As the most prominent media franchise of all time, Pokémon is worth an incredible $92.121 billion.
It all began in 1996 when Satoshi Tajiri created the first video game of the franchise: Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, for Japanese audiences.
Over the next fifteen years, Pokémon became a multi-media franchise, setting records with each installment. The widely successful video game series sparked the creation of a Pokémon TV series with over one thousand episodes. On top of that, the Pokémon Trading Card Game is the most popular Collectible Card Game (CCG) worldwide.
Do you remember the good ol’ days when you’d stop in a toy shop with your parents and beg them for a pack of Pokémon cards to collect and trade with your friends? In the late 90s and early 2000s, one pack of those cards cost less than $2. Today, unopened packs can be worth hundreds of dollars, and some rare single cards can go for any price between $30 to $200,000!
If you were a Pokémon fiend back in the day, you might want to scourage through your parents’ basement to find your long-lost collection. Who knows—maybe you’re sitting on a rare Charizard that could cover the rent this month!
The Pokémon Collecting Craze
Media Factory introduced Pokémon cards to the Japanese Market in 1996. It took three more years until their release in North America. From 1999 to 2003, Wizards of the Coast owned the license for the game. In mid-2003, they handed over the license to Pokémon Company International.
Pokémon cards boasted widespread popularity ever since their initial release. But in mid-2020, at the pandemic’s height, fans of the franchise used their free time to reengage with their childhood hobby. A massive surge in popularity followed, boosting the value of increasingly rare cards.
Because Wizards of the Coast only produced the cards between 1999 to 2003, these sets are limited. The most valuable of these early cards come from the 1st Edition Base Set, followed by Shadowless and Unlimited sets.
A few factors impact the actual amount of money you can make selling your old Pokémon cards. The most valuable cards are, of course, in pristine condition and come from an exclusive set. It helps if they have received an excellent grade from a professional third-party grading service. On top of that, you must have the business and marketing skills to connect with the right buyers, avoid scammers, and present your products professionally.
We’ll cover everything you need to know to turn Pokémon card flipping into a side hustle a little later on. First, let’s fantasize about your earning potential by gaping at the top five most expensive Pokémon cards to date.
These Pokémon cards sold for crazy prices at auctions held by serious collectors. While it’s possible to make a profit flipping Pokémon cards, don’t go into it expecting to stumble upon a card worth $300,000. The number of Pokémon cards out there worth $1 or less vastly outnumber those worth even $500.
5: Kangaskhan Family Event Trophy: $150,100
The Kangaskhan Family Event Trophy card sold for over $150,000 at an auction in October 2020. This card is so limited in quantity that its value is off the charts. The company gave this exclusive Pokémon card to a select few who competed and won events at the 1998 live ‘parent and child team’ Mega Battle in Japan.
4: Wizards Of The Coast Blastoise Prototype: $360,000
In 1998, Wizards of the Coast wooed Nintendo in an attempt to land the Pokémon Card Trading Game licensing deal for the North American market. They produced a series of Pokémon card prototypes to display to the Pokémon Company’s executives.
One of these prototypes features Blastoise, a central figure in the Pokémon Blue game. The prototype only has an image on the front because its creators never intended to distribute it for sale. Wizards of the Coast only made two copies of this prototype, which has blasted its value even higher. It went to auction in January of 2021 and sold for $360,000.
3: 1st Edition Charizard, Holographic: $369,000
Not only is this Holographic Charizard Pokémon card from the revered 1st Edition Set. The Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC), one of the most trusted third-party card grading services, also rated it and gave it the highest possible condition rating: SGC Gold Label Pristine 10. A rare card in such good condition is even more unique. Plus, everyone loves Charizard! In December of 2020, this card sold for $369,000.
2: Base Set Shadowless 1st Edition Charizard: $420,000
Charizard cards are generally more sought after than others, and it’s been this way since 1999. That’s one reason why this Base Set Charizard card from 1999 is so valuable today. At the PWCC Auction in March of 2020, the card sold for a record-breaking $420,000. However, a few months later, another card would swoop in and grab the World Record title.
