Pokémon Cards have been an on-and-off craze since they first hit shelves back in the nineties, and while it's been quieter at times, it's never gone away. Rare cards - expensive, valuable, unique or irreplacable cards - have been a huge part of that. From the legendary allure of the shiny Charizard to the cards that are only given to the greatest players around, there's some Pokémon cards that are worth more than you could possibly imagine. Even McDonalds has had a hand in the trading game.
Otherwise, check out the rarest and most valuable Pokemon Cards to ever hit the market below. You probably don't have any of these secured in a binder, but if you do... well, want to trade for a Bidoof?
Rare and valuable Pokémon cards
- No. 1 Trainer: The rarest Pokémon card of all time?
- 1999 First Edition Shadowless Holographic Charizard #4: An extremely valuable and very rare version of the fan-favourite card.
- Pikachu Illustrator: Another contender for the most expensive Pokémon ever made, thanks to its rarity.
- 20th Anniversary 24-karat Gold Pikachu: A rare reprint of the original Pikachu card that's literally made of gold.
- Master’s Key: This prize card is one of the more modern cards on this list - but no less rare.
- Prerelease Raichu: A Pokémon card so rare that it may just be a rumour.
- Pokémon Blastoise #009/165R Commissioned Presentation Galaxy Star Hologram: One of only two in existence, this ultra-rare card recently set a new record for Pokémon card values.
- 1999 Pokémon Japanese Promo Tropical Mega Battle Tropical Wind: With just a dozen ever made, this promo card given to master trainers at the 1999 world tournament is as valuable as it sounds.
- Espeon and Umbreon Gold Star POP Series 5: A pair of rare Pokémon cards from one of the most valuable Pokémon sets of all time: the sought-after Gold Star Pokémon cards.
That said, there are a number of rare Pokémon cards that were more widely available at the time and which may be lurking in an unsuspecting fan’s library, waiting to be rediscovered. Interest in Pokémon and the Pokémon card game has only continued to grow in recent years, with multiple card sales at auction setting new records in 2019 and 2020 alone, so there’s never been a better time to rifle through your collection and see if you own one of the rarest Pokémon cards of all time. Aren’t you at least a little curious?
1. No. 1 Trainer
The answer to "What's the rarest Pokémon card of all time?"
Sold for $90,000 in July 2020
It’s unlikely you’ve heard of No. 1 Trainer, and extremely unlikely you’ve ever seen a copy in person. When it comes to rare Pokémon cards, they really don’t get rarer than this.
No.1 Trainer is a holographic promotional card awarded to finalists in the Secret Super Battle tournament held in Tokyo, Japan in 1999. To earn a place in the competition’s finals, which were held in a secret location, players had to first win a regional tournament. Their prize was the No. 1 Trainer card, which granted them access to the finals.
The card’s text translates to: “The Pokémon Card Game Official Tournament's champion is recognised here, and this honour is praised. By presenting this card, you may gain preferential entry into the Secret Super Battle.” The card features the Japanese logo for the “Pocket Monsters Trading Card Game”, along with artwork of original generation Pokémon Mewtwo by illustrator Hideki Kazama.
As only seven regional tournaments were held, it’s believed that just seven copies of the No. 1 Trainer card were made - easily making it one of, it not the, rarest Pokémon cards in existence. Six of the ultra-rare cards have since been certified as being in perfect Gem Mint 10 condition by PSA - the prestigious organisation that grades the quality, condition and value of trading cards, up to the highest level of GEM-MT10 - with a flawless copy selling at auction in July 2020 for $90,000. At the time, Heritage Auctions - which organised the sale - described No. 1 Trainer as the “most sought-after card” in the Pokémon TCG, and a “Holy Grail” for collectors. Its counterpart cards No.2 Trainer and No. 3 Trainer, similarly awarded to winners in Japanese Pokémon tournaments during the late 1990s, are almost as rare and valuable.
2. 1999 First Edition Shadowless Holographic Charizard #4
A very valuable version of a classic fan-favourite
Sold for $220,574 in October 2020
Shiny Charizard has been one of the Pokémon card game’s most popular cards since it first released in 1999, so there’s no surprise that 20-plus years later, it remains one of the most sought-after cards for collectors and fans alike.
While a number of first-edition cards from the Pokémon TCG’s early days are worth some money - assuming they’re still in good nick - due to their limited availability and age, this specific version of the holographic Charizard absolutely stands out as one of the rarest and most valuable Pokémon cards ever released.
A PSA 10 Base Set 1st Edition Charizard just sold at auction with an ending bid of $183,812.00 via @IconicAuctions.— Cardhops (@Cardhops) October 10, 2020
Including the 20% buyer's premium, the total transaction value exceeds $220k.
