

A holiday variation exists for one of the earliest known hockey cards

One of the earliest known hockey cards features a child with a hockey stick on a trade card with lithography done by Bufford. While the exact date of the card is not known, it’s believed to have been issued in the late 1870s or in the 1880s.

The card is slightly difficult to track down but is not scarce by any means. The image is a popular one, particularly to collectors of early hockey cards. But while I’d seen that card many times and have a couple of examples myself, I recently spotted a variation of it that I’d never seen before.

Shown here on the left is the well-known Bufford trade card. It features a boy holding a snowball in one hand and a hockey stick in the other. The variant is quite similar but different.

Pictured on the right, the variant uses practically the same image but has the hockey stick in the opposite direction. And notably, it has a pine/holiday decoration hanging off the end of it behind the child. There’s also a rigid rectangular border in place of the borderless picture on the main card. Less importantly, the image on the variant card is duller in appearance as the colors are not nearly as bright. Additionally, the Bufford name and the small No. 903 that exists on the standard card is not shown.

The key differentiator, of course, is the variant appears to be a holiday version, of sorts. It actually has the appearance of a postcard or the front of a greeting card. However, it probably should simply be considered as a trade card as, at least the copy I have, has a blank back.

So which of these cards was printed first? I doubt we’ll ever know the answer to that definitively. After all, we don’t even have a definitive date on when the standard card was issued. However, given the disappearance of the Bufford name and the No. 903 identifying print on the variation, I would tentatively suggest that is probably the later card. It makes sense for that print to have been removed for the holiday card than added out of the blue. That, of course, is a hypothesis and not anything definitive.

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