March 30 – April 1, 1979

Springfield Civic Center, Springfield, Mass.

The iconic 1979 Wayne Gretzky O-Pee-Chee #18 rookie card was born

It is a sweet card, no doubt about it. Take the best player in the world, a cool design with some cool photography, from a trading card company with a small print run and the worst trading card cutting method possible – a wire, and you get an extremely limited number of high quality, well preserved cards. Cards that have escaped sticky fingers from snow cones, the wrath of the bike spokes, and trading them back and forth with friends.

According to the photographer, Steve Babineau, the image was taken in the last few weeks of the regular season, and based on their schedule at that time, it was most likely taken on either Friday March 30 or Sunday April 1, 1979, in Springfield, Massachusetts, at a game between Edmonton Oilers (WHA) and the New England Whalers (WHA), on a weekend of their third and second-to-last away-games against the Whalers. A number of images in the series were taken that night, some evidence of this is that a number of the Hartford cards carry images of New England Whalers who stayed with the team through the NHL expansion and became Hartford Whalers. Also, there’s an Oiler behind Howe in his card image.

If it wasn’t for how the NHL / WHA conflation came to be, with the NHL having the upper hand and demanding that this be treated as an expansion and not a merger, then OPC #18 would be Gretzky’s second hockey card; his first with the Racers in ’78 in the WHA, which is just a horrible card and would never have been half as much fun to collect.

One of the great mysteries with this series has always been “when was it printed” and “early print-run Gretzky’s”, so I decided, maybe it’s time to solve these mysteries and maybe answer a few other questions along the way. What follows is a bit if fun forensics on the ’79 OPC series; a look at the cards, their content, their condition and damage the occurred during the print run, specifically to the Gretzky card, and the timeline of the print run and any updates.

Another mystery solved, and that’s “who is responsible for this valuable mess??”, and it wasn’t O-Pee-Chee.

The card used here and the others throughout the site were picked from packs when I was nine, two of which came from two consecutive packs pulled from the same box, each having a mark created by the same printing error, one later in the printing process than the other. Having so many of them, relatively speaking, I remember thinking to myself each time I found one; ‘who the heck is this guy?‘. I really wasn’t paying attention to the players much, I just wanted to start collecting hockey cards for some reason. When the season ended, so did the collecting and I moved on to other things, and to this day, is the only hockey series I’ve collected.

The O-Pee-Chee Building, 430 Adelaide Street North, London, ON, built in 1928.

Other images that were taken the same night as the Gretzky rookie card image.

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