Indeed, the 1979 OPC Hockey set is a landmark release in the hobby, and a big reason for that is the Wayne Gretzky rookie card. But the set is incredible for a few other reasons, so in this article, I’ll dive deeper into the set as a whole and save a detailed analysis of Gretzky’s #18 rookie for another time.
First, the 1979 OPC design is sharp! They moved from a white border design to the now-iconic blue-bordered design. While they look incredible, those blue borders are condition sensitive and are prone to chipping. The cards are also tough to find centered. The couch cut edges are typical for O-Pee-Chee cards, so while it doesn’t detract from the grading of cards, it can turn off certain collectors.
The bilingual backs have 1978-79 statistics, a biography, and a cartoon sharing a fun fact about the player.
Next, the set marked the debut of four new NHL clubs in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford. These team cards and checklist emblems (logo cards) are some of the most expensive cards in the set.
The set is also famous for having the last cards of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Ken Dryden. Howe was still playing pro hockey at the age of 51, so this set demonstrates the torch passing from Howe to the 19-year-old Gretzky, who debuted in this set.
In what is pretty standard with older hockey releases, the checklists are particularly expensive. There are three checklists in this set, 131, 237, and 346.
You can see several wax boxes and a pack on the 1979 OPC Hockey Unopened Archive page. Unfortunately, wax packs are going for a little more than the 20 cents they sold for when released in 1979; graded wax packs are multi-thousand dollar collectibles; the last pack PSA shows in their auction prices archive is a PSA 8 pack that sold on eBay in February 2021 for just over $4k.
Wax boxes, which hold 48 packs, are proportionally expensive, but if you’re incredibly wealthy, each pack has 14 cards, which means you will get 672 total cards in a box, and with a 396-card checklist, you have a good chance of pulling multiple Gretzky (or any other) cards. But remember, the cards are condition sensitive; many won’t be PSA 7 quality out of the pack.
Uncut sheets come to market from time to time as well. Robert Edward Auctions sold this complete set of 1979 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards on three uncut sheets (which obviously included the Gretzky rookie) for just over $20k in their spring 2019 auction. Sheets without the Gretzky rookie are significantly cheaper.
While the Gretzky card still dominates the public’s perception of the 1979 OPC Hockey set, as it should, the set has a lot of other great features. So if you don’t have the funds to target a Gretzky card, you have more affordable options in owning a piece of this great set, happy collecting!