1: Pikachu Illustrator: $5,275,000
The Pikachu Illustrator cards were a prize for winners of the 1998 Pokémon Illustrator Artist Contest held by the CoroCoro Comic magazine. Twenty-three initial winners received the Pikachu Illustrator card as a prize, followed by sixteen winners the following year. The company never produced the card again, and only a few mint-condition Pikachu Illustrator cards exist today.
The other thing that makes this card so valuable is the Pikachu design; the original Pikachu designer, Atsuko Nishida himself, created it.
In 2022, one of these rare cards went up for sale at the Goldin Memorabilia Auctions. It sold for a whopping $900,000. But that’s not the end of the story. A few months later, YouTuber Logan Paul announced that he purchased the only PSA 10 Pikachu Illustrator from Marwan Dubsy in Dubai. He spent $5,275,000 on this exclusive card, earning him the Guinness World Record for the most expensive Pokémon trading card sold at a private sale.
How to Find a Pokémon Card’s Value
Many factors contribute to the value of a Pokémon card. To ensure you’re not sitting on a rare card worth thousands of dollars, you’ll need to know how to figure out each card’s worth. Let’s get into it.
Pokémon Card Rarity
First, determine how rare the card is. There are multiple steps to this part of the process, all of which you can complete by examining the card closely and accessing the internet.
1: Determine the Card’s Set
Figuring out the set the card originated from helps you separate your cards into piles of high-value sets and lower-value sets. Typically, the older the set, the higher the value.
Type the card’s name into your favorite search engine and the card number in the bottom right-hand corner. The internet will do the rest!
2: Examine the Card’s Rarity Symbol
Each Pokémon card is marked with a symbol to display its rarity level to players. Sorting your cards by rarity is a great way to filter out the less valuable cards from your collection.
You can find the card’s rarity symbol in the bottom right corner, which is typically slightly above the card number.
- Circle: Common Card. These aren’t typically worth much unless they’re from 1999 or 2000.
- Diamond: Uncommon Card. As with the common cards, they’re not particularly valuable unless they come from 1999 or 2000.
- Star: Rare Card. Some even more rare cards have a star H or three stars. Keep an eye out for these because they can be extra valuable.
3: Check for a Shadow
Pokémon card collectors know that “Shadowless” cards are more valuable than those with a shadow because these were produced in limited quantities by Wizards of the Coast.
Take a look at the image of the Pokémon on the card. If it has a drop shadow behind it, it’s not a Shadowless card. You may have a valuable card if there is no visible shadow.
4: When Was It Made?
Generally, Wizards of the Coast cards from 1999 and 2000 are the most valuable Pokémon cards. Luckily, there’s a simple way for you to figure out whether or not your card is from this entire period.
Take a look at the very bottom of the card, slightly to the left of the card number. If it says “Wizards of the Coast” or “1999-2000 Wizards,” this card could be worth some money.
Pokémon Card Condition
The best way to determine a card’s condition is to send it off to a third-party grading service. However, those services typically charge a hefty fee, so it’s only worthwhile to rely on them for cards you know will bring in the big bucks.
You can also evaluate the condition yourself if you follow these guidelines:
Standard Card Grading Terminology
- Damaged: Cards with a damaged rating are so beaten up that they’re unplayable in tournaments. That can be due to tearing, intense creasing, staining, and more.
- Heavy Play: These cards are well-loved and typically unplayable in tournaments. It’s caused by many issues, such as tearing, creasing, staining, water damage, etc.
- Moderate Play: A card with this rating looks worse for the wear but is still playable. It will show significant staining, some tearing, creasing, and other damage.
- Light Play: You can tell a careful Pokémon collector played with these cards and treated them with the utmost care. They’ll have minor scrapes, nicks, edge wear, and stains.
- Near Mint to Mint: These cards have very few minor imperfections. These cards should be almost brand-new. They can have minimal amounts of superficial damage.
How Expensive Is This Pokémon Card?
You’ve sorted your Pokémon cards into piles, and you now have a good sense of which ones are worth a cent and which could bring in a nice chunk of change. The last step is to determine just how much your Pokémon cards are selling for today.
Examine Current Prices Online
While you’ll typically find the Pokémon cards worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for sale at auctions, you can find plenty of cards worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars online. Visit online sales platforms like:
- Facebook Marketplace
Then use the search function to determine your card’s current monetary value. Look through multiple listings on multiple sites to get a good idea of the card’s average price. Pay attention not just to price, but also the highest price that actually sold.
