You’ve got a Pokémon card collection, and you’re proud of it. If you’ve read my Pokémon Collecting 101 blog (or you’ve been collecting a while), you know rarity symbols, set symbols, and the different card formats. Congratulations! You’re ready to move on to the next level. If you took my advice and started out collecting what is available in stores right now, your next step is going to be rarer cards (shadowless, 1st Editions, different languages, and error cards). You’ve likely seen and possibly own a promo (promotional) card or two, or a Jumbo card. You may have even explored cards online.
Expanding into these cards requires a knowledge of where they fall in Pokémon card history. It is crucial to understand that you can’t get every type of card (1st Edition or shadowless) in every set. You will save yourself time, money and stress if you know where to look for your targeted type.
Shadowless cards are technically error cards. They only appear in the very first set of Pokémon cards released – Base Set. The name implies exactly what you need to look for in this misprint card. The shadow is absent on the right side of the Pokémon photo. On the shadowless card, you will also find the year ‘1999’ appear twice: ‘99’ and ‘1999’. On the regular shadowed card, only ‘99’ appears.
Shadowless cards have a lighter color printing than the shadowed cards and a thinner font. This discrepancy is especially important to know, due to the high counterfeiting of Pokémon cards. These Abra cards are both from Base Set. One is a regular card, on the left, and the other is a shadowless card, on the right. Notice the missing shadow on the Abra on the right compared to the shadow on the left.
1st Edition cards are also popular to collect; however, a 1st Edition stamp does not a valuable card make. There are some precious 1st Edition cards, like the highly coveted 1st Edition, Shadowless, Holo Charizard. But there are others that have their value more in adding to a collection vs. singular monetary value. “1st Edition” means that the card was in the very first printing of the set. Anything after that is unlimited printing, meaning there are more of them in existence. To identify a 1st edition card, look for the stamp next to the bottom left corner of the picture. If the mark is not there, it is not a 1st Edition and comes from unlimited printing.
Many collectors think Base Set means 1st Edition. That is not the case. There are 1st Edition Base Set cards, but not all Base Set cards are 1st Edition. S and I just saw this mistake happen to someone at our local card store with a Pikachu. The person wanted to sell their 1st Edition Pikachu from Base Set. As it turned out, the Pikachu card was not 1st Edition, and it wasn’t from Base Set – it was an Evolutions reprint for the 20th Anniversary of Pokémon in the United States. You can see the 1st edition stamp on this Kangaskhan from Jungle Set.
It is crucial to mention reprint cards as they can really get under your skin and mess up your card hunt. Remember that Base Set cards do not have a set symbol. Base 2, which is the fourth set released after Jungle and Fossil, will have a symbol. Base 2 cards are reprints of the original Base Set and look identical aside from the set symbol.
Through the years, the cards have gone through many reprints. Evolutions often confuses collectors. The set was released to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Pokémon. Evolutions cards are reprints of Base Set, with minor changes. Spot them by looking for the set symbol is on the bottom right corner. If you only glanced at it, you could miss the symbol. This could lead you to believe that the card you are examining is from Base Set. Make sure you give each card a hard look before you buy to avoid this.
The Pikachu cards above show three very similar cards – the far left is from Base Set. The card in the middle has a set symbol under the picture on the right side and is from Base 2. The Pikachu on the right is slightly different upon close examination, but the symbol on the bottom right shows that this Pikachu is from Evolutions.
Be very careful when buying Base Set cards online. Some sellers will try to cleverly hide the Evolutions symbol to pass the card as Base. There will be a blur or a kink where the symbol should be, due to crafty editing. These cards usually cannot be returned, so once you buy it and it’s in your possession, you own it.
You do not want to pay a pretty penny for a card sold to you as Base when it’s from Evolutions. S and I are very fond of Troll and Toad, TCG Player, and Collector’s Cache for buying cards online. They are reputable and are unlikely to forge rarity. Otherwise, we buy in person so we can examine the card before we pay for it. When we purchased the now-infamous 6,500 card collection, we spent a lot of time talking with the seller and studying the cards before we paid for them.
