If you grew up in the '80s, chances are you tuned in to watch every second of the Winter Olympics to see which side of the Iron Curtain would come out on top. Although ice hockey is less geopolitically meaningful today than it was in the '80s, fans are just as feverishly supportive of their favorite teams and players, buying whatever merch they can to show off their devotion. Hockey trading cards are just one of the many types of merch you can buy, and hockey card values can reach five to six figures. Prices like these make sifting through your uncle's card collection on your next visit sound pretty awesome.
Most Valuable Hockey Trading Cards to Hunt Down
|Most Valuable Hockey Trading Cards||Record Sales Price|
|1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18||$3.75 million|
|1979 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18||$1.2 million|
|1951 Parkhurst Gordie Howe Rookie Card #66||$210,330|
|2015 Upper Deck Connor McDavid Rookie Card #197||$135,811.20|
|1958 Topps Bobby Hull Rookie Card #66||$102,000|
|1966 Topps Bobby Orr Rookie Card||$87,330|
From vintage cards to current players, hockey trading cards might belong to a niche market, but it's one filled with people who don't hesitate to spend a lot of cash on the things they want. So, if you picked up a few hockey cards as a kid or have a family legacy of collecting them, then you'll want to check your boxes and binders for any of these super valuable cards.
1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18
Wayne Gretzky is perhaps the most famous hockey player who's ever shot a puck. His professional career started in 1979 and lasted for 20 years, where he led his teams to four Stanley Cup wins. Because of his legendary status, his rookie card is considered the most valuable hockey card, with the rare O-Pee-Chee manufactured card's price just slightly edging out his Topps rookie cards. With only two known copies receiving the coveted gem mint 10 condition grade, it's not surprising that one of them would've sold for $1.29 million in 2020 and then another in 2021 for $3.75 million.
1979 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card #18
Wayne Gretzky was so important to the sport that he holds not only the top spot but also the runner-up position for the most valuable hockey trading card ever sold. The rookie card manufactured by Topps is almost identical to the O-Pee-Chee one, except for the blurb on the reverse side being written in English rather than French. More of these Topps cards have survived, leading them to a slightly less pricey sale of $1.2 million in 2022. Overall, the average price for one of these cards in mint condition is in the hundreds of thousands.
1951 Parkhurst Gordie Howe Rookie Card #66
A powerful player for the Detroit Red Wings, Gordie Howe might not be a household name today, but with card collectors, he's a legend. It's because his rookie card from 1951 is one of the hardest cards to find in even an average condition. The cardstock that was used wasn't high quality, so they weren't given the best chance to survive in a good condition. On top of that, stories say the cards were tossed into a cement mixer to randomize which packs they ended up in.
Either way, Howe's rookie cards haven't stood a chance to survive 50+ years into the future, so the few that've surfaced in good condition have sold for impressive sums. Just in 2021, a super rare near mint card sold for $210,330 at auction.
2015 Upper Deck Connor McDavid Rookie Card #197
Connor McDavid came out swinging in his rookie year with the Edmonton Oilers. He's already won several awards in his relatively young career, leading to him getting quite the following. Selected first overall in the 2015 draft, it's no wonder that his rookie card would be worth some money. Although rookies are largely coveted by collectors, it's the notoriously low-quantity and high-quality Upper Deck rookie cards that get the most attention today. McDavid's, of which only 99 were made featuring his autograph and a patch from his jersey, sold in a Leland's auction for $135,811.20.
1958 Topps Bobby Hull Rookie Card #66
Known as The Golden Jet, Bobby Hull is another famous Canadian hockey player to captivate audiences through the mid to late-20th century. Although his most impressive feats came later in his career, his rookie card from 1958 bearing a unique split green and yellow background is the one bringing in the big bucks. In an average condition, his card usually sells in the low thousands, but one in a pristine state would sell for much higher. Just like this card that sold for $102,000 in 2017.
1966 Topps Bobby Orr Rookie Card
It's well known that Canadians dominate ice hockey, and the hockey trading cards that top the list for the highest prices ever sold prove that's the case. Bobby Orr, who got his start in the NHL with the Boston Bruins, went on to be inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1979 at just 31 years old. His legacy needs no explanation, and neither does his rookie card's value. While he's no Gretzky, his card values hold their own, topping out near a $100 grand. Most recently, a high-quality card sold at a Goldin Auctions auction for $87,330.
Four Things That Affect Hockey Card Values
Although there's something tantalizing about owning every one of your favorite player's cards, the real allure of trading cards is the actual 'trading' part. Collecting through connecting is a unique experience that people who love to find and share stuff get to have. But you gotta know what's worthwhile and what's worth passing up on. Thankfully, there are four different things you can be on the lookout for that hint at, possibly, a high price tag.
- Look for rookie cards. Rookie cards are typically the most valuable card in a player's career, especially for high-profile players. Given that they're issued incredibly early in a player's career, they make far fewer of them than they do later ones.
- Check for a card's condition. A card's value is highly impacted by its condition. You want to look for crisp cards with straight edges, no signs of staining or folding, and clear images. Just like how cars depreciate the minute they're taken off the lot, even the slightest amount of damage will decrease a card's market value.
- Look for famous players. A player's performance not only affects their career, but also the value of their trading cards. The more popular or successful a player is, the more desirable their card is and the more it'll be worth.
- Check for any signatures. Signed cards, especially rookie cards, are super valuable. A rare card has value on its own, but combine that with the raw value of an authentic autograph, and you're looking at a lot of zeros on a price tag.
Skate on to Richer Pastures With These Hockey Trading Cards
The hockey trading card world can be just as cutthroat and aggressive as the game that's inspired it. While you won't be body checking anyone off the ice, you will run into serious collectors who'll pay top dollar for good cards in the right condition. While you might not have any of these rare cards on hand, you could have a few special ones in your decks that could make you a couple hundred or thousand dollars richer.