If you were a hockey fan during the 1980s, you were lucky enough to witness some of the best hockey players to ever play the game.
Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and of course, the great Mario Lemieux, three players that often are discussed among the ten best hockey players of all time.
In terms of hockey cards, the Mario Lemieux rookie card is one of the most valuable hockey cards in the hobby.
Of course, Lemieux's rookie card was released during the Junk era; thus, between his two major rookie cards (1985 Topps and O-Pee-Cee), there's plenty of supply for everyone.
In this piece, I'll examine Lemieux's two key rookie cards, examining the scarcity, current values, and long-term investment potential.
Mario Lemieux Rookie Cards - 1985 Topps and O-Pee-Chee
Mario Lemieux has two rookie cards, 1985 Topps #9 and 1985 O-Pee-Chee #9.
The 1985 Topps hockey cards were sold in the US, whereas the O-Pee-Chee, or Canadian version were distributed in Canada.
The fronts of the two Lemieux rookie cards are identical.
Both cards feature white borders, with a full color photo of Lemieux in a black and gold Penguins jersey. Maybe not the best pose for Lemieux, but the card sort of captured his intensity on the ice.
The 1985 Topps and OPC hockey sets used a different background color on the bottom of the card to match the player's team colors. Hence, the yellow background on Lemieux's rookie card to match the Penguin's yellow.
The backs of the two Lemieux rookie cards have a noticeable difference.
As is common throughout all O-Pee-Chee sets, the OPC Lemieux back has a brighter card stock as compared to the Topps card, which is easily noticeable if you compare the two.
The OPC Lemieux card back also has both an English and French player summary, along with other French abbreviations.
How Much Is A Mario Lemieux Rookie Card Worth?
1985 Topps Mario Lemieux rookie cards in Gem-Mint (PSA 10) condition have sold for $15K on average at auction. This appears reasonable, given that there are only 78 copies in existence.
PSA 10 OPC Lemieux rookies are a bit harder to find, with only 48 graded copies. Hence the OPC Lemieux rookie sells for a big premium, with the average sales prices of PSA 10 copies hovering between $45K to $50K.
Mario Lemieux Rookie Card Values By Grade
Based on recent sales data from PSA, Lemieux's O-Pee-Chee rookie card sells for an average 137% premium versus the Lemieux Topps rookie card.
This premium is not warranted, given that the graded population of each card is nearly identical (see next section on population reports of Lemieux's rookie card).
Should I Grade My Lemieux Rookie Card?
Deciding to grade is all dependent on whether the value added of grading exceeds your costs to grade.
It might not be worth grading unless it's a PSA 7 or higher (if Topps) or PSA 6 or higher (if OPC).
Even the value increase of a graded Topps Lemieux in PSA 6 (EX-MT) condition would be almost offset by grading costs.
Remember that getting a PSA 10 on any card is nearly impossible.
How Many PSA Graded Lemieux Rookie Cards Exist?
Most believe that O-Pee-Chee cards, in general, have a lower distribution than a corresponding Topps set.
That's not always true, especially with hockey sets, where there is more fan interest in Canada as compared to the US.
And PSA population data tells us both the Lemieux Topps and O-Pee-Chee rookie cards have almost an identical graded population.
PSA has graded roughly 5,500 O-Pee-Chee Lemieux Rookie cards and about 5,600 Topps Lemieux rookie cards.
This catches most collectors by surprise, given that the O-Pee-Chee Lemieux trades at a significant premium.
On the higher grades, specifically, from PSA 8 to PSA 10, the Lemieux OPC rookie card is a bit rarer, but from PSA 7 and below, the reverse is true.
1985 Mario Lemieux PSA Graded Population
GEM - MT 10
NM - MT 8
EX - MT 6
VG - EX 4
Are Mario Lemieux Rookie Cards A Good Investment?
The Lemieux rookie card is one of the best vintage hockey card investments. But, the abundant supply does have me temper my expectations. I named the OPC Lemieux rookie card to our All Vintage Large Cap Hockey Portfolio.
For collectors investing in a Lemieux rookie, it, of course, starts with affordability. A PSA 9 Topps (Mint) Lemieux is the best investment, with average prices of less than $1000, less than 1/3 the value of the PSA OPC Lemieux.
There are 1200 PSA 9 Topps Lemieux's, so not massive, but it's a small population. This one should do very well over the long term.
A Look Back At The Career Of 'Super Mario'
Mario Lemieux was born in Montreal, Canada on October 5th, 1965.
His intense dedication to the game and hard work ethic positioned Lemieux for greatness early on.
Lemieux spent countless hours after school playing pick-up hockey until sunset. His family even brought snow into the house so that he and his brothers could practice their skills indoors.
"According to local lore, when the snow got too deep to play hockey outside. Madame Lemieux transported shovels of snow into the house. She threw the snow on the carpet and pounded it down to a smooth surface that glistened like ice. "
Dominating The Minors
Lemieux played junior hockey with the Laval Voisins of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 1981 to 1984. He broke nearly every single junior hockey record imaginable.
In his last season with Laval, he tallied an unbelievable total of 282 points, with 133 goals and 149 assists in only 70 games!
A Consensus #1 Pick
The following year the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted the 6'4", 230-pound Lemieux in 1984 with the first pick in the draft. It was a pretty impressive draft class, including Patrick Roy, Brett Hull, and Luc Robitaille.
At the time of the draft, Lemieux was the clear-cut consensus #1 pick, yet some critiqued his lack of mobility and poor physique. Lemieux was not shy about fast food.
"At the age of 6, I knew he'd play professionally. He was playing mite hockey with boys who were 9 or 10 years old and he was already the leader of the team.”
- -Jean-Guy Lemieux (Mario's Dad) (source)
Those fears would go unfounded, as Lemieux soon became the savior for Pittsburgh, saving a near-bankrupt team from its demise.
"Super Mario" played his entire seventeen-year career with the Penguins. He led the team to two Stanley Cup victories and won many awards, including three Hart Trophies and six Art Ross Trophies.
A Major Health Scare
Lemieux had a significant scare in 1992 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a dangerous but treatable cancer. Thankfully, his doctors discovered his cancer early.
Due to radiation treatments, Lemieux missed two months of the 1992-93 season. Following back surgery the following year, Lemieux announced a leave of absence from hockey, missing a significant part of the 93-94 season and the entire 94-95 season.
Lemieux's cancer was in remission and he returned to play in 1995-96, achieving his third-best career point total for the season. It marks one of the best comebacks in the history of sports.
Lemieux retired at the age of 31 in 1997 and entered the Hockey Hall of Fame that same year. He would end up buying the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999, later returning to the ice from 2000-2006.
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