Pokémon began as the creation of Satoshi Tajiri in 1995. The story of these creatures envisions a world in which fictional characters called Pokémon are trained by humans to battle each other. Owing its initial roots to a pair of popular video games for the Nintendo Game Boy, these ideas have grown into a full entertainment franchise filled with comic books, toys, movies, animated television shows and of course, a wildly popular trading card game.
In 2016, we are celebrated the 20th anniversary of Pokémon amid the Pokémon Go craze. In this heavily researched piece, we share what we determined to be the rarest Pokémon cards ever produced. Ranging from the different types of Pokémon cards you should watch out for as a collector to the rarest of the holy grail Pokémon cards, we have you covered with the facts you need. If you play your Pokémon cards right, your dream deck could be worth more than you know!
20. Pokémon Art Academy Winner Card
We're going to start this list with a consideration of Pokémon collectible culture and a card that isn’t yet on the high dollar list but will absolutely become one. It's one of the newest and one of the recently rare. You see, back in 2015, a "Pokemon Art Academy" Competition invited fans of the game to submit artwork using their Nintendo 3DS. Winners of the contest saw their art made into an official Pokemon trading card, and each artist received a 100 card pack of custom design cards displaying their artwork.
I begin here as it exemplifies much of what becomes valuable and ultra rare in the latter half of this list. Pokémon has a long history of releasing special cards, usually in response to an event or tournament, which become incredibly collectible over time. In this case, each winner began with the only 100 copies that exist for their card. Collectibility of each of these winning cards only increases at the whim of the recipient, and you can already hear the drumbeat of collectors on the hunt for any of these that make it to the open market. That is how many a collectible card is born and for Pokémon, it's happening still today. Within this article detailing the rarest Pokémon cards, you're going to read many stories like this. But first, we'll cover the broader runs of cards that are picking up value and then move on to the holy grails of Pokémon cards.
Why 100 cards you ask? This number results from the cut sheets where it's just as easy to produce a single sheet (containing 100) as a single card. The card depicted above is Tangrowth. It was also one of the first to be unveiled coming out of this contest. It was created by Reddit user Goshadole (aka Gosha).
19. Pokémon Ex Cards
We're starting the broader countdown with the Full Art EX Cards using Mew EX as an example. An artwork heavy variant of the traditional card series, the early EX Cards were actually printed in black and white. These alternate cards quickly shifted to four color graphics. Here, you are looking for that EX symbol at the top of the card which denotes that it’s a version that is more collectible.
Overall we're still shaking out where the long-term value rests on this series of cards, but the EX run tend to hold better value than standard cards. Many in the line aren't hard to find or very valuable. That said, a few stars are beginning to rise from this run including Mew EX, Lugia EX, and Doix EX. The value at this point is between $25 and $40 with Doix (or Deoxys) commanding the higher end of that scale.
18. Pokémon Gold Star Cards
Gold Star cards (like the Latios card picture above) are much loved by fans of Pokemon as they feature art by illustrator Masakazu Fukuda. His tendency to have creatures who reach beyond the established character window is a feature of his work for which he is known.
What's it worth? The first of many shiny Pokémon trading cards to follow, and much rarer than their regular counterparts, these cards can sell for $40 to $100 with graded cards commanding as much as $200 or more.
17. Pokémon Vs Card Series
The Japanese Pokémon VS Series Cards stand out first because these cards were double the price of normal cards. Add to that its lack of common circulation in the US and you have a subset of Pokemon that has proven hard to find.
What's it worth? If you can nail down the Japan-only cards like Bruno's Steelix (pictured above) you can command prices of around $100 based on rarity and condition, and well over $200 for a full set.
16. Pokémon Southern Islands Card Collection
This is a really interesting collection of Pokémon cards, to say the least. The folder came with 18 cards (two sets of 9 cards each) which are known as the Rainbow and Tropical Island sets. Released in Japan, it was done more as a film advertising project than a targeted card set. The cards themselves fit together to make a picture and an assembled set (including the folder) can command several hundred dollars when sold.
What's it worth? A factory-sealed example of the Pokémon Southern Island Collection sold for more than $2000 on eBay as recently as October 2020.
15. 2002 Pokémon Shining Charizard Card
A "shiny" Pokémon card is a card that depicts an alternate color variation of a standard Pokémon card. They are basic Pokémon but with odds of finding them in a booster pack starting at 300:1, special play features, and a limit of 1 per player deck, lore about these cards spread quickly.
