The 1979-80 Topps (and corresponding O-Pee-Chee) Wayne Gretzky rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby.
‘The Great One,’ as he is commonly referred to, is the NHL’s leading all-time scorer, with more goals and assists than anyone in the game’s history.
His rookie card has forever been in huge demand, with his popularity among hockey card collectors akin to Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle in baseball. The easily chipped blue borders make for a tough find in nice condition.
But as demand increases for Gretzky rookie cards, so does the counterfeiting activity. While Gretzky’s O-Pee-Chee rookie card is more commonly counterfeited, this guide will examine both versions.
As always, buyer beware; we often recommend novice collectors opt for a graded version of a highly copied card such as the Gretzky rookie.
Still, we’ve found both PSA-graded Gretzky and Jordan rookies that were complete fakes. Thus it helps to be armed with as much information as possible before investing your hard-earned dollars.
Onto the guide!
Differences Between the Topps and O-Pee-Chee Gretzky Card
Pricing and Scarcity
Let’s take a few minutes to discuss the differences between the two Gretzky rookie cards.
First, from a scarcity standpoint, the O-Pee-Chee (or OPC) card is rarer than the Topps card; PSA has graded around 5300 of the Topps Gretzky cards, while only around 4700 graded examples of the O-Pee-Chee Gretzky exist.
This has led to a fairly sizable disparity (and maybe unfairly so) in pricing between the two cards, with the OPC Gretzky worth multiples more than the Topps card.
A 2016 PSA 10 – Mint O-Pee-Chee Gretzky auction netted $465,000, whereas a PSA 10 Topps version of the card sold for only $200,000 a few months later. A Near Mint (or PSA 8) OPC Gretzky sells for more than 4x the Topps version.
While the front of the card on both versions is exactly the same, the entire difference in the card is found on the back. Here’s the back of an authentic Topps Gretzky:
And here is the back of the 1979-1980 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky. As is customary with the Canadian variations, the back of the card is lighter than the Topps card.
We can also observe that the OPC version has French text in different spots on the card, including the part about ‘Wayne debuted in the WHA at age 17’ in the top right corner.
Spotting a Fake O-Pee-Chee Gretzky Rookie Card
Now that you know what the real deal should look like, let’s outline some of the common discrepancies found on the O-Pee-Chee version of the Wayne Gretzky rookie card.
Because of how the O-Pee-Chee cards were cut, the edges of the Gretzky card (and others from the set) tend to have rather ragged edges. The cards were cut with wires instead of blades, and they stacked the sheets when cutting.
Here’s a PSA 9 example, and as you can see, the edges are quite rough. Although for PSA, it’s not a deal-breaker–hence the Near Mint grade. If you find an OPC Gretzky with clean edges, it’s not 100% a counterfeit, as some of these were sheet cut and don’t have the ragged edges. But overall, most OPC versions have some noticeable fraying at the borders.
Blue Print Lines
Due to a defect in one of the early print runs at OPC, some (but not all) of the OPC Gretzky rookie cards have blue lines that run vertically down the entire card. Here’s an example. If you find one with print lines, you can rest assured that it is likely an authentic Gretzky, as the counterfeiters haven’t produced copies with print lines (as of yet!).
Print Dot on Gretzky’s Shoulder
An original Wayne Gretzky O-Pee-Chee rookie card will ALWAYS have a yellow dot on his left shoulder. While I personally haven’t witnessed any fakes with the print dot, I’ve been told that they exist, so just because you have the dot doesn’t necessarily mean that the card is authentic. It becomes a part of the puzzle you need to put together!
Here’s a reprint without the yellow dot:
The Details Are In the ICE
On an authentic Gretzky OPC rookie card, if you look closely at the ice next to the Great One’s skates, you should only see tiny blue specs. On some of the better Gretzky reprints, you can see both blue AND red specs.
Under a loupe, it looks like more of a red haze. Thus if you don’t have a loupe, go get one! I have this one and it works quite well and will only set you back $5.
In addition, if you are serious about buying a raw Gretzky (although we would still recommend buying a graded version), go buy a couple of the reprints that are readily available on eBay. That way, you are armed with all the knowledge you need.
Black Border and Lettering
This is where you will need the loupe again. So go get one if you haven’t already! Take a look at the black borders on the card. If they look jagged, it’s likely a fake. The real card lines will be smooth and solid.
In addition, look at the white lettering at the top of the card where it has his name, ‘Wayne Gretzky.’ If the lettering is fuzzy and blurry under a loupe, it’s a fake. An old Beckett piece that is no longer in print pointed out some of the nuances of the better fakes:
On the front of the card, the first spot to check is Wayne’s name. The name text is the blurriest part of the card, as the normally sharp letters have a stair-step appearance. Looking at the card with a loupe, the letters are outlined lightly in dark purple print dots which do no appear on the original card. These purple dots are also scattered throughout the blue borders of the original, but not on the counterfeit.
Identifying a Fake Topps Gretzky Rookie Card
As mentioned previously, the OPC card is more counterfeited than the Topps card, but there are some notable points to look out for. Gretzky’s name is normally the easiest way to determine. If you’ve handled a bunch of Gretzky rookies, it tends to become somewhat obvious, but there is really where a loupe becomes almost necessary.
You are looking for a definitive separation of the blue and white colors in the name. If you see any fuzziness or pink/purple dots, you will likely have a counterfeit card.
As with the OPC version, if the black borders look jagged and like they were printed on a dot matrix printer, it’s a fake. The borders should be solid black. I recommend buying a reprint (readily available on eBay) or grabbing a few common 1979-80 Topps cards so you can better determine the feel, overall look, and thickness of the cards.
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