I have a distinct memory of eagerly tearing open booster packs of Pokemon cards on Christmas Day in 1999. The only thing I wanted to see behind the wrappers was my favorite Pokemon, Ninetales. To my delight, I got my wish and more: a sparkling holographic Ninetales was among the set.
My dad, who had grown up in the era of expensive baseball cards, instructed me to take good care of my Pokemon cards. “They’ll be worth a lot of money someday,” he insisted.
Well, he was only half right. My Ninetales card goes for about three dollars on eBay; I won’t be paying off my student loan debt with that anytime soon. But like other Nintendo collectibles, there are some Pokemon cards that have remarkable value. In fact, some are worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Admittedly, most of these valuable cards didn’t come from booster packs that were opened by kids like me on Christmas. Some of the rarest cards to exist were given out at exclusive events or as competition prizes.
This list won’t include accidental anomalies or misprints—those are certainly rare and can sell for very high prices—but instead it will focus on cards that were intended to be unique and limited.
Tamamushi University Magikarp
In June 1998, a campaign was held in Japan in which several Shogakukan magazines printed questions that readers could answer and send back. Those who answered enough questions correctly were invited to a two-day conference in Osaka.
These participants competed in a series of battles based on their age brackets, and any player that won a battle during the conference was awarded the special Tamamushi (Celedon) University Magikarp card. This card features a Magikarp that knows the move Dragon Rage, a move that this Pokemon doesn’t normally learn in the games, at least not until it evolves into Gyarados.
1,000 copies of the card were intended for distribution during this conference, but that doesn’t mean all 1,000 were given out. It’s unclear how many were actually distributed and how many still exist today. The card was later reprinted in higher quantities, but the reprints are much more common than the original version was.
There are a few original Tamamushi University Magikarp cards floating around on eBay for about $4,500; even though that doesn’t mean it’ll actually sell for that, it’s still a hefty asking price.