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Breaking Down The Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card And How It Compares To Its Topps Equivalent

wayne gretzky 1979-80 Topps and O-Pee-Chee

There has been a great revival of interest in hockey cards over the last couple of years. That trend has become far more pronounced with the emergence of Connor Bedard as the biggest hockey prospect in a generation.

But with all due respect to that young (and brilliant) upstart, the king of hockey and all associated cards remains one Wayne Gretzky. There may be a day when one of Connor’s rookie cards can challenge the Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee rookie card as the key hockey card. But, my friends, this is not that day.

In this overview, we will cover all aspects of the Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card and compare it against its cousin, the 1979-80 Topps Wayne Gretzy rookie card..

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Recent news on the Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee rookie card

A Canadian family discovered an entire unopened case of 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards. According to the way those cards tend to break. There are most likely at least 24 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky #18 cards in there.

The origin was a hardcore hockey collector in Saskatchewan who used to buy so many cards and boxes that he lost track of what he had and where he had kept it. Heritage Auctions Sports Card Specialist and Consignment Director Jason Simonds said his son found the case behind “stacks and stacks of other stuff.”

The case was flown to the United States by the staff at Heritage Auctions. They brought them to the BBCE exchange for authentication. They opened the chance to take out the 16 boxes and authenticate each separately before selling them through Heritage. Each package holds 48 packs, each of which contains 14 cards.

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A signed 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card, graded a 10 autograph by Beckett.

How much did the case go for?

The case was auctioned off on Heritage and sold for a ridiculous $3.1 million. The premium and fees raised the cost even higher, to $3.72 million. That breaks the record for the highest-selling case of sports cards ever sold.

In 2020, a case of 1986-87 Fleer (which contains Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing rookies) sold for $1.8 million. I bet the buyer is thinking they got a bargain right about now.

Was that a good buy? That depends. A PSA 10 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 is worth over one million dollars. If there is at least one worthy of that grade in the case, it is probably worth it. But if not, the patient will not even come close to breaking even.

Why? A PSA 9 goes for about $130,000. So even if all the cards were PSA 9s (and they won’t be), it would reach a value of about 3.1 million.

How likely is the case to contain a PSA 10? Hard to say. There are only 2 PSA 10s in the current population count. That is partially because they have centering issues. But still, when you consider that these cards will all be packed fresh, you have to think at least one will get there. And if there are two, it was a fabulous buy.

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Who Is Wayne Gretzky?

Few sports fans know who “The Great One” was. Indeed, if you click this link, you at least have a general idea. So, I will keep this obligatory part of the intro brief.

Wayne was, far and away, the greatest hockey player who ever lived. The four-time Stanley Cup winner held an incredible 61 NHL records. Gretzky still has most of the important hockey records, including more career goals, assists, and points than any other player. At his peak, Wayne’s effectiveness was unparalleled. He is the only player to net over 200 points in a single season. He did that an incredible four times.  

The recognition “The Great One” received is also unparalleled. He won nine Hart Trophies (the NHL MVP). Among those are only two where the winner unanimously won the award, in 1981-82.

When he retired in 1999, the Hall of Fame waived the waiting time. Why even bother? He was inducted the following year. But perhaps even more remarkably, the NHL retired his number (the iconic #99) for all its teams. What a tribute.

Collecting Wayne Gretzky cards  

With this almost inhuman list of accomplishments, it’s easy to see why Wayne Gretzky’s items are some of the hobby’s most valuable and sought-after cards.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many early career cards featuring “The Great One.” There are two rookies, the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 and its nearly identical counterpart, the 1979-80 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18. Cards at that time didn’t have the same variety they have today. However, there is an earlier card of the “Great One.”

The Wayne Gretzky 1977 Sportscaster #77 is an Italian card that appeared in a release featuring various sports and athletes worldwide. The card is oversized and designed to hang on your wall rather than collect and keep safe. Remarkably, 12 gem mint copies of that card have gone for $31,200 for a PSA 10 copy.

During his prime years, autographed cards were pretty rare in the hobby. So you won’t find his autos until late in the career of the Oilers icon. However, in recent years,

Wayne had an exclusive contract with Upper Deck. They have produced some stunning signed and jersey cards of the “Great One.” There has been a great appreciation for the value of his jerseys and other memorabilia. Therefore, these cards could be a good investment.

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The Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card

Since there is only one genuine Wayne Gretzky rookie card, we are fortunate that it is so attractive. The incredible sky blue (almost azure) borders are what make the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 so recognizable.

