Could Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card Be First Hockey Card To Fetch More Than $1 Million At Auction?

A mint condition 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card is expected to become hockey’s first $1-million (U.S.) collectible card, if all goes according to the plan of Heritage Auctions.

“We’re really excited to have the king of hockey cards,” said Chris Ivy to the Star, Heritage’s Dallas-based director of sports. “The timing is phenomenal as far as the people that are interested in this type of thing and the current market. And Gretzky is the greatest of all time for his sport.”

The current bid for the card sits at $662,500, at the time of this report. (Auction site here)

“There are only a handful of cards that have passed the $1-million threshold. This will be the first hockey card to do so,” Ivy said.

A Gretzky rookie card is not particularly rare. Fakes and reprints have flooded the market.

“A lot of us will have a Gretzky rookie card in their house and think you’ve got a $1 million card. Odds are you don’t,” said Stephen Laroche, a Belleville-based card collectible author and historian. “There have been counterfeits since the early 1990s. The first thing to look for is a whitish-yellowish spot on his shoulder. Some dust in the (genuine) printing process caused that.”

But there are also plenty of originals. The same consigner who is selling the O-Pee-Chee Gretzky card is also selling the Topps Gretzky rookie card. About a dozen others are up for grabs. It’s the exact same photograph. But mint condition O-Pee-Chees are much harder to come by.

“All the 1979 O-Pee-Chee cards that have ever been graded, only two of them have ever earned 10 status, and this is one of those two,” Ivy said. “As compared to a Michael Jordan card, over 330 of those have achieved PSA 10 gem mint status.”

“When O-Pee-Chee was making these cards in 1979, they didn’t lend themselves to be high grade. The paper stock that was used was susceptible to print defects,” Ivy said. “There are centring issues. They way they cut O-Pee-Chee cards — they used wires (instead of blades). So as those wires dulled, you got those jagged edges. And you can see that jagged edge on this card. Collectors like that look of the jagged edge of the O-Pee-Chee cuts. But that didn’t led itself to high-grade examples either, because there could be chipping, issues in the corners.

Description From Auction Site

1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky #18 Rookie PSA Gem Mint 10–Population Two! He owns more records than any player in the history of the sport, and just over two decades after finding the back of the net for the 894th and final time in his peerless career, The Great One appears poised to set one more. While Wayne Gretzky’s athletic supremacy has been mirrored in trading card pricing since the offered rookie was a newborn hatchling, the rising trajectory of the “modern” market has seen an unprecedented burst of speed in recent years as global investors have taken a seat at a table long occupied by “hobby nerds” alone. Within the space of a year, we’ve seen the world record for the celebrated 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie increase ten-fold, and a few 21st century productions climb into seven-figure territory to claim dominance over an industry focused for generations upon dusty old rarities.

Having recently passed its fortieth birthday, the Wayne Gretzky rookie finds itself balanced between the venerable old and spanking new, though we’re still inclined to carve its likeness into the Mount Rushmore of the modern era. Its status as the most recognizable hockey card in the hobby is uncontested, though it could hardly be characterized as ubiquitous, particularly in the listed format produced in Gretzky’s native Canada. Jordan rookies outnumber the Gretzky by a factor of three-to-one in the full population, and the divide explodes to cavernous dimensions at the top of the grading spectrum. At the time this text is written, the PSA website indicates a population of 316 Gem Mint 10 examples of the Fleer Jordan rookie, while the offered Gretzky card is one of only two to achieve that top-tier assessment.

While the knee-jerk reaction to a Jordan submission being fifty times more likely to receive a perfect rating than a Gretzky might be to blame those extra seven years of life, or the rougher hands of hockey collectors, the actual culprit was the original production itself. This is particularly apparent in those cards distributed by OPC, eternally notorious for “rough cut” edges that left perfection maddeningly out of reach. The Canadians used wire rather than blades to segregate individual cards from their printed sheets, creating a problem that was progressively compounded as the wire dulled from use. Eventually, the cards would suffer cuts as jagged as those on Terry Sawchuk’s face.

You can spot the slightest hint of that characteristic if you magnify our online images to multiples of their original scale, but there’s no question that this elite beauty earns every point of its double-digit rating honestly. We should also remember that the cut is just one of many possible stumbling blocks the offered representation hurdles en route to supremacy, as issues with image registration and centering were likewise commonplace during this era of trading card production. And this only gets you out of the wax pack before the merciless onslaught of time takes its turn on offense.

Thus the journey from the O-Pee-Chee cutting table to a PSA Gem Mint 10 slab could be considered as perilous and unlikely as the journey from an Alcatraz cell to the San Francisco mainland. There is no other card from the past half century that has seen a lower success rate in achieving the seemingly impossible goal realized here, with the sole exception of its Topps sibling whose Gem Mint 10 population is likewise just two, though its full submission count slightly higher. We note that one of those elite Americans can also be found within this Signature auction, the very first time both “Great One of Two” representations have shared a hobby stage.

Guide Value or Estimate: $1,000,000 – up.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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2 Responses to Could Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card Be First Hockey Card To Fetch More Than $1 Million At Auction?

  1. Scottlew73 says:

    You mean to say the one I glued into a scrapbook & wrote “99” on when I was 8 years old,won’t be worth a million?

  2. Rod Booth says:

    The fact the sheets were cut with wires is an incorrect fact. They were cut with blades that were not sharpened very often… I’ve confirmed this with several former employees in the factory.

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