Card Chronicles: 1979 Wayne Gretzky O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card

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wayne gretzky 1979 o pee chee

Today in our Card Chronicles series we take a look at the 1979 Wayne Gretzky O-Pee-Chee Rookie Card.

Take a look at the NHL record book and you will see be sure to see Wayne Gretzky’s name written all over it. The center from Ontario, Canada is not nicknamed “The Great One” for no reason and the statistical dominance of his chosen sport may only be rivaled by Wilt Chamberlain in basketball. Gretzky is considered by many to be the greatest to ever touch the ice and is remembered for his cerebral play. Like many, it is Gretzky’s rookie cards that are most desired by collectors, and while there are multiple versions that exist it is the 1979 O-Pee-Chee version that is most sought after and commands the high prices. 


Shop for the Wayne Gretzky O-PEE-CHEE Rookie Card on eBay


 

Wayne Gretzky may have been an NHL rookie in 1979 but that was not his first season playing professional hockey. In fact, Gretzky played in the rival World Hockey Association before he ever suited up in the NHL as he signed a seven-year contract with the Indianapolis Racers at just 17 years of age. He would play just eight games for the financially struggling Racers franchise before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers where he finished the season, scoring 46 goals and 64 assists for 110 points in just 80 games for the two teams combined. 

Yet it was long before Gretzky tore up the professional ranks as a teenager that the hockey world knew he was a prodigy. Since he was a toddler Gretzky had been practicing on the outdoor rink his father – Walter – had built in the family’s backyard. Gretzky always played against older kids growing up and whispers about his talent were going around by the time he was 10 when he scored 378 goals in a single season. Yes 378, that is not a typo. 

Gretzky would go on to the greatest career in NHL history as he recorded 2857 points in 1487 games. Gretzky was so dominant that if you took away all his goals he ever scored; he would still have more points than any other player in history. The record for most points by any two brothers in NHL history belongs to the Gretzky brothers with Wayne recording 2857 and his brother Brent recording 4 points in 13 games. 


Top Wayne Gretzky O-PEE-CHEE Hockey Cards on eBay


 

Gretzky retired in 1999, ending the career of one of the most dominant players in any sport ever. The next year, in 2000, the NHL made the decision that no player shall ever wear the number 99 again and retired the number league-wide. It will be unlikely that anyone ever comes to close to Wayne’s records and thus the NHL felt like it was a good way to honor the man that set those records. 

However, Gretzky was not only an amazing hockey player, but he was also an amazing advocate for the game and is the one responsible for growing the NHL to a large degree. When Gretzky was traded from Edmonton, the city where he played his first nine years in the NHL, to Los Angeles which is a non-traditional hockey market, it sent shockwaves through the hockey world. 

“The Trade” as it came to be known was such a big deal that Canadian government officials pleaded for the government to block it. Canadians were furious that their golden child was going to America and they weren’t afraid to let their voices be heard. What they didn’t see was that Gretzky playing in a market like Los Angeles would let the game grow wildly in popularity. 

Today there are 24 American NHL teams (with one more joining in Seattle soon) and 7 Canadian NHL teams. The league has teams in markets that never get any snow and they have created loyal fanbases in areas that thirty years ago they would have never imagined possible. They have hockey teams in the desert. All this can, in large part, be attributed to Gretzky moving to Los Angeles. 

wayne gretzky los angeles kings

The Kings often played preseason games in cities that did not have teams and as Gretzky traveled around, he drew large crowds. During the regular season, Gretzky’s presence in Los Angeles led to more games on television and more attendance in the entertainment capital of the world. It started an explosion of interest in the game and helped establish it as a major sport in North America. 

Therefore, Gretzky is not only the most successful NHL player on the ice, but he is one of the largest ambassadors for the game off of it. It’s no wonder that his cards are some of the most popular and desired of any hockey cards. Gretzky continues to remain around the game doing guest appearances and the like so his name will be familiar to fans of any age. 

Unlike perhaps someone like Michael Jordan who had numerous rookie cards made of him, Gretzky only had four cards made of himself when he was a rookie and only two of them are traditional looking cards. The two non-traditional cards are more of a postcard compared to a sport trading card and therefore are not of much use to us. 

Of the two cards made of Gretzky, one was made by Topps and one made by O-Pee-Chee.  The two cards use the same picture on the front but they differ when it comes to the information presented on the back. While both are very valuable in the right condition, it’s the O-Pee-Chee version that has become a white whale for collectors. 

O-Pee-Chee was a gum company that was started by two brothers in 1911. The first cards produced by the company would not be released until the 1930s when they tried their hand at making baseball cards. They would then release their first sets of hockey cards as well as non-sport trading cards later that decade.  


