In 1994, at the age of eight, Jeffrey Griffith of Anaheim, California, decided he wanted to be a hockey card collector. A fan of the NHL’s upstart Ducks, he started following his hometown team during the league’s 1994-95 lockout-shortened season. He admired up-and-comers like Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, but was always mesmerized by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky.
“Hockey cards were a great way for me to learn about the sport, which I admittedly knew nothing about before attending my first Mighty Ducks games,” said Griffith. “In the mid-‘90s, numerous companies like Upper Deck, Pinnacle, Donruss and Topps were all producing hockey cards, which allowed for great diversity of product and unique designs.”
Early purchases of raw Wayne Gretzky cards set Griffith on a course to acquire as many Gretzky cards as he could. Today, he owns one of the largest and most complete Gretzky card collections in the world. In fact, in 2009 he self-published a 305-page book aptly titled “Gretzky Cards” that included checklists and mentions of more than 6,000 different Gretzky cards issued at that point along with 750 card images.
That same year he became a member of the PSA Set Registry. Eleven years later, he now has a total of 275 different hockey card sets recorded on the Set Registry, ranking No. 1 in most categories. In fact, in 2017, Griffith earned an award from PSA recognizing a mammoth digital album he compiled on the Set Registry of his No. 1-ranked “Hall of Fame Players – Rookies Hockey” set that sported 758 crystal clear images (fronts and backs of 379 PSA-graded cards) of each of the Hall’s player inductees. Tackling the ins and outs of the Set Registry came quickly to Griffith as be began talking to multiple dealers, all of whom got their cards graded. He was no longer interested in buying or trading raw cards; he wanted the best and understood what it would take to acquire them.
During this entire time, he was doubling as a voracious student of history. Though he currently works for a loan servicing company, Griffith’s formal education is in history. Toward that end, the 34-year-old SoCal native earned a dual bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and U.S. History from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. He then obtained his master’s degree in History from Cal State Fullerton. The icing on the cake came this past year when Griffith completed his doctorate in U.S. History at Claremont Graduate University.
“I keep reading and researching all the time,” he said. “That’s how I learned about the PSA Set Registry. I knew collecting and I knew the [hockey] players, but I had to learn about the Set Registry and the graded card industry.”
Student of the Game
While securing his masters, Griffith wrote his thesis paper on the Hockey Hall of Fame. More specifically, it concentrated on “hockey and its impact on Canadian culture.” His thorough research naturally brought him to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto where he devoted several hours of discovery and learning to the project.
“I was able to spend a few days inside the museum, closely examining and considering each of the exhibits,” recalled Griffith.
Perhaps more importantly, he met key people at the Hockey Hall including longtime curator Phil Pritchard. Because of his dogged research, when the Hockey Hall of Fame teamed in 2016 with Griffintown Media in Montreal to produce a three-part book series about hockey, Griffith’s thorough thesis served as a key reference tool.
“The experience allowed me the opportunity to research inside the Doc Seaman Resource Centre, which is the Hockey Hall of Fame’s archives,” said Griffith. “I was able to read [aged] correspondence and documentation about the museum’s creation and development over five decades in Toronto.”
An Author is Born
The book series is called the “National Treasures.” The first effort – “A Century of NHL Memories” – was written by Jim Hynes and Pritchard and released in 2017. The second book, titled “The Hall,” was written by Kevin Shea and released in 2018. At that time, the third book was under discussion and needed a writer. With its theme surrounding other elements of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who was better qualified to write it than Griffith?
After reading Shea’s book, Griffith sent an email to Pritchard to express his excitement over the book’s content, and his appreciation that his thesis helped shape the narrative of the unprecedented survey of the Hall’s history. Unbeknownst to Griffith, Pritchard forwarded that same email to a key contact at Griffintown Media and suggested the two parties connect.
“I was amazed at the depth and objective approach that the book took with examining both the incredible accomplishments of the museum as well as a deliberate consideration of some of the challenges and trials the institution has encountered throughout its existence,” he said.
Already scheduled to attend the Class of 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Induction in Toronto on Nov. 12, Griffith wound up meeting representatives from Griffintown Media at the venue. Shortly thereafter, a book deal was struck.
“What I anticipated to be a relatively short meeting turned into three hours of talking that continued during the gala that night as well as after the event ended,” said Griffith. “I was humbled by their offer a short time later to write the third edition of the ‘National Treasures’ series and was excited to help shape the subject around the idea of collecting.”
The third book was eventually titled “The Greatest Collection – Legends and Lore Behind Hockey’s Treasures.” Despite running parallel paths with writing his own dissertation for his PhD, Griffith completed the project in near record time.
“We worked at breakneck speed on this,” he said. “I first met with the publishers in November 2018 and we released the book a year later, at the 2019 Sports Card Expo in Toronto.”
The beautifully designed coffee table book consists of nine chapters (think Gordie Howe), 150 pages of informative prose, and hundreds of photographs showing not only hockey’s greatest players but many of the rare artifacts, equipment and trophies associated with their record-setting careers. Copies of “The Greatest Collection – Legends and Lore Behind Hockey’s Treasures” can be obtained through Amazon.com for $27.49 (hardcover).