The Nearly $1 Million Pokemon Card Trade — All the Details and More

Hello everyone and welcome back to another one of my Pokemon collecting articles! I have written two articles for ChannelFireball so far, covering hidden gems in collections and CGC grading! If you haven’t already read those, I would definitely take a look after you finish this one up. While today will be covering an exciting current event, the last two both provide some insight on how to maximize the value of your collection and think a little bit differently when it comes to Pokemon. Anyways, as for today’s article, I will be covering an absolute bombshell of a trade! It just happened and it is one of the most exciting things in the community recently – a near million-dollar trade is always going to be worth discussing. I will talk about the cards involved, their valuations and my thoughts on the trade as a whole. Without further ado, let’s get started with a look at the history of the Pikachu Illustrator card!

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History of the Pikachu Illustrator

You may be wondering what makes this card so expensive and sought after and I am confident this piece will explain all of that to you. This section will be the beginning of that, as I will talk about how the card came into existence.

The Pikachu Illustrator was first released in 1998 as a prize for an illustration contest, previously published in a CoroCoro comic in 1997. This contest was known as the Pokemon Card Game Illustrator Artist Contest. The winners, depending on what placement they achieved, received a copy of this card along with varying additional prizes. These prizes consisted of copies of a Pokemon card that featured the artwork they submitted in the contest, which is a pretty cool prize if I say so myself!

Past that, there were two more contests, meaning that all of the copies of this card had yet to be distributed. Also, in 1998, both the Mewtwo’s Counterattack Commemoration Illustration Artist Contest and the Pikachu’s Summer Vacation Commemoration Illustration Contest occurred. They were structured similarly to the previous contest and everyone who received prizes received a copy of the Pikachu Illustrator, along with some of these winners receiving some cards featuring their artwork.

Finally, it seems that in 2020, two additional copies were put into circulation by one of the original rule creators for the Pokemon TCG, Yuichi Konno. They popped up on a Japanese auction site, as did some other undistributed Japanese trophy promos just one year earlier.

To wrap up the description of the card, here is a short list of facts about this holy grail.

  • The single PSA 10 copy has not had any market activity as far as I know.
  • This is the only Pokemon card to feature the word “Illustrator” (as opposed to Trainer).
  • If you count the trade valuation here, it is the most valuable Pokemon card in existence, otherwise it is technically second at the moment to a PSA 10 First Edition Base Set Charizard.
  • “Double Star” rarity (two stars in the bottom right corner) is an elite group of high-end cards and this is one of the few in that category.

I am sure you can find some other cool facts about this beast out there somewhere, but I wanted to include some of the more pertinent ones when it comes to the card itself!

Now that I have told you a little bit about the card, here is a quick look into the population of the card. We are able to get exact numbers for the PSA situation thanks to their population report tool, which allows you access to the exact numbers for each card and every grade. Usually, the PSA population is slightly off due to cards being cracked and regraded, along with the occasional casing error causing a card not to be added to the correct population. With that being said, the population report is still a very nice thing to have and refer to and in this case I believe it is fully accurate.

Pikachu Illustrator graded population statistics are as follows.

  • 1x PSA 4
  • 1x PSA 5
  • 1x PSA 6
  • 4x PSA 8
  • 7x PSA 9
  • 1x PSA 10
  • 1x BGS 7.5

An estimated 20-41 total copies were distributed in total, so 16 (almost half) of those have been slabbed.

A short look into the price history of the card will be offered later, but the basic history of the card along with a general overview of the population is going to be it for this section.

The Trade in Question

On Instagram this week, a Pokemon collector posted about being the middleman for a high-end trade. Straying from that for a moment, I just wanted to mention that Instagram is a great place to discuss Pokemon happenings, join up with collectors and even make deals if you are careful about it. Anyways, this trade ended up getting a lot of attention because it involved the infamous Pikachu Illustrator card and a PSA 9 copy at that. I will provide each side of the trade here but won’t share my thoughts on each side quite yet.

