Unopened Case of More Than 10,000 Hockey Cards Sells for $3.7 Million

A sealed case filled with unopened boxes of Canadian hockey trading cards sold for $3.72 million on Sunday after a father and son found them while cleaning the father’s house in Saskatchewan.

The high price takes into account the mystery inside: The case could contain as many as 30 of the holy grail of collectible hockey cards, a Wayne Gretzky rookie card from 1979. Or it might not.

The buyer is likely content with the uncertainty, and prepared to never know the answer, explained Jason Simonds, a sports card specialist at Heritage Auctions, the Dallas-based auction house that brokered the sale.

“The person who buys this, one night could crack open a couple beers and open up the case and then go to town on these 16 boxes,” Mr. Simonds said. “But chances are it’ll stay as a case for at least the foreseeable future.”

This is because unopened boxes are not purchased just for the potential riches inside. Some people appreciate the nostalgic value of boxes from the 1970s and 1980s and might display them as they are. Others buy unopened boxes as investments. If the Gretzky card and others continue to increase in value, so will the case sold on Sunday, Mr. Simonds said.

“When it comes to card collecting, a lot of times it’s not just purely for profit,” Mr. Simonds said. “It’s because they have some sort of draw toward Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio or, in this case, Wayne Gretzky, which is the hockey equivalent of those guys.”

The 1979 Wayne Gretzky card issued by O-Pee-Chee is prized by collectors. In May 2021, one of the cards sold for $3.75 million in a private sale that was brokered by Heritage Auctions.

Mr. Simonds said that the case sold on Sunday, the kind that would have been shipped to a corner store or other card distributor, could include 25 to 30 of the Gretzky cards and that it would be a “statistical anomaly” for the box not to contain any based on how many cards are inside.

The case was found while a father and son in Saskatchewan, who remained anonymous, were cleaning out the father’s house, which had a storage room stacked floor to ceiling with boxes, Mr. Simonds said. He said that the father was an “avid” collector in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, often purchasing a couple of cases of cards each year from a distributor and selling or trading the cards inside. He never got around to examining the case that sold on Sunday, which would have cost him about $150 in 1979, Mr. Simonds said.

The box went to an anonymous buyer in Canada, Mr. Simonds said, breaking the record for the most money spent on unopened sports cards and the most anyone has spent on a hockey collectible.

Baseball Card Exchange, an authenticator that specializes in unopened vintage sports cards, confirmed that 16 wax boxes were inside the case. Each box contains 48 packs of cards, with 14 cards per pack, for a total of more than 10,000 cards. The set contains 396 different player cards, which means that if the assortment were perfectly random, it would contain 27 Gretzky cards, according to the auction house’s listing.

If the case does contains a couple dozen of the prized Gretzky cards, they might not be in good condition, Mr. Simonds warned. The cards could be slightly off-center, have ink smudges or other flaws.

The buyer might never find out.

Mr. Simonds said that if the case were to be opened, it would likely be to sell the individually sealed boxes inside. “There’s not a lot of people that are willing to spend $4 million on a case of hockey cards,” he said, “but at a quarter-million dollars a box, there’s a slightly larger audience.”

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