The first Pokémon cards were issued in Japan in October 1996. In the United States a demo pack came out in 1998 and the first packs debuted in January 1999. Ever since then collectors of all ages have been captivated by the charismatic characters.
The cards that came out in 1999 are known as the Base set. Within the Base set, there are First Edition and Shadowless variations which are worth more. A First Edition card has a black circle on it indicating that it is First Edition. The difference between a shadowless and a base card (also called unlimited) is fairly easy to notice when looking at a card with a Pokémon on it. On the right side of an unlimited Pokémon, along the border of its frame, there is a darkened area. Shadowless cards do not have this darkened area. Additionally, shadowless cards have a thinner font on the HP in the upper right corner of the card. For trainer and energy cards, the trick is to look at the years on the bottom of the card (this also applies to Pokémon). If the years 1995, 96, 98, 99 appear it is a shadowless card. The unlimited cards are missing the 99. In addition to the three versions of each card there are also three rarities. A circle indicates a common, a diamond indicates an uncommon, and a circle indicates a rare. Each pack contains one rare, and one out of three packs contains a rare holograph.
Following the Base Set are the Jungle and Fossil expansion packs. These came out in June and October of 1999 respectively. Jungle and Fossil cards also have First Edition, but not Shadowless, versions. Most Pokémon card collections from back in the day include cards from these three sets.
The most famous and valuable card in all of Pokémon is the First Edition Charizard, found in the base set. Charizard evolves from Charmelon, which itself evolved from Charmander. Besides the awesome artwork, part of the Charizard’s appeal comes from its role in the Pokémon video game. When Pokémon came out for Gameboy in 2000, Charmander was one of the three Pokémon the player could choose to start with. The other two Pokémon were Squirtle, who evolves into Wartortle, who evolves into Blastoise; and Bulbasaur, who evolves into Ivysaur, who evolves into Venasuar. Blastoise is the second most valuable card in the Pokémon universe. While Venasaur is also valuable, it is not the clear cut number three. Mewtwo and Alakazzam are also very popular. Mewtwo has many pop culture appearances, and Alakazam is the first card in the set.
There are also some notable error cards in the Base set. One of the most valuable error cards is the Ninetales attack error. The error is that the amount of damage from the attack is missing. This card only exists in the shadowless version. Blastoise has an error card as well, known as the stage error card. In the top right corner the word “stage” is missing from the text. Pikachu, arguably the most recognizable Pokémon, has two highly collectible error cards. Due to a mix-up between the illustrator and the manufacturer, Pikachu has red cheeks on some cards and yellow cheeks on others. Cards were first printed with red cheeks and then at the artist’s request were changed to yellow. While not technically an error, the red cheek Pikachu commands a significant premium in the marketplace. The other Pikachu error is known as the “ghost” or “phantom stamp” error. This error presents as an incomplete and faded version of the First Edition logo. It is not considered a first edition card and is technically a shadowless card.
Since Pokémon first debuted there has been at least one expansion set every year. The current total is over 80. In total more than 30 billion Pokémon cards have been produced.