The 1999 1st Edition Holographic Charizard card is recognized as the “holy grail” of the entire Pokémon trading card game, and seen as one of the most iconic non-sports cards.
The first edition set was released in limited quantity with 102 cards total, 16 of them being the rarer, coveted holographic cards. The holographic Charizard card became the most popular for a variety of cultural reasons at the time.
We wanted to break down how we thought about the card as an investment.
A quick glance at Card Ladder data clearly illustrates the trajectory of the Charizard card over time and the recent boom.
As one can see, the card hit an all time high in March 2021 at $399,7500, sold by Goldin Auctions, then saw declines. However, the two most recent auction sales at prices of $264,000 and $270,600 (Heritage, Goldin) may suggest the beginning of some price stabilization and indicates continued strong demand.
We observe similar trends to Charizard when looking at other high-end Pokémon cards from the 1999 1st edition set, such as Mewtwo, Venusaur, and Blastoise. Prices for these cards experienced a similar boom in 2020, a subsequent correction, and then a leveling off after the dip (with the exception of Blastoise, an outlier that seems to have spiked again very recently).
It is important to note, however, that several of the recent sales listed on Card Ladder in the past quarter are unverifiable eBay sales and the data points are quite limited. While recent trends bode well for collectors, there’s no guarantee that the market won’t see further negative movement in the near term.
The Bull Case
In August 2019, a popular infographic was circulated showing Pokémon to be the highest grossing media franchise in history at ~$92B, ahead of such cultural giants as Marvel, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.
The franchise is a sprawling universe of diverse products, from video games to trading cards to television shows. It remains a beloved symbol of 90’s-born millennial childhoods, and has continued to stay relevant for over 20 years with a number of catalysts even before the “pandemic boom”:
- 2016 — Pokémon Go is released and becomes one of the biggest games of the decade; Charizard remains one of the most coveted creatures.
- 2018 — Early signs of the Pokémon card revival begin, with an unopened 1999 1st Edition box of the cards selling at auction for a then headline-making $56,000. A 1999 Pokemon 1st Edition Charizard Holo, graded BGS 10, reportedly sells for $55,650 on eBay—enough for the BGS writer to make reference to a “Scrooge McDuck-esque money bin.”
- 2019 — The film Detective Pikachu is released, with an accompanying trading card marketing campaign, leading commentators to look a decade back on the origins of the franchise and ask: “is it 1999 again?”
As we know, by 2020, Pokémon reached new heights of popularity with card unboxing videos trending on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Various influencers and celebrities began to publicize their passion for Pokémon cards. Logan Paul famously began promoting investment in the cards in September 2020, bought a Charizard card for $150,000 from Pawn Stars Gary in October, then wore his Charizard card as a necklace to his fight with Floyd Mayweather in June of this year. Pokémon cards saw some of the biggest gains on eBay in Q1 of 2021 (+1,046%).
All this points to the franchise’s cultural longevity and the potential for continued future catalysts and demand for Pokémon products.
Even if no additional catalysts were to materialize, as the generation for whom Pokémon holds the most cultural resonance (primarily younger millennials) progresses in their careers and comes of age financially, one could easily imagine an increasing amount of capital chasing a limited number of Pokémon grail cards. It may very well be that the true Pokémon boom ends up being not 2020, but 10-15 years from now when younger millennials (“Generation Pokémon”) reach their peak earning years.
The Bear Case
Still, it remains to be seen whether the Pokémon brand will continue to stay relevant and top of mind to millennials in the future. The success of Pokémon Go, for example, arguably played a large part in bringing Pokémon back into the current pop culture “water cooler,” and thus millennials’ remembrance and revisiting of Pokémon cards. If the Pokémon Company is unable to continue creating relevant products that capture societal attention in the future, demand for cards could conceivably fall.
In addition, it is also unclear whether the cards specifically will continue to serve as a key representative cultural asset of the franchise, even if the brand retains relevance.
Most importantly, the Pokémon card market obviously experienced significant activity and a surge in prices in the past year and it is reasonable to wonder whether such prices are sustainable – especially short term. As noted in our commentary on the market’s trajectory, there is a very fair possibility that prices could fall significantly and the market could see negative trends again within a few months. Further, as the category gains momentum, more cards may be submitted for grading, increasing the population of this card and grade and detracting from its “grail” status.
While evaluating investments in collectibles is often an uncertain exercise, with limited data points and evaluations largely dependent on one’s views on the future of the market, we are excited to present an asset with such a legacy of cultural significance to our community.