But of course, the picture of young Wayne stretching his 6” foot frame and looking up into the crowd is excellent and thoroughly evocative.

Putting eye appeal as a value factor into proper context is challenging. However, there is no doubt that the really good-looking Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card rookie cards tend to do better than ugly ones. It’s just hard to test that theory because it’s so subjective.

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The value of the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18

The sky-blue borders of the card are a good part of the charm of this iconic card. However, they also have a downside. Because the color is apparent and distinctive, they mercilessly expose every chip and imperfection on the card.

That has made this card a notably difficult one to grade successfully. There are very few high-graded copies of this wonderful card.

Look at the population numbers for the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18.

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PSA 1PSA 2PSA 3PSA 4PSA 5PSA 6PSA 7PSA 8PSA 9PSA 10
6487961,2051,8411,5541,7061,345805932

All told, there are 10,122 graded copies of this card. That includes the cards above, plus 127 that are authenticated without a number grade. Two PSA 10s out of over 10,000 for a card from the late 1970s is a deficient number. That creates an incredible scarcity of high rates for one of the hobby’s most desired and beloved cards.

Here are the most recent prices for each of these card grades.

PSA 1PSA 2PSA 3PSA 4PSA 5PSA 6PSA 7PSA 8PSA 9PSA 10
$543$676$825$1,160$1,625$4,250$3,604$12,777$132,000$1,290,000

The most eye-catching number here is the PSA 10. Well, over a million dollars for a hockey card that is not even that old is fantastic. But, of course, with only two in circulation, that makes sense. Perhaps more surprising are the prices fetched by the cards on the lower side of this scale.

How many PSA 1 cards go for $543? We are not talking about a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth or something. These cards barely qualify as vintage. Remember, a PSA 1 is an absolute mess of a card. The popularity of this item and its value are remarkable.

The value of the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card #18 over time

Wayne has been a legend for forty years now. The value of the O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card has appreciated over time. But by how much? And was it a straight line? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

There are very few PSA 10s, so it’s hard to get a representative picture using those. Instead, we looked at how PSA 9s have performed over the years. Here are a few representative sales of the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18:

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20042010201520162019202020212022
$6,871$5,581$11,362$33,460$52,110$84,000$265,200$160,736

There was a massive leap in the value between 2015 and 2016. In that time, the price tripled, and it never went back down. It steadily went up until the COVID-19 boom. At that point, the prices went through the roof, and by 2021, a 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 was worth roughly five times its value in 2019. An incredible jump.

However, things have slowed down significantly since. The prices went down by one hundred thousand bucks from 2021 to 2022. Notably (and surprisingly), there have been no sales of this card as a PSA 9 since 2022. But there have been for other grades (like PSA 7s and 8s).

They suggest that the price for the Wayne Gretzky rookie cards has increased since 2022. But they are nowhere near returning to the level of that COVID-19 bubble era either.

A comparison of the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee and Topps Wayne Gretzky rookie cards

The O-Pee-Chee is the most valuable hockey card of all time. But its Topps counterpart is the second most valuable ever. Indeed, the most recent PSA 10 price for a 1979-80 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 was $1,200,000. Very similar to the highest price for the O-Pee-Chee, which stands at $1,290,000.

Visually, the differences between the two are not very significant. Indeed, they are pretty much identical. One has the O-Pee-Chee logo, while the other has the Topps.

The O-Pee-Chee version also had a French language blurb on the back. But that is it. At that time, O-Pee-Chee was just the Canadian imprint for Topps cards. They also had a baseball version.

You will hear the following narrative if you listen to common wisdom on these cards (or read any other online article about Gretzky rookies). There are fewer O-Pee-Chee cards because Canada is a smaller market. In addition, they don’t grade as well as the Topps cards because they are less centered and chip more easily. But is that true?

Check prices of 1979-80 Topps Wayne Gretzky rookie cards on eBay

PSA 9 of 1979 Topps Wayne Gretzky rookie card

Crunching the actual numbers

You may think the main thing that sets O-Pee-Chee cards apart from Topps is the print run. The population of Canada is much smaller than the United States. In 1979, 24,200,000 people lived in the Great White North, as opposed to 225,000,000 in the United States. The difference in print runs for baseball can be pretty massive.

However, in hockey, it was smaller. Sure, there are more people in America. But are there more hardcore hockey fans? Probably not. Let’s compare the population counts for the two cards to get a clearer picture of the differences.

