Wayne Gretzky Rookie Cards: A Closer Look

gretzky-rookie-cardWhen collectors think about the best hockey player of all time, the thoughts immediately are focused on one player- Wayne Gretzky.

When Gretzky entered the NHL in 1979, the league hadn’t quite seen a player with Gretzky’s electrifying skills.

His dominance in the league even as a rookie was unheard of, leading to him winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in his first year in the NHL.

Gretzky’s rookie card has always been in high demand, but even forty years later, collectors still view the Gretzky rookie card as one of the most prized possessions in the hobby. 

Let’s take a closer look at Gretzky’s 1979-80 Topps and OPC rookie cards two of the hobby’s most valuable hockey cards.

Wayne Gretzky As A Player

Wayne Gretzky played for twenty seasons in the NHL, nine years as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, eight years with the LA Kings, a brief in-season stint with the St. Louis Blues and his final three seasons with the NY Rangers.  Gretzky is widely considered to the best hockey player to ever play the game.  He remains to this day, the NHL's leading scorer of all time

Gretzky won four Stanley Cup trophy's with the Oilers, and won the Hart Trophy (for the league's MVP) an astounding eight consecutive years from 1980-1987 (along with one more in 1989).  His list of career achievements is mind boggling, enough to earn its own official Wikipedia page

Gretzky was a hockey savant from an early age, even competing and dominating as a six year old in a league full of ten year olds.  Gretzky ultimately went on to play one season for the Edmonton Oilers in the World Hockey Association, but they ended up folding the league in 1979.  Four of the teams (including the Oilers) were merged into the NHL, paving the way for Gretzky to play in the NHL. 

Despite Gretzy's early success, many were skeptical of his chances of competing in the bigger, badder National Hockey League

"Too small, too slow," some scribbled in their notes. "Won't survive the rough play," came other sage predictions. Because he was just five feet eleven inches and 170 pounds, one wag cracked that "he could wear a fur coat on Halloween and go out disguised as a pipe cleaner."

Ken Shouler on Gretzky's Early Critics - Wine Spectator Magazine

And of course, the critics were wrong.  Gretzky's impact on the game of hockey went much further than his 60 all time records that stand today.  His grace and personality gave the sport of hockey a new face to live up to, one that had previously been marred by black eyes, heavy drinking and bloodies fights on the ice. 

But it was his instinctive grasp of the flow of play — his sense of how opposing players and teammates would react to each situation — that made him such a creative player. His impact on hockey and the void that he left behind were symbolized by the retirement of his number (99) in the NHL. - Canadian Encyclopedia

Gretzky put up some of the most amazing stat lines of all time in his nine years with the Oilers, while leading the team to four Stanley Cup championships.  Then the unthinkable happened.  He was traded to the LA Kings. Why on earth would the greatest player in the league (who was well on his way to becoming the best of all time) get traded?

It was pretty simple--Gretzky was going to be a free agent, the Oilers were losing money and the allure of the LA market just seemed like the most logical next step for Gretzky's career.  Gretzky never quite achieved the same personal and team success with the Kings as he did with the Oilers, although it did help turn LA into more of a hockey town.

Differences Between The Gretzky Topps and OPC Rookie Cards

Wayne Gretzky has two official rookie cards - the 1979-1980 Topps #18 and 1979-1980 O-Pee-Cee (OPC) #18 cards.  The Topps version is the one distributed in the United States whereas OPC cards were distributed for sale throughout Canada.  

The major differences between the Topps and OPC cards relates to the card stock used.  The OPC cards use a much brighter card stock which is easily noticeable if comparing the backs of the cards.  Under blacklight the OPC card will fluoresce many times brighter versus the Topps card.  See below for the comparison.

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Back of a Topps Gretzky Rookie Card

gretzky-opc-rookie-back

Back of an OPC Gretzky Rookie Card

You will also notice that the OPC issue includes both English and French language on many of the text areas of the back of the card.  Given that distribution of the set went to many areas of Canada that were populated by a predominance of French only speakers, this only made sense. 

How Rare Is Wayne Gretzky's Rookie Card?

In total, PSA has graded nearly ~6800 copies of Gretzky's Topps rookie (including qualifiers).  If we included the population stats from Beckett (~3600) and SGC (~1300), this number gets closer to 11,700 total graded copies.  And note this doesn't even include the raw population which many of can be found on eBay.  

As for Gretzky's OPC rookie card, PSA has graded it ~6300 times, SGC at around 600, and Beckett has graded roughly 3800 copies, for a grand total of 10,700 graded copies. 

gretzky-rookie-populations

I tend to believe many collectors think Gretzky's OPC rookie card is a lot rarer than his Topps rookie, but the facts are that the Topps rookie card has only been graded 1000 times more then the OPC version.  Neither by any means are a rare card, maybe another misconception by collectors.  Despite this plentiful availability, demand for Gretzky's rookie card remains strong, and prices continue to rise. 

How Much Is Wayne Gretzky's Rookie Card Worth?

A perfect gem-mint copy of Gretzky's Topps rookie card (PSA 10) sold for $200K back in 2016.  Lower graded copies can found for much less; in fact an Excellent-Mint (PSA 6) copy of Gretzky's Topps rookie card can normally be found for around $600 or lower.

Here's a chart from PSA showing some recent pricing by grade:

gretzky-topps-values

This chart from PSA shows pricing along with population for each grade.  It shows that the majority of Gretzky's Topps rookie have been graded in the PSA 6 to PSA 8 range.  Note there are only two PSA 10 Topps Gretzky cards!

gretzky-topps-psa-values

When we look at Gretzky's OPC value below, it's interesting to note that the latest sale of a PSA 10 OPC rookie went for $94K but that was back in 2011.  I'm sure either sale, whether Topps or OPC would likely be in the multiple six figures today.

gretzky-opc-rookie-psa

Here's a a comparison of the values between the Topps and OPC rookie card. In nearly all instances, the OPC rookie card has sold for a premium over the Topps card.  On average there is about a 50% premium for the OPC Gretzky card. 

gretzky-rookie-values


What's An Autographed Gretzky Rookie Card Worth?

Average sales on eBay for an autographed Gretzky Rookie card have ranged between $800 to $2000 dependent on condition.  The price really all depends on the condition of the card and whether the card has also been graded in addition to the autograph verified through one of the third party graders. 

Gretzky isn't a frequent signer, thus, the autographed rookie cards, while available, aren't necessarily plentiful.  Thus if you can get your hands on a nice condition autographed rookie and it isn't priced too far above retail on the regular card, go for it. 

gretzky-rookie-card-auto

This signed Gretzky rookie is graded and certified by PSA.  

What's The Investment Potential For Gretzky's Rookie Card?

As we've discussed the Gretzky rookie card isn't necessarily 'scarce' but he is also considered to be the best hockey player to ever play the game.  Thus, I would say that higher condition Gretzky rookie cards should continue to see a consistent increase in value over time.

However, I don't think the Gretzky rookie card will ever experience the same level of demand as a Jordan rookie card, which has gone stratospheric of late.  Still, for hockey card collectors, consider the Gretzky rookie to be a staple part of your collection---buy what you can afford and save up for that Gem Mint copy!

How Common Are Counterfeit Gretzky Rookies?

Unfortunately, Gretzky rookie counterfeits are all too common.  

We wrote an entire piece devoted to identifying a fake Gretzky rookie.

Check it out and if you have any additinal questions--shoot me an email at chris@allvintagecards.com

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