Charizard (as we describe in a bit more detail in spot #10 below) is always a sought-after character and this shiny card benefits from holographic artwork, which only increases its collectibility. Typically higher valued than their non-shiny counterparts (with the initial first edition Charizard card being a clear exception), these cards often trade for several hundred dollars. (A specific price range was tricky to track down for this card as the price does seem to vary quite a bit.) To say the least, if you see it at a modest price you will want to nab it as this one is only increasing in worth over time.
If you're looking add one of the rarest Pokémon cards to your collection, expect to pay well over $1,000 USD for this one. For this type of purchase where authenticity matters, we recommend the trusted collectibles marketplace StockX. You can find a direct link to this specific card below.
14. Tropical Mega Battle Legendary Bird Phone Card
How can you be a collector without including a bit of the stranger side of Pokémon in your collection? This one isn't just a playing card, it's also a phone card! Though its origins remain a bit of a mystery, this promo card is slightly longer in size than the normal Pokémon cards, and the print is also closer in size to what is used on traditional Japanese phone cards. The image on the card serves up Articuno as depicted by Ken Sugimori.
What's it worth? Want to add it to your Pokémon cards collection? You should expect to part with roughly $1,200 based on past sales.
13. Shiny Espeon Card
The shiny Espeon card was first unveiled as one of the legendary Japanese PLAY Promotional cards. Via the Daisuki Pokémon Fan Club, this card was offered as a prize for members who accumulated enough points in the club by attending various meetups and participating in club activities. Members only had from 2005 to 2006 to achieve the goals and this proved so difficult that very few cards were ever actually awarded. The card's lore (and value) only grew as a result, making it one of the rarest Pokémon cards ever made.
What's it worth? The Shiny Espeon card is a seriously hard card to find with a price to prove it. This card is valued at more than $1,800 according to our findings. Your best option for finding one of the rarest Pokémon cards like this one would be an online marketplace that offers authentication, like StockX at the link below.
12. 1998 Pokemon Japanese Promo Kangaskhan Holo Family Event Trophy Card
Here, we see a solid trophy card stacking the deck for collectors to drool over. This one was only given out during the 1998 Kangaskhan Family Event as a trophy card. The event itself was unusual as it involved both adults and children working together under established rule criteria to compete.
What's it worth? As quantitative proof that this is one of the rarest Pokemon cards of all time, a high-grade example of this card sold for a staggering $150,100 through an eBay auction in October 2020.
11. 1998 Pokemon Japanese Promo University Magikarp Tamamushi Prize Card
As a water type basic Pokémon card, this one was released as a promotional card only available in Japan. It has quite a history as it was a prize card that originated as part of the Tamamushi University Hyper Test campaign back in 1998. Focusing on primary-school children, it challenged them with a series of tests which, upon passing, qualified them for an invitation to a two-day conference in Osaka. There, the players battled as groups to qualify for the second day of competition. Competing by age on day two, only the winners took home this card at the end of the conference.
What's it worth? As the leading trading card marketplaces, PWCC sold a high-grade example of this rare Pokémon card for $50,100 at auction in October 2020. Its scarcity and value are why this is one of the rarest Pokémon cards ever produced.
10. 1999 Pokémon Charizard 1st Edition Card #4/102
Charizard is unquestionably one of the most popular Pokémon characters. Given his presence on the original Pokémon Red game cartridge, he's linked to the brand almost as closely as Pikachu. Due in part to that popularity, a highly graded first edition card has proven itself as one that is dependably sought out by collectors and consistently valuable.
What's it worth? The value of sale has been widely speculated, but it can easily sell for as much as $20,000 for a high-grade example. Add to that the play value of this one (heavy hit points and damage) and you can see why people have been on the hunt for all versions of this character's card since the card game's inception.
9. Pokémon Snap Best Photo Contest Cards
The series of Pokémon Snap Photo Contest Cards covered here originated from the Pokémon Snap Nintendo 64 game. Created as a promotional contest in support of the N64 video game, players were encouraged to take snapshots of the actual game. Judges evaluated the photos, and the winners that were chosen had their work printed on special cards that acknowledged them as the card's artist. In the end, very few of these cards were ever made making landing them on our list of the rarest Pokémon cards of all time.
What's it worth? In circulation, some of these cards have sold for over $8,000 with the Gyarados card being one of the more sought-after examples. Here, we're celebrating one of the cards from the series featuring the lovable Pikachu.
8. Numbers 1, 2, 3 Trainer Cards
Numbered trainer cards are going to form the basis of our next few selections within this list. They were released in conjunction with the Pokémon Trading Card Game World Finals and have been sought after ever since by collectors, only increasing in value with age. These were quite literally the cards that denoted you as a champion and served as your entry ticket for future years of competition. With our #9 spot, we're tipping a hat mostly to the mixture of the second and third place cards out there. Any of these cards, not just the Number 1 cards, can command a significant price and the utmost respect. Considering only a single card was given out at each level each year, they are holy grail cards of the first order. That said, let’s dig a bit deeper with spots #7 through #3 in our list below which are held by versions of these trainer cards that stand out in the history of Pokémon cards.
