Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card Score of a Lifetime: Case of 1979-80 O-PEE-CHEE Discovered

Image by Heritage Auctions

It’s been 45 years since Wayne Gretzky made his NHL debut, yet more than four decades later, the legendary hockey player is still proving why he’s considered “The Great One.”

Trading card history is strewn with tremendous stories of long-lost collections stashed away and forgotten by time. So leave it to Gretzky to be a part of one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) attic finds in trading card history.

The story begins in 1979 with a young bald-faced Gretzky as a dazzling rookie with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky led the league in scoring during his first campaign and continued to do so for 10 of the next 12 years, including eight straight scoring titles to start his career.

By the time he retired in 1999, he’d solidified his place as the greatest player in hockey history and as one of the most dominant players that professional sports has ever witnessed.

Yet when Gretzky’s rookie card debuted in the 1979-1980 Topps and O-PEE-CHEE sets, it received very little fanfare. This was the late 70s and early 80s, before what’s become known as the Junk Wax Era would ignite the trading card industry.

Unlike the later cards of the 80s, which saw overproduction tarnish most long term values, Gretzky rookies were scarce and only saw its value rise. Heritage Auction sold one in 2022 for a cool $1.2 million.

That’s for the Topp version.


O-PEE-CHEE was a Canadian confectionary company that can trace its roots back to 1911.

In the 1930s the company began producing sports cards as a way to sell chewing gum, thus creating an iconic marriage of cards and gum that would last through the end of the century.

Topps came calling and in 1958 the two companies paired together to produce sports and entertainment cards.

The O-PEE-CHEE cards were essentially the same as the Topps version, which was traditionally released first and with fewer cards than its Canadian counterpart. Lest we forget the French translation on the O-PEE-CHEE card backs.

And of course, the holy grail among all O-PEE-CHEE cards is none other than the ‘79-80 Gretzky.

The Attic Score of a Lifetime

Which brings us to modern day and an attic in Saskatchewan where among a hoard of boxed sports cards sat what many consider the biggest holy moly’s of holy grails.

For the first time in the 21st century, an unopened case of 1979-80 O-PEE-CHEE was seen outside the dimmed light of an attic bulb.

The case – which was sealed and authenticated by BBCE and put up for bid by Heritage Auctions – contains 16 boxes of 48 packs with 14 cards in each pack for a total of 10,752 cards.

Image via Heritage Auctions

According to Heritage Auctions: “With 396 cards in the set, a perfectly random assortment would suggest that about twenty-seven physically pristine Gretzky rookies are contained within this hefty brown cardboard case.”

This is seismic news considering that just two GEM MINT 10 Gretzky OPC rookies are known to exist, with the most recent one fetching $3.75 million in 2021.

Once the proverbial gavel dropped this February, one Heritage Auction winner paid $3.25 million for the right to knock the dust off the unopened case of 1979-80 O-PEE-CHEE cards.

The find goes down in history among some other legendary discoveries.

Massachusetts truck driver Ted Lodge found a GEM MINT 10 Mickey Mantle in the basement of the home he inherited from his late father.

In 1992, Ellen Kelly purchased her Aunt Nora’s piano in an estate sale for $25, only to discover 25 years later that inside of it was 110 vintage baseball cards, including a Babe Ruth rookie card that eventually sold for $130,000.

Where are you going to start your search for hidden gems?

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