Illustration: Joel Benjamin
Like art and wine, collectable trading cards for games like Pokémon and Magic the Gathering often resell for prices that far exceed whatever the average person on the street thinks they’re worth.
This year, the Pokémon resale market reached a peak when US rapper Logic bought a first edition Charizard card for £173,000 – setting a record for the most