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Case of unopened 1979 hockey cards from Sask. sells for over $5M at auction

A Canadian bidder won the case, which could possibly contain Wayne Gretzky rookie cards

A Saskatchewan family sold a case full of unopened 1979 hockey card boxes for over $5 million. The boxes contain an unknown number of Wayne Gretzky rookie cards like this one. (Jason Warick/CBC)

A Saskatchewan family just turned a case of hockey cards into millions of dollars.

Around 1:00 a.m. EST on Sunday, bidding came to a close for a highly touted case filled with thousands of unopened 1979-1980 O-Pee-Chee brand hockey cards that a Saskatchewan family found in their attic.

Jason Simonds, the sport card specialist for the Dallas-based Heritage Auctions that sold the cards, says the family was "over the moon" about the sale. The family has chosen to remain anonymous.

"I was texting with them last night. We stayed up until about one in the morning when the bidding ended," said Simonds over a video call on Sunday.

"The family is ecstatic, this is life-changing money."

The case holding unopened boxes of cards is estimated to possibly hold from 25 to 27 Wayne Gretzky cards from his rookie year, but no one knows for sure, according to Simonds. Values vary, but mint condition Gretzky rookie cards have been sold for $3.75 million.

There were about 15 unique bidders, but in the end it came down to an American and Canadian duking it out until the Canadian won and bought the case for $3,100,000 US ($4,180,815 Cdn).

With a 20 per cent buyers premium on top of the purchase, the final amount the Canadian bidder paid was $3,720,000 US ($5,016,978 Cdn).

"This had surpassed even our wildest expectations," said Simonds.

"3.72 million [US] is something that is very rarely seen in this industry. It's one of the highest-priced items ever sold at Heritage, and it's certainly the highest price sold unopened item in the sports collectibles market."

Buyer's plan for cards

While Simonds revealed the winning bidder was a Canadian, they are remaining anonymous.

Simonds said he imagines the buyer will keep the cards sealed and not open them, but he isn't totally sure.

"I could imagine at some point the buyer will sell individual boxes of this case to collectors, and if that happens, then it's very possible that some of these will be opened."

Simonds said the sale price breaks down to about $230,000 US a box and the buyer could sell them individually on the market and potentially sell them for more than that per box.

The same family that found the O-Pee-Chee hockey cards also found cases of baseball cards. Simonds said there was enough to fill up a van.

He said in addition to "the most significant find of Canadian cards we have seen in the past 20 years," there are 1977, 1978 and 1979 dated cases of baseball cards.

Simonds reckons at least a few of the cases will be in the $300,000 US range, and the Saskatchewan family could see another seven-figure payday once everything is sold.