First of all, what are Trophy cards and should I care?
Whether you should care or not is a personal decision but I can give you the backstory behind trophy cards… Over twenty years ago, the first official Pokemon tournament took place in Japan and the top players were given limited edition Pikachu trophy cards for first, second, and third place. Reportedly there were only 4 copies of each of the three cards ever distributed making them extremely rare cards to own. The tradition has been carried on in subsequent tournaments and competitions with the cards from that 1997 tournament being the most sought after.
Trophy cards are generally very low pop (population number) and handed out to only the tournament winners as part of their winnings. “Trainer” trophy cards are printed in low quantities (pop 100 or less) and handed out in major Pokemon tournaments such as the World Championship both for TCG and video games to the first, second, and third place finishers in the various age groups. Collectors will often aim to collect the first, second, and third place version of the card for a given tournament to have a complete set.
What are Trophy cards worth?
Value of Pokemon cards is often determined (like most things) by supply and demand. The supply of Trophy cards is fairly limited given the low numbers produced and the fact that they are created one-time for a specific event. A rough estimate of the production numbers for each trophy card can be found on Elite Fourum. In addition to low production numbers, we also have to take into account the low population of graded Trophy cards (pop report). The low population of the cards also makes them difficult for the average collector to get their hands on and those who do collect them often attempt to buy them directly from winners at tournaments. You can imagine that’s not an easy sale to make given that the cards are part of the prize awarded to top performers. Less sought after Trophy cards can be found in the hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollar range making them somewhat more accessible to your average collector.
Logan Paul did what?!
For many high-end Pokemon collectors, rare Trophy cards are Holy Grail pieces. Adding to the hype (demand) around the cards is the recent news that Logan Paul purchased a PSA 10 Pikachu Illustrator card in a trade valued at over $5 million dollars! And in March, Ludkins Media reported the sale of a PSA 7 version of the card for $720,000 after a Goldin auctions sale of the card went unfulfilled. PSA and now CGC have publicly available pop reports where you can track the population of any graded card. You can see from PSA’s pop report that they have only graded 24 of these cards with a single 10 in existence, now owned by Logan Paul. The Illustrator Pikachu is not a traditional Trophy card but is instead a promo card that was given out to winners of an illustration contest run in the Japanese CoroCoro Comic magazine in 1998. The top of the card says “Illustrator” as opposed to “Trainer” like most Trophy cards. And just last week, PWCC reported the sale of a 1998 Japanese Promo University Magikarp trophy card in a PSA 9 for $78,000 after buyers premium. It is one of 14 PSA 9s of this card which features artwork by Ken Sugimori and was never released in an English version.
How can I get one?
Well, don’t go cashing in your 401k just yet… Trophy cards are not for the faint of heart and can have unpredictable rises and falls in price (see the hype around Logan Paul’s trade/purchase). It is probably safe to say that they will always hold value because of their rarity and the significance of each release of the card. Modern trophy cards can be a good entry point for those looking to get into this particular niche. Check population reports (for graded cards) and sold listings to get a good idea of the current market value before buying. Happy collecting!