The 1979 O-Pee-Chee card was the first hockey card to ever break the $1 million mark at auction. One of the reasons for the high price is because so few Gretzky rookie cards exist with a “gem mint” rating. That’s the Professional Sports Authenticator’s highest grade for a card.
Heritage Auctions, where the card was sold, said only two perfectly rated Gretzky O-Pee-Chee cards exist. To put that in perspective, there are 300 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie cards in existence. In fact, Heritage Auctions sold one earlier this year for $420,000, Bloomberg reported.
Part of the reason for the scarcity is because of a production miscue with O-Pee-Chee cards at that time. The company used wire to cut its cards rather than a blade, The Toronto Star said. As the wires dulled from use, their cuts became jagged and would damage the edges and corners of the cards, destroying any chance of a perfect rating.
The buyer’s name was not released.
Gretzky, aside from being possibly the greatest hockey player of all time, also is a card collector himself. He once owned a Honus Wagner baseball card that was at the time the most expensive card ever. He purchased the Gretzky T206 Wagner, as it came to be known, with the former owner of the LA Kings Bruce McNall for $451,000 in 1991. The card has been auctioned and sold a number of times since. The most recent auction price was $2.8 million, Beckett said.
Cards Like Wayne Gretzky Rookie Are Big Business
Trading cards are bigger than ever thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic. Adults trapped in their homes have turned to their childhood hobbies to pass the time, Bloomberg reported.
“We’ve certainly seen a lot of growth and interest over the past several years, but it’s been growing exponentially since the spring,” said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. “When the pandemic started we were tightening our belts, but to my surprise, our spring catalog auction surpassed our estimates by over 30%, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ivy spoke to the website ahead of the historic sell of the Gretzky rookie card.
And prices across the board are up, Ivy said. Part of the reason for the increase is because trading cards are seen as a safe investment right now like artwork.
“In addition to nostalgia, there are also a lot of economic factors,” he told Bloomberg. “Money is cheap right now and people are buying hard assets to hedge against future inflation.”
A number of cards have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars this year. Those include a 1941 Joe Dimaggio card and a 2004 LeBron James card that each sold for more than $700,000.