ATLANTIC CITY — In 1978, Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington paid $700,000 to acquire a rookie hockey player named Wayne Gretzky.
On Thursday night, an anonymous person paid $465,000 at an auction in Atlantic City to buy Gretzky’s 1979 Canadian rookie trading card. It was the highest price ever paid for a hockey card.
“It’s the most popular (hockey) card in the best possible condition of the greatest hockey player ever,” said Ken Goldin, CEO of Goldin Auctions, which ran the auction.
Goldin said Friday that before Thursday no hockey card had ever been sold for more than $75,000. Goldin said there are thousands of other Gretzky rookie cards in circulation, but the one auctioned Thursday is the only one in mint condition.
The auction was held at Bally’s Atlantic City in conjunction with the National Sports Collectors Convention, which runs through Sunday at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The National is the largest sports memorabilia show in the world.
Gretzky, now 55, played hockey from 1978 to 1999. He is the National Hockey League’s career scoring leader with 894 goals and 1,963 assists.
Goldin Auctions is based in Runnemede, Camden County, and is one of the biggest firms in the sports memorabilia business. The company website says Goldin has sold more than $600 million worth of memorabilia.
The Gretzky card was one of multiple items auctioned Thursday night, including Babe Ruth’s contract with the Boston Braves that sold for $360,000 and a Michael Jordan jersey worn in the 1998 NBA playoffs for $168,000. Bidders were at Bally’s and on the phone and internet.
Goldin declined to say who was selling the card, saying his company never reveals that information.
Goldin said there were 21 bids for the Gretzky card. He expected the card to sell for $400,000. The winning bidder was not present at Bally’s.
“They are collectors, investors and fans who go after this type of item,” Goldin said. “In this case, I think it was a combination of a collector and fan.”
In addition to its condition, what makes the card valuable is Gretzky’s status as a player and the fact that the card was made by a Canadian company, O-Pee-Chee, instead of one that was created by Topps in the United States.
“There were a lot less of the (Canadian) cards,” Goldin said, “and Gretzky is Canadian, and that makes it more personal to the buyer.”