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Million dollar bidding war underway for hockey cards found in Sask. basement

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A mysterious case of 1979 hockey cards found in a Regina basement could fetch over a million dollars, and maybe more.

Inside the case are 16 unopened wax boxes of 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) hockey cards, with 48 packs of 10 cards per box — a total of 7,680 cards.

For serious collectors, only around 20 of those matter. Based on statistical probability, that's how many pristine Wayne Gretzky rookie cards from the 1978-79  season might be locked inside.

“No other unopened case of 1979-80 OPC has ever surfaced in the 21st century, and it's all but impossible to imagine another ever will,” Heritage Auctions said in its description for the lot.

“[It's] the greatest unopened find in the 21st century,” the auction house said.

As of Monday morning, bidding on the cases had surpassed $1 million. With the auction running through late February, the price could soar even higher.

According to Heritage Auctions, the "outrageous Holy Grail" of hockey cards sat undetected for years "gathering dust" because it was part of a bulk purchase by the Regina-based seller.

"By any metric of evaluation, it's a thrilling miracle of survival, and one of the greatest trading card lots that Heritage has ever had the privilege to offer,” Heritage Auctions said.

According to Steve Hart the owner of Baseball Card Exchange in Indiana, labeling on the box led the owner to believe he had cards from Gretzky’s sophomore professional season in the NHL.

Hart authenticated the find before Heritage Auctions opened the bidding.

“The family who have had this case for 40 some years, always assumed this was a 1980 case of hockey [cards], Hart said. “That’s not so bad [worth] $300,000 to $350,000, but one day someone finally asked them, ‘you might want to check and see what’s exactly in there,’” Hart said.

The owner pulled back about an inch of the case and found the white boxes opening them up to the fact the boxes contained cards from the 1979-80 OPC set that includes cards with images from Gretzky’s rookie professional season in 1978-79.

“The case says 1980 on it because the hockey season [the cards were released] straddled two years, it went 1979 and into 1980 and something that O-Pee-Chee did, which is the manufacturer, is they would put up the second year, the year that season’s finals would take place,” Jason Simonds from Heritage Auctions said.

“Up until now we weren’t exactly sure one of these existed. This is absolutely unbelievable,” Hart said.

Puts Regina 'on the map'

Collectors in Regina say they are thrilled to see a find so rare in their own backyard.

“The Wayne Gretzky rookie card that resides in these boxes here that has been found is one of the most sought after hockey cards if not the most sought after card in the hobby,” collector Ryan Haynee said.

Tanner Piper, also known around Regina as the “Nut Man” said the find really puts Regina on the map.

“It’s super cool that a place like Regina is getting put on the map for one of the biggest finds in the industry in probably ever,” he said.

Local collectors also hope the find will help ignite card collecting in Regina, along with the NHL card debut of former Regina Pats member Connor Bedard.

“Next to Connor McDavid, Connor Bedard is going to be the next chance for people to ever have something like this happen again,” Piper said.

Mike Wieclawski, from Secondhand Wonderland in Regina, says it’s not uncommon for people to come across long lost gems, albeit hardly ever to the extent of this find.

“That’s probably what we hear the most ‘I had this in the basement for years and I just don’t want to be tripping over it anymore is it worth anything to you guys?’”

According to Wieclawski, who has more than 20 years of experience working in second-hand stores, usually those finds are valuable.

-- With files from Mick Favel.

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