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Winning bidder of classic hockey cards looks to find owner who cares more about them

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The winning bidder of more than a dozen unopened boxes of classic hockey cards uncovered in a Regina home says he's feeling remorse over his $3.7-million-dollar purchase after hearing how sad the runner-up was upon losing out.

"When I heard the runner-up bidder was literally devastated by missing out on acquiring this, I felt real empathy for him," Jack Arshawsky of Thornhill, Ont. said in an interview, adding he's hoping someone famous, perhaps even Wayne Gretzky, might be interested in taking the boxes off his hands.

Heritage Auctions said the lot, which sold last month, contained 16 sealed boxes of O-Pee-Chee's 1979-80 hockey card collection, amounting to more than 10,000 cards.

Odds suggest that means there could be 25 to 30 copies of Gretzky rookie cards in the collection.

Arshawsky, who said he's in the real-estate business, explained that he's not a huge card collector himself but has a keen eye for value, and was keeping close tabs on online bidding for the boxes as the auction deadline loomed in February. He said he already owns one rookie Gretzky card, something that had once belonged to his uncle, which further piqued his interest.

He said he drank four cans of energy drink to stay sharp as each new bid prompted a half-hour wait for responses. There was a celebration when he won, he said, but then he watched an interview of an auction company official speaking about the second-place bidder.

"It got me thinking that I'm not really so passionate ... as a lot of others would be, and I decided that it should really have a home where it's truly appreciated for the Holy Grail of hockey cards memorabilia that it is," Arshawsky said.

So far, he said he's reached out to a litany of stars and famous collectors including Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, professional poker player Daniel Negreanu and rapper Drake to see if they'll take the boxes. He only wants what he's paid for them. No one has called back yet, though.

"These people are basically impossible to make contact with, so it seemed like the best way get in contact with them was to announce it to the world and somebody -- one of their friends -- are probably going to eventually inform them that, hey, your name was mentioned with the guy who won the auction .. and he believed that you might give these cards a good home," he said.

Arshawsky made it clear he's got the money to cover his bid -- he inherited a bundle from an uncle who'd bought farmland in the Greater Toronto Area decades ago and later sold it.

The discovery of the boxes, and the bidding to acquire them, garnered significant attention.

Jason Simonds, the sports consignment director at Heritage Auctions, said when bidding was underway that the boxes were a "once-in-a-generation find," adding he believed it was the first time a case had been made available since 1979.

Simonds told The Canadian Press he got involved after a man and his father in Regina found the case when they were clearing out a storage room in the house. He said the father has been a longtime collector, noting he also had a set of baseball cards in the storage room worth about $200,000.

The family asked to remain anonymous.

The cards were brought to Indiana in an armoured vehicle to get it authenticated. Baseball Card Exchange, which inspected the boxes, found them to be in pristine condition and sealed.

Each box of the hockey cards contains 48 packs, and each pack has 14 cards. A pack cost 20 cents in 1979.

A mint condition Gretzky rookie card fetched $3.75 million when it was auctioned in 2021, although Simonds explained it's likely that not all Gretzky cards within the boxes will attain the highest rating of "gem mint 10."

Arshawsky said the cards remain in a vault in Texas. He said he'd like them to go to someone who will display them where the public could see them, and that if no one suitable wants them, he'll give them to a former school crush who he said inspired his interest in hockey.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

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