Sunday, September 12, 2021

Completed Set: 1988-89 Esso All-Star Collection

Many of you readers and collectors might know the name Esso as a brand of gasoline, but did you know that they put out a set of collectible hockey cards during the 1988-89 hockey season?

Well, they did! As you can see on the header card above, it consisted of 53 players, both active and retired. And now I'm happy to say that I've got all the cards in my collection.
Similar to the 1988 Topps UK Mini set that I completed last year, I compiled all the cards in this set through trades on TCDB.
Because the design on the front of each card is the same, regardless of the team, I'm not going to show every single card. But here are some images that stood out to me, along with more information about the set.
First we've got some absolute legends of the game, captured in nice action and high quality color.
Another trio of legends. Beauty of a glove save there by Gump Worsley. And check out his leg pads. Those things look like they must weigh 50 pounds each. I also love those Toronto Maple Leafs uniforms that Mr. Mahovlich is sporting. So classy.


You'll have noticed by this point that the cards are a bit smaller than standard. They measure 2 1/8" x 3 1/4". The card stock is also different—definitely thinner than typical stock of the erabut there's a good reason why, as you'll see below.
First, more cards.

Here's Ken Dryden being flanked by two of the fastest skaters of their eras. (They even look fast on their cards, don't they?)

Next we've got three super-talented Islanders from their Stanley Cup run. Clark Gillies is really pushing hard to skate uphill.

Where could you find all these cards during the 1988-89 season? They were distributed in packs of six at participating Esso gas stations in Canada. I'd have to imagine young hockey fans would have been psyched whenever mom or dad pulled into an Esso station to fill up—especially if they found the guy on the right side of the above trio in their pack.

We've been getting into the modern players now. Here Boston's captain, McDonald's mustache, and Smitty's classic helmet and cage combo.

Some great playmakers here. Good framing on all three photographs. As simple as the card design is, I think it works rather well. Big, clear team logo. Player's last name in all caps.

Here are three teams not yet featured. Ron Hextall looks like he's about to scramble to his right and stretch out to make a pad save, while Luc and Mario sport their classic '80s uniforms.
Of the 21 teams in the league at the time, 16 were represented in the set. The absentees? Blues, North Stars, Canucks, Devils, and Whalers. It's a shame that some of those great players and iconic team logos were ignored (Ron Francis in a Whalers jersey or Neal Broten in a North Stars jersey, for example.)
Finally, here's an example of a card back, featuring the full checklist. Every card in the set has this same back. But there's a good reason why, and it's the same reason why the card stock is noticeably thinner:

The cards were meant to be placed in an album!

What a classic '80s thing for Esso to do.

Here's a look at an interior page, with spaces designated for each card. Just a quick career stat line and very brief bio underneath.

The cards don't have any sort of adhesive backing, which means kids must have used glue or tape to affix them to the album's pages. (I think I just felt some of you cringe a little bit.)

And here's a page with cards included. 
Interestingly, although there are 53 players represented in the album, only 48 of them received an actual card. The other 5 players had their photos pre-printed on the designated page. The image of Al MacInnis on the left-hand page shown above is one example. I wonder why they did that. Maybe there were only 49 spaces available on the printing sheet? (7 cards across and 7 cards down?)
Regardless, I'm very happy to have completed this set. The fact that I did it solely by trading away cards in my collection that I had no use for makes it that much sweeter. I haven't picked up an album yet, but after some quick research I do see that empty albums are available on eBay, and they're relatively affordable. Maybe I'll grab one. If I do pick one up, don't worry—I'll keep the cards separate.
What are your thoughts on this Esso set? If you were a kid living in 1980s Canada, would you have been regularly checking the gas gauge on mom or dad's car, reminding them that there was an Esso station nearby, and that they should top off the tank?

Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading.


  1. I got some of these a while back, it was my first card of several Hall of Famers. The backs actually are adhesive, if you wet them it activates it. The technology was seen on some tobacco era cards too.

    1. Oh, I didn't know that. Excellent information Billy, thank you!

  2. Never seen these before, but I love the look of these. And this checklist is loaded. This post inspired me to purchase a set for my collection.

    1. Good addition to your collection, Fuji! With all the big hockey names included, not to mention the hobby boom we're currently seeing out there, I'm impressed with how affordable the complete set is.

  3. I have a number of the cards from this set, and it is very 80s (in a good way), and a great list of players to have too. Very nice.

    1. Agreed, CrazieJoe. Were you around and collecting in the '80s when these cards could be found at gas stations? If so, it must have been a fun time.

  4. Esso had long since become Exxon in the US by this time. Nice looking set.

    1. Nice history there, Bo! Thanks for pointing it out. Good to see Esso is still in existence in some parts of the world.