Appraising Your Pokemon Cards for 90s Kids

The capital’s been stormed, the virus rages a second year, and Pokemon cards are selling at record prices. This article is about that last piece of news, so dig out your old collection for the most profitable nostalgia trip of your life.

The Basics

The lower corner of each card has a shape — a circle, a diamond, or a star. This translates to “common,” “uncommon,” and “rare.” If you have a card that’s both rare and shiny, then it’s a good sign it’s worth a few bucks. You have a “holo rare” (holo = holographic foil = shiny).

After sorting out these high-potential cards, you can get more accurate prices on a site like mavin.io or by clicking the “Sold” filter on an eBay search.

How do you identify your card on these sites? Right next to the rarity symbol, there’s a fraction (e.g. “2/102”). This represents the card’s number in its set. Pokemon cards are typically identified by typing in their name, number, and, if applicable, “holo.” For example: “Blastoise 2/102 Holo.”

If you see a card without a fraction, it’s probably a promo card. Some promo cards are very rare. Most aren’t. You can find out which by searching whatever identifier number the card has in the corner. Example: “Typhlosion 034 Promo.”

People will add other card features like “EX” or “Stamped,” but you can typically price search your card without these. The main features that will heavily influence price are “holo,” “1st edition,” and “shadowless” (explained in next section).

Card condition may be indicated by “HP,” “MP,” “LP,” and “NM.” These mean “heavily-played,” “moderately-played,” “lightly-played,” and “near-mint.” Condition is a huge price factor, and you can find a guide here. Also, keep reading to learn about those professionally graded cards in plastic cases you’re probably seeing.

All right, now you know enough to be dangerous. Expensive cards exist that don’t meet my earlier criteria, but you’ll have to invest more time to find them.

1990s Vintage Cards

If your cards are from the 1990s, there’s a higher chance you’re sitting on a jackpot, but you’ll need to know how to identify two more types of cards.

First edition cards are always worth price-searching. You can recognize them by the “1” stamp under the Pokemon portrait.

Less rare, but still notable, are “shadowless” cards. After Pokemon cards started doing well in the late 90s, they were mass-produced. Part of this mass production involved adding a shadow around a Pokemon’s portrait. Cards that don’t have this shadow are more scarce and command higher prices. Non-common or holo shadowless cards are worth looking up.

Note: A card can be both first edition and shadowless. In fact, all base set (original set) first editions are shadowless because they were made before the aforementioned mass production. If you see a base set card listed on eBay as “1st edition shadowless,” it’s a little redundant.

You may hear base set cards with shadows referred to as “base set unlimited” cards. These cards don’t command as high prices individually, but, sold in lots, they’ll fetch higher prices than most modern cards.

So what did you find? After sorting out your super rare cards, you may want to sell the remainder in one big lot. Or, if you have more time, group them into sets, and sell smaller lots. If you’re lucky enough to have a pricey card, this last section is for you.

$$$ Cards

Congrats! You found a $500+ card. This guy deserves a little more attention than a few photos and an eBay listing.

Grading

First of all, when you were doing your price research, you probably found people selling cards in plastic cases with quality grades.

These “graded” cards have had their condition and authenticity verified by a third-party company. Should you get your rare cards graded? If your card is in good condition, a high grade could increase the price. If your card is in poor condition, but it’s extremely rare ($2k+), it’s probably still worth grading just to show buyers it’s not counterfeit.

The three respected grading companies are PSA, CGC, and Beckett. Plenty has been written around the internet comparing them, but, in brief:

  • PSA is the most common.
  • CGC is the newest and least expensive grading service.
  • Beckett is the hardest grader.

Unfortunately, regular grading will probably take 100+ days during the 2020–2021 Pokemon card mania because of the flood of cards these companies are getting. If you don’t need to sell quickly and believe card prices won’t deflate, you can use these companies’ normal services. Otherwise, you’re going to want to go with their expensive “express” options.

Selling

Sure, you can use eBay. However, at the time of writing, eBay will charge a 10% final value fee, and PayPal will tack on their 2.9% merchant fee. You’ll also have to deal with it yourself if a buyer tries any funny business.

Depending on the price of your card, you may want to explore auction houses. The respected Heritage Auctions has gotten into Pokemon cards, but their fees aren’t public at the moment.

PWCC is another auction house in the Pokemon world. At the time of writing, their fees are lower than eBay for graded cards over $1000. For $5000+, the commission is only 8%. Of course, check these rates yourself in case they change (great things often do).

Shipping

You’ll probably want one-day shipping or insured shipping or both. I’ve read arguments that insured shipping isn’t worth it because USPS will make it nigh impossible to claim your item’s value if something happens. I’ve also read arguments that during one-day shipping, your package will receive so much attention that it’s highly unlikely to get lost or damaged.

You’ll have to make your own call here. I couldn’t find enough data to make a strong decision.

However, here’s one definite piece of advice. Make sure the shipper scans your item at the drop-off location. Don’t leave the post office, the UPS office, or the FedEx office until someone scans your item. This should trigger their package tracking and give you some leverage if there are any incidents. I say “should” because my local post office’s tracking doesn’t appear online for a few days after a scan.

You hand off your package after it’s scanned, and, just like that, you’ve played your last part in a rare card’s story.

One last thing. It’s not unheard of that during this process, your mindset flips from wanting to sell cards to wanting to collect them. You’ve been warned, fellow trainer!

Interested in too many things.

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