Everyone is talking about Pokemon again thanks to the massive mainstream success of Pokemon Go on smart phones. The series never actually went away — video games starring pocket monsters come out every year, as do animated movies and cartoon episodes — but there's nothing like a global phenomenon to make people stand up and say, "Can I make money off of this?"
A hopefully hot commodity in this case? Pokemon cards.
The Pokemon Trading Card game debuted more or less alongside the video game series it's based on (1996 in Japan, 1998 in North America), and it was a hit right off the bat, spawning tournaments and clubs all over the world. Its popularity has kept up to this day. In fact, the 2016 Pokemon World Championships, which incorporates card game tournaments in addition to its video game tournaments, just wrapped up in San Francisco earlier this month.
If you've been on social media lately, you may have seen links being passed around to an AOL.com story from July titled "Here's how much your old Pokemon cards are worth now," which includes a video that flashes high, enticing prices across the screen for you to salivate over.
But before you go digging through your garage looking for your old cards (like I did), you should know that the AOL story is incredibly misleading at best, and horribly inaccurate at worst.
This is easy to check first-hand. AOL's story claims that a first edition holographic Machamp card — which came in early Pokemon Trading Card Game starter sets and is thus a card that many people might still have — is worth $2,500.
I have two of them, one of which is still sealed in its original plastic packaging. Time for me to pay off my car, right?
Not so fast. One quick trip to eBay and you'll find plenty of Machamp cards being auctioned off. The highest-priced one I could find was sealed, like mine, and had a "Buy It Now" price of $24.99. But it's important to note that this is just the price the seller wants. A similarly mint condition card (also sealed) recently sold for a mere $7.10.
I'm not great at math, but I think $7.10 is a lot less than $2,500.
The problem with AOL's story is that they only looked for exceptionally high asking prices on cards. They apparently didn't bother to see what cards were actually being purchased, or for what price.
PokemonPrices.com, which stays up-to-date with what Pokemon cards are worth, does list the Machamp base set card as having a "highest" price of just more than $5,000, but the lowest marked price is $3.29, and there is no shortage of places where you can easily grab the card for less than $10.
So does that mean that all of your old cards are absolutely worthless? Well, not necessarily.
Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions actually ran some numbers on Pokemon cards in late July, when Pokemon Go was first taking off. They found that the popular of Pokemon Go caused eBay's daily number of Pokemon card sales to nearly double. And there are, in fact, still some cards that could be worth hundreds if not thousands. Heritage Auctions has a page on their website devoted entirely to Pokemon Cards.
The famous Pikachu Illustrator Card, for example, is still highly coveted. A mere 39 copies of this Japanese-only card exist, and they were given to contestants in an art contest. One of those sold for $90,000 in 2014, according to Heritage Auctions.
Other high-value cards include "error cards" (misprints and cards with mistakes), certain first edition cards (like Charizard) and "shadowless" cards. It's unlikely, but you might still be able to make a few hundred bucks off of a single card, or thousands from a collection of hard-to-find cards.
But the reality is that the vast majority of Pokemon cards are worth a few bucks each at most. And when you factor in eBay's cut and the cost it would take to individually list, sell and ship each of those cards, the value in selling them probably doesn't make it worth it.
So what can you do? Well, why not play with them again?
As mentioned before, the Pokemon Trading Card Game is still going strong, and as long as you're not planning on entering a professional tournament any time soon, you can play with your old deck just like it's 1998 again. If you have children that are nearing a prime Pokemon age, it could be a great way to introduce them to something you were into when you were younger.
The Pokemon Company even has a digital version of the Pokemon Card Game that can be played online for free on Windows, Mac, iPad and Android. And if you buy any new Pokemon cards? They'll give you codes to get digital cards as well.
So your investment in Pokemon cards may have been as financially beneficial as Beanie Babies were, but don't throw them away, either, because not all value comes in the form of dollar bills.