How to Spot a 1st Edition Pokémon Card From Shadowless and Unlimited5 min read


Though the history of Pokémon stems back only about 20 years, and we’re nearly two years removed from the Pokémon Go craze of July 2016, collectors are still clamoring for vintage Pokémon cards. If the term vintage incurs scoffs when referring to cards that debuted in 1999, keep your ridiculing in check until you hear the value of some of these cards. The premier cards of the bunch regularly command values upwards of $20,000. In fact, in November of 2017, a complete 1st Edition Pokémon Set fetched nearly $100,000. That’s a far cry from pieces of cardboard originally meant to be a mere trading card game.

Yes, Pokémon cards seem poised to stay and are demanding hobbyists’ attention. They are the real deal when it comes to collecting. But it isn’t as simple as Pokémon = $$$ in this game; there are three types of Pokémon from the original run, and of them it’s the 1st Edition cards for which a younger generation of collectors continue to clamor for. These Pokémon cards set the standard for trading card value. If you happen upon some cards you tucked away from your middle school years and think you’ve stumbled upon a cardboard gold mine, or maybe your kids were into the game and forgot about them, you’ll want to know the difference between the three main versions of Pokémon’s original releases: 1st Edition, Shadowless and Unlimited.

The Set That Everyone’s After

Long story short, 1st Edition means the first run of cards for that release. Each 1st Edition card released gets a neat little stamp, just below the featured Pokémon, to signify its 1st Edition status. That little stamp is key, as it separates 1st Edition from lesser sought-after sets. It’s important to remember that immediately following Pokémon’s inaugural 1999 release, there were a couple of aesthetic tweaks made, tweaks that weren’t reflected on future releases — thus the emergence of Shadowless and Unlimited. (More on those later.) These factors make the first run of 1999 cards super scarce, and if we’ve learned anything in the hobby, scarcity typically translates to desirability and yes, value.

This 1st Edition Stamp shows this card was from the first release.

The king of Pokémon, which some even refer to as the “1952 Mickey Mantle” of the trading card game, is Charizard. Commanding upwards of $20,000 and beyond, Charizard’s value, and that of 1st Edition cards in general, seems to only increase. But don’t worry, you can still get your hands on 1st Edition boxes; it will only cost you around a casual $50,000, while individual packs can be yours for around $800 apiece.

The 1st Edition Charizard has been considered the ’52 Mantle of Pokémon cards.

Shadow Games

After the success of Pokémon’s 1st Edition run, it was time to print more cards. So, the company produced more colorful cardboard and simply removed the 1st Edition stamps, making them — are you ready for it?— Shadowless. Besides the omission of the stamp, for all intents and purposes, Shadowless cards are mirror images of 1st Edition cards. In short, Shadowless cards are simply the first run after the inaugural release. “But then why are they called Shadowless?” you ask. Because 1st Edition cards, too, are shadowless.

Let’s take a look.

Shadowless Poliwrath next to a 1st Edition example.

Here’s a Shadowless Poliwrath next to a 1st Edition Poliwrath, both from 1999. The cards are identical, right? Look closer. The stamp on the Shadowless example has been removed. But check out the character box of both cards, both without the drop shadow that was added shortly after. The font, specifically the “90 HP,” appears to be of the same thickness.

As the story goes, after 1st Edition and Shadowless cards were released, a drop shadow was added and the text bolded to add some visual oomph. Shadowless cards are still sought after, as only a limited supply was produced before the company decided to make some aesthetic tweaks. But any cards after that point feature the shadow and thicker text.

Enter, Unlimited cards.

Unlimited Cards Are, Well, Less Limited

Look closely for the 1st Edition stamp on this Blastoise.

Just like its name, 1st Edition came first, then Shadowless, then Unlimited. Unlimited cards all come with the shiny holographic features from Pokémon’s first run, but without 1st Edition stamps, thus without the inherent value of 1st Edition status. Plus, they are more common than Shadowless cards, making Shadowless versions more valuable than their shadowed brethren. Remember, rarity and desirability often go hand in hand in the hobby. Unlimited cards were, and still are, more widely available, easily attainable, and sadly, less valuable.

