Saskatchewan collector finds rare case containing coveted Wayne Gretzky rookie cards

A case of old hockey cards uncovered in a Regina home is being hailed as a “once-in-a-generation” treasure trove of the game’s Great One.

And the bidding has already topped $1 million.

A family in Regina found a case containing 16 sealed boxes of O-Pee-Chee 1979-80 hockey cards, seen in an undated handout photo. Heritage Auctions estimates in the case there are at least 25 rookie Wayne Gretzky cards, a highly sought-after item that go anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heritage Auctions, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Jason Simonds, the sports consignment director at Heritage Auctions, says the lot contains 16 sealed boxes of O-Pee-Chee’s 1979-80 hockey card collection, amounting to more than 10,000 cards.

Odds suggest that means there could be 25 to 30 copies of the Wayne Gretzky rookie cards in the collection.

This highly coveted first-edition cardboard collectible of the NHL’s all-time leading scorer draws thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bids.

A mint condition card fetched $3.75 million when it was auctioned in 2021.

“This is really a once-in-a-generation find, because as far as we know, this is the first time a case has been made available since 1979,” Simonds said Tuesday from New York.

Simonds said he got involved after a man and his father in Regina came across the case when they were clearing out a storage room in the house. The son texted Simonds, telling him he thought he found something great.

Simonds and two of his colleagues then came to Regina in January to check it out. He said he was blown away with the find. 

“This really, truly is the Holy Grail of hockey cards. It’s hockey’s most valuable card.”

Simonds said the father has been a longtime collector, noting he also had a set of baseball cards in the storage room worth about $200,000.

“(The room) was filled wall to wall and floor to ceiling with boxes,” he said. “As you were pulling back, you’d start to find older and older material.”

The family has asked to remain anonymous.

Heritage Auctions took the hockey case and drove to Indiana in an armoured vehicle to get it authenticated. Baseball Card Exchange, which inspected the boxes, found them to be in pristine condition and sealed.

Simonds said the company then put it up for auction, with an estimated value of $2 million or more. The latest bid as of Tuesday afternoon was $1.3 million, with bidding set to continue into late February.

Each box contains 48 packs, and each pack has 14 cards. A pack had cost 20 cents in 1979. 

“I think a lot of people like myself are just amazed that this is still out,” Simonds said. 

“It’s just we don’t find boxes, and we certainly don’t find cases that often.”

He said he doesn’t anticipate the winning bidder to open the boxes, even though they probably contain Gretzky rookie cards. 

Simonds explained it’s likely that not all Gretzky cards within the boxes will attain the highest rating of “gem mint 10.” 

Lower grades are more common, Simonds said.

“They weren’t meant to be a perfect card. You might pull these out of the pack and they might be slightly off centre or have too much ink,” he said.

“You might find some mint condition examples in there, but chances are not every card will be mint.”

Wayne Wagner, the owner of Wayne’s Sports Cards and Collectibles in Edmonton, said he would advise the winning bidder to keep the boxes sealed. 

“The odds don’t work in your favour (if you open it),” he said. 

“There are thousands of Gretzky rookies out there, but there are very little of the packs, boxes or cases existing in the world. 

“You’re talking about something very, very unique and that’s the reason why this going to go for whatever it goes for.”

More from 620 CKRM