As we first reported last week, a very rare Wayne Gretzky rookie card was up for auction this week, which was believed to potentially fetch more than $1 million. The auction has concluded on Thursday with the card selling for $1.29 million.
The card is a mint condition 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card, and was auctioned off by Heritage Auctions.
“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,” said Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Dallas-based director of sports . “As compared to a Michael Jordan card, over 330 of those have achieved PSA 10 gem mint status.”
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.
It is the first hockey card to sell for more than $1 million. It’s also the sixth-most expensive sports card ever sold, trailing a 2009 Mike Trout ($3.9M), a 1909 Honus Wagner ($3.3M), a 1952 Mickey Mantle ($2.9M), a 2013-14 Giannis Antetokounmpo($1.9M), and a 2003-04 LeBron James ($1.8M), according to a list made in November by Groove Wallet.
“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.”
“We we are very glad that the cost of the card was almost $ 1.3 million. It could very easily have been sold for both $ 1.1 million and $ 1.6 million, but it depends on the buyer. This is a new record, one more that needs to be added to Wayne Gretzky’s achievement list. He deserves the best-selling ice hockey card of all time,” said Ivey.
Oh, and as far as “worth it’s weight in gold”, a typical hockey card weighs about 2 grams, making the Gretzky rookie card worth $18,285,448 an ounce. That’s 10,000 times more valuable than gold, which currently sells for $1,850 per ounce.
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