Profiling a Premier Pokémon Trading Card Prognosticator
by Kevin Glew
He was a Pokémon trading card collecting prodigy.
By his late teens, Scott Pratte had the foresight to track down many rare Pokémon cards that are now some of the most valuable in the hobby.
"I was looking for other things to collect because in the mid-2000s we didn't have as many Pokémon cards as we have now," explained the now 29-year-old Pratte. "I had most of the regular sets, but I remember really digging online and searching for the rarest Pokémon cards. I recall the first time I stumbled upon trophy cards, which were [extremely limited] cards awarded at tournaments. I looked at them and thought, 'Oh my God! I didn't even know these existed!' It was just like in Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave,' when the prisoners step outside of the cave for the first time and discover the sun. That's how it felt."
Armed with this same type of persistence, in 2011, Pratte landed a sharp, ungraded example of the 1998 Pikachu Illustrator card, which is widely regarded as the "Honus Wagner" of Pokémon cards. This rare single was awarded to winners of the CoroCoro Comic Illustration contest in Japan in January 1998. Pratte says only 20 to 39 copies were handed out, but far fewer than that have surfaced for sale. The savvy collector submitted his card to PSA and it became the first example to receive a PSA MINT 9 grade.
In September 2013, Pratte made international headlines when he listed another PSA 9 of the 1998 Pikachu Illustrator card for $100,000 or Best Offer on eBay. He fielded over 430 offers for it and eventually sold it for $50,000. It's interesting to note that, at one point or another, he has owned all four PSA 9 examples of this card and has sold them for as much as $60,000.
"The last one that I sold was in a Heritage Auction [in November 2016] and it sold for $55,000," said Pratte.
This lofty price was a revelation to many sports collectors who had no idea that Pokémon cards could realize such a value. Pratte has since been contacted by a vintage baseball collector who has expressed interest in purchasing some of his other Pokémon trophy cards.
These five-figure sales have also helped ease the minds of Pratte's parents, who initially preferred that their son pursue a more traditional career.
But even with these impressive sales under his belt, Pratte still regards himself as a collector first. He rarely sells a card unless he has doubles of it.
The ambitious 29-year-old grew up in Florissant, Missouri, a northern suburb of St. Louis, and like many American boys, his first memories of trading cards are baseball cards.
"The police officers in the area would hand out little packets of baseball cards," recalled Pratte. "I think I was probably about seven at the time."
Pratte also collected Topps hockey cards as a child. He was - and still is - a diehard St. Louis Blues fan, but like many children in the late 1990s, he got swept up in the Pokémon craze.
Pratte played the video game and watched the TV show before Wizards of the Coast unveiled trading cards in 1999. And though he now possesses the world's most valuable collection of Pokémon cards, when the 1st Edition (Base Set) cards were released, they weren't available in the Midwest and Pratte had to settle for the less desirable, unlimited version of these cards. But he didn't care at the time because he was just having fun trading the cards with his friends.
"In 1999-2000, Pokémon cards were rampant," shared Pratte. "It seemed like every single kid had Pokémon cards, and if you didn't have any, you were the weird guy."
During his high school years, Pratte moved to Edwardsville, Illinois, and stopped collecting, but he started up again while he was at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
In retrospect, Pratte believes that attending college without a clear career goal in mind is what eventually led him down the road of collecting Pokémon cards again. "I had no idea what direction I wanted to go, so I think collecting Pokémon cards really stabilized me in a way. It was one of those things that I started researching because I wanted to see what the hobby was like, and then it kind of snowballed. It started out as this venture to fill some void, because I didn't know what my future was going to be, and then it turned into this serious endeavor. I would say it was around 2007 that I really started to become a serious collector."
But while most collectors at that time were zeroing in on American cards, Pratte began tracking down Japanese promotional cards. He also decided to major in Philosophy and he met his future wife, Elizabeth. He figured he'd obtain his degree in Philosophy, complete another graduate degree, and perhaps become a professor (like his wife is now).
"I was going to do something similar to my wife, but Pokémon got in the way," said Pratte. "The business of buying and selling took up so much time that I eventually directed my efforts towards that instead."
Yet even after he graduated, Pratte wasn't entirely convinced that buying and selling Pokémon cards was the proper career path for him, so he worked briefly for an insurance company.
"That job lasted literally for three-and-a-half days," said Pratte with a chuckle. "It was one of those times where I had a choice to pursue what I was already doing with cards and put more time and energy into that, or just take an ordinary job. So I went the standard career route and I ended up in the health insurance claims business. It was a for-profit business where you help people with their Social Security and Medicare. I've never been in a place that was more soul wrenching. It was so depressing. In hindsight, it was a good experience because I think it propelled me to go in the other direction."
Thereafter, Pratte began buying and selling Pokémon cards full time, and since then, he has built the largest collection of rare and trophy Pokémon cards in the world.
Initially, he just amassed his cards in ungraded form, but in 2008, a friend introduced him to PSA and to the concept of card grading.