Side 1:

  • PSA 9 Pikachu Illustrator

Side 2:

  • PSA 10 First Edition Base Set Charizard
  • PSA 10 Shadowless Charizard
  • BGS 9.5 Japanese “No Rarity” Base Set Charizard
  • PSA 10 “For Position Only” Charizard
  • Japanese Charizard – Pokemon Center Learning Event Prize Card
  • PSA 9/Auto 10 Japanese CD Promo Charizard (Ken Sugimori Signature)
  • PSA 10 Charizard Expedition #6
  • PSA 10 Crystal Charizard Skyridge
  • PSA 10 First Edition Shining Charizard
  • Trio of Private Trophy Card Drawings From Mitsuhiro Arita

Now that we have looked at the trade itself, time to move on to a look at the valuation of the Pikachu Illustrator card.

Valuation of the Illustrator

So, due to the very low market activity that this card experiences, it is hard to even place a value on it. There are very few of them as previously mentioned and deals for them tend to be done behind closed doors. Owners of this card, such as smpratte, an excellent Pokemon YouTuber by the way, would definitely have a better idea at what potential buyers value the card at, but it is not an easy task for the average person. It isn’t comparable to something like a First Edition Shadowless Charizard which, despite being expensive, is something you can compile a large amount of sales data for.

In terms of what we can figure out, here is a list of confirmed transactions that I could locate for the Pikachu Illustrator card. I will say that these sales do not mean a whole lot due to the situation this card is in, as it is not something you can easily access even if you have a reasonable offer ready to submit. This is due to the low population and the people who possess them, which is why we are able to see things such as a $900,000 valuation come into existence. These numbers are more of an interesting thing to look at and nice inclusion for the article rather than something used to dispute the current value or discern its future.

  • November 2016 – PSA 9 Copy – $54,970
  • June 2017 – Ungraded Copy – $125,000
  • October 2019 – PSA 9 Copy – $195,000
  • July 2020 – PSA 9 Copy – $230,000

While this is a nice list as it shows the progression of the price to some degree, I am sure that there are more public sales out there and we will probably never know about things that happened personally.

With that being said, a card is worth what someone is willing to pay for it and in this case, that was $900,000 worth of other Pokemon cards. Some people may point to that as too expensive or too cheap, but at the end of the day, you won’t find a cheaper option anywhere else at the moment and both sides were happy with the valuation. One thing I will say about this, is that the valuation was not totally exact and you will see what I mean in the section below.

One final thing I wanted to note separately from the rest of the information in this section, is that completing a trade with this card is always going to demand at least a slightly higher premium due to the nature of the situation. Getting cards is not getting cash and that is something I am sure both sides of this trade took into account.

Time to take a look at the other side of the trade!

All of the following pictures thanks to Marco (one of the traders) through PokeBeach.

Valuation of the Other Side

So, it does not appear that the people involved in the trade published their exact valuation for each card involved, but it seems that the Charizards were valued at $850,000 and the Mitsuhiro Arita drawing at $50,000. With that being said, we will take a look at all of that shortly!

So, for this section, I think it would be best to do a quick review of each card, similarly to what I did with the Illustrator. This will include a description, some price analysis and my personal opinion on each card! Let’s start things off with a look at the centerpiece, a PSA 10 First Edition Charizard.

PSA 10 First Edition Base Set Charizard

This is the most popular card in the hobby at the moment and there is great reason for that! It is the most recognizable Pokemon in existence, even for people no longer involved with the franchise, which brings a great deal of nostalgia for some people. It comes from the first set of all time, which has the lowest print run in the history of the game. On top of that, even though you can acquire a worse condition copy of this card at a lower price, it is very difficult to find one anywhere close to PSA 10 condition, without simply buying a PSA 10 copy. This card has great potential when it comes to rising in price in the future, but let’s take a look at some recent sales data.

  • October 2020 – Logic buys one for $220,000
  • November 2020 – $295,300 via PWCC Auctions on eBay
  • December 2020 – $350,108 via PWCC Auctions on eBay
  • Cheapest available on eBay currently – $599,595

I definitely could have missed some more recent sales and we don’t know what happens behind closed doors, but this shows multiple public sales commanding a very significant price.