Pokémon is Japanese, and obviously, there are Japanese cards to counterpart the English versions. To complicate things, some Japanese sets did not get an English release. But it’s not just Japanese, there are other language cards as well. After all, Pokémon is a worldwide phenomenon! I have a soft spot for Japanese cards with my favorite being my Buizel, who is also my favorite Pokémon.
Japanese cards are relatively safe as far as counterfeiting goes in the United States. However, a card from a corresponding set can look very different. The art could be different as the card color tone itself. The border on Japanese cards can be silver instead of yellow, and the back of the card can look different as well. The moves can also be different, which can make the HP different. S has a Japanese Greninja like this. The blue background is very dark compared to the English Greninja, but it is authentic. My Buizel looks identical to the English version that I have. Both cards below have the same back.
Card printing isn’t always perfect, and sometimes errors happen in the process. There are miscut cards, where there is a small nick somewhere along the card. There are misplaced borders, where the yellow is thicker or thinner on one side versus the other side. These are some of the most common errors.
Some holographic cards have what is called the “holo bleed,” where the holo part bleeds onto the rest of the card. Some people enjoy this particular error; however, it is pretty common as far as mistakes go.
The Base Set Vulpix is an excellent example of an error in printing. A Pokémon card should say, “HP 50”, where the ‘HP’ comes before the number. The Base Set Error Vulpix has it’s HP reversed. The card reads “50 HP”. You can find this error in normal printing and shadowless. I’ve included these two Vulpix cards so you can see what I mean. The card on the left is a normal card from Base Set with the “HP 50” error, and the card on the right is a Shadowless Vulpix Base Set error card.
There are cards released for events and to celebrate certain Pokémon, types, regions, etc. These are promo (promotional) cards. The first group was the Black Star Wizards of the Coast Promos, which included the Mewtwo Strikes Back Movie Promos. They have released many promo sets over the years. And at times they have included promos in Collection Boxes, tins, and blister packs.
Promo cards are common when they are first released, but tend to disappear over time — and some can be quite valuable. They also produce promotional jumbo-sized cards. The jumbo is an identical match to the regular size cards in most cases, although there are exceptions where there will only be a jumbo and no matching regular size card.
The Incineroar GX Premium Collection Box above shows the jumbo and regular size Incineroar GX Promo cards. Below it are the cards out of the box – identical except in size. Following those are Celebi, a promo from the movie Pokémon 4Ever, made by Wizards of the Coast, and a Black Star Nintendo Pikachu Promo card.
Most, but not all, jumbo cards are promo cards. This Tapu Koko GX is a promo, but this Lunala GX is not a promo, and they list it in the Sun & Moon set in which its regular sized card appears.
One way to ensure the value of your collection retains its highest value is to get your cards graded. There are a few companies which grade Pokémon Cards on a scale of 1-10 – PSA and Beckett. Most people use PSA, but Beckett is also a reliable company.
But buying and collecting graded cards comes with its problems. There are countless videos on YouTube showing unscrupulous people how to take these cards out of their cases and either resubmit them or put them in a higher-grade case. Doing so is fraud. If you sell a card as something it isn’t, it’s dishonest. If you have a graded card and remove it from the case, you will damage it. There is no way around this. Cards have damage that you can’t see with the naked eye — Which is why grading companies use what is called a jeweler’s loupe, a small magnifying glass, to look for imperfections. This PSA 9 Grade 1st Edition Holo Jolteon from the Jungle Set is an excellent example of what a card looks like after grading.
When buying graded cards (or any cards for that matter), always buy them from reputable dealers. Research what the price of the card should be before you pay for it. The cost of graded cards can be very inflated. Certain Pokémon can inflate the price of a card, even if it’s not rare or unusual. Dishonest people selling cards will pull at your heart with nostalgia. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Another one will come along. Hold out for that one.
Getting into rare cards can be overwhelming. There are so many to collect. There are different parameters for each kind. Take it slow. Start with the type you think is the most interesting or go through one set at a time. You can even focus on just one Pokémon. Building a collection takes time, so enjoy the ride!