"I was kind of on the fence because I liked my sets in binders, but when I started buying these trophy cards, I didn't know what to do with them. I didn't want to put them in a binder," he said. "I put one of my trophy cards in a screwdown [holder], but I remember removing it and part of the paint on the card's back chipping off. It was a nightmare and I needed a better solution, so that's what led me to PSA. I started submitting to them because of protection. I liked their holders because it protected the cards and they were too valuable to put in a binder."
With that, Pratte became one of the first to grade Pokémon cards on a large scale with PSA.
"PSA, in my opinion, is the best option for protecting your cards," he said. "Their clamshell case is my favorite. At first, I graded my cards mainly for protection, but once I started to get doubles of certain cards, that's when I started to sell PSA-graded cards. I really came to value the grading system because it basically eliminated all of the back and forth that takes place regarding a card's condition."
Of the hundreds of Pokémon cards in his collection, he still ranks that first PSA 9 1998 Pikachu Illustrator card as his favorite.
"I think a lot of people associate me with that card," said Pratte. "I guess I'm synonymous with it because I've graded every single PSA 9 that's been out there, and that copy that I purchased in 2011 was the only known example for a long time ... I still have that first card and it would be one of the more difficult items for me to sell, even for a phenomenal price."
Among the other cornerstones of his collection are the first-ever Pikachu trophy cards that were awarded in 1997, which Pratte describes as "hands down the most notable Pokémon trophy cards." He has received offers "pushing six figures" for his three-card, PSA-graded set that includes two PSA 9s and a PSA NM-MT 8.
"These cards were only awarded at the first official Pokémon tournament in Japan, and according to documentation from that tournament, four copies of each were awarded to the first-, second-, and third-place winners. I have the whole set in the highest grade," noted Pratte. "I also have two spares of cards from that set, so I essentially have half of all the copies that were awarded."
Pratte also ranks his three-card set of 1999 Secret Super Battle (SSB) Mewtwo cards as another highlight of his collection. These were awarded to the first-, second-, and third-place finishers at a tournament in Japan. Pratte says only nine to 18 of these cards were manufactured in total. In his three-card set, the first and second cards have been graded PSA GEM-MT 10s, while the third is a PSA 8.
"I've been offered five figures for each of the cards, but I don't plan on selling them," he said.
Pratte's collection also boasts many other rare trophy cards and cards released exclusively in Japan, as well as several highly-coveted early Wizards of the Coast sets. He possesses a PSA 10 example of the 1999 Pokémon 1st Edition (Base Set) Charizard card (#4), which has been deemed the 1993 SP Derek Jeter of Pokémon cards.
Pratte has been blown away by the tremendous increase in prices for the early Wizards of the Coast unopened boxes and PSA-graded cards in recent years.
"It's insane. The best way I can explain it is through this interaction I had with another collector in 2009. We were debating in an online forum about whether a PSA 10 Base Charizard was actually worth $700, and I thought that price was too high. But now there is an eBay auction [which closed in late March 2017] where that same card just sold for $16,270. That's probably a good metric to show how much interest has grown," said Pratte.
Though they still fetch five-figure sums, trophy cards have not spiked in value at the same pace, but Pratte says that's largely because people don't know a lot about them.
"If you look at the trophy card prices from a few years ago to now, the growth is not comparable to the [1999 Pokémon 1st Edition (Base Set)] Charizard, and that's 110% due to the fact that these cards are under the radar," said Pratte. Once the general public learns more about these cards, he adds, the lure and appeal will start to grow as well.
So why is the market so strong for early and rare high-grade Pokémon cards right now? Pratte says one of the reasons is that unlike sports cards, a lot of today's kids are still into Pokémon cards.
"I think what really bolsters Pokémon is that there's basically a seamless timeline of heavy demand," he said. Both the younger and older generations are still very much attracted to these cards, he explains, so there has been no lack of interest and therefore no lapse in the market.
For Pratte, one of the positive things about his five-figure sales of Pokémon cards is that his parents are now on board with his career choice, even if they don't fully understand it.
"I think they realize now that it's something I can make a living on and they don't have to worry about me," he said.
Their son, in fact, has become so renowned as a Pokémon expert that they can now watch him on his own YouTube channel (smpratte). He started the channel in August 2016 and he already has 2,000 subscribers. He uses the channel to discuss rare Pokémon cards, break down key sets, and answers collector questions.
"I'm still trying to figure out YouTube," he said. "I record myself and don't do any edits. It's for the online forum [Elite Forum: http://efour.proboards.com] I started. That's the main reason why I started it. It's been pretty good and people are receptive. I believe there's a need for expert advice, but my channel is still very new."
Pratte believes the market for rare and early Pokémon cards hasn't fully developed yet and is destined to get even stronger.
"I still think we're in the early stage of the [Pokémon trading card] market's development," said Pratte."If you look at Magic: The Gathering cards, for example, Magic hobbyists are highly aware of the market value of their cards; whereas with Pokémon, there isn't that awareness. In Magic, everyone seems to be on top of things. It's almost like a stock market. There are sites for Magic that have trends for every card of every set. Pokémon just isn't at that level yet."
For more information on Pokémon cards, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/#7non-sports-cards.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any comments. Thank you to Scott Pratte for providing images for this article. Please note that any Population Report figures quoted or pricing reported are those as of May 2017.