Pokémon card back

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Pokémon, with its origins in Japanese anime art, is a game and trading card collecting category that has intrigued many for decades including Pokémon card values. Today, Pokémon trading cards can bring major money from collectors who are seeking out Pocket Monsters such as Pikachu, Ivysaur, Bulbasaur, Oddish, Mew, Wigglytuff, Primeape to name a few.

Pokémon card

When a popular collectible sells for big bucks like the 1998 Pokémon Illustrator (unnumbered Trainer trading card) trading card that sold for a record $375,000 in 2021, people take notice. The card that brought so much money in the collectors’ market was special because only a few were made and because it was only awarded to select winners of various Pokémon Card Game Illustration Artist Contests publicized in CoroCoro Comic. Best Award winners received 20 copies of a card with their submitted illustration featured and one card with the Illustrator illustration on it. Twenty more contest entrants received one of these cards, too. In 1998, two other contests were held: Mewtwo’s Counterattack Commemoration Illustrationi Artist Contest and Pikachu’s Summer Vacation Commemoration Illustration Artist Contest. Each winner in these contests also received this card.

Pokémon card brings $375,000

The Pokémon Illustrator card had its errors of sorts too. For instance, this ultra-valuable Pokémon card has the word Illustrator at the top instead of Trainer. The card has a unique pen symbol on the card at lower right and it is commonly known as Pikachu Illustrator. The pen symbol is found on the lower right corner of the card where other less rare symbols are usually depicted on Pokémon cards. These Japanese promotional Pokémon or Pocket Monster cards have a double star which points to rarity too. The Pokémon card that broke a sales record was one of only 41 cards of its type and it has provenance that connected it to the collection of one of the four people who developed the rules of the complex Pokémon trading card game. The card was sold by Yuichi Konno and it had been previously estimated to be worth $100,000 nearly 10 years earlier. The provenance or origin and background of a previous owner impacts value of a sold collectible card as in this case.

These factors impact appraised Pokémon card values as does the market and other cards that sold based on actual sales records. If you don’t have this card, don’t despair as your collection of Pokémon cards could have real value.

Many people, whether or not they consider themselves Pokémon collectors, give collections a second look when Pokémon trading cards command such big money on the collectibles market. They look at their own collections and survey what they have stored or squirreled away in drawers, binders, boxes, etc. What do you need to know in order to spot a valuable Pokémon card, read on.

Condition and Pokémon cards

Pokémon card back

When it comes to evaluating Pokémon card values, there is a lot to know. First things first. The market likes graded cards and the grading systems aid in establishing market criteria for a large market like Pokémon trading cards. For instance, PSA graded cards (and those graded by other such services) typically bring value. Cards in excellent condition can bring high values, too. What actually constitutes a card in “excellent” condition? A Pokémon card’s condition will impact a card’s value. For any Pokémon cards, the important characteristics of the condition of a card include:

  • a clear printed image
  • clear printed text
  • clear printed fonts
  • clear printed symbols
  • thickness of the card
  • no creases
  • no tears or rips
  • no loss of print ink

Fake Pokémon cards

For instance, some Pokémon cards are faked, in many ways, in order to look like the real thing. These fake cards may show inferior print quality or thin, low-quality cardstock on which they are printed. Fake Pokémon cards may have text or printed letters that are not sharp or crisp. Text on fake cards may be blurry or lightly printed. Fake Pokémon cards are often printed onto cardstock that is thin or low quality and possibly even see-thru. Be careful of imitations as only authentic Pokémon cards are desired by collectors and only those cards bring high values. Like any collectible category, there are fakes in the market and some have even tricked seasoned experts.

What to Look For

Like books and other collectibles, first edition Pokémon cards are typically worth more than later edition Pokémon trading cards. The first edition symbol is found at center left of Basic Pokémon trading cards.

Errors on Pokémon cards are of interest to some collectors including spelling errors, formatting issues, misprints, or obvious mistakes. These cards are of interest to seasoned collectors.

Symbols on Pokémon trading cards, which stands for Pocket Monsters, impact Pokémon card values as they indicate information about game play and rarity of certain cards. At the bottom of a Pokémon card, there are symbols:

  • diamonds
  • stars
  • circles

The diamond symbols are sought after when it comes to Pokémon trading cards. Star symbols, along with diamond symbols, demonstrate greater rarity than circle symbols. Star symbols come in various colors including the commonly seen black stars. While white stars are less common than black stars, it is the gold stars that are highly sought after and rare.  The symbols are found at the bottom of the trading cards.

