29 September 2023
In the world of tabletop collecting, Trading Cards have always reigned supreme, be that Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon, or any number of others. Stories of cards found in old bedrooms, stored in lofts, or garages are not entirely uncommon, and where prize cards are found, result in potentially huge valuations. With celebrity interest at an all-time high – Logan Paul trading and paying for a card costing several million that he later wore in his entrance to a WWE match– and the recent $440,000 sale of a second prize Pokemon competition card, the frequency of record breaking sales seems only to be increasing. With the sale of the latter, we spoke with Head of TCG, Music & Pop Culture at Goldin, Jared Mast, about the auction house’s role in the collecting market, and what advice he may have.
How are cards checked before sale at auction?
In selling and buying trading cards at this level, each card undergoes an authenticity check.
“Every trading card that enters our auctions as a single card is either authenticated by a third party like PSA, or is factory sealed by the company which produced the item.” Mast explains, adding later that in the world of collecting, PSA grading is king. “Cards go through several authenticity checks along the way from our inventory team, auctioneer and other members of the company. Like any business, there are situations that occur, but our policies provide what we believe to be the safest platform to purchase collectables.”
The latter is likely a nod to the famous unsuccessful unboxing by Logan Paul, having purchased a seemingly sealed first edition Pokemon booster box for $3,500,000, with it having been verified by the Baseball Card Exchange but when opened, contained same weight packs of GI Joe Trading Cards. Though not sold at auction, questions were raised as to authentication processes and saw the Baseball Card Exchange temporarily halt its reviews of Pokemon boxes.
Which Company Should You Use to Grade Your Pokemon Cards?
“All grading companies have their strengths and weaknesses, but within Pokemon TCG PSA is king” Mast tells us, when asked if some graders are better than others. “560k cards [were graded by PSA] in the category for August 2023 compared to 136k total for their three largest competitors.”.
Indeed it’s almost expected to see a PSA description attached to high level cards. The most highly sought after, the gem mint 10, is the highest award given to any card, and pack fresh doesn’t guarantee its status, as it takes into account aspects like how even the borders are, and any surface disturbance. Though many graders are available, with Beckett and CGC being perhaps the next popular (or at least the biggest uncontested), smaller graders have been disputed at times for offering more generous grading. The internet is full of stories suggesting a high grade from a new grader being sent to be regraded at the likes of PSA, only to receive a lower grading.
“Grading is of the utmost importance.” Mast stated. “Even if you are not looking to sell a card of value at the time, it makes sense to grade and protect the card as it makes the item more liquid in the future. If you are trying to sell the card, it's in your best interest as grading makes the condition/value of the card very defined and helps secure a near-market result which would most likely not be obtained if a card was ungraded.
“I have personally had cards where users were offered several thousands of dollars for their items ungraded, then once graded they become six figures due to the rarity of that condition in that card. This is uncommon, but it shows how important not only grading is, but dealing with an expert that shares like interest with your own trying to achieve the highest sale price.”
PSA also offers a system that demonstrates how many cards of that type it has graded, and indeed at what level it has been graded at. A rare card where only one has received the highly sought after 10 rating, will be valued higher than a comparable card where there are many.
What do you do if you have a valuable trading card?
Should you be holding a graded card and wondering about how best to move forward, Mast explains you need simply reach out with images of your card/s to start with.
“Our qualified experts will be able to quickly evaluate images and have a feel for the potential types of products seen based on card types, years, brands & other factors seen in images. Once overall images are provided, some further images may be required to assess the overall condition of the cards". From there, he explains the popularity of the market will assist in the valuation, though he also refers to the role of social media in assisting promotion of the sale itself.
At auction, he then explains, you have the benefit of competition as a driving force to increase the price of the card. With the aforementioned 1998 Pikachu Silver Trophy card, selling for $440,000, the original expectation was for a sale of around $300,000.
"Given the current stability of the TCG/Pokemon market, a record-breaking result was expected with the evaluation,” he told us, “ but not to this extent.”
“When dealing with a private individual,” Mast comments in contrast, “there is no competition or driving force to increase that buyer's price other than your interest in holding/not selling the item. The catch-22 with that situation, is you have already engaged in a potential sale conversation at that point, therefore showing your hand of wanting to sell, which decreases negotiation leverage.”
What Pokemon should you be collecting?
And if you’re looking for where to start with collecting, that in future you may enjoy a similar sale to enjoy your retirement with, Mast explains “There’s no cookie cutter way to look at collecting in my opinion.”
“I have found it best to collect what you enjoy. If you have a keen eye for a collectable you enjoy, you will soon find the aspects of that collectable that are rare and important to your collection. For example, the more Pikachu cards you collect/see, the more likely you will know when something rare/important comes to market.
“There is certainly no crystal ball when it comes to collecting, but set building is a fun way for new collectors to enter the market while learning a product so they can accomplish that keen eye. As you move through completing your set, you will find oddities in rare cards that make that journey different compared to another product or set run. Once the set is complete, let Father Time do the work, as the Pokemon market continues to grow, with its fans maturing into their true money-making years.
“As mentioned there is no crystal ball, but maybe you will have the next big dollar set 5-10 years down the road!
And if you’ve been wondering about starting your collection, or growing your current one, Mast offers a reassuring conclusion:
“With there being sets for characters, years, languages, editions & series within Pokemon, there really is a set for anyone and any budget.”
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