7. Pokémon World Championship Trainer Number 1 Cards
In 2004, Pokemon hosted the first TCG World Championship under the direction of Pokemon USA. Here, as noted above, cards specific to each year of the championship was awarded. The Number 1 cards deserved their own spot on the countdown as they are the cards held by each year’s champion. Designs began changing with each year starting in 2004 and the card stock itself shifted in 2007, 2010, and 2011. In 2013, for the first time, the card was also awarded to the winner of the Video Game Championships in each age division.
6. Pokémon Number 1 Trainer Card
This card predates the ever-changing, annual Pokémon World Championship cards. Before that point, the Trainer cards awarded would only change artwork a few times over the years and this card is the fourth significant change we see. Featuring artwork by Ken Sugimori, it was initially awarded during the Japanese World Challenge Summer event held in 2000. The winners here were awarded this card which allowed entry for the finals held that following August.
5. Pokémon Secret Super Battle Number 1 Trainer Card
During the Challenge Road '99 SUMMER event (held between July and August 1999), the Secret Super Battle and the Tropical Mega Battle (see #4 in our list below) were early side tournaments which invited elementary school students to compete. The Super Secret Battle played host to kids from third grade up to high school (eleventh grade). The Secret Super Battle cards featured a Mewtwo silhouette and the event logo artwork by Hideki Kazaa. Along with the Tropical Mega Battle cards, the Secret Super Battle cards represented the first trainer cards with new artwork breaking away from the Trophy Pikachu (see #3 in our list below) for the first time.
What's it worth? If you have an extra $150,000 to splurge, you can add this rare Pokemon card to your collection via Heritage Auctions. One is listed for sale there now at the time of this publication.
4. 1999 Tropical Mega Battle Trainer Number 1 Card
Like the Secret Super Battle cards above, the Tropical Mega Battle cards were awarded to elementary school student winners and this competition welcomed kids up to third grade. Here, the card featured an Exeggutor and the event's logo with artwork by Ken Sugimori and Hiromi Ito.
What's it worth? This card makes our list of rarest Pokemon cards simply because of the age of its recipients and the commonly held belief that fewer of these cards still exist. Its rarity makes its value nearly priceless, but a high-grade example of another Tropical Mega Battle card sold for $50,300 via eBay in October 2020. This makes us confident that the Tropical Mega Battle Trainer Number 1 card would command a similar price point in such condition.
3. Trophy Pikachu Trainer Number 1 Card
This card was given to those champions coming out of a qualifying round during the first Japanese Pokémon Card Game Official Tournament. That qualifying round was held on the first of two days at the at the Makuhari Messe convention center in China on June 14 to 15, 1997. It represents the first of the legendary "Trainer" Cards given to competition winners and has a value to prove it.
2. Pokémon Raichu Card #14/102
The card was originally printed to showcase the then-upcoming Jungle set. Though shrouded in mystery, most believe that a sheet of 121 cards was printed, and 100 of those were destroyed leaving just 21 in the wild. Many feel that the current number is closer to 11. Originally issued to Wizards of the Coast employees at the time, these rare Pokémon cards were not supposed to make it onto the collector market. We see how well that plan worked out.
What's it worth? While a first edition of the general release Raichu card can fetch upwards of $800, the "prerelease" version of this card is so exceptionally rare that there are no recent sales to cite as examples of its value.
1. The Pokémon Illustrator Card
Let's move into the territory of the ultimate holy grail of Pokémon cards… The Pokémon Illustrator card! Also known as the Pikachu Illustrator or Illustrator Pikachu, this one is a trainer card and an unnumbered promotional card which was awarded, not purchased. It was given as a reward for those who had a winning entry in a series of Japanese Pokemon Card Game Illustration Contests. Only 39 cards were ever awarded and some say as few as 6 are even known to exist. The Illustrator card is the only card with the unique pen symbol in the bottom right corner and it also features a double-star rarity. Without a doubt, this card is the stuff of legends, well beyond even the hallowed halls of the rarest Pokémon cards.
What's it worth? The most recent sale we could find for the coveted Pokémon Illustrator card was $1,525 on eBay in October 2020. This was for an ungraded example of this rare Pokemon card. However, a graded PSA 9 mint example was listed for an insanely expensive $100,000 in 2013 which made news around the world. It's unclear whether that specific card ever sold.