Now that Charizards are selling for $220k, you may be wondering - are any of your old Pokemon cards worth anything, and should you buy some as an investment?

On October 13th, 2020, rapper Logic shocked the world when he paid $220,574 for a Pokemon card. 

That’s right – he paid the price of a new Ferrari or a three-bedroom home in Ohio for a shiny picture of a lizard. Pokemon Cards Prices Are Skyrocketing: Everything You Need To Know - Most valuable Pokemon card

And yet, perhaps the most amazing part of the news is how little young people judged him for it. Rather than react with memes or mockery, people our age got excited: 

Are any of MY cards worth anything??

Even if they weren’t familiar with Pokemon cards, many young investors instantly perked up:

Wow, $4 in 1999 to $220,574 today – is it time to start investing in Pokemon cards? 

Both are totally fair questions that I’m going to address in this feature!

Why are pokemon cards suddenly popular again?

Pokemon card collecting has always been popular, as evidenced by the 34 billion cards now in circulation.

But even the makers of Pokemon cards were caught off guard when demand began skyrocketing in mid-2020. In addition to being fun, addictive, and nostalgic, collecting Pokemon cards during the pandemic even promised a potential form of economic relief; each $4 booster pack could contain a Charizard GX SV 49 worth $1,800. 

Soon, celebrities and influencers picked up on the resurging popularity of Pokemon cards. In early October, Logan Paul live-streamed an event where he opened a rare box of cards worth $200,000 in front of his 22 million subscribers. Pokimane and other influencers quickly followed suit, offering a Pokemon-flavored version of the ever-popular “unboxing” videos. 

Things came to a head on October 13th, 2020 when rapper Logic bought a first-edition, holographic Charizard for an eye-watering $220,574. 

Are any of your old Pokemon cards worth anything? 

Like many Millennials in their 30s, I had a binder full of Pokemon cards that my family and I held onto for years. Upon hearing the news that some of them might be worth a 401(k), I immediately called up my mom. 

Mom – do you have any idea where my old Pokemon cards are??

Sadly, she didn’t. Our shared conclusion is that we likely donated them to a kid down the street years ago, along with my old airsoft stuff. 

This deflating revelation immediately made me feel like the guy who paid 10,000 bitcoins for pizza

However, if you’re also fretting over the location of your old Pokemon card collection, I actually have some “good” news for you: 

Most old Pokemon card collections aren’t worth anything

The only rare Pokemon card I can distinctly remember having was a holographic Blastoise, which I (ironically) destroyed in the YMCA pool. 

I cringed when that memory resurfaced. Surely that card is worth more than a used car today…

Turns out, you can actually buy a collector-condition Blastoise on Amazon for about $100. 

Let’s go in order, starting the big, fat Phanpy in the room: are you currently sitting on a treasure trove of old Pokemon cards? - Blastoise

In fact, holographic Charizards aren’t selling for much more than that: 

So what gives? Why are some Charizards worth $100 and others worth $200,000?

Well, unlike the $110 eBay Charizard, Logic’s prized Charizard is a:

  • First Edition.
  • Shadowless.
  • PSA Gem Mint 10.

Any card falling short of those high standards won’t be worth even 5% as much. So whether you’re looking to start investing in Pokemon cards or simply selling your old collection, let’s cover how to spot and appraise valuable Pokemon cards!

How to spot rare Pokemon cards

In this section, I’m going to focus on cards printed from 1996 to 2000 for two reasons. Not only are the rarest cards from this era the most valuable, but they’re also the trickiest to identify. 

So whether you’re looking to sell your old collection or simply invest in the right cards, let’s cover Rare Pokemon Cards 101. 

The “Base Set” of Pokemon cards, or the OG cards from 1996 to 1999 that we all know and love, actually came in three flavors: 1st Edition, Shadowless, and Unlimited. 

1st Edition

1st Edition cards are pretty self-explanatory – these were among the first wave ever printed and distributed, and as a result, carry the highest collector value. 

1st Edition Base Set cards tend to fetch values ranging from $250 to $24,000, with the median hovering around a few hundred bucks. According to Old Sports Cards, the most valuable 1st Edition Base Set Pokemon cards are: 

  • Alakazam: $2,800.
  • Clefairy: $2,500.
  • Raichu: $2,500.
  • Venusaur: $2,200.
  • Mewtwo: $2,200.

  • Charizard: $24,000.
  • Blastoise: $5,500.
  • Chancey: $3,500.
  • Hitmonchan: $3,250.
  • Ninetales: $3,000.

If you’re wondering why Logic paid 10x what a 1st Ed. Charizard is supposedly worth, it’s simply because card values are hard to predict. Your old rare Gyrados may be appraised at $1,500, but it may sell for $15,000 or $150, depending on the demand that day. 

