Updated: May 16
Wayne Gretzky's rookie card (RC) is the most sought-after hockey card in the hobby. It is the one card that every hockey card collector should own, regardless of the era in which they grew up.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown measures have been in place, keeping everyone at home, the price of this card has been steadily climbing. That's great for those of us that already own a copy, but what about collectors trying to add this card to their collection? Well, the good news is that there's no shortage of Gretzky rookies out there.
Gretzky's RC might be the most graded hockey card in the hobby. According to the PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) population report, there have been 6,156 copies of the O-Pee-Chee (OPC) card graded and 6,708 copies of the Topps. The high number of Topps submissions surprised me, given the greater popularity of the OPC card, but there are a lot more copies of the Topps card out there.
High grades were tough to come by for both versions. Only 88 of the OPC cards received a grade of PSA 9 (Mint) and just two received a PSA 10 (Gem Mint). For the Topps version, 127 cards graded PSA 9 and - again - just two graded PSA 10.
But those 12,864 cards are just the PSA story. BGS (Beckett Grading Services) has graded another 7,375 Gretzky rookies, while SGC (Sportscard Guaranty) has graded 1,757.
Here's the breakdown, including the number and percentage of cards receiving a grade of 9 or higher from each of the grading companies. (Note: PSA "9+" numbers do not include cards with qualified grades. For example, a PSA 9 Off-Center.)
That's a whopping 21,996 graded Gretzky RCs floating around out there!
Is that a lot? Well, there are 12,787 graded copies of Jaromir Jagr's RC from the 1990-91 OPC Premier set. That's 22% more graded Jagr OPC RCs than Gretzky OPC RCs.
But there's one massive difference. Look at the insane number of Jagr cards that graded 9 or higher. That tells me people only submit a Jagr card for grading if they think it has a shot at a PSA 10. After all, a PSA 10 copy of that card sells for about $100. What's the point of having it graded any lower? It would not be worth the price of submission.
The Gretzky rookie, however, only receives a grade of 9 or higher 1.5% of the time. That's because this card is likely to be submitted for grading no matter what its condition. Even a low-grade Gretzky, such as an OPC PSA 1 (Poor), will sell for about $250-300. Plus, there are a lot of Gretzky counterfeits out there, and having the card graded makes it easier to sell. If you have a mid-grade Gretzky, like the one shown below, you are likely going to get it graded.
The key to the stature of Gretzky's RC is the low number of high-grade copies that exist. Let's compare those numbers to another famous vintage RC, that of Bobby Orr from the 1966-67 Topps set.
Look at the low number of graded Orr cards in existence - just 1,155. At first glance, the overall percentage of cards graded 9 or higher seems comparable to the Gretzky card at 1%, but only one Orr card received that grade from PSA. That's worth noting because a PSA-graded card is still viewed in higher regard by buyers than a BGS- or SGC-graded card, especially with BGS known to grade sheet-cut cards.
Compared to the Orr card, the Gretzky rookie is downright plentiful, with nine times as many OPC copies available and eleven times as many from Topps.
Gem Mint 10
With only two OPC PSA 10s in existence, one rarely comes up for sale. The last time was in 2016. That card sold at auction for $465,000 US (or about $605,000 CDN), setting a new record for the sale price of a hockey card. Like Gretzky himself did for years on the ice, his rookie card is now setting records, and will likely continue to do so in the years ahead. Here's a photo of that record-breaking card. Notice the rough-cut edges on both sides. As mentioned above, this is common for the 1979-80 OPC set.
Not Too Late
If you still need to add a Gretzky RC to your collection, rest assured that, despite the volume already out there, this card will only continue to gain in popularity and value. After all, Gretzky is the greatest hockey player to ever play the game, and that won't change any time soon.