Read Later: The Best Connor McDavid Rookie Cards


 

O-Pee-Chee was contracted by Topps to produce the hockey cards for Canadiens and they used a wire when cutting their cards, resulting in a rough around the edge feel for their collections. In 1970 Canadian legislation would force O-Pee-Chee to add French language to the back of their trading cards. French is an official language of Canada and if you have ever seen an old O-Pee-Chee card and wondered why there was French on it then that is the reason. 

wayne gretzky o pee chee rookie card value

Look at the front of an O-Pee-Chee 1979 Wayne Gretzky rookie card and the first thing to catch your eye will be the blue borders. The light blue covers the entire exterior of the card surrounds all the type on the card. The blue is lighter than the one that is a part of the Oilers’ team colors, but it makes for an appealing card to look at. 

The photo is of Gretzky skating for the Oilers and it has become memorable because of its use on these two rookie cards. Flip the card over and find his stats printed onto a large skate as well as a fun fact (“Wayne debuted in the WHA at 17”) in both French and English. The Topps version of the card does not have the French print on the back of the card.

In 2016 this card sold for US$465,000 in auction, setting the record for most expensive hockey cards ever sold. The card was graded a PSA Gem Mint 10, the first O-Pee-Chee 1979 Wayne Gretzky to ever receive the lofty grade. There are very few of these cards that have received high grades, much less a Gem Mint 10. 

There are a couple of reasons why there are so few of these cards that receive good scores when graded. The first of course is age. The card was made in 1979, over forty years ago by this point, and it’s hard to keep cards in perfect condition for such a long time. In 1979, collectors did not treat hockey cards as much as investments as they do today. While today we see the high price these cards are selling for, in 1979 that was not happening. 

Second is the light blue color that surrounds the front of the card. While it is appealing to look at, many of the cards have seen the blue-chip or fade, lowering the grade of the card. Lastly, many of the cards were cut poorly – either off-center or with rough borders – further exasperating the issue of getting a good grade. 

These issues persist in many of the cards you’ll see today and are the reason why if you manage, by some miracle, to find a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card kicking around in your old collection it is likely that you will not be able to sell it for half a million dollars. In fact, it may not be worth anything at all. 

The reason for that is that the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card is one of the most commonly counterfeited cards ever made in any sport. The combination of the icon on the card with the sky-high value of the card has plenty of people producing fake cards and trying to pass them off as real. Luckily there are a few ways to tell a counterfeit from a real one. 

One of the best ways to determine if your card is authentic is to look for a small yellow dot on Gretzky’s left shoulder. All authentic versions of the card will have a small yellow dot on the left shoulder that counterfeiters often do not add. One more way to see if your card is a counterfeit is to look at the borders. Like mentioned earlier, these cards often have a rough edge due to the way they were cut, while counterfeits are often too perfect. 

Hockey may not be a sport that is followed nearly as much as the other major North American sports across the continent, but hockey cards still have a strong, sizeable fanbase and the Wayne Gretzky card is the holy grail for many of them. The card stands above all other hockey cards because of the significance of the man portrayed. 

Without Wayne Gretzky, many cities that have NHL teams today would be left without one. His impact on the game can be felt on a global level and his dominance of the game is something we may never see again. It will be a long, long time before Gretzky has even half of his records usurped. 

With Gretzky continuing to be such an icon in the hockey world, this card will always keep its value and will most likely even appreciate in value. This would make it a good investment for anyone that had the funds to purchase one of these cards. While he has collected all the accolades possible, “The Great One” has a staying power that not only makes him iconic with those that saw him grace the ice but with any hockey fan. 

Before purchasing this card be sure to vigilantly check to make sure that you are receiving an authentic version and are not being fooled into buying a counterfeit edition. The yellow dot on the left shoulder is the best indicator that you are getting an original card. 

If you want to take the stress out of the process, buy your card already graded by either Professional Sports Authenticators or Beckett. This way you will be guaranteed that you will not be buying a fake, worthless copy of the card. If you do decide to buy an already graded card you should expect to pay extra for the peace of mind. 

While many collectors may not be hockey fans, they should at least be aware of the greatness that is the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card. They should understand the greatness of the man pictured, one of the rare child phenoms that exceeded the lofty expectations placed upon him as a child. 

For most, this card will never be attainable to purchase due to its sky-high price. Hockey collectors everywhere may opt to attempt to find some unopened 1979 packs and test their luck rather than trying to buy this card. While it may be a long shot, opening pack after pack while hoping to see the light blue border of the card may just give you a chance at owning the holy grail of hockey cards and a piece of hockey history

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