As the R.I. Reds “Player of the Century”, Zellio Toppazzini had little difficulty getting his name on the list of top scorers or professional hockey greats. He had 786 points in 785 American Hockey League games.
But Topper had no luck at all getting his picture on hockey trading cards.
His “first card” is in the 1952-53 Parkhurst set – card number 73 in the 103-card series. The back of the card tells of his early career with Hershey and the Boston Bruins, then his trade to the Rangers and his return to Boston two seasons later – all interesting and accurate stuff.
Trouble is, the image on the front of the card isn’t Topper at all. It’s the picture of a Toppazzini, to be sure, but the wrong one – Topper’s brother, Jerry. Among collectors it’s called an “error card” and those attract some special attention because of the mix-up.
But it still meant that the smooth-skating forward who spent 13 seasons in Providence and then adopted Rhode Island as his and his family’s home, never had a real, accurate hockey card.
Oh, he’s pictured twice in an extensive series called Beehives produced from 1934 through 1963 by St. Lawrence Starch Company of Ontario and distributed in exchange for labels from packages of the company’s Beehive Corn Syrup.
In the earliest one, he’s wearing a Boston Bruins (for whom he played in 45 games from 1948 to ’51) uniform, while in the latter he’s listed as a New York Rangers (71 games over 2 seasons, 1951 and ’52) player but is wearing Chicago Black Hawks garb (with Chicago for 7 games in 1956-57 season). But these things are not the collector cards we know and love. They measure 4.15” x 6.75”, whereas standard trading card size is 2.5” x 3.5”. They’re actually photos instead of cards and identified as such in price guides.
The R.I. Reds Heritage Society finally solved the Topper card shortage in 2015 by picturing the correct Toppazzini on card number 15 (for those keeping count, 15 was Topper’s Reds’ uniform number). That 30-card set commemorates the 1955-56 Calder Cup champions. Topper led the league in scoring and assists, and had 42 goals, that championship season.