Sending it to a Card Grading Service
Suppose you want to get a professional opinion on the value of your card. In that case, you can send it to a third-party grading service. Take a look at the list of the most valuable Pokémon cards above. You’ll see that they received excellent grades from agencies like PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) and SGC (Sportscard Guaranty Corporation). An exceptional rate from a grading service can increase the value dramatically.
However, these services are expensive. Depending on the value of the card and the grading service you choose, the prices can range from fifty to five-hundred dollars. So when selecting the cards you want to send for authentication, tread carefully.
Selling Pokémon Cards as a Side Hustle
Flipping Pokémon cards takes a ton of time and can be risky. However, this side hustle can be super profitable if you’re dedicated, organized, and business savvy.
Collecting the Pokémon Cards
You may already have a collection of Pokémon cards on your hands. Still, to sustain your side hustle, you’ll probably need to invest in some Pokémon cards to sell later at a higher price. Hunting for the best deals can be tricky if you don’t know some essential best practices for investing in Pokémon cards.
Set Broad Search Filters
No matter what online platform you’re browsing, it’s a good idea to set broad search filters to snag valuable cards at lower prices.
When most people search online for Pokémon cards, they’ll type in precisely what they want. Few people will be interested in these cards because the algorithm can’t include them in the buyer’s search. Sometimes, the person who posted the card on eBay doesn’t properly tag the item or misspells something in the title.
If you cast a wider net, you’ll catch more fish. You’ll probably have to sort through a long list to find the good ones, but this technique can help you snag a card that would otherwise be priced much higher.
Don’t limit your search to one platform. Sellers often cross-post the same card on online platforms like eBay and Mercari, and sometimes the price is lower on one platform than another.
You can find Pokémon cards in pawn shops, estate sales, specialized Facebook groups, and Craigslist. Widen your search, and you’ll find a better selection.
The High-Quality Photo Rule
If you’re buying Pokémon cards online, you must ensure the seller posts many high-quality photos. That way, you can examine the card to get a sense of the condition and reassurance that the card is authentic.
Be Wary of Scammers and Fakes
Unfortunately, Pokémon scammers are out there, and it’s essential to be careful. Watch out for fake Pokémon cards, cards that arrive in worse condition than advertised, and sellers who promise to send you a card and never do. Always go through the proper payment channels, and don’t be afraid to ask for more photos.
Selling Your Pokémon Cards
Now for the fun part: selling the cards and making money. Many of the strategies for selling Pokémon cards parallel the tricks for buying.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Suppose you learn the basics of each online marketplace’s SEO guidelines. Use the right keywords, post a great thumbnail, and promote your listings in other ways. This way, your cards will get in front of more potential buyers.
As we already noted, high-quality photos encourage people to purchase a particular card. So it’s a no-brainer that you’d take a wide variety of great images of each card.
Posting high-quality photos on your listing can increase the card’s value because it ensures that your buyers trust you.
Sell Cards on Multiple Platforms
To sell more cards in a shorter period, it helps if you at least try posting your listings on a few different platforms. Find the right balance for you – adding too many can be overwhelming.
You can even cross-post the same card on multiple sites and keep track of which help you bring in the highest profit.
Be Wary of Buyer Scams
Buyers scam sellers just as much as sellers can scam buyers. On top of that, platforms like Mercari take the buyer’s side in a dispute more often than not.
To protect yourself, only accept money through the proper channels when you sell through online marketplaces. If you’re meeting in person, don’t take anything but cash. Make sure to document each item and sale intricately in text and photos. That way, if a buyer destroys the card and claims that you sent it in poor condition, you have proof of their scam.
The joy of playing the Pokémon Card Trading Game with friends as a kid is unlike any other. If you’re an adult who misses your old hobby, perhaps it’s time to get back in the saddle. Collecting Pokémon cards is time-consuming, let alone flipping them for profit. However, reigniting your childhood passion in a new way may be just the activity for you.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Photo by Caleb Oquendo.
Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and editor. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, Healthline’s Bezzy Depression, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about social justice, history, and entertainment journalism. In her free time, she loves binging horror movies, spending time with her girlfriend, and needle-felting monster sculptures.