Note: This entry was updated on January 7, 2020.
Pokémon has been around for many years and, with its roots stemming from Japan, it’s enjoyed a successful transition to the West. Since the very beginning, Pokémon has pushed its fans toward collecting with the catchphrase “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”
The franchise started as a popular video game, then became the trading card game (TCG) everyone’s talking about. In the video game you are set off on an adventure to complete your PokéDex, which means you are trying to collect all the Pokémon. With that, a transition into merchandise was seamless, especially with the trading card world. These cards are used to battle, but with that catchphrase, collecting must be part of the game. The Pokémon trading card game created collectability through rarity and variation. The Base Set started with common, uncommon, rare, and holographic rare cards. Now the Pokémon card values have skyrocketed. In 2018, a 1st Edition Pokémon Base Set Charizard reached $40,000 in a PSA 10, but how did it get there? And as recently as October 2019, a 1998 Pokemon Japanese Promo Pikachu Illustrator – Holo (graded PSA Mint 9) sold at auction for $224,250. Now let’s look at some of the factors that have led to Pokémon’s success as trading cards.
Charizard’s Rise to the Top and the Quest to ‘Catch ‘Em All’
When Pokémon trading cards were originally released in 1999 they were $2.99 per pack in the U.S. and people came in droves. Each pack came with 11 cards, and you did not know what you were getting. Although the face of Pokémon is Pikachu, the highly sought-after Pokémon were, of course, the highest evolution of the video game’s original three: Venusaur, Charizard, and Blastoise. Charizard would quickly rise above the others as the crown jewel, with its amazing artwork by Mitsuhiro Arita and holographic luster. It was seen as the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 of Pokémon cards. It was well known as the rarest of the Base Set and thus shot up in value. Variations such as the 1st Edition and Shadowless issues came to light and created a buzz around the complete Base Set.
Then, in 2017, a complete 1st Edition Pokémon PSA GEM Mint 10 Base Set sold at auction for $98,400. Two years later, a second complete 1999 1st Edition Base Set, also graded PSA GEM Mint 10, sold at auction for $107,010. The set that started it all has had a pretty good run at collectability, and is only now touching on the success of third-party grading.
Pokémon seems to have taken a Disney-like approach by targeting nostalgia with unforgettable, family-friendly characters, then putting them into various types of visual media. It started with the video game, continued with the TV show, and in your hand with the trading card game. Pokémon continues to reload with every generation, like a championship team looking to repeat. Just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, they find a way. With every generation they’ve added new Pokémon, and we are currently in Generation VII.
Although for the most part they stuck to the same formula with every generation, one thing really hit collectors with an uppercut. Back to that nostalgia thing. The release of Pokémon Go in 2016 not only brought you back to the roots of Generation I, but was an interactive way of collecting these creatures. Every time you might evolve from Pokémon, it reels you right back in. The game not only brought back the characters we grew up with, it reminded us of those days of yesteryear when we bought packs of Pokémon cards looking for a holographic card.
Modern Pokémon Cards Are Gaining Steam
Pokémon has become a household name and a big part of popular culture. Catching them all doesn’t only include the video game, it has a strong presence in the TCG. You can even say PSA-graded cards now have their very own PokéDex, with tools like the Population Report or even Set Registry, which guides you to complete sets like Jungle, Neo Destiny, or Aquapolis. Vintage and modern PSA-graded Pokémon cards are gaining steam. The Japanese Base Set’s No Rarity Symbol Charizard in PSA GEM Mint 10 has reached $20,000. For something modern, try the Rayquaza GX Rainbow Rare from Sun & Moon Celestial Storm where a PSA GEM Mint 10 example has reached as high as $450. Whether it’s the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle to the 2009 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout or a 1st Edition Base Set Holographic Charizard to a Rayquaza GX Rainbow Rare, it’s exciting to try and predict what’s next in the evolution of collecting.