Only Known Sealed Case of 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Cards Sells for Record $3.72 Million

A cardboard box long ago stashed away and forgotten about in a Saskatchewan basement sold February 25, 2024 morning for $3.72 million at Heritage Auctions.  In that cardboard box are 16 other boxes, each filled with 48 packs of 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards, the most famous and coveted cardboard on skates given the debut of Wayne Gretzky.

In that cardboard box are 10,752 cards that were made in and stayed in Canada, an unknown number of which — maybe two dozen, give or take — feature The Great One’s first skate as an Edmonton Oiler.

That O-Pee-Chee case, which became the subject of international media attention when announced last month, was among more than 1,600 lots in Heritage’s Feb. 24-25 Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction, which wrapped extended bidding early Monday morning. The nearly sold-out auction realized $25,980,406 thanks to more than 2,700 bidders worldwide, with, as always, numerous records set.

Yet again, Heritage set a new benchmark for a high-grade 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle — this time, a PSA Near Mint-Mint+ 8.5 that realized $2,370,000, a record for the grade. That’s more than double the record for the grade realized in 2016. Heritage still holds the record for the most valuable 1952 Topps Mantle sold at auction, and the $12.6 million realized for the SGC Mint+ 9.5 in 2022 remains the most ever paid for any piece of sports memorabilia.

That case of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards joins Mantle in that rarefied air. The case’s consignor, who hails from the Western Canadian province of Saskatchewan, was a rabid collector in the 1960s and ’70s who snatched up endless amounts of Canadian-made cards to trade with fellow travelers in the United States. He bought endless boxes and cases of cards, so many that his family long ago lost count — and lost track. Ultimately, the consignor’s son found this case behind “stacks and stacks of other stuff,” says Heritage Sports Card Specialist and Consignment Director Jason Simonds.

The entire case was eventually delivered to Schererville, Ill., home of the Baseball Card Exchange. With cameras rolling, its founder, Steve Hart, authenticated the case as the only known example, now the first to come to auction — and the most valuable case of unopened cards ever sold at auction. The $3.72 million shatters the previous record set in 2020, when a sealed 12-box case of 1986-87 Fleer Basketball cards — featuring the rookie debut of Michael Jordan — sold for $1.8 million.

The case realized $3.72 million because of the treasure(s) inside. In December 2020, Heritage sold one of only two known PSA Gem Mint 10 Gretzky O-Pee-Chee rookies for $1.29 million, the first hockey card to break the million-dollar barrier. Shortly after, Heritage brokered a sale for a Gem Mint 10 example for a record $3.75 million.

“We knew from the moment we heard this O-Pee-Chee case existed that it would get the attention of hockey card collectors worldwide,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “And those hockey collectors played an integral part in the success of this Winter Platinum Night event with world record results achieved for both the O-Pee-Chee case as well as the Mike Bossy collection. We’re just so proud to have been a part of presenting these treasures to the collecting world.”

Indeed, the O-Pee-Chee case wasn’t the only sealed treasure chest to garner collectors’ attention — and record-setting bids.

A 1966 Topps Baseball (Series 2 and 3) wax box with 24 unopened packs, from the collection of Adolph “Herky” Rupp Jr., sold for $276,000. A 1963 Fleer Football wax box with 24 unopened packs, also from Rupp’s collection, sold for $204,000 — more than twice its pre-auction estimate. And a 1971 Topps Baseball (Fourth Series) cello box with 24 unopened packs realized $198,000.

Two more Mantles were among the auction’s home runs: A 1951 Bowman Mantle, his rookie card, realized $360,000 in a PSA NM-MT 8. Another example of the same card, this one graded PSA Good+ 2.5, sold for $284,400 — because Mantle signed it during his early playing days.

Heritage was honored to present in this auction the collection of four-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Bossy, the New York Islander hailed as “The Boss of Long Island.

”As expected, a pair of Bossy’s Stanley Cup championship rings realized record results: His 1980 ring — which celebrated the first of the Islanders’ four consecutive titles, won when Bossy led all scorers with 11 points in the title-seizing series — realized $222,000. A year later, Bossy received his 1981 Finals ring after the Islanders rolled through the Minnesota North Stars, 4-1, to cap off an overpowering postseason in which they won 15 out of 17 games. That championship ring realized $228,000 — and is now the most valuable Stanley Cup ring sold at auction.

All that glitters was gold in this event, as evidenced by the $138,000 realized for a Chicago Bears alumni ring made for Dick Butkus a month before his death last October. Like so many items in this auction, it shattered pre-auction estimates.

Bossy’s 1983-84 game-worn and signed Islanders jersey likewise exceeded pre-auction expectations when it realized $49,200. But the auction’s most valuable game-worn and signed jersey was Hank Aaron’s 1962 Milwaukee Braves jersey, which realized $420,000. One of the event’s biggest hits was one of Michael Jordan’s practice jerseys dating back to his days at a Tar Heel, which came from the collection of a University of North Carolina student manager. It sold for $108,000.

There was a pile of valuable laundry in this auction: A signed, game-worn 1969 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants road jersey realized $276,000, the same amount one winning bidder paid for Tom Brady’s game-used and signed “color rush” New England Patriots jersey gifted to receiver Julio Jones after a 2017 Monday Night Football game. And a 1971 Johnny Unitas Baltimore Colts jersey photo-matched to four games sold for $174,000.

The weekend’s event also featured something so rare no one knew existed at all until its recent discovery in an Ohio home: a poster promoting Albert Spalding’s 1888-89 Baseball World Tour, which consisted of two teams (the Chicago White Stockings and other all-stars) circumnavigating the globe to promote the national pastime. Originally conceived as “Spalding’s Australian Baseball Tour,” the tour expanded into a global showcase, beginning in Chicago with stops in Australia, Cairo, Rome, Paris, London and points in between before the voyage home.

Until now, it was believed there was just one of these posters — in Cooperstown, where the Hall of Fame boasts of having “the only known copy.” There was, in fact, another one, which more than doubled its pre-auction estimate over the weekend when it realized $240,000.Not every highlight sold for five figures. Look no further than a program from the banquet given for the 1907 World Series champion Chicago Cubs at Chicago’s Congress Hotel. Its pre-auction estimate was $4,000, but collectors saw the value in the signatures, including those of Hall of Famers Cap Anson, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance and Mordecai Brown. On Sunday, that program sold for a breathtaking $36,147.

Click here for complete results from Heritage’s Feb. 24-25 Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction.

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