The Holiest of Grails in the Pokémon community, the famed 1998 Illustrator Pikachu, sold recently for a new record price of $900,000! The card was graded PSA Near Mint 7 and put up for auction by Goldin with an opening bid of $75,000 on February 10, 2022. It eventually closed with its near-million-dollar price tag on February 23, making it the most expensive Pokémon card ever sold publicly. The last time a PSA 7 example of the card sold was in February 2021 for $375,000. Prior to that sale, a PSA Mint 9 specimen sold for ¥25,000,000, which converted to approximately $233,000 in July 2020. This latest monumental sale shows that Pokémon is still going strong after just turning 26 on February 27.
To see why the Illustrator Pikachu always obtains record highs, we can start by seeing how many were produced. Only 39 are estimated to have been printed with 23 of them graded by PSA and only two receiving the PSA 7 designation. The limited cards were awarded as prizes for the “Pokémon Card Game Illustration Contest” that was sponsored by Corocoro Comic in 1998. The artwork for the card was illustrated by the talented Atsuko Nishida, one of the creators of Pikachu. It has the layout of a trainer card with the word “Illustrator” where you would typically find “Trainer.”
The main image shows Pikachu holding a paintbrush and a drawing of Charmander over a holographic background. On the bottom right you will find the image of a pen. And where you would normally find a rarity symbol, there are two stars. According to Bulbapedia, the ever-evolving encyclopedia about all things Pokémon, the card text is translated to read: “We certify that your illustration is an excellent entry in the Pokémon Card Game Illust Contest. Therefore, we state that you are an Officially Authorized Pokémon Card Illustrator and admire your skill.”
The Illustrator Pikachu is so special that in 2020, Marco, a collector in Italy, traded $900,000 worth of his collection for a PSA 9 example. In 2021, social influencer and DJ Steve Aoki purchased a raw copy for $420,000, which was graded and earned a PSA Mint 9. This card’s beautiful artwork from Atsuko Nishida, its rarity, and how one must go about trying to obtain an example, makes this not only a legendary card in Pokémon history, but in the entirety of the collecting realm. Owning this card in any grade would be quite an achievement. To put it into sports terms, it is like owning a 1909-11 Honus Wagner T206 card! With the Pokémon franchise still so youthful at 26 years of age, who knows what new records this card will set when it makes its next appearance.