Hockey icon Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” An unexpected find—a pristine case of 44-year-old hockey cards, all unopened, perhaps including the Great One’s rookie card—is fueling one of the most notable shots in sports memorabilia history.
Heritage Auctions is leading the sale of a sealed case of 16 boxes of 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards, with 48 packs in each box. The otherwise little-known set famously includes Gretzky’s rookie card, and the card case carries an estimated value of at least $2 million. Bidding has so far reached $1.23 million, including the buyer’s premium, for the auction ending Feb. 24.
The Gretzky O-Pee-Chee card already ranks among the most coveted items for sports collectors. A private sale in 2021 of the card, also brokered through Heritage Auctions, fetched $3.75 million, as it was one of only two O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie cards ever to earn a gem mint condition grade.
The current auction is set to increase that number considerably, but it also carries something of a gamble, as the sealed case offers no certainty as to how many Gretzky cards are included. The case includes 7,680 cards overall, and with 396 cards in the full O-Pee-Chee set, basic math would suggest there are at least 19 Gretzkys included. But the random packing of the case means there could be more of the coveted cards … or fewer.
Heritage is calling the case the sports collectible industry’s “greatest unopened find of the 21st century.” The consignor in the sale is a collector from Regina, Saskatchewan, who long ago acquired the box from a wholesaler as he pursued his hobby of accumulating full sets of cards. The box was then forgotten about for decades, but remarkably it was maintained in pristine condition and has suffered no ill effects from extreme temperatures or other product decay.