Collectables: the Pokémon craze lives on

The generation that got hooked on Pokémon are now collecting. Chris Carter reports.

“Gotta catch ‘em all!” was the war cry sung to children in the late 1990s by American singer Jason Paige. It was the theme song to the Pokémon cartoon television series and those lyrics appear to have become ingrained in a generation. The generation that grew up collecting the cards that accompanied the series have since become investors in those very same cards. 

Although Pokémon cards have been increasing in value for years, the market is now hitting new highs, thanks in part to YouTube-star-turned-Pokémon-collector Logan Paul. “The celebrities jump-started it a little bit, but you could see it happening already, especially when the pandemic hit,” Sasha Tamaddon, the 22-year-old founder of the US-based collectable investment adviser Cardhops, tells Archie Bland in The Guardian. “All these people were going to their basements and looking at their cards and buying and selling because they didn’t really have anything else to do.” 

The hype and the tedium

Given the hype (and the boredom), perhaps it’s no surprise that a $375,000 cash deal for a sealed box of rare first-edition Pokémon cards, broadcast live on YouTube, ended in disaster. As The Guardian reports, the buyer, Chris Camillo, a “social arbitrage investor” and one of the hosts of a YouTube channel called Dumb Money, opened the “booster box” to find it full of cards that were “commonplace, damaged, or otherwise worthless”. The three sellers, led by “blockchain entrepreneur” and Logan Paul’s “personal Pokémon consultant” Jake Greenbaum, had themselves bought the box from another seller, and vowed to secure a new box within days. Both Camillo and Greenbaum denied the transaction had been a stunt. “I don’t want exposure like this, it’s the last thing I want,” Greenbaum told the paper. “This is my reputation.”

Because the cards and the booster boxes tend to be unopened to keep them pristine, authenticating them can be tricky. That’s doubly true for a collectable that’s still quite niche, even if the market for Pokémon cards is growing strongly. As always, to put the odds of buying the genuine article in your favour, it pays to buy through a reputable auction house. Dallas-based Heritage Auctions (HA) is offering a still-sealed first edition Wizards of the Coast booster Pokémon box from 1999, as part of its online Comics & Comic Art Auction from 19-21 November. It carries an estimate of $300,000. 

That might seem like a lot for a box of playing cards, but a similar booster box fetched $198,000 in September, also with HA. The box contains 36 “booster packs”, each with 11 cards for a total of 396 cards. “This is an unquestionable prize for any serious Pokémon collector,” says HA’s Jesus Garcia. “This set comes from a very low print run, and to find one that is still sealed and in such great condition is extraordinarily rare.” 

A £250,000 Star Wars hoard

Star Wars toys

© Aston’s Auctioneers

The Pokémon craze started in the 1990s. But a decade or so before that you had Star Wars figures. This suggests that collectable children’s toys have a habit of resurfacing years down the line once the children have grown up and become nostalgic adults. 

One elderly couple from Stourbridge in the West Midlands seemingly became the beneficiaries of this trend last week when a collection of Star Wars toys left to them by a neighbour sold for £250,000 with Aston’s Auctioneers. The neighbour, Peter Simpson, had spent several decades collecting the plastic figures and spacecraft before his death in December last year, says Neil Johnston in The Times. They had no idea how much the toys were worth, so their son invited in an expert to value the hoard. 

Inside the dozens of bin bags Chris Aston, of Aston’s Auctioneers, found hundreds of unopened items. “A lot of them were a bit damp because of how they’ve been stored, but generally it’s the best Star Wars collection I’ve ever seen,” says Aston. The haul contained a rare Palitoy Jawa figure with a rare vinyl cape, which fetched £22,000 (before fees). The auction as a whole made £410,000 (before fees) in total – “our best sale ever in 15 years”, says Aston. Sadly, it was also the last sale for the auction house, which is closing “having been badly affected by the lockdown earlier in the year”.

Auctions

Going…

43AD stater coin

© Roman Numismatics

An ancient British gold stater coin, dating from 43AD, just prior to the Roman invasion of Britain, is expected to fetch at least £24,000 with Chris Rudd of Norwich on Sunday. It depicts Caratacus, a ruler of the Catuvellauni tribe, riding naked on horseback with a shield and javelin, and bears the inscription “CARAT”, for his name. The other side is inscribed with “[C]VNO”, short for Cunobelinus, Caratacus’s father, with an ear of barley. The coin was found last November in a field near Newbury, Berkshire, 20 miles from where it was minted at Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) and it has been described as “the most important single Iron Age coin ever found” in Britain. Caratacus and his brother, Togodumnus, fought the Romans in modern-day southern England, before retreating to what is now Wales. He was eventually captured and taken to Rome.

Gone…

A Roman gold aureus coin (left), struck in 42BC, broke the record for an ancient coin when it sold for £3.2m before fees late last month. The coin marks the assassination of Julius Caesar and depicts two daggers – one each for Brutus and Cassius, the co-conspirators – a liberty cap, and the words “EID MAR” for the Ides of March (15 March), the date Caesar was killed. The coin also bears the face of Brutus. Caesar had been condemned for breaking the taboo of placing the image of a living Roman (himself) on a coin and so for Brutus to do it was “especially compelling”, says Richard Beale of auction house Roma Numismatics. Only three such coins still exist.

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