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How to tell if a binder of Pokémon cards is worth thousands or less than $100

If you have a binder or box full of Pokémon cards sitting in your closet or basement, the contents could be worth thousands of dollars. Or maybe less than $100. It depends.

Pokémon cards have skyrocketed in value in recent years, with collectors purchasing some rare cards for over $1 million.

“We have a fair amount of people that go through and find their own collections in closets and end up wanting to sell some of the cards that they think are worth money,” said Jeffrey Follett, a manager at 401 Games in Toronto.

“We also get people that then find that their interest in the hobby is reinvigorated upon finding their collection.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies that deal in trading cards saw an increase in business, when people had time to dust off their old collections and were looking to find out what they were worth, while others wanted to add to their collections.

Jeffrey Follett is a manager and resident Pokémon card expert at 401 Games in Toronto. Companies that deal in trading cards saw a boost in business during the pandemic, when people had time to dust off their old collections and were looking to find out what they were worth. (Philip Drost/CBC)

According to eBay Canada, searches for “Pokémon” have increased by more than 160 per cent on eBay.ca in the past five years.

This year in Canada, a Mew Victory Orb card, a First Edition Charizard and an Eevee promo card have sold for $26,500, $15,500 and $12,500, respectively. In 2022, YouTube influencer and professional wrestler Logan Paul bought a card called the Pikachu Illustrator for $5.2 million US.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean your cards will net you millions.

The popularity continues

Daniel Daoust loved Pokémon cards when he was a kid, but he sold his collection for $50 at a flea market when he was a teenager and Pokémon was no longer cool.

But he picked the hobby back up in 2016.

Daoust’s prized possession is a First Edition Shadowless Blastoise, a popular Pokémon from the original run. He said he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars on his collection, but he will sometimes sell parts of it to buy something new.

A man holds a Blastoise Pokemon card in one hand, and a box of unopened Pokemon cards in the other.
Daniel Daoust holds his prized Pokémon possession, a First Edition Shadowless Blastoise, which can be worth thousands of dollars, depending on the condition. (Philip Drost/CBC)

“I’m a very nostalgic person. And I love stuff that I grew up with,” Daoust said. “People seek out the things that they enjoyed when they were kids that they no longer have. And during [the COVID-19] lockdown, I found that was prevalent.”

The Pokémon Company has played off that nostalgia. It launched a set of cards called Pokémon Celebrations in 2021, to commemorate 25 years of Pokémon cards, featuring remakes of classic cards.

“There was a lot of lines at stores and people try to hunt that down, and we were just not able to produce fast enough,” said Barry Sams, vice-president of Trading Card Game and Organized Play for Pokémon who’s based in Seattle.

“I think the fact that we’ve been able to get adults more into it again, just kind of that excitement around cards and collecting them.”

Are my cards valuable?

A card’s value depends on a few things. One of the big factors is rarity. On most cards, a little symbol in the bottom left corner will tell you how rare it is.

A black circle means it’s common. If it’s a black diamond, that means it’s uncommon, while a black star indicates it’s rare. Then there are other card types, such as secret rares and alternate arts, which are even more valuable.

“I like the things that kind of set me apart … rarity, scarcity, the obscurity, that’s really what drives me in terms of my collection,” Daoust said.

Pokemon cards line the shelf of a glass case.
Pokémon Cards can be sold online through sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji and eBay, or at your local game store. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

On average, older cards from the late 1990s and early 2000s are worth more as well, though some new cards can be expensive. Unopened packs or boxes of packs that are no longer in production can fetch a large sum, too.

If you’re unsure, an easy way to check is by searching online for a specific card, then seeing what that card has sold for recently.

You can almost always count on cards featuring Charizard to be worth a pretty penny. Pikachu, Mew, Blastoise and Gengar are also popular picks, according to top search results on eBay Canada.

Condition is everything in grading

If you do have a stash of cards you want to make money off of, you better hope you played with them gently as a kid. That’s because cards really become valuable when they are in good condition.

“It’s quite a large factor because it’s predominantly collector-based. Especially for these older cards, people are really looking for items that are in the best condition,” Follett of retailer 401 Games said.

A close up of a hand pulling a graded Pokemon Card out of a box.
Pokémon cards can receive a bump in value if they get a good grade from companies such as Beckett Collectibles and PSA. Cards are rated on a scale of one to 10, based on a set of criteria that includes condition and how well the card is centred within a border. (Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images)

Many companies, such as Beckett Collectibles and PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), grade cards, comics and all sorts of other memorabilia and collectibles.

The companies take submissions for a fee, which can range from $15 to $30, or even more for premium levels of service.

Cards and other items are rated on a scale of one to 10, based on a set of criteria that includes condition and how well the card is centred within a border.

It can be hard to get a PSA 10 grade. Every slight ding or scratch is examined, literally under a microscope. But a good grade can take a card from being worth hundreds of dollars to thousands. 

How to sell your cards

There are a number of options for people who are looking to sell their old cards. They can post them on Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji to sell the cards locally.

Daoust suggests that if you’re making a big purchase, check to see if anyone has done a transaction with the person you’re dealing with, to make sure they’re legit.

“Get references. If you can, see if you know people in common. That works really well within the community,” he said.

You can also go on eBay and try to sell your cards that way. If you don’t want the hassle, Follett suggests going to your local game shop.

“It does take quite a bit of work,” he said.

“We see a lot of people all the time coming in and wanting to sell their whole collection for that exact reason…. [They] will often look to us or their other local game stores to try to see whether or not they can work something out where they feel like they got a fair offer for their collection.”

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