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 PSA 1PSA 2PSA 3PSA 4PSA 5PSA 6PSA 7PSA 8PSA 9PSA 10Total
Topps1082292581,0451,3681,9631,9791,23112928,858
O-Pee-Chee1277961,2051,8411,5541,7061,34580593210,122

You will first notice that there are more O-Pee-Chee cards than Topps ones. There goes that myth. There are two explanations for this surprising outcome. First, there is far more interest in hockey cards in Canada than in the US. If you spend time there, you will see hockey cards in every toy or retail store and many grocery stores.

Perhaps you will see the occasional baseball or NBA product. Second, the O-Pee-Chee became the preferred card (or at least the one with the better reputation). Therefore, more people graded them. Either way, the Canadian version is somewhat more popular.

What about the idea that the O-Pee-Chee is a more difficult grade? That is true. They have the same small number of PSA 10s, meaning they are both ruthless on flaws. But there is a higher percentage of PSA 8s and 9s for Topps.

You start getting more significant numbers of O-Pee-Chee only when you reach the PSA 5 level. That is meaningful when you consider that there are more O-Pee-Chee cards overall. Still, the differences aren’t all that significant.

Comparing the value of Wayne Gretzky rookie cards

What about value? The 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 certainly has a better reputation. But how justified is that? Here are the latest purchases for each grade.

Check prices of PSA graded 1979-80 Wayne Gretzky rookie cards on eBay

 PSA 1PSA 2PSA 3PSA 4PSA 5PSA 6PSA 7PSA 8PSA 9PSA 10
Topps$537$420$579$699$999$1,120$1,600$4,575$26,100$1,200,000
O-Pee-Chee$543$676$825$1,160$5,441$4,250$3,604$12,777$132,000$1,290,000

The differences in value between the cards are, indeed, quite remarkable. They are most similar in the extremes, where there is very little difference between the PSA 1 and PSA 10s. However, look at the PSA 9s, where an O-Pee-Chee is worth more than FIVE times more.

But why? I am not sure. There are 129 Topps versions of the card with a PSA 9 grade, as opposed to 93 O-Pee-Chee. The premium people pay for the Canadian version seems entirely out of proportion to the population difference.

This is an anomaly in a hobby becoming increasingly sophisticated in processing population report data. Therefore, the Topps versions of some of these higher-graded rookie cards are undervalued.

Spotting fake Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Cards

When a case goes, including a card for over 3 million and a single card for more than one, it’s fair to say Wayne Gretzky rookie cards are worth a ton of money.

As we know, the more significant the amount of money involved, the more likely you are to find forgeries. But as always, Cardlines has you covered. Here is how to make sure your O-Pee-Chee card is legit.

There is a blemish on every single one of the O-Pee-Chee cards. You will find a little yellow ink mark located on the left shoulder of the “Great One.” The Topps card has a similar (though not identical) blemish. Many of the forgeries are missing this little detail. If it isn’t there, it isn’t real.

Another sign is that O-Pee-Chee cards were cut with old-school wires back then. Therefore, the edges of these cards are never immaculate. So, if you don’t have any roughness on the edges, it was likely cut through different technology and is, therefore, a fake card.

Finally, you have the clarity of the photograph. The original is pretty straightforward for an old card. But since the fake versions must reproduce it, they often lose some focus and sharpness. Therefore, comparing pictures to authenticated copies is always a good idea. Their differences are pretty obvious.  

The final word on the Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee rookie card

The card in question is one of the most valuable in any sport in the world. According to the list in Wikipedia, it is the sixth most expensive sale ever made (following the 1952 Mantle, T206 Honus Wagner, LeBron RPA, Luka Logoman RPA, and Trout Superfractor).

It does not even have any competition in the hockey space. And like the other immortal cards in the hobby, its value has increased considerably since 2020. The sale of a 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee case for $3.7 million is a testament to that.

However, when we crunched the numbers, we saw that the 1979-80 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18 is somewhat undervalued compared to its more celebrated Canadian cousin. The population count does not justify the higher prices the O-Pee-Chee cards tend to get.

There are more graded O-Pee-Chee cards. And while they tend to grade lower than their Topps equivalents, the differences in the population do not justify the very sharp premium collectors are paying for O-Pee-Chee. Sometimes, people buy these cards for three or four times more.

My guess is that the Topps cards will increase in value over time because the numbers tell a different story from discounts, and collectors are far more aware of this factor than they used to be.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.
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