The resurgence of Pokemon has young adults rummaging through their closets in hopes of finding their old trading card collection.
And, if they’re lucky, a rare card that could make them a fortune.
The 1997 Japanese anime-turned-trading-card-game-turned-video-game series holds a special place in the hearts of ’90s kids, who cherished the furry creatures with elemental powers that could be traded and battled and hoarded for years to come.
For Scott Pratte, a Pokemon enthusiast and card-trading expert, the hobby never dimmed. Pratte collects and sells some of the most treasured Pokemon cards in the world.
“I’ve done seven-figure deals,” Pratte said. “That’s just one deal, not even my lifetime” earnings.
Due to nondisclosure agreements, he can’t say exactly which cards have made him the most money, but he said that his trophy cards, aka the rarest Pokemon cards on the market, easily rake in upwards of $1 million.
Only a select few people hold these trophy cards, usually those who won Pokemon tournaments in the early 2000s and were awarded ultra limited edition cards. But there are a fair amount of more common Pokemon cards that could sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Top Tips in This Article
Pratte, our expert card trader and collector, provided lots of tips to make money selling Pokemon cards. Here is his best advice:
- First edition or New Edition? All kidding aside, we know that you know New Edition is a boy band from the ’70s and ’80s. Still, you need to know what you have in that box of Pokemon cards. In other words, which are the rare cards and which are not. Do you have one of the original holographic cards? Cha-ching.
- What’s the condition of your cards? If they’ve been under the bed in a box so light didn’t fade them or the dog didn’t get to them, you may be in good shape. Never taken out of the wrapper? More cha-ching. That is what’s called mint. All cards in good condition are likely worth more than what you (or your mom) paid for them.
- The best place to sell Pokemon cards? It’s eBay all the way. It would be great to sell one card for oodles of money and eBay has facilitated some of that. But if you want a big audience and buyers willing to shell out $30 a pop for your cards, you can rack up sales.
- Think you’ve got something valuable? Consult the Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and get an estimate. This will put you in a good position to haggle with a buyer, which you should expect to do.
Pokemon Cards Worth Selling
The two biggest value factors to consider if you want to sell Pokemon cards are their rarity and condition.
Rarity: Is Your Collection All That Special?
In terms of rarity, “base-set” cards are where the money is for most collectors, and these cards are the most traded ones in the hobby. Set cards are “any card you can pull from a pack” bought from the store, Pratte said. The base set comprises the original 102 cards printed in 1999 and includes classic Pokemon like Pikachu, Blastoise, Charizard and Venusaur.
A complete first-edition base set in mint condition sold for $100,000 in December 2017. If you have a base-set card in your card collection, there are a few visual indicators of its worth.
Holographic cards: These are the most discernable at first glance. The background of the Pokemon illustration is shiny and reflective — not the whole card, only the picture of the monster. They’re typically referred to as “holo” cards, and only 16 of the original 102 are holo.
First-edition cards: Directly next to the left corner of the illustration appears the “edition 1” logo. These rare cards were bought up shortly after initial release and remain some of the most sought-after and valuable cards.
Shadowless cards: This version is almost identical to the first-edition prints but excludes the first-edition logo. If you don’t have a newer card for comparison, this is particularly hard to notice: the illustration box appears 2D. On newer cards, the picture box has a shadow along the right border to give it a 3D appearance.
Unlimited cards: These cards are still old and rare, but they do not include the first-edition symbol and have an added shadow behind the illustration to give the picture box a 3D effect. To check if your card is part of the base set, look at the bottom right corner of the picture box. If you do not see one of the many later-added set symbols, then you have a base-set, Unlimited card.
Condition: Did You Take Good Care of Your Cards?
The second important factor in a card’s value is the condition. If you do happen to have a first-edition, holographic base-set Charizard, you’re not guaranteed thousands of dollars. The selling price depends on how well the card has been taken care of.
If you have a card that you expect is worth more than $100, Pratte recommends getting it graded by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA).
Despite its name, the PSA grades all kinds of trading cards, including non-sports cards like Pokemon. PSA’s 10-point grading scale is accepted as the industry standard, and the company also publishes price guides to help you determine a card’s worth.
According to its current valuations, first-edition cards in perfect condition are valued at a minimum of $40. Those aren’t rarer, holographic cards either. A first-edition holo in mint condition can rake in between $1,000 and $24,000.
So why Pratte’s $100 limit? Well, the number isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the card-grading services offered by PSA will cost $20 or more per card, meaning a lower-value card doesn’t always merit the cost to get it authenticated.
“It’s a process,” PSA spokesperson Terry Melia said. “But it’s something that could reap big rewards in the end.”
In addition to grading the condition of the card, PSA ensures the card isn’t a forgery by using high-powered lights and magnifying equipment to check for tampering.
“There are a lot of forgeries and bogus merchandise out there,” Melia said.
Especially so online.
