Photo: Thimo Pedersen
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Did you know that four of the ten most expensive TCG cards ever sold at auction have sold this year?! Four of the top five have sold in the last twelve months.
It seems hard to believe with many collectible markets reeling, but as in those other markets, the trophy assets march on, commanding top dollar thanks to their true rarity. With startling regularity, our newsletter has detailed six-figure TCG grails coming to the auction block in recent months, but this isn't the same gold rush as in 2021.
You might be surprised to learn that there isn't a Charizard card among those four 2023 sales cracking the top ten list. In fact, of the top ten auction sales this year, Charizard features solo just once. Just as attention (and dollars) have slowly shifted away from Fleer Michael Jordan rookie cards, the frenzy for First Edition Charizard Holos has faded as well. If Charizard is indeed the Jordan of Pokémon, we wonder if he'll take that personally. That card, in PSA 10 condition, has sold only twice this year, both times at levels 55-60% below 2021 and 2022 peaks. Similar cards for the coveted gang (Blastoise, Mewtwo, Venusaur, etc) are down 35-45% over the last twelve months.
These were the well-known and well-trafficked cards that most rapidly benefited as the market accelerated higher, but as the dust began to fall, intense speculation and populations that weren't devastatingly low meant values were difficult to sustain. But don't confuse declining interest in those assets as a sign of declining high-end TCG demand. Trophy hunters have simply trained their scopes on assets of significantly greater rarity, with populations over 100 eschewed for those under 50.
The most recent big money sale came last weekend at Heritage, where a CGC 10 Pikachu CoroCoro Illustrator card sold for $495,000. The card was awarded to participants in CoroCoro Comic's Pokémon illustration contest back in 1998. The recent result comes up wildly short of the alleged $5,275,000 Logan Paul paid privately for a PSA 10 copy in July of 2021. It also trails the $570,000 sale of a PSA 8.5 at Goldin in June and the $675,000 October 2022 sale of a CGC 9.5, though the latter was a special "Swirllustrator Pedigree." So while big-ticket activity has not dried up, it's not without its peaks and valleys, particularly as this card continues to appear at auction in various grades.
There's volatility among the sales, but through that volatility, highest-end TCG cards have leveled up, establishing a new mid-six-figure pricing tier which has been confirmed time and again.
Take the the Trophy Pikachu card as another example. The card, given as an award for 1997 and 1998 Pokémon tournaments in Japan, has drawn sums over $200,000 on three occasions this year. The $444,000 sale of a PSA 10 Silver version, given for second place in the second tournament, is the 6th most expensive auction sale of all-time.
It's not just Pokémon commanding big bucks, though. In fact, Magic the Gathering boasts two of the three most expensive auction sales of the year, as well as the most expensive private sale. An artist proof Black Lotus, signed by Christopher Rush and graded CGC 8.5, sold at auction at Heritage for $615,000 in March. When seeking incremental rarity, there are few means of shrinking population pools more effective than artist signatures. Similarly, PWCC sold a Rush-signed PSA 10 Black Lotus for $540,000 in March. One caveat: that signature was on the slab itself, not the card. Still, the sale was a modest improvement over a $511,100 result for the same card in January of 2021.
This summer, Magic's Lord of the Rings "One Ring" card inspired a frenzy complete with million-dollar bounties. When the card was finally pulled, it was purchased by Post Malone for a sum potentially as high as $2 million, though that's unconfirmed.
Despite a challenging environment, the right TCG grails continue to draw mid-six-figure sums on a strikingly routine basis. That consistency has been quiet, but sometimes markets take to new levels and confirm those levels quietly and repeatedly, rather than evolving overnight. When will we see our first seven-figure auction result, and will the same fate someday befit Lorcana? Or is the Magic confined to Pokémon and the Black Lotus?
You never know what card will be pulled from the collectible market deck next.
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