Even so, either scenario is worth a few minutes of rummaging through your old collection. Thankfully, 1st Editions are easy to spot. 

Investing in Pokemon Cards (Yes! Really!): Everything You Need To Know - 1st edition stamp

First Edition Base Set Pokemon cards are easy to spot thanks to their helpful stamp. Photo courtesy of Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA).

Wizards of the East Coast, the company that made Pokemon cards until 2003, left a stamp on each of their 1st Edition cards – so if you see this, you’ll want to encase the card in protective plastic ASAP. 

Shadowless

Shadowless cards are the second rarest breed of Pokemon card from the 90s. These were the cards produced right after the 1st Editions, and are visually identical to their earlier counterparts save for a missing stamp. 

Investing in Pokemon Cards (Yes! Really!): Everything You Need To Know - Shadowless

Aside from a missing stamp, a “shadowless” Base Set Pokemon card is visually identical to a 1st Edition. Photo courtesy of Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA).

They got the nickname “shadowless” simply because they lack a shadowy background introduced in the next wave of cards, the Unlimited. 

Shadowless cards aren’t the rarest, but they still fetch some solid beer money. According to TGGplayer, prices for shadowless cards range from $1 to $3,000, with the median being around $100. This makes them roughly one-tenth as valuable as their 1st Gen counterparts, and the most valuable 1st Gens are also the most valuable shadowless. 

Unlimited

Unlimited cards make up the bulk of the printing run for the Base Set. These are by far the most common and thus carry much less value for collectors these days. There’s a 95% chance the Blastoise I ruined was a Base Set Unlimited worth well under $100, so I’m not too bummed out about it. 

You can spot a Base Set Unlimited card by the much thicker font and iconic “shadow” behind the frame of the Pokemon. To illustrate, here are all three editions from the Base Set, back-to-back: 

Investing in Pokemon Cards (Yes! Really!): Everything You Need To Know - Charizard

A 1st Edition, Shadowless, and Unlimited Charizard, worth around $24,000, $3,000, and $100, respectively. Photo courtesy of Bulbagarden.net.

The last set worth mentioning from this era is Base Set 2. These cards were launched in the year 2000, and were essentially a 

Investing in Pokemon Cards (Yes! Really!): Everything You Need To Know - Base set 2

fresh run of Base Set Unlimited cards. You can spot them by the number “2” with a Pokeball emblazoned on it, positioned next to your Pokemon’s weight.

Collectors tend to value Base Set 2 cards at or slightly below Base Set Unlimited cards. 

For better or worse, over 90% of the Pokemon cards from the 90s aren’t worth much. So if you’re panicking over your lost collection, fret no longer – it’s probably worth little more than a few good memories. 

However, if you do find a 1st Edition or shadowless card in your old collection, here’s what to do next. 

How to sell your rare Pokemon cards

Get the card’s condition graded by the PSA

Let’s say you find your old cards and come face-to-face with a 1st Edition Chancey card worth up to $3,500. Sweet! 

Now, how do you sell it? 

Your first step will be to temper your expectations. Although auction sites will list “estimated values” of thousands of dollars, the resale value at that moment in time could be 10x more or less than that. 

In addition to checking TCGplayers, a good way to rapidly appraise your card’s value is to browse recently sold listings on eBay. You can do so by searching for your card, clicking Advanced, and checking the Sold listing box. 

Investing in Pokemon Cards (Yes! Really!): Everything You Need To Know - Advanced search on eBay

Looks like one recently sold for ~$1,875 CAD, or roughly $1,500 USD. Not bad. 

Investing in Pokemon Cards (Yes! Really!): Everything You Need To Know - PSA graded Chansey

This particular Chancey was both encased and graded by a company called the PSA, or the Professional Sports Authenticator. The PSA grades the condition of rare trading cards on a quality scale of 1-10, with 10 being known as “Gem Mint.” Cards graced by Gem Mint status aren’t just free of manmade scuffs – they’re free of the most microscopic factory defect. 

Generally speaking, most cards handled by children before retiring into a shoebox will score a PSA of 7 or lower, selling for about 5% to 10% of Gem Mint price. 

Unfortunately, the news gets worse – any card worth over $500 will likely need PSA grading, and the PSA is currently so overwhelmed that they’ve temporarily suspended most services. 

Therefore, you’re left with three options:

  1. Roll the dice on PSA’s $300 Super Express service.
  2. Wait until they resume basic services.
  3. Sell your cards without a professional appraisal for ~10%-40% of their PSA-graded value.

Regardless of which option you pick, how and where should you sell your rare Pokemon cards? 

