If you collected Pokemon cards in your youth, chances are you have an old shoe box storing your collection somewhere in mom’s basement. Rare Pokemon cards have been known to sell for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, but how can you tell if your cards are actually worth anything? Here’s how to determine if your Pokemon cards are valuable collector’s items or just a pile of cardboard nostalgia.We’re going to cover the two main factors that go into determining a Pokemon card’s value (rarity and condition) and then explain how to learn a card’s worth and where you can exchange it for money.
Pokemon Card Rarity
Anyone who has ripped open a Pokemon booster pack knows the thrill of flipping through the stack to see if a much sought-after rare card awaits them inside. Rare cards are the most valuable cards printed by Pokemon, and there have been quite a few different kinds released over the years. There are numerous factors that go into determining just how rare a card is.
The black symbol in the bottom corner of a Pokemon card denotes its rarity: a circle is common, a diamond is uncommon, and a star is rare. Traditionally the star is black, but a card with a star of an alternate color such as white or gold means it’s ultra rare.
A card bearing a first edition mark on the side means it’s from the first print run of a card set, which gives it extra value.
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Over the years, new card types have been introduced that look quite a bit different than your standard Pokemon card. These rare cards have names like Pokemon EX, Pokemon GX and Pokemon V/MAX and are unmistakable thanks to the holographic art taking up the entire card.
All of these different card types can be a lot to process for the uninitiated, so you can easily figure out which card you have by searching for it online using the set number found in the bottom corner.
There are other factors that can make a card valuable aside from what symbol is printed on it. Cards featuring popular Pokemon are eagerly sought after by fans, creating a high demand that increases value. Some popular Pokemon include:
Then there are limited-edition cards only obtainable by attending special events, entering contests, and competing in tournaments — these are some of the most valuable cards a Pokemon collector can obtain. We’ll cover these in more detail below.
Sorting your collection by these rarity types is a good starting point to identify the cream of the crop. These cards can then be appraised further to discover their true worth.
Don’t worry if most of your cards aren’t rares that are worth big money, that’s completely normal. If you find yourself with many cards not worth selling as singles, they can still be sold in bulk.
Pokemon Card Condition
Once you’ve figured out which cards in your collection are rare enough to consider selling, the next step is to assess their condition. Any card you think may have value should be stored in a protective sleeve and kept out of direct sunlight to preserve its condition.
A perfect mint or near-mint condition card will usually sell for full price, while any flaws will cause it to lose value.
There are obvious flaws such as scratches, bends, and tears, usually caused by playing with the cards or not storing them properly. This kind of damage can severely lower the value of a card.
Then there are minor imperfections, such as centering and chipping, that are a result of how well the card was printed. These flaws are less impactful on value and are usually only factored in when having the card professionally graded.
If you determine a card is worth selling, you may want to consider having it professionally authenticated and graded.The most popular third-party grading service is PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) and there are other well-known services such as BGS (Beckett Grading Services) and SCG (Sports Card Guarantee).Having a card graded mainly serves to gauge its condition on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. The higher the number grade, the more a card is worth. Cards in practically perfect condition receive the coveted “Gem Mint” rating, which raises its value further.After being graded, the card is sealed in a hard protective case and officially labeled with its grade. This serves to show buyers the card’s condition has been professionally determined and that it has been verified as real.Typically, cards have more value after being graded, so it’s worth considering if you find a valuable card in your collection. Having a card graded requires a fee, so reserve grading for cards you know have value.
Special Cards to Keep an Eye Out For
Aside from the various rares mentioned above, there are a few unique traits worth looking out for that can mean a Pokemon card has high value. These are often printing errors or limited distribution that led to a card becoming extremely precious to collectors. Sometimes these cards look no different than others of the same kind at first glance and require special attention to identify, so look carefully!
You may have heard the term “Shadowless” tossed around when referring to extremely valuable Pokemon cards. For example, a Shadowless Base Set Charizard card typically sells for a few thousand dollars on eBay. But what does this term mean and how can you tell if your card is Shadowless?
After the first print run of Base Set Pokemon cards, a drop shadow was added to the art box to spruce up the design a bit. Therefore, all of the cards from the original print run are referred to as Shadowless. Shadowless cards have become collector’s items because only a small amount of them exist.
Tournament and Promo Cards
Not all Pokemon cards come from booster packs. Some of the rarest Pokemon cards were only given out as tournament prizes or promotional giveaways. These cards usually bear a stamp on the art to identify where they came from or have a special promo star in the bottom corner, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for these sorts of markings on your cards.
Some of these special cards were quite commonplace back in the day–such as the promotional Mew card given out in 1999 to those who bought tickets for Pokemon: The First Movie– so they’re not worth more than a few dollars now.
Certain cards have spelling errors, formatting issues, misprints, or other mistakes that turn an otherwise unremarkable card into a rare collector’s item.
For example, an unlimited 1999 Pokemon Base Blastoise with “Stage” missing in the top right corner is referred to as “Stage Error Blastoise” and can go for thousands.
There are dozens and dozens of various error cards that have popped up over the years, so it may take you a while to check your collection for them, but it may be worth it if you wind up finding one. While some errors are common and not worth much, certain ones are extremely valuable to collectors.
Check out this list to see if you have a particularly rare error card.
How to Cash in On Your Pokemon Cards
Now that you’ve gone through your cards and identified which may have value, it’s time to see how much they’re actually worth and put them up for sale.
As you might expect, one of the easiest ways to check the value of a card is to look it up on an auction site like eBay. Make sure to look at completed listings to see how much the card actually sold for.
Other useful sites are ones like TCGPlayer and TrollAndToad, which act as digital storefronts for game shops and individuals selling cards. Once you look up a card, you can check the Market Price for an idea of how much it’s currently worth. Like eBay, these sites allow you to sell your cards for a fee.
Once you know how much your cards are worth, you can either make a listing on one of these sites to sell them, or you could visit a card shop or flea market to haggle in person, whatever it takes to get the very best price for your Pokemon cards.
Joshua is a Senior Editor and Producer of Features at IGN. If Pokemon, Green Lantern, or Star Wars are frequently used words in your vocabulary, you’ll want to follow him on Twitter @JoshuaYehl and IGN.
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