Examples of Valuable Pokemon Cards
The table below includes the values of some of the rarest Pokemon cards in the world, ie ones that were acquired as prizes for winning competitions in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
These types of cards were never available to the general public, and they make headlines every so often by selling for six figures at auction. (But as Pratte notes, they may sell privately for much higher — and may be subject to NDAs.) The table also includes some cards that were available publicly as part of the original base set prints. According to Pratte, these are the most commonly sold cards among hobbyists. And if you do have a rare card in your collection, it is likely to be of this type. Note how the condition (on a scale of one to 10) drastically changes the value.
Valuable Pokemon Cards
|Holo Pikachu (Illustrator)
|n/a; limited contest release
|Holo Edition 1 Charizard
|Gem Mint 10 (Perfect)
|Holo Edition 1 Charizard
|Near Mint 7
|Gem Mint 10 (Perfect)
|Near Mint 8
After you’ve done some homework — checking the type of card, estimating its value and sending it in for authentication, if needed — you’re finally ready to sell.Where to Sell Pokemon Cards
The Best Place to Sell Your Pokemon Cards Online: eBay
“The main marketplace is for sure going to be eBay,” Pratte said. “Even if you’re someone who just stumbled upon your childhood collection, it’s really easy to take a couple of pictures [and] make a decent listing.”
Why eBay? It’s home to several high-profile deals, and it also caters to the $20 and $30 transactions. In short, eBay is the perfect meeting ground for nostalgic buyers and sellers and those who’ve been wheeling and dealing Pokemon cards since the ’90s.
Other Places to Sell Your Pokemon Cards
- Cardmarket: a German-based online marketplace that caters to trading-card-game hobbyists.
- Troll and Toad: a hub for all gaming-related things, including video games, table-top games and trading-card games.
- TCGplayer: an e-commerce marketplace that allows stores and hobbyists alike to buy and sell trading cards.
- Facebook Marketplace: a free tool connected to your Facebook profile that allows you to buy or sell almost any physical item locally.
- Local comic book or hobby shops: a great alternative to Facebook Marketplace if you want to buy or sell Pokemon cards without the hassle of shipping.
Selling Pokemon Cards: Expert Tips and Takeaways
- Look for rarity indicators such as the type of Pokemon, set symbol and shadow box (or lack thereof) and, of course, the holographic reflection.
- Pratte recommends getting your cards authenticated and graded if you know they’re worth at least $100 each—and especially if you plan to see them. For cards of lesser value, the cost of getting it graded could exceed the potential selling price of the card.
- Don’t fret if you don’t have ultra-rare cards. Even some of the lesser-known cards in the base set are worth about $20 each as long as they’re in good condition.
- Be prepared to haggle. Getting them graded can definitely help prove your cards are legitimate, but you’ll still need to back up their worth with quotes from other buyers, PSA’s price guide and other sources when negotiating to get the best deal.
Do Pawn Shops Buy Pokemon Cards?
Pawn shops do buy Pokemon cards in some cases, but we don’t recommend selling them there. Unless the pawn shop is known to specialize in trading card games, chances are high the clerk won’t know the ins and outs of Pokemon card trading. So you can expect a lowball offer.
If you want to sell them locally and in-person, try comic book shops or hobby shops instead.
What’s the Most Valuable Pokemon Card?
The “Pikachu Illustrator” cards have sold for the highest amount, publicly at least. These cards were awarded to winners of a Pokemon contest held in Japan circa 1998. Less than 40 of these cards are known to exist. In recent years, a few have sold for between $100,000 and $375,000.
Gem mint 10 (aka perfect condition) first edition holographic Charizards from the 1999 base set are nearly as valuable. They have sold for as much as $369,000 at auction. Most recently, the card sold for $270,600, according to the PSA.
Should I Sell My Old Pokemon Card Collection?
You should sell your Pokemon card collection only if you are prepared to part with it and you know its really worth it. In true Marie Kondo fashion: if owning the cards brings you joy, then keep them. If selling them would bring you more joy, do that instead.
Should I Get My Pokemon Cards Graded?
Getting your Pokemon cards graded can take a while, and it can cost you about $20 per card. With that in mind, you should consider getting your card graded so long as its value exceeds about $20.
Some exceptions apply. For example, if you own an entire base set that you’re looking to sell (or display), getting each card graded may be worth it — even if an individual card is worth less than $20 — as having the entire set graded would enhance its overall value.
Take the Time to Study Their Worth
As Pokemon re-enters mainstream culture with the release of new video games and movies, expect to see an uptick in buying and selling activity of old cards. But interest doesn’t pick up overnight.
“It’s not binary in that sense,” Pratte said.
Instead, it’s a more gradual process where each new Pokemon-related release reminds twenty- and thirty-somethings of their childhood: the crinkling sound of ripping open a new pack of cards followed by a strong whiff of ink as they shuffle through the set, hoping to find something rare.
But as you rummage through your collection, remember that there’s no rush to purge now. Spend some time with your cards. See if they’re valuable. Consider getting them authenticated. Then decide if they’re worth selling.
After two decades, Pokemon — and its card-collecting hobbyists — aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Adam Hardy is a former staff writer for The Penny Hoarder and specializes in stories on the gig economy. He’s a University of South Florida graduate, who studied magazine journalism and sociology.