Sell your cards

There’s no right or wrong place to sell your rare Pokemon cards. Here are some of the most popular options, sorted by their pros and cons: 

MarketplaceProsCons
eBayMaximum traffic and views10% seller fee
PWCC (trading card auction house)Attracts wealthier buyers8% - 15% seller fee, requires third-party appraisal
Facebook MarketplaceZero seller fee when sold locallyLess traffic, in-person sales carry risk
EtsyLow seller fees (5%)Less traffic

Is it worth investing in Pokemon cards now? 

With the prices of rare Pokemon cards rising faster than many cryptocurrencies, many investors are left wondering: is it time to buy a Blastoise? 

Now that you know how to effectively spot a rare, valuable Pokemon card, here are some reasons you should (and shouldn’t) buy it: 

Reasons to invest in Pokemon cards

Here are four compelling reasons why a small investment in Pokemon cards this year may pay off down the road: 

  • Supply is dwindling and demand is rising. Economics 101 tells us that when demand for an asset outstrips supply, prices rise. Nobody’s making new 1st Edition Pokemon cards and demand is rising at the moment, so it’s reasonable to suggest prices will rise in the short term as well.
  • They’re easy to buy and sell. Compared to real estate or rare cars, Pokemon cards are among the easiest forms of property to buy and sell. No surprise leaks or expensive brokers – you always know exactly what you’re buying or selling. 
  • They’re easy to store. Similarly, trading cards are perhaps the single easiest physical investment to store and maintain. Pokemon cards don’t need cleaning, climate-controlled storage, or even insurance – just a plastic sleeve and a safety deposit box.
  • The upside could be huge. In 2017, if you’d invested $500 in an S&P 500 index fund you’d have about $1,500 now. If you’d put that money into a PSA 9 Charizard instead, you’d have $5,500. 

Reasons not to invest in Pokemon cards

There’s a potential upside to investing in Pokemon cards, but as with all unique investments, the cons deserve to be heard: 

  • “Pokemania” may end soon. As with any investment, hype, and influencer marketing drive up the price of investments. So, prices may quickly deflate.
  • Appraisal is difficult and expensive. If you plan to invest in a card worth $5,000+ one day in the future, you’ll have to pay PSA $300 just to reappraise it – and if the market’s hot enough to sell it, there’s a chance the company will become overwhelmed again and suspend services, jeopardizing your timing.
  • Cards could get lost, stolen, or damaged. Pokemon cards only hold their value if they remain in 100% pristine condition. If a PSA 10 Charizard drops to PSA 9 while it’s in your possession, it loses 80% of its value. 
  • Demand for rare collectibles is extremely fickle. Sure, demand for rare Pokemon cards may be high right now, but it could easily disappear overnight as young investors and collectors turn to something else. The same thing happened with Beanie Babies, some of which sold for $10,000 in the late 90s and are worth less than $10 now. 

What are Pokemon cards?

For the uninitiated, Pokemon Cards are part of the Pokemon Card Trading Card Game that originally launched in 1996. Back then, the original set contained just 151 cards – one for each OG Pokemon. 

In simplest terms, Pokemon cards are baseball cards but for adorable Japanese “Pocket Monsters.” 

Since then, Pokemon has exploded into the world’s most valuable media franchise, valued at over $100 billion worldwide. For comparison, that’s more than Star Wars, Spongebob, and James Bond combined. 

Fueling two decades of meteoric growth was a steady stream of new Pokemon creatures – and thus new cards – to collect. There are around 898 total Pokemon and over 9,100 Pokemon cards to collect in the English market. 

Not all 9,100 cards are available on store shelves at once, of course. The Pokemon Company International, the folks who make Pokemon cards, publish and release cards one “generation” at a time, with each generation lasting about two years. 

In total, there have been eight generations of Pokemon cards since 1996. And as the next generation of cards begins appearing on store shelves, the previous generation tends to sell out. At that point, it’s no surprise that certain cards begin shooting up in value!

Summary

Pokemon cards have made a welcome resurgence during the pandemic, providing 90s and 2000s babies a thrilling form of nostalgic escapism. For some of us, the rise in old card values might’ve even provided a pinch of economic relief!

However, despite some high-profile sales and speculation of enduring popularity, rare Pokemon cards remain a dubious investment at best. Aside from high appraisal and auction fees, there’s simply no guarantee that a future buyer exists. 

If you’re looking for easy ways to multiply your money, we have plenty of alternative suggestions.

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About the author

Total Articles: 155
Chris helps people under 30 prosper - both financially and emotionally. In addition to publishing personal finance advice, Chris speaks on the topics of positive psychology and leadership. For speaking inquiries, check out his CAMPUSPEAK page, connect with him on Instagram, or watch his TEDx talk.