While home for Christmas, my parents asked that I finally get rid of my junk taking up space in the garage. Like any responsible young adult who hoarded Pokemon cards in their youth, I couldn't bear the thought of throwing out a small fortune. So, I loaded them up and brought them back to California. But are they actually worth anything?
After 6-8 hours of research and inventory, here's what I learned:
Start by organizing your cards by the card set and card number. Check out Card Marvin for a list of set symbols. Most of mine were from the Base Set, Jungle Set, and Fossil Set... not worth much on their own.
The number in the bottom right corner of the card tells you how likely you are to open the card in a booster pack. Secret rare cards have a collector number higher than the total number of cards printed in that set, for example, a 110/102. These could be worth some $$$, unfortunately I didn't have any.
You can also look at the Card Rarity symbol:
Look for first edition and shadowless cards, which can be worth more depending on the card. The first edition stamp can be found below the artwork, to the left of the banner listing the Pokemon length and width. It looks like a "1" inside a black circle, with 'Edition' written above it.
The first run of the original Base Set did not have a shadow around the edge of the artwork, and are considered "Shadowless." Out of the ~200 cards I looked at, all of them had a shadow and only one was first edition. Bummer.
Check for 'Error' cards, which were misprinted at the factory where they were made. Errors could be anything, but the most common errors are spelling mistakes, discoloration, and grammatical errors. This article has a comprehensive list of the most common card errors, and a rough idea of how much the errors could be worth.
Figure out the value of your collection. I created a google sheet to track the Pokemon, card number, and card set. Once you have them organized by card number, it's pretty easy to get a quick idea of their monetary value.
The TCGPLayer Price Guide provides the value of the card by set type, and can be organized by card number. TradeCardsOnline also has a search by set type function, but prices are in Euros. CardMarvin will pull up recent sale information for specific cards, but it's probably not worth entering each card through their search unless it's a first edition, shadowless, or has an error. Based on TCG's guide, my Base Set cards were worth a whopping $16.46. I better not quit my day job...
Here comes the part where you'll need to use your personal judgement. Depending on how much time you're willing to invest and how much your cards are worth, it may or may not make sense to grade each card based on the condition.
If you plan to sell them, you'll need to let your buyers know what to expect. I started to grade my cards, but realized it wasn't worth it to inspect each one for scratches and wear given how much I could realistically make in selling them.
Gem Mint (GEM) = PERFECT. The card has zero imperfections, zero scratches, zero tears or bends, and absolutely no white edge wear showing around the edges of the card. It has likely been hermetically sealed, bubble wrapped, and never touched by your inquisitive younger self.
Mint (M) = Almost perfect. The card will have minimum minor imperfections which could include one minor scratch on the front or back, one minor sign of edge wear on the front or back, and no tears, bends, or stains.
Near Mint (M) = Recovering perfectionist. The card may have a few minor imperfections, the front or back could have a few small scratches, the blue boarder may be showing traces of white edge wear, the holographic image may be slightly scratched, nothing major.
Excellent (EX) - Most likely if you ever touched the cards as a child, even if you kept them in a fancy binder or hard plastic cases (AKA most my cards). They may have multiple minor imperfections, scratches, and traces of white edge wear around the perimeter of the card. They may also have one minor crease/bend. They have been played, but don't have any major damage.
Played (PL) - Hey, at least you had fun with them. These cards will have multiple minor and major imperfections such as scratches, white edge wear, major bends, tears, and stains. They may have also been written on or have water damage.
Some people also choose to have their cards PSA certified. This definitely increases the value, but probably isn't worth it for the average card. The cheapest PSA certification is $7.
If you have a Pikachu Illustrator Card, pack your bags and go on an extended vacation. With only 5 cards in circulation, it can sell for $100,000.
Want to learn more about how to sell cards? Check out 'How to Sell Your Cards on eBay' by CardMarin.