As of now, this is the highest known sale of the card. pic.twitter.com/2mwkoopTvL
What sets the card apart is the lack of a shadow underneath the fire-breathing dragon Pokémon. This was a printing error that was corrected for most of the cards printed, which makes the shadowless card all the rarer. According to auction house Iconic Auctions, the rare card is “the Holy Grail of Pokémon cards, the most iconic and important card to both the Pokémon franchise and its die hard fans”.
A mint-condition first-edition shadowless holographic PSA 10 Charizard sold at auction in October 2020 for a whopping $220,574 to retired rapper - and Pokémon fan - Logic, setting a new record for the already valuable card, according to card game outlet Cardhops. The figure may even make the shiny shadowless Charizard the most valuable Pokémon card of all time - a title contested by our next entry. Either way, it’s undoubtedly one of the rarest Pokémon cards out there.
3. Pikachu Illustrator
Extremely expensive, extremely rare - the Holy Grail of Pokémon cards
Sold for $195,000 in October 2019
The current record holder for the world’s most valuable Pokémon card is also one of the rarest Pokémon cards ever made.
Pikachu Illustrator was originally given to winners of promo contests held in 1997 and 1998 by Japanese magazine CoroCoro Comic. 39 copies were officially awarded to the winners, while two copies were reportedly later discovered by one of the card game’s creators, seemingly bringing the total number of Pikachu Illustrator copies to 41.
As well as being ridiculously rare, the card is unique in a number of ways. It is the only Pokémon card to say “Illustrator” instead of “Trainer” at the top of the card, and has a one-off pen icon in its bottom-right corner to acknowledge its creation for the design contest. The card’s artwork of Pikachu is by Atsuko Nishida, the original illustrator of the fan-favourite Pokémon.
Approximately 19 copies of the card are believed to still exist, with 10 certified by the Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) responsible for grading cards’ condition - although the actual number out there is disputed.
A near-flawless copy of the card graded at Mint 9 - one grade under perfect condition - sold at auction in 2019 for $195,000. That makes it the most expensive Pokémon card ever sold at auction according to Guinness World Records, though it may have since been surpassed by the shadowless first-edition PSA 10 Charizard and Presentation Blastoise. Regardless, Pikachu Illustrator is among the rarest Pokémon cards, with auction house Invaluable calling it “the most valuable and rarest Pokémon card in the world". The Pikachu Illustrator card is a true Holy Grail of Pokémon cards.
4. 20th Anniversary 24-karat Gold Pikachu
A rare card made of solid gold
Sold for 216,000 yen ($2,081) in October 2016
While many of the rarest Pokémon cards are cards released during the first years of the game, this card is an exception in that it appeared for the first time only a few years ago in 2016 to celebrate the Pokémon TCG’s 20th anniversary.
What makes the 20th Anniversary Pikachu card extra special is the fact it’s made out of solid gold. 11 grammes of 24-karat gold, in fact. Japanese jewellery maker Ginza Tanaka produced a limited number of solid gold cards based on the original Japanese Pikachu card - affectionately nicknamed ‘Fat Pikachu’ due to the electric mouse’s distinctive chubby cheeks.
The only way to get a copy of the golden Pikachu was to enter a lottery held in 2016. If you won, you were given the chance to buy a copy of the limited-edition card for 216,000 yen - or around $2,081/£1,700. It came in a special frame and box marking the anniversary, which you’d hope might keep it safe given the price tag and rarity.
Although the card recreates the original Pikachu card - including the Pocket Monsters Card Game logo on the back and its Japanese text on the front - it’s not legal for use in tournaments. You know, because it’s made of gold. We probably wouldn’t recommend trading it in the schoolyard either, unless your friend has a couple of grand in pocket money.
5. Master’s Key
A more recent card - but no less rare
Sold for $21,000 in November 2019
Master’s Key is another rare Pokémon card awarded to participants in a Pokémon TCG tournament. However, unlike No. 1 Trainer and its ilk, this card is a little more recent, being given to competitors in the 2010 Pokémon World Championships held in Hawaii.
Both those participating in the trading card game tournament and its video game counterpart received a copy of Master’s Key - the cards were identical, but came presented in a different trophy case frame depending on the category.
Only 36 copies of the card are estimated to exist - equal to the number of participants in all age divisions of the world championships.
A copy of the Master’s Key card sold at auction in November 2019 for more than $21,000, highlighting how valuable the rare prize card is.
6. Prerelease Raichu
A card so rare it may just be rumour
Reportedly sold for $10,500 in April 2009
Perhaps the most controversial Pokémon card of all time, Prerelease Raichu may also be the rarest Pokémon card ever made - in fact, it’s so rare that finding out exact details is tricky.