Also, at the bottom of Pokémon trading cards, at lower right, is a fraction number such as 10/102 which reveals the set from which a specific Pokémon card derives. Look for these numerical clues in order to find value in your Pokémon trading card collection.

Holograms, Shadows, and Pokémon Imagery

Pokémon cards not only provide information about game play like HP (Hit/Health) points or the strength and weaknesses of certain Pocket Monsters, but a certain design or look of a Pokémon card can impact its value. For instance, Pokémon cards with holograms attract collectors and command high values in the marketplace.

Pokémon card values are determined by the environment in which a Pokémon is pictured. For instance, Pikachu may be shown in various locales and performing various tasks.

Shadows have become a point of interest with Pokémon trading card collectors, too. After the initial print run of a base set of Pokémon cards, a design element was added to enhance the three dimensionality of each card. That element was a drop shadow design. As a result, the cards that did not have the shadow design feature were deemed rare as only a small number of these cards exist.

In a manner similar to minted coins, historic documents, and even Beanie Babies tags, there have been many Pokémon cards with errors and these errors have impacted the value of particular cards.

How to Spot Valuable Pokémon Cards

As with other printed collectibles, when an edition is limited, value rises. One-of-a-kind cards and limited-edition cards with small print runs are typically worth more than common Pokémon trading cards printed in large numbers.

Pokémon cards that were printed only for specific promotional activities, contests, and events are marked with a “Promo” symbol at center right. The symbol may be found, depending on the card, at the bottom corners too. This symbol makes a card more important to collectors. Some very valuable cards are both limited-edition cards which could have only been acquired by attending special events such as the First Pokémon Movie, by entering contests, participating in promotions, and from Pokémon tournament competition. These Pokémon cards have the promo symbol on them and the collecting community pay handsomely for these cards. A fine example is the Pokémon promo trading card featuring Pikachu which was only available to guests and viewers of the Pokémon movie. This card is marked “Kids WB presents  Pokémon The First Movie.”

In addition to the traditional Pokémon trading cards, there are also new card types like those where a hologram image take up the entire surface of the trading card. Other rare cards include Pokémon EX, Pokémon GX, and Pokémon V/MAX cards.

Pocket Monsters

It is well documented that there are nearly 1,000 different species of Pocket Monsters and that some evolve and some do not evolve depending on many factors. Pokémon game play is driven by, among other things, hit or health points which are shown on the upper right of a trading card. These points tell players/collectors how much damage a Pokémon can sustain before being knocked out, making HP points important.

Pokémon cards sell regular in the $5 to $2,500 range for individual cards. Specialty cards command values in to the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars if they are promo cards, cards with sought after symbols, or cards relating to special contests, events, or tournaments. Condition is a key factor to assessing value and after appraising collections of these cards and many valuable Pokémon cards in my career, evaluating their true value is a skill that cannot be obtained without years of study and experience.

As important and sought after as the Pokémon trading cards are, certain Pocket Monsters on cards that are popular to collectors are:

Bellsprout
Blastoise
Bulbasaur
Charizard
Charmander
Clefairy
Dark Muk
Eevee
Gastly
Hitmonchan

Ivysaur
Ledyba
Lugia
Machamp
Magikarp
Magneton
Marowak
Meowth
Mew
Mewtwo

Nidoran
Ninetales
Oddish
Omanyte
Pikachu
Poliwrath
Ponyta
Primeape
Raichu
Rayquaza

Sandslash
Scyther
Seaking
Squirtle
Umbreon
Voltorb
Wigglytuff
Zapdos

Other Pokemons include: Poipole, Naganadel, Stakataka, Blacephalon, Grookey, Raboot, Cinderace, Greedent, Morpeko, Dracozolt, Overgwil, Kubfu, Cursola, among others.

Collecting Pokémon trading cards is a popular, lucrative, and fascinating hobby. The complexity of the game and the many options for collecting diverse cards makes Pokémon a great collecting category.

Watch videos on my YouTube channel where I talk more about Pokémon card values. I can appraise your Pokémon cards from photos or you can show me your cards during a video call.