The 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) Hockey set may offer the Wayne Gretzky rookie, but a closer look at puck issues from this era reveals that the 1980-81 OPC set may, in fact, be "The Great One."
While its predecessor features the final regular cards of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Ken Dryden and Stan Mikita, the 1980-81 offering unveils a new generation of stars and a standout rookie crop.
Five Hall of Famers - Ray Bourque (#140), Mark Messier (#289), Mike Gartner (#195), Michel Goulet (#67) and Rod Langway (#344) - debuted in the 1980-81 set, as did longtime NHLers Mike Liut (#31), Brian Propp (#39), Stan Smyl (#208), Rob Ramage (#213), Rick Vaive (#242) and Craig Hartsburg (#317).
"The 1980-81 OPC set is probably the premier hockey set of the 1980s," said Gerry Chartrand, owner of Gerry's Sports Cards in Dorval, Que. "A lot of the 1980s sets only have one key rookie, this set has three major rookies - Bourque, Messier and Gartner."
On top of its stellar rookie crop, this 396-card set also boasts five singles spotlighting Wayne Gretzky. Predominantly distributed in wax packs, these cards measure 2-1/2" by 3-1/2" and feature white borders on their fronts. The fronts also showcase player photos and team names (in bottom left), as well as the player names and positions (in French and English) in a puck in the bottom right. Unlike their Topps counterparts, hobbyists didn't have to scratch a black coating off the puck to uncover the name. The distinctive yellow and green backs feature bilingual biographical information, stats and hockey trivia.
Five Record Breaker cards kick off the set. Their position at the top of collector piles made them susceptible to damage. Highlighting his record 65 points as a rookie defenceman, Ray Bourque's Record Breaker single (#2) is difficult to track down in pristine condition. Of the 40 evaluated by PSA, there have been just two PSA GEM MT 10s and five PSA MINT 9s. A PSA 9 sold for $181.38 on eBay in January 2008.
The Gretzky Record Breaker (#3) - trumpeting The Great One becoming the youngest to tally 50 goals in a season - is equally elusive in flawless form.
"It has small borders and the centering is almost impossible on that card," said Joe Henninger, who owns the No. 2, 1980-81 OPC Hockey set on the PSA Set Registry. "And being the third card in the series, it was on the top of the stacks, so it's condition sensitive."
Darren Styles, who owns the top Registry set, agrees.
"The Record Breaker card is the toughest Gretzky in the set to find in high-grade," he said. "It's because of how thin the white borders are. They always got chopped off."
Many of the Gretzky Record Breaker cards feature 90/10 left-to-right centering. Of the 90 examples graded, there has been just one PSA and five PSA 9s. The PSA 10 sold for $461.66 on eBay in January 2008.
This set also features All-Star (#161 to 168), League Leader (#81 to 92) and Team Scoring Leader cards, as well as cards paying tribute to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Showcasing a U.S. hockey emblem on their fronts, these cards often command a premium.
"Americans never forgot that team and there's a big demand for those Team USA cards," said Chartrand.
Three error cards have also been identified. The photo on the Doug Risebrough (#275) is actually Serge Savard, while the picture on the Gary Bromley single (#330) is Curt Ridley. A mistake was also made on the most notable rookie in the set. Mark Messier's inaugural single (#289) indicates that he shoots right, when, in fact, he was a left-handed shooter. Centering issues also plague the Messier. Of the 859 graded, there have been five PSA 10s and 79 PSA 9s. One PSA 10 garnered $1,725 on eBay in October 2006.
The Bourque rookie (#140) is almost as coveted as the Messier.
"Bourque seems to be quite a bit more difficult than Messier to get in high-grade," said Henninger. "Typically, the centering is off on that card."
Styles has had a similar experience.
"I've been lucky and pulled four Bourques out of packs and I've only submitted one and that got a PSA 8. The other ones are miscut," he said.
Of the 569 Bourques submitted, there are three PSA 10s and 40 PSA 9s. A PSA 10 sold for $1,500 on eBay in October 2008.
There are also three cards in this set - Wilf Paiement (#225), Quebec Nordiques Scoring Leaders card (#238) and Brian Sutter (#244) - who have yet to have an example grade above a PSA NM 7. Styles says he has been searching for top condition examples of these singles for some time.
"The centering is just abysmal on those," he said of the Paiement and Sutter singles.
Centering problems and miscuts are a common problem on cards from this set.
"The 1980-81 and 1978-79 OPC sets had to be two of the worst years for centering," said Styles. "The centering is atrocious."
"It's the second-to-last year that OPC cards were cut poorly," he said. "It seems like in 1982 they sharpened their guillotine and then from 1982 and up, the cards are centered and you can build a centered set."
With these condition issues, you might think high-grade cards from this set would command big bucks, but that's not the case. In general, Henninger is able to purchase PSA 9 commons for $12 to $19 each, a reasonable price for cards from a set that is likely "The Great One" of 1980s puck issues.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any additional information or comments. Darren Styles provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
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