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Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card - Front View

Huge value in case of 1979/80 NHL cards

Give me a time machine and I’m probably not going back and wagering on future Super Bowl winners or buying Apple and Amazon stock. No, I’m probably going to set the dial to late 1979 or early 1980 and then heading to Glow Variety in the east end of Hamilton, Ontario to purchase some hockey cards.

Because Glow Variety is where I would have obtained the jewel of my hockey card collection, the 1979/80 O-Pee-Chee NHL Wayne Gretzky rookie card. And it’s where I would talk the store owner into selling me their unopened cases of those hockey cards. Maybe at a little premium to sweeten the deal.

And from there it would be a straight line to profit, as long as I didn’t open the packs inside. A case of unopened 1979/80 O-Pee-Chee NHL cards was recently discovered by a Saskatchewan family in their house, and an auction this past week resulted in a sale price of over $5 million CAD ($3.7 million USD).

So what’s in that case? Wayne Gretzky rookie cards, certainly, but how many and in what condition?

Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card - Back View

79/80 O-P-C set contains 396 total cards

The 1979/80 O-Pee-Chee NHL set contains 396 cards. A case of 1979/80 O-Pee-Chee NHL cards contains 16 boxes of 48 packs each, with 14 cards in each pack. That’s 10,752 total cards. Divide that by the 396 individual cards found in the set, and you’re looking at 27 of each card if the averages play out exactly.

But are 25-30 Wayne Gretzky rookie cards worth the price paid for the case? Probably not, unless you got extremely lucky with their condition. In 2021 a Wayne Gretzky rookie card sold for $3.75 million USD, but it was in ‘Gem Mint’ condition. Another Gem Mint Gretzky rookie card sold for $1.29 million USD the previous year. For a card to be graded as Gem Mint, though, it has to practically be perfect – cut correctly by the card printer and centered on the cardboard, sharp corners, no noticeable wear and tear, etc.

And almost none of the Wayne Gretzky rookie cards in circulation are considered Gem Mint, which is why those two above were sold for millions. In fact, the latest Beckett Hockey magazine gives a range of $1500 to $4000 for the card, and you can generally find cards for that price in your local hobby shops.

Gretzky is just one of the 396 cards in the set, though. Surely you’ll find other cards of value in the case?

Bobby Smith Rookie Card

Checklists, veterans, Smith next in value

Unfortunately, you really won’t. The three checklist cards are worth in the $20 to $50 range, since they’re hard to find in mint condition because collectors would write on them to ‘check off’ what cards they had. Cards for older stars like Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and Ken Dryden have about that value as well. And the most notable other rookie cards in the set are probably Bobby Smith and Charlie Simmer.

That means your best approach after shelling out huge dollars for a case of 1979/80 O-Pee-Chee NHL cards is to do nothing but wait for its value to go up and then sell it again. Or, you could try to sell off the 16 boxes found in the case individually and hope for that total to exceed what you paid for the case.

Because if you did open all the boxes and all the packs in the case – it would be so tempting to do so – and you got 25-30 Wayne Gretzky rookie cards that were merely mint condition? You’d have a great story to tell, but you better have other investments in your portfolio because that one would be done.

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With zero championships between his MLB, NHL, and NFL teams over the last 30 years, Dave keeps one foot in the past while shaking his fist at the present. Having provided content to all manner of sports websites over a 20-year career in the industry, Dave brings to Attiq an eye for all things editorial and a disdain for all things New York Yankees. Click here for Dave's posts.