As a teenager, Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri was so fond of collecting insects that classmates called him “Mr. Bug.” While it might not have been an affectionate label, Tajiri had the last laugh: His Pokémon video game, originally released for the Nintendo Game Boy in 1996, has become an enduring multimedia success, selling billions in games, merchandise, and phone apps.
The goal of collecting and pitting monsters against one another has been particularly appealing for trading card collectors, who have created an entire secondary market for the low-tech version of the game. The all-time sales record as of May 2021 might be this Blastoise card sold at auction for a whopping $360,000, but it's not a card you ever would have found in a pack. Wizards of the Coast, which manufactures the card game, printed just one to show to Nintendo.
Fortunately, other cards are a little more accessible, though first editions, misprints, and other characteristics all affect value. If you’re curious, take a look at 10 of the most valuable Pokémon cards according to Heritage Auctions, eBay, and other sources.
1. Pikachu Illustrator // $250,000
One of the earliest cards to come out of the Pokémon franchise was this promotional card of Pikachu that was given out to winners of an illustration contest in 1998. An estimated 20 to 39 copies were issued. In late 2016, Heritage Auctions sold one for a whopping $54,970. In July 2020, a card graded by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) as a 9 out of 10 fetched $250,000.
2. Shadowless Holo Charizard // $507,000
This dragon-esque creature was first seen in 1999. More than 20 years later, a PSA 10 card sold for a whopping $507,000 on eBay.
3. Master's Key Prize Card // $22,000
Given out during a 2010 card championship in Japan, only 34 copies of the Master's Key Prize Card are thought to exist. The scarcity helps the cards command a high price when they hit the market. One ungraded card sold for $22,000 in November 2019.
4. Pre-Release Raichu // $10,000
Collectors love cards that were never intended for public distribution, and this Raichu card fits the bill. Although unconfirmed, Pokémon lore has it that product distributor Wizards of the Coast made just 10 of these Raichu cards for their employees and stamped “pre-release” on the front. While it’s rarely offered for sale, collectors believe it can fetch up to $10,000.
5. Tropical Wind Tropical Mega Battle // $70,000
Another card that was given only to winners at a tournament—in this case, the 1999 Tropical Mega Battle Pokémon World Championship in Honolulu, Hawaii—the Tropical Wind card is believed to have just 14 PSA 9 cards in circulation. One sold for $70,000.
6. Espeon Gold Star// $22,100
7. Blastoise // $20,000
This combat turtle from 1999 was put up in a perfect condition PSA 10 and sold for $20,000.
8. Shining Gyarados // $12,000
This 2001 Neo Revelations card brought in $12,000 on eBay.
9. Giovanni's Scheme // $10,100
Never released in English, this 2017 Japanese card is highly sought after by collectors. A perfect PSA 10 card sold for $10,100 on eBay.
10. Umbreon Holo // $5150
This 2003 card sold for $5150 after buyers took notice of its PSA 10 status.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.