It has been called the most famous trophy in all of sports: the Stanley Cup. The original cup was purchased at the request of Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor-General of Canada, who felt the growing sport needed some "outward sign" to designate a champion. It was first awarded in 1893, and for several decades, various amateur athletic associations and hockey leagues would compete for it.
One of those leagues was the NHL, which first formed in 1917. By 1926, it was the only league left standing, so the Stanley Cup was awarded to the NHL champion each year. No other league has laid claim to the cup since.
The design of the Stanley Cup is kind of complicated, as far as sports trophies go. The trophy Lord Stanley purchased was just the wide bowl that sits atop the cup. When the tradition of engraving the names of every player who won the cup was formalized, extra bands were added to make room. For a while, the cup had a different shape almost every year. It didn't take on its current form until 1958.
The silver rings on the bottom portion of the cup are where players get their names engraved. It takes 13 years to fill a ring, at which point the top ring, the oldest, is removed and placed in the Hall of Fame.
The Stanley Cup that teams carry around the ice when they win the NHL championship isn't even the original Stanley Cup. In 1969, league officials realized Lord Stanley's 78-year-old trophy was getting brittle. Worried that it would be seriously damaged, they commissioned an exact replica. The original bowl was retired, and the replica is used today.
Wait -- it gets even more confusing. If you've been to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario, to see the Stanley Cup, you might not have seen the real Stanley Cup. Each year, every player on the winning cup team gets to spend one day with the trophy. In addition, the cup travels 250 days per year to charity events and NHL promotional activities. When the cup is out, yet another replica takes its place in the hall. How can you tell the difference? The real cup has about a dozen misspelled names, like the name of goalie Jacques Plante, and the word Boston in the 1972 engraving. All the errors are corrected on the replica.