Sporting a flowing mullet and uneasy smile, the vintage Wayne Gretzky hockey card is so rare it barely made it off the printing press.

And despite the hockey legend's best efforts to keep the 1981-82 season cards out of collectors' hands, some sticky fingers have made sure the image of that misguided mane lives on forever. 

Edmontonian Don Clarke, 84, held on to one of them.

Clarke was working with Red Rooster convenience stores when they produced sets of Oilers collectible cards for customers.

Don Clarke

Although the hockey legend ordered new photos because he didn't like his unruly hair, Don Clarke managed to hold on to a few of Wayne Gretzky's original hockey cards from the 1981-82 season. (CBC)

After around 7,000 of the cards with Gretzky's long, unruly hair were already printed that season, Clarke got a call from the Oilers.

"Players and coaches looked at it, and a request came back from Wayne Gretzky… that if possible, could we change the cards?" Clarke said. "At that time, it wasn't a big deal. So … Gretzky went and got himself a haircut to take this one."

Clarke issued an order for all the cards featuring Gretzky's long hair to be destroyed. He kept a few of them for himself, of course. And it seems he wasn't the only one.

"I, for one, grabbed a couple. Why? I don't know, just wanted a keepsake or whatever have you," he said.

"We got the printer to destroy the plates at the same time we were requested to destroy (the cards). The shipper, people packing things probably helped themselves to a few. Which at the time was no big deal, nobody cared.

"How many actually got destroyed? I never thought about it at the time. Some of them got out, but the majority, by far the majority of them, were destroyed."


The original cards, most of which were supposedly destroyed, featured a long-haired Wayne Gretzky. (Supplied)

Clarke said some of Gretzky's cards featuring the special haircut were auctioned off for charity, alongside full team pictures, benefiting close to 30 charities. Complete sets of the cards from the 1981-82 season are also incredibly rare, he said.

Over the years, he's had collectors ask about the Gretzky card that should have never existed. But he's planning on holding on to the hard evidence of Gretzky's unruly locks.

Individual Gretzky cards are worth about $400 from that season, he said. A full set would be worth much, much more.

"To the average guy or girl on the street, they are worth a few bucks," he said. "But to collectors, in good shape, they're worth, I'm told, in the thousands now."