PSA 10 Shadowless Charizard

While this is not as valuable of a card as its big brother we just talked about, it is almost the same card in a lot of ways and it still an extraordinarily popular one.

  • November 2020 – $70,020 via eBay
  • Cheapest available on eBay currently – $150,000

Weirdly, there’s not as much data for this one, but we still have a decent range to take a look at.

BGS 9.5 Japanese “No Rarity” Base Set Charizard

This is the first unique Charizard on the list in the sense that it is an error and not just a more valuable Charizard from a regular Pokemon set. It is not entirely confirmed which products contained the run of cards that had the no rarity error in them, but there has been some great investigative work done that offers some fantastic insight into all of the possibilities. The key description here is that the no rarity cards were in the Japanese run that essentially equates to our First Edition Base Set – they were in the first printing of the Japanese Base Set. They were supposedly only sold for a short period of time before being pulled from shelves, which makes an already rare error even harder to find, not to mention in good condition, such as this copy.

This Charizard is yet another one carrying a high price tag for good reason, it is very scarce. It has the same recognizability as the other Charizards, as it has the Base Set artwork, but it’s not quite as sought after. This is because it is in Japanese and the No Rarity part of it is more of a niche market, especially in comparison to some of the other Fire-type lizards.

The sales data for this one was hard to compile, so I used different variations in order to get a general sense.

  • October 2020 – BGS 8 sold for $25,650
  • November 2020 – PSA 9 sold for $60,105
  • Cheapest PSA 9 on eBay at the moment is $350,000
  • Cheapest BGS 8 on eBay at the moment is $27,029.28
  • No PSA 10, BGS 9 or 9.5 currently available on eBay
  • No sales data for PSA 10, BGS 9 or 9.5 available on eBay

I was unable to locate any sales data from other websites (such as Heritage Auctions) but it would not surprise me if some more information could be gained from platforms such as that one.

I do have to say that this card is hard to place an exact value on as well, due to the lack of availability for the card in general and overall lack of sales history. A BGS 9.5 is worth more than any of the copies with sales data shown above.

PSA 10 “For Position Only” Charizard

Following up on that holy grail of an error, we have yet another one! This time in PSA 10, which adds a ton of value to the card because it means it is the highest of quality, which is especially hard to find with a card like this.

There is a whole lineup of FPO cards, all of which are rare, but Charizard takes the cake. As for how they were released, the story is actually an interesting one. Right after Legendary Collection was released, but before Expedition was released, these FPO cards came into existence. Employees printed them in sealed packs, known to be Legendary Collection wraps and distributed them inside the company, never meant to be released to the public. However, at least one employee ended up taking some sealed packs home, which eventually made their way into circulation when they decided to sell off their old collection many years later. If you want to find out more about these cards, TCA Gaming released a fantastic video showing some of what I am talking about and more, on his YouTube channel many years ago.

Due to the scarcity and availability of this card, the sales data and pricing information will contain more than just the PSA 10 copy, which is the most expensive option of them all.

  • November 2020 – BGS 8.5 sold for $4,308.01
  • Ungraded copies (varying conditions) sold for $1,600 to $4,000 throughout 2019 and 2020
  • Cheapest on eBay at the moment is a PSA Authenticated (no grade) for $14,004

Japanese Charizard – Pokemon Center Learning Event Prize Card

The first and only, ungraded card on the list! It is also an extremely scarce promo, which is another cool thing about it. This card was released as a promo in 2001 at the Pokemon Center in Japan. There was an event held to promote learning about the Pokemon TCG and it is estimated that 10 to 30 of these were distributed there, which would make it one of the rarest cards in the hobby. Due to the amount distributed and the nature of the event, it is likely that this card was given out to staff members, as it was not a competition and way more people than that would have attended. It features the same artwork as one of the Charizards from Expedition (another card on this list!). I will say that this is the one card in this article that I did not know existed prior to this trade, which was honestly a really cool experience for me to realize, as I am always interested in finding out about oddities previously unknown to me. On top of that, when I tried to research the card and its pricing, I was unable to find much of anything. With that being said, this section is sadly not going to have any price data included.

