With nearly 1,000 different Pokémon and 74 different trading card sets, stepping into the Pokémon world today can seem very daunting. From booster boxes to tins and elite trainer boxes, there is a large variety of Pokémon products today. More than there was when the trading cards first came out, at least. To the average consumer who is just happy to purchase and open any Pokémon product, there is a lot to choose from. However, most collectors like to have some background knowledge of the collecting hobby they’re about to step into. This article will provide some basic knowledge of the hobby. That’s while updating the reader on the current terminology and products in the Pokémon world.
Basic Pokémon Terminology
As with all trading cards, much of the vocabulary is similar with Pokémon in regards to the basic products. Theme decks and booster packs we all know. Below are some of the terms and products new collectors may not be familiar with:
Shadowless Cards – The very first set of Pokémon cards ever released have a slight variation that can only be determined by whether the main card image has a drop shadow to the right-hand side. Those cards that do not have a drop shadow and appear “shadowless” are the true first printing of Pokémon’s Base Set cards. Shadowless cards are more valuable and rarer than their shadow-bordered counterpart. Be sure to analyze your Base Set cards carefully as it takes some practice to be able to identify what type of border each card has.
1st Edition Each set of Pokémon cards is printed in waves. The very first wave of cards that are released of older sets contain a “1st Edition” stamp to the left of the main card image. This stamp indicates this card was produced in the first and initial printing of that card set. These cards, like shadowless cards, are more valuable than their stampless counterpart.
“Fat Stamp” – Many Base Set Pokémon cards experienced a printing error in which the 1st Edition stamp appeared thicker and bolder than normal. This printing error is called a “fat stamp” for being obviously thicker than the regular 1st edition stamp. These “fat stamps” tend to be more valuable than their regular counterpart due to being a rare printing error.
Grey 1st Edition – Similar to the fat stamp, grey 1st edition stamps on Base Set cards were another form of a rare printing error that can carry slightly more value on the collector’s market.
But wait, there’s more!
Unlimited Cards – Cards printed in the waves following the 1st Edition release are simply called “Unlimited” sets as they are more heavily printed and do not contain the 1st Edition stamp to the left of the main card image.
Rarity – Each card is marked with either a solid black circle, a black diamond, or a black star. Each symbol represents a different form of card rarity with the circle indicating a common card, a diamond indicating an uncommon card, and a star indicating a rare card.
Set Symbol – All Pokémon card sets printed after the first Base Set contain a set symbol that appears to the right side of the main card image. These symbols indicate which set the card derives from. Many Pokémon are reprinted in other sets, simply acquiring different artwork and different playable moves for the actual card game. Each set was printed in different years. Older sets are referred to as “vintage.” Newer sets are simply referred to as “modern.” There are 74 total Pokémon card sets. Each has its own unique symbol that is identifiable on the cards. Only Base Set Pokémon cards do not contain a set symbol. These appear blank on the right side of the main card image.
Set Number and Count – Each card contains a number. It indicated which number it is out of the total number of cards in that set.
Promo Card – Promotional cards are released prior to a set release. They often depict variant artwork and a stamp on the card indicating it is a promotional item. The stamp may be the name of the set on the main card image. It may also be a “black star promo.” This is indicated by a black star on the right-hand side of the main card image. Modern Pokémon booster packs come with one green or white card. These cards contain a code for online and digital Pokémon cards. These cards are also referred to as “promo cards.” They are not actually playable or collectible cards. They simply provide a digital code for online use.
Booster Box – Just like other trading cards, Pokémon booster packs can be purchased in a sealed container with a total of 36 packs, which is referred to as a “booster box.” Individually, they are referred to as “booster packs.” Each pack and box will indicate on the front which set of Pokémon cards will be found within the packs. Typically, booster boxes are the most expensive form of Pokémon product that is released to retailers. All other Pokémon products do not come with as many booster packs within their packaging. Retail price for booster packs is $3.99 and $144 for booster boxes.
Blister Pack – A sealed package of 2-3 booster packs that come with a visible holographic promotional card and either a wearable pin, or a coin that is used in the actual card game. Retail price for blister packs is anywhere from $9.99-$13.99.
Tin/Lunch Box – An aluminum box that depicts Pokémon artwork on the outside, a promotional card through a see-through portion of the tin, and 4-6 booster packs within it. Retail price for tins is anywhere from $18.99-$24.99.
Are you Elite?
Elite Trainer Box – Also known as “ETBs” for short, elite trainer boxes contain many of the same items as tins and more, such as dice, coins, sleeves, and energy cards. Elite trainer boxes are a pricey Pokémon product. It is widely believed that because of the price, the company increases the chance of acquiring rarer cards through the booster packs. There is no official data that corroborates this. It is clear, though, that Pokémon created these boxes to be attractive and collectible. They feature unique box-art and promotional cards. The retail price for an elite trainer box is $49.99.
You’re Almost There!
Sealed Product – One aspect of collecting Pokémon is the collection of many of the products listed above in a sealed format. These unopened packages not only appreciate in value over time. Sometimes they even have amazing artwork that is not worth tearing apart. One way collectors save their sealed products is to place them within acrylic boxes. These allow them to be both visible and protected. Maintaining the original factory seal on many vintage Pokémon products is very important to its overall value.
Full Art Cards – Most Pokémon cards appear as either a holographic rare, or a “non-holo” of any of the three rarities. Modern Pokémon cards have also added the nuance of making the main card image fill up the entire card. This earns it the name “full art.” The flavor text is simply laid over the artwork.
Rainbow Rare and Golden Rare – In addition to full art cards, some modern cards have even rarer variants with a rainbow holographic foil, or, a full gold holographic foil.
Amazing Rare – Some modern Pokémon cards have a holographic foil that does not cover the entire card like a full art card, but does go beyond the traditional borders of the main card image.
Secret Rare – Modern sets have a total card count and really rare secret cards that surpass the official set count. These cards are indicated with a set count number that surpasses the official set count. Such as “163/145,” for example. Each number beyond the official set count indicates the number of secret rares in the set.
What Am I Looking At?
Now that you are more accustomed to Pokémon lingo, let’s take a look at a card to identify its different parts. The main card image obviously depicts the Pokémon of that playable card. If it is a 1st Edition card, older Pokémon cards will depict the stamp on the left-hand side of the main image. Modern Pokémon cards place the stamp at the bottom of the card. To the right of the main image is the unique set symbol. This indicates which set the card derives from.
To the bottom right corner, we see the set count and rarity symbol. The set count and rarity symbol will always appear on the bottom of the card. These vary with each set as to whether it is on the bottom-left, bottom-center, or bottom-right. The remainder of the flavor text is important to the actual trading card game. It depicts what playable moves that card allows.
Starting Pokémon collecting may seem like a daunting task in 2021. However, it is never too late to love and appreciate this 25-year-old hobby. In addition to all of the terminology and product types, retail stores are experiencing shortages due to the increased demand. 2021 marks Pokémon’s 25th anniversary. This year is full of special promotional events with a myriad of celebrities. The revelry will only increase Pokémon’s popularity throughout the year. With stiff competition for products at retail stores, most consumers are forced to go online to buy Pokémon cards. Hopefully this article provides enough background knowledge before you go hunting. Whether at brick and mortar stores, or online. But don’t forget to stay positive, let children buy products first, and then go catch ’em all!