In the shadowed corners of a Regina basement, something extraordinary lurked, waiting to unravel its mystery and potentially change the life of one collector. It was a treasure trove of cardboard and nostalgia—a case brimming with unopened boxes of 1979 hockey cards that may house a pristine Wayne Gretzky rookie card, an artifact so rare and coveted it could fetch millions to those who dare dream.

The auction hammer fell at a staggering US$3.72 million for this relic, converting to a monumental sum of over C$5 million given the prevailing exchange rates. The spoils of this auction? A total of 16 boxes, each cradling 48 packs that, when combined, yield approximately 10,000 cards from the cherished 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) set. Among these are anticipated images of players from Gretzky’s inaugural professional season.

It was Jason Simonds, the astute consignment director at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, who postulated the boxes could be laden with dozens of Gretzky rookie cards from that transformative 1978-79 season. With Gretzky donning the Edmonton Oilers’ jersey for the World Hockey Association, the cards encapsulate a pivotal moment in hockey history.

Yet, the true contents remained shrouded in the unknown, as the boxes’ seals were left unbroken. “I think if the boxes are ever opened, you’re going to see 25 to 30 packed fresh Wayne Gretzky cards,” Simonds speculated, with a tinge of hope that these cards would emerge in mint condition, turning the lucky buyer’s investment into a celebratory jackpot.

Previously, a Gretzky card preserved in mint condition had commanded a price of US$3.75 million—nearly reflecting the entire cost of these 16 boxes. Should luck favor the bold with cards in similar state, they too might garner values soaring into the multi-million-dollar territory. “Condition is very important,” Simonds underscored, acknowledging the elusive perfection sought by collectors worldwide.

The origin of this historical case of OPC hockey cards, never before seen by the likes of collectors, was as mundane as its contents were spectacular. Tucked away and forgotten by its original owner since 1979, the case languished in obscurity until recently uncovered by the consignor’s son amid a sea of dusty boxes. Though the outer case had been unsealed, the tantalizing 16 boxes within remained untouched, like a time capsule waiting to divulge its secrets.

Would the act of revealing the boxes’ contents diminish their worth? Simonds weighed in on this collector’s conundrum: “It could, it’s a gamble,” he admitted. The thrill of discovering that one impeccable Gretzky card was akin to the lottery, but so too was the risk of unearthing less-than-ideal conditions. It is, in part, the allure of the unknown that imbues unopened cases with an aura of possibility and extraordinary value.

Time alone will tell if these cards will see the light of day, if their edges remain crisp, and if the ink lies centered—secrets guarded by cardboard sentinels for over four decades, evoking dreams of fortune and echoes of ice-clad glory.

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John Crew
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