Now check this Unlimited card out. No 1st Edition stamp, plus the drop shadow and thicker font.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

So to recap, 1st Edition came first; they hail from ’99, have a little stamp below the featured Pokémon and lack the drop shadow that outlines the right-hand side of the character box. Shadowless came next, and are separated by 1st Edition only by the absence of the stamp saying so. Finally, there’s Unlimited, which features a bolder font, a drop shadow and are also devoid of 1st Edition stamps.

Regardless of 1st Edition, Shadowless or Unlimited, examples from that first year, 1999, are generally more sought after than later series. And regardless of what year the set hails from, Pokémon cards have transcended their trading card game status and exploded into the collectibles realm, and should be considered as such.

Have fun on your hunt catching ’em all!

Posted by Ryan Gaeta

Ryan is a sports fan and Non-Sports aficionado, who is still tormented by the fact he owned the entire 1st Edition run of Pokémon cards but traded them away or ruined them at one point or another.

25 thoughts on “How to Spot a 1st Edition Pokémon Card From Shadowless and Unlimited5 min read

  1. nice article, however you cannot find 1st edition boxes for $10k and individual packs for $300. The last 1st edition box sold for over $50 on Ebay and packs are around $800-1200 at the moment.

  2. So, I found all these Pokémon cards from when my children played and collected in my storage bin ! They are in great to perfect condition and most are 1st edition !!! I have binders and boxes of them !! How do I find out who wants to buy them and what price is good ??
    I also found a couple binders and Boxes of Yu-Gi-Oh cards ??

    1. That’s very cool! You can used PSA’s site as a guide to card values and what the approximate price is. Here’s the CardFacts page for 1st Edition Pokémon: You can also use Auction Prices Realized to see recent auction prices for each of the cards. I’ve linked prices for 1999 Pokémon (just click through the hyperlinked cards, sort by grade, etc.): Finally, you can submit your cards for grading and encapsulation, which tends to enhance the collectibility, longevity and in many cases, value. Here’s the online submission center, where you can start: Hope that helps!

    2. If you need more help I’m a Poketuber & know a lot of places & people & sources & stuff about Pokémon. My Twitter is @maldrich487 & my YouTube & Instagram are MegzToyReviewz

    3. If you need help I am a Poketuber & I know a lot about Pokémon cards. I can help you with resources such as people who can help & sites & just information in general. My Twitter is @maldrich487 & my YouTube channel & Instagram are MegzToyReviewz. If you don’t have those I can email you. Just thought I’d throw that out there!

  3. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it! And it’s really funny you bring that up, regarding the Shadowless Trainer cards. Just today, I was considering tackling that topic next!

  4. I have a Machamp card with 1st Edition stamp AND drop shadow. I’m certain that all of my Pokémon cards came out of individual packs so could it be a misprint or am I missing something? Please help!

    1. I’m in the same boat here. I remember getting all my cards back in ‘99 from packs. I have several 1st edition with shadows??

      1. That could be because you don’t look on cards from *baseset one* but on other old sets like jungle or fossil. (you can check the symbol on the right side under the image of your card; for example: jungle has a flower; fossil has a claw there while *baseset one* hasn`t any symbol ) The first run of prints also got a first edition stamp but they already had the shaddowed characterbox.
        I hope that could help !

    1. According to our resident Pokemon expert, Joe Facundo, what you have is considered part of the unlimited print run of the base set. The First Edition and Shadowless releases have the years 1995, 96, 98 and 99 at the bottom of the cards.

    1. Hello Roseanne,

      When looking at energy and trainer cards to determine if it is shadowless or unlimited (shadow), you will want to look at the copyright line at the very bottom. A shadowless card will have the years “1995, 96, 98, 99” while an unlimited card will have “1995, 96, 98.”

      1. This is actually true for all the cards in the set, not just energy and trainers and is the easiest and simplest way to determine if it’s shadowless or not (when not 1st Ed.)

  5. I understand that the Jungle 1st Edition are all marked as such, but are the Pokemon Base cards and other sets marked the same if they are 1st Edition. I have ditched my Baseball card collecting after too many years and now want to focus on Pokemon, and strictly for building value so I only want to purchase/collect cards and sets that will grow,

    1. Hello Ronnie,

      The 1st edition stamp was used on sets produced by Wizards of the Coast until the the 2002 Neo Destiny Set except for the Base Set 2 release. We also recognize the “d” edition error of Butterfree from the Jungle set which can be seen here.

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