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How to Determine the Value of Your Old Pokémon Cards

Your friendly neighborhood slacker. Chill Clinton likes to write about film, music, collectibles, and more.

So you've found your old Pokémon collection from when you were a kid, but how do you figure out whether your collection is valuable or not?

So you've found your old Pokémon collection from when you were a kid, but how do you figure out whether your collection is valuable or not?

Is My Old Pokémon Card Collection Worth Anything?

So you've rediscovered your old Pokémon cards. But how do you know if you've struck gold or struck out with them? Below is some advice on determining your collection's value, based on my experience appraising and buying old card collections.

  1. Understand What Time Period Your Cards Are From
  2. Check the Condition of Your Cards
  3. Look for Exceptionally Rare Cards (Regardless of Condition)

1. Understand What Time Period Your Cards Are From

For the purpose of this article, I will largely focus on cards produced by Wizards of the Coast from 1998–2003. These are the classic "vintage" Pokémon cards that many of us in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties remember collecting as children, and they're the ones adults commonly find when they go digging for their old binder of cards.

This is not to say that Pokémon cards produced after this time period don't have comparable value, but I would need the length of a book to write a guide that would encompass the entire Pokémon trading card ecosystem.

Knowing what era of cards you have is an important first step. Below, you can find all of the set symbols from vintage-era Pokémon sets, which you can use to identify which sets your cards belong to.

All of the set symbols from vintage era Pokémon sets.  You can find the set symbol, depending on the set, beside the right lower corner of the illustration frame, or at the bottom left corner of the card.

All of the set symbols from vintage era Pokémon sets. You can find the set symbol, depending on the set, beside the right lower corner of the illustration frame, or at the bottom left corner of the card.

2. Check the Condition of Your Cards

As someone who regularly purchases large collections, often from people who discovered them after a decade or more of misplacement, I find that people have a difficult time accepting that their ten-year-old selves did not do a great job of preserving the condition of their cards.

Signs of Wear to Watch For

Collectors are extremely detail-oriented. Cards that exhibit creases, scratches on the holographic image, or any visible whitening on the corners are generally not highly valued.

Cards that display signs of any mishandling or improper storage will not be very valuable. Even minor damage can bring down a card's value to just a fraction of the "market values" displayed on many websites. And collectors are as concerned with the front of the card as they are with the back, where oftentimes it is easiest to see signs of wear.

Below I've included an image of a condition I commonly find when appraising childhood collections. If your cards show signs of wear similar to the ones below, they will have to be exceptionally rare to hold significant value.

Note the faint crease on the left side of the card, whitening along the edges, and the slight bend in the card, often caused by long term exposure to improper climates.

Note the faint crease on the left side of the card, whitening along the edges, and the slight bend in the card, often caused by long term exposure to improper climates.

3. Look for Exceptionally Rare Cards (Regardless of Condition)

Even if your collection isn't in the best condition, you might still have a hidden gem, that collectors will take significant interest in. Naturally, your Base Set 2 Mr. Mimes and Jungle Kangaskhans will not be worth the toil of finding an interested buyer if they aren't in impeccable condition, but this isn't the case for all cards.

Below, I've included a quick list of things to look out for when determining which of your cards are most likely to return value.

1st Edition

A designation unique to the Wizards of the Coast era of Pokémon cards, indicating that the card was produced during the first distribution cycle of the set. These cards, especially those from Base Set, have a significantly lower population, and are therefore more widely sought, bringing in significantly higher sale prices than their reprints. You can see the 1st edition stamp beside the bottom left corner of the illustration frame.

Shadowless

You may have heard this term in reference to high-priced Charizard cards, but did you know that all Base Set cards have a "shadowless" printing? This label is applied to cards produced during the second distribution cycle of Base Set. During this printing, the cards no longer had the 1st edition stamp, but still lacked the drop shadow beside the right side of the frame, which would become a persistent design feature in subsequent vintage Pokémon sets. See the example below.

On the left, we see a shadowless Ponyta.  On the right, we see an "unlimited" Ponyta, produced during Base Set's third distribution cycle, and marking the first printing to feature the drop shadow on the right side of the illustrative frame.

On the left, we see a shadowless Ponyta. On the right, we see an "unlimited" Ponyta, produced during Base Set's third distribution cycle, and marking the first printing to feature the drop shadow on the right side of the illustrative frame.

Charizards

Unless your card looks like you saved it as it was going through the wood chipper, nearly any Charizard card printed from 1998–2003 will have some degree of collector interest. Of course, the value of these Charizards depends heavily on their printing and condition, but this icon of the vintage Pokémon era is typically able to return some value, regardless of whether you have a Base Set 2 Charizard, Blaine's Charizard, or a Shining Charizard.

Shining Pokémon

During the Neo series, from 2000 to 2001, Pokémon introduced one of the most iconic series of variant Pokémon called "Shining." The "Shining Collection" consists of twenty cards available through packs, and one card available as a promo. Regardless of condition, these cards tend to evoke interest from collectors for their extremely low population, and unique printing style, featuring textured gold accents on the illustration.

Shining Magikarp was one of the first Shining Pokémon, introduced in Neo Revelation.

Shining Magikarp was one of the first Shining Pokémon, introduced in Neo Revelation.

Southern Island Cards

This was a special mini-set of cards released in 2001 to promote the second Pokémon movie. This set was distributed through two different promotional folders, each holding each halves of a complete 18 card set. Though not all of these promos are widely sought, complete sets of these cards can go for hundreds of dollars.

To tell if you have any Southern Islands cards, look for this set symbol beside the bottom right corner of the illustrative frame.

To tell if you have any Southern Islands cards, look for this set symbol beside the bottom right corner of the illustrative frame.

How to Appraise and Sell Your Collection

Once you take some time to learn about the cards that you have and what their potential value might be, you might find it's time to sell.

If you are not an experienced trading card reseller, I would highly discourage you from selling cards directly to consumers. There are many risks that come into play when selling cards online, including inaccurate listings, condition disputes, and the possibility of unintentionally selling fake cards, which might be hard to spot without the knowledge and experience to authenticate cards yourself.

Selling cards online also requires a significant time commitment, shipping and packaging costs, and listing fees that might leave you feeling discouraged if you don't have the process and infrastructure needed to mitigate these factors.

Working With a Local Dealer

I would recommend selling your collection to a dealer in your area. These folks dedicate a significant portion of their time to buying and reselling Pokémon cards on a professional or semi-professional level, and they may be interested in acquiring your collection.

However, it's important to understand that the dealer's motivation is to resell your cards at a profit, so they will often offer about half the market value of your cards, considering the condition of your collection. But consider this as a convenience fee for selling your cards without having to seek out and render service to dozens or hundreds of buyers.

There are a ton of hidden costs and hours of labor behind the market values you see on popular websites. Even if your cards are in impeccable condition, if you approach a dealer, understand that they need to compensate themselves for the labor of selling the cards despite the costs inherent to selling, and those considerations will impact how much they are able to offer you.

Estimate the Value of Your Cards Before Negotiating With the Dealer

By simply understanding the rough value of your cards before meeting with a dealer, and understanding their motivations and limitations, you can manage your expectations and negotiate with dealers more effectively, to ensure you're getting the best value possible.

Best of luck, and happy hunting for your old collection!

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