PSA Magazine

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Hobby Update

The $900,000 Pokémon TCG Trade

Trading has always been a big part of the card collecting hobby. After all, it’s in the name: trading cards. You may not have the funds to buy the card you’re looking for, but you might be able to trade something you’re willing to part with. It helps to build up the community and shows there’s almost something for anyone.

Since its inception, Pokémon has always been on an upward trajectory with a strong community following behind it. But the amount of five-figure, let alone six-figure, transactions that have occurred recently is utterly astounding. For example, in December 2020, a trade was made with an estimated $900,000 worth of cards for just one “holy grail” of a card. To accumulate a collection of cards worth that much in Pokémon’s short existence is a feat in and of itself. But for Marco, a collector in Italy, it provided an opportunity to attain the greatest prize in the trading card game (TCG) spectrum: An Illustrator Pikachu graded PSA MINT 9.

While we couldn’t include both parties of the transaction, Marco was able to present his views on the grand trade. He has been a fan of Pokémon from the beginning. Like most kids who got caught up in the hype during the late ‘90s, he played the video games, watched the anime and played the card game. He started with the Base Set, but after the Neo era, it seemed like interest was starting to fade locally. When Pokémon Go appeared, his interest was reignited, and in 2018, he started to collect again and assembled an impressive collection. It was with this collection that he was able to make the biggest trade of his life.

Finding the Best Trade Assets for the Holy Grail

A trade like this would require a big-name Pokémon, so it wasn’t too surprising that Charizard had to be involved in the deal. Oops, make that multiple Charizards. Marco was introduced through his friend Mohannad, to a party in Dubai that showed interest in his Charizards, but he wasn’t looking for a cash offer. He wanted to see if a trade could be made, so he shot for the moon. Mohannad handled negotiations for both parties and through a bit of back-and-forth, Marco landed on 12 items in his collection for the highly coveted Illustrator Pikachu. Of the 12, here is a list of the most notable items.

1st Edition Base Set Charizard PSA GEM-MT 10

The 1st Edition Base Set Charizard is iconic with the most recognizable artwork. It is also the card that everyone has known and wanted since day one.

Charizard

Charizard CD Promo Signed by Ken Sugimori PSA GEM-MT 10

The signed Charizard CD Promo was a Japanese release with artwork straight from the Pokémon Red’s box art by art director and character designer Ken Sugimori.

1st Edition Neo Destiny Shining Charizard PSA GEM-MT 10

1st Edition Neo Destiny Shining Charizard could be the rookie card of Shiny Charizard appearing in black.

Charizard

Skyridge Crystal Charizard PSA GEM-MT 10

Skyridge was the last set released by Wizards of the Coast, so the print run was very low. Crystal Charizard was also unique as it was a colorless type character rather than the typical fire-type to which we became accustomed.

1st, 2nd and 3rd Place Trophy Pikachu - Authenticated by PSA

The three Trophy Pikachus were sketched and colored by Mitsuhiro Arita at a special event in Milano. He drew them the same way he did for the 1997 1st, 2nd and 3rd place Trophy Pikachu cards that were awarded to tournament winners.

Mitsuhiro Arita drawings

Finalizing the Details

To find the values of the cards, both Marco and his trade partner went through extensive data on completed listings for the ones that were available. For unique items like the Mitsuhiro Arita drawings, they had to find some common ground and make the best educated guess they could. As previously mentioned, the estimated value of the cards Marco sent were worth around $900,000. Once the deal was finalized, the cards ended up making the trek between Dubai and Italy, thus fulfilling a monstrous deal using very significant cards in the transaction.

Why the Illustrator Pikachu Is so Valuable

Marco provided important points that factor into why the card is so significant.

“The Illustrator Pikachu is a double star rarity card, which means it is the top level of rarity for the old school era,” he said. “Examples of cards that received this [distinction] are the Trophy Pikachu and the Super Secret Battle.

“The artwork is unique, showing Pikachu and Charmander on a holographic card. It says ‘Illustrator’ at the top which no other card has that designation with a description that congratulates the winner of the CoroCoro magazine contest. You will not find this anywhere and it was not released with an English version. This card was illustrated by Atsuko Nishida, who originally designed Pikachu.

“It is an iconic card with historical value,” he continued. “It has always been considered a holy grail in the hobby. Twenty years ago, the card was sold for $20,000 on eBay during a time when not many cards sold for $100. This historical sale started the demand for this rare card.

Pikachu

“Lastly, it is a card that has rarity behind it. Only 39 were officially released via three different contests through CoroCoro magazine with a few more printed for Nishida and other employees at GameFreak. It is important to remember that it was a contest for kids, so it is insanely hard to find in good condition. It was also before the Base Set even made it out to the world, so Pokémon was in another universe at the time.”

Marco then shared some history about his exact card. The card was purchased by a winner of the contest from Japan. It was then submitted to PSA for grading by popular Pokémon collector, Scott Pratte. The card was sold to a buyer for $55,000 some seven years ago and it marked the first PSA 9 ever sold. At the time, a PSA 10 Base Set 1st Edition Charizard was selling in the $10,000 price range.

Trading Toward Your Goals

The last time a PSA 9 Illustrator Pikachu sold was in July 2020 for $233,244. A PSA NM 7 then sold for $375,000 in February 2021. Marco shared that he has received offers of seven figures and that it is very difficult to put a price on such a special card. He has been in contact with the owners of the other PSA 9s and the lone PSA 10, and the general feeling is that he has no plans to sell. The Illustrator Pikachu is the Honus Wagner of Pokémon cards and sits at the top of the Pokémon TCG collecting world. The best trades are always win-win situations, like in Marco’s case, so you really can’t go wrong with a strong collection of Charizards or an Illustrator Pikachu. Trading is a great tool in reaching your collecting goals and building relationships. If something is missing, who knows? There might just be a trade out there waiting to complete your collection.


Please feel free to contact Joseph Facundo at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. All card images shown in the article are courtesy of Marco.

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