PSA 9/Auto 10 Japanese CD Promo Charizard (Ken Sugimori Signature)

The card itself is certainly a nice one, but it is nothing in comparison to the other cards on the list, without its signature that is. The signature is what makes this piece, as artist signatures tend to increase the value of cards and Ken Sugimori happens to be the most prolific artist in Pokemon history. On top of that, his signings are some of the rarest and most expensive out there and fakes plague the experience of trying to find one as well. With that being said, having a nice Charizard with a high quality, authenticated Ken Sugimori signature means a lot.

For this one, finding the exact card with the same signature is not really realistic. With that being said, it is also difficult to compile a list of authenticated Ken Sugimori signed cards, which would help provide some general insight into the value of the signature. You could go one step further by comparing the prices of the signed cards against their regular counterparts, as well as comparing this artist’s signature sales history to the sales history of other artists.

  • TCA Gaming, a very popular collector in the hobby, sold a JSA 9/Beckett 10 signed Treecko for $3,050 in October of 2020
  • PSA Authenticated signed Trainer Deck A Machamp sold for $2,000 in December of 2020
  • Many ungraded cards, with varying levels of appeal, sold for hundreds to thousands of dollars, but there is no way of authenticating these cards without sending them off for authentication
  • Very low eBay availability currently, with the minimum cost being $10,000 on a signed Machamp

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a proven sale for an absolute bombshell like this one, as no popular (and expensive) card was graded high by a reputable company with an authenticated signature to boot.

PSA 10 Charizard Expedition #6

We have finally gravitated back towards some more normal cards, starting off with this PSA 10 Expedition Charizard. The ungraded copies of this card, especially in worse conditions, are very accessible and affordable. However, due to its very low population, a PSA 10 copy demands a much higher asking price. Only 35 of these exist in PSA 10! Past that, it is the most popular Pokemon in an already expensive and hard to find, vintage Pokemon set.

  • July 2020 – A PSA 10 sold for $5,650
  • December 2020 – A BGS 9.5 sold for almost $15,000
  • Cheapest PSA 10 on eBay at the moment is $18.019.99

PSA 10 Crystal Charizard Skyridge

This is actually my personal favorite Charizard, so it is nice to get to take a look at it. It is in the last Wizards of the Coast set, Skyridge, which also happens to be my favorite set of all time. The artwork is absolutely incredible and it just has a vibe that no other set can contest with for me. Past just my opinion, Skyridge is regarded as one of the most popular and expensive sets of all time, with a booster box commanding a $50,000 price tag at the moment. This is one of two sets that has Crystal cards in it, with Aquapolis being the other. Crystal cards have gained a ton of traction in recent years, increasing in price significantly. The e-Reader mechanic ended after this set as well, which is also something of note.

Thankfully, there is a considerable amount of sales data available to us, so all of the numbers below will be in reference to the exact card and grade.

  • October 2020 – $36,795.26
  • November 2020 – $28,105
  • November 2020 – $25,180
  • November 2020 – $21,705
  • Cheapest on eBay at the moment is $25,050

PSA 10 First Edition Shining Charizard

Last on the Charizard list, but by no means a joke, we have the PSA 10 First Edition Shining Charizard, yet another grail in the hobby. This card has actually seen quite a bit of price movement lately, an overall increase in price – I do not expect that to change. It is the most popular Shining card to come out of that era and in the most popular set that contains Shining cards – all that on top of just being a Charizard. Before recent releases, this Shining Charizard was one of three shiny Charizard artworks, with the Plasma Storm and Dragon Frontiers variations being the other two. No matter what, this one will always be the first and best, shiny artwork option.

Luckily, this is another card with a considerable amount of sales data, so all of the numbers below will be in reference to the exact card and grade.

  • November 2020 – $25,180
  • November 2020 – $22,703.95
  • November 2020 – $20,005
  • December 2020 – $14,280
  • December 2020 – $14,275
  • December 2020 – $14,120
  • Cheapest on eBay at the moment is $30,000

As I said, the price has seen an overall increase in the past few months but has now traced back a little bit as December has begun. This is still great news for people who own this card, as it was selling for “just” $12,000 in September and I am sure sales were lower prior to that. On top of that, part of this price decline could be due to the PWCC auctioning off several in a very short amount of time, which is always not going to be great for the price of a card. All of this could explain why there is not a reasonably priced one available at the moment, as people may believe the card is undervalued and will wait to see November prices at a minimum.

Trio of Private Trophy Card Drawings From Mitsuhiro Arita

These are unofficial cards, as they are essentially pieces of artwork that were custom-made by Mitsuhiro Arita in 2017. They each feature a Pikachu holding a trophy and seem to be a “rough draft” of a trophy card if you will.

Due to the nature of these items, there is no sales data available for them, not even really anything to compare them to. These are the rarest items in the trade, but not necessarily the most sought after, as that depends on how an individual views them. For me, these are absolutely incredible and the highlight of this side of the trade, despite not being the most valuable. It goes without saying that these are the hardest to place a value on, for many reasons.

Overall, this side of the trade is a great compilation of some of the rarest items in the game, including the fan favorite Charizard in many forms. As for the valuation placed on it, I believe that it is a reasonable one. The range presented here places the value of the Charizards at anywhere from $850,000-$900,000 which takes into account average sales and current availability, but not any of the potential increases based on current listings or future potential. This does not include the valuation of $50,000 that was placed on the private drawings which could be debated in either direction. There is some fluctuation to the overall valuation because some of the numbers are subjective, but I would label this ballpark estimate range as accurate.

Finally, I will share my thoughts on the trade as a whole.

My Thoughts on the Trade

I want to start by saying that I believe if both sides of the trade are happy, which they seem to be, that this is a great thing to carry out. No one should be able to make them feel differently, as at the end of the day, they are just collecting the cards they love.

With that being said, I do believe the trade was fair for where the market is at right now. The card was seemingly valued appropriately, I say it like that because I have no real way of knowing what cash offers are being thrown at owners on a daily basis. I am simply going off of the scarcity of the card in conjunction with how prices have been acting lately.

As for which side I would personally prefer to own, I would have to go with the Charizard barrage side for multiple reasons. For starters, being able to appreciate such a wide variety of cards would be an incredible experience, but for me, the private Mitsuhiro Arita drawings are the main attraction. They are very nice pieces of artwork and there is nothing like them out there as far as I know. Past that, that side of the trade is something that could be broken up if you wanted to make future sales or trades, which is a nice thing to have when it comes to collectibles. If you just wanted to rid yourself of one of the Charizards, that is totally doable, but you probably shouldn’t cut the Illustrator into multiple pieces if that is the route you chose.

Now, everyone’s circumstances are different and I can totally see why the Illustrator would be a choice for many here. Some people want the rarest card in the game with one of the greatest artworks in the game and I can’t blame them for that. Both sides of the trade are incredible additions to any respective collection and have almost guaranteed appreciation potential moving forward. On top of that, you have the Mitsuhiro Arita private drawings, which seem to be one of a kind. It is hard to put a value on that, but the traders ended up placing them at $50,000. It would not surprise me if we saw these sell for a higher price eventually, but it would also not surprise me if we never saw these cards pop up again. This just goes to show how rare and unique the set of items are.

Those final thoughts are going to put a bow on this one everyone! I for one cannot really think of anything similar to this when it comes to Pokemon, so I absolutely had to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on it with you all. With that being said, I hope you enjoyed the article! If you did, I definitely recommend taking a look at my previous pieces and keeping an eye out for more in the future. I will be back next week with a Christmas special in fact! I am not totally sure of the topic yet, but I do have a long list of topics left to cover. Despite that, I am always taking suggestions. Feel free to leave a comment down below if you would like something in particular to be covered. Until then, I hope everyone has a happy holiday season and enjoys the world of Pokemon. I know I will.


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