The year was 1979. Back when you bought wax packs of hockey cards along with a piece of really bad bubble gum. Back when most of the people who bought hockey cards were kids, and the cards were more likely to be played with than carefully preserved. Even those rare collectors who understood the potential value of collectible cards turned their collective eyes to baseball. Who knew back then that one of those OPC wax packs somewhere in Canada contained one of the Wayne Gretzky rookie cards which would one day sell for $3.75 million?
Back when that rookie card photo was taken, Gretzky was a smallish 18 year old kid on an NHL expansion team. The 46 goals recorded on the back of the hockey card from the ’78-79 season were respectable in anyone’s book, but they were scored in the WHA, considered by most to be a second rate professional hockey league. Very few had the foresight to realize that a Wayne Gretzky rookie card pulled from a random pack would ever be worth anything when they hit the market the next fall. Gretzky had tremendous potential–but hadn’t accomplished much of anything yet.
It didn’t take long for his career to explode, though. Hockey card collectors began tracking down his rookie card when that realm of collecting became red hot in the mid-1980s. When the records began to fall and the Stanley Cup rings began to arrive, even non-hockey fans bought and sold them. Gretzky’s rookie card is now an icon from the 80s–like the Michael Jordan 1986-87 Fleer rookie or the 1981 Topps Joe Montana.
While most collectors don’t have the kind of money to snare a Gem Mint 10 rookie card, even if it is the Great One, there are many opportunities available to buy Gretzky rookie cards at a more attainable price. The reason the now famous card, which set the record for the highest price to date for a hockey card, was so valuable is that it had received a perfect score of 10 from PSA.
To put this in perspective, less than one tenth of one percent of vintage sports cards graded receive a score of 10, making the odds of any given Gretzky rookie card being in pristine condition microscopic. They’re highly collectible even when they aren’t in pristine condition. Gretzky’s iconic status means you’ll find a buyer if you’re looking to sell.
Unfortunately, there are counterfeits and you can learn about how to spot them from sports card grader Andy Broome.
No one could have known in 1979 that Gretzky would become the greatest hockey player ever to lace up the skates. He hadn’t won four Stanley Cups. He hadn’t broken every significant scoring record in the NHL. He hadn’t yet become the greatest goodwill ambassador the sport would ever know.
The value of the Topps and OPC Wayne Gretzky rookie card of all grades is likely to continue rising. If you get the chance to lay your hands on one of these fantastic pieces of hockey history at a fair price, it’s not a bad idea to jump on it. They’re one of those ‘must have’ items that should be on every sports memorabilia collector’s to-do list and it’s not likely prices will drop anytime soon.
You can check the current pricing on Gretzky rookie cards issued by Topps and O-Pee-Chee in various grades, on eBay here.