Prerelease Raichu was long rumoured to be a card printed by error in the run-up to the English-language release of the Pokémon TCG’s second expansion, Jungle, in 1999. So the story goes, a very small number - said to approximately 100 - of Raichu cards from the game’s Base Set were accidentally reprinted with the word “Prerelease” stamped in the bottom-right of the card artwork. The game’s English manufacturer, Wizards of the Coast, reportedly destroyed all but a fraction of the copies, leaving 10 or fewer in the wild. The few remaining copies are believed to have been given to Wizards of the Coast staff.
For years, Prerelease Raichu was only rumoured to exist, until a copy believed to be genuine surfaced from a former Wizards of the Coast employee in 2006. In 2009, the first and seemingly only recorded sale of a Prerelease Raichu was reported by fan site PokeGym, apparently changing hands for $10,500. However, given the completion date of April 1st, whether the sale was real or an elaborate April Fool’s prank remains dubious.
Whether Prerelease Raichu actually exists remains in contention - no copies of the card have even been professionally certified or sold at auction, despite a number of apparent fakes popping up over the years. If a legitimate copy of the card were to surface, it may well set a new record for the most valuable and rarest Pokémon card of all time. Until then, it will remain a true Holy Grail.
7. Pokémon Blastoise #009/165R Commissioned Presentation Galaxy Star Hologram
A two-of-a-kind card that set a new record for Pokémon card values
Sold for $360,000 in January 2021
One of only two such Pokémon cards in existence, this Blastoise set a new record for the most expensive Pokémon card ever sold at auction in January 2021 after it sold for a whopping $360,000 (£266,000).
The ultra-rare Pokémon card was created in 1998 as a presentation piece by Magic: The Gathering maker Wizards of the Coast to convince Nintendo of Japan executives to allow it to handle the TCG’s English-language release. The game would eventually make its international debut one year later in 1999.
While two Blastoise ‘Presentation’ cards were produced, this is the only one that has been seen publicly. Even more impressively, it has been graded at a NM/Mint+ 8.5 level by certification website CGC, meaning that the 20-plus-year-old card is in near-perfect condition. The location and state of the other Presentation card remains unknown - meaning that this may well be the only such card of its type left.
8. 1999 Pokémon Japanese Promo Tropical Mega Battle Tropical Wind
An ultra-rare promo card - one of only a dozen ever made
Sold for $65,100 in October 2020
Only 12 Tropical Wind cards were produced as promo cards for the 1999 Tropical Mega Battle, a precursor to the Pokémon World Championships, making it one of the most valuable Pokémon sets around.
The Tropical Mega Battle saw 50 players from around the globe take part in a tournament for the trading card game in Honolulu, Hawaii. The only way to participate was to win a battle in your local region and earn an invite, making it an exclusive event for the best Pokémon trainers in the world - and the cards offered as prizes some of the rarest Pokémon cards in existence.
This particular Tropical Mega Battle promo card, the 1999 Japanese-language copy of Tropical Wind, has sold at auction for as much as $65,100 in PSA Gem Mint 10 condition, with the most recent record-breaking sale taking place in October 2020. PSA estimates its value to be as high as $148,482, making the ultra-rare card a contender for one of the most expensive Pokémon cards ever made.
9. Espeon and Umbreon Gold Star POP Series 5
A pair of Gold Star Pokémon cards from one of the most valuable Pokémon sets of all time
Sold for $22,000 in February 2021
Gold Star Pokémon cards are among the most valuable sets of Pokémon cards in existence, and command an incredibly high value as a result. The cards are named after the gold star that appears next to the Pokémon’s name at the top of the card, which signifies that the card features alternative-colour artwork different from the common version. Only 27 Gold Star cards were released from 2004 to 2007, making them some of the rarest Pokémon cards available.
While all of the Gold Star Pokémon cards are rare, only appearing once in approximately every 88 booster packs (or two booster boxes) for certain Pokémon TCG expansions, the very rarest are the ‘Eeveelutions’ - the many evolutions into which basic Gen 1 Pokémon Eevee can evolve. And the rarest of the rarest are the original Japanese-language versions of the cards offered to members of the Pokémon Players Club, who could spend points earned by participating in official organised play and tournaments to obtain exclusive cards.
While Eeveelutions Flareon, Volteon and Vaporeon could be acquired in the EX Power Keepers set released in 2007 via the Pokémon online store, their psychic and dark elemental siblings Espeon and Umbreon could only be picked up by players who collected enough Pokémon Players Club points. The Espeon 025/PLAY card required 40,000 EXP points earned, while Umbreon 026/PLAY was even most pricey at 70,000 points.
While the Japanese versions of the cards are the most valuable due to their limited availability, even the English-language versions of the Espeon and Umbreon Gold Star cards fetch a high price. A Gold Star Espeon rated at PSA 10 Gem Mint condition was sold in February 2021 for over $22,000, while an Umbreon graded at an equally perfect condition fetched just over $20,000 at auction in December 2020. PSA values the two cards at $194,209 and $187,277 respectively, easily making them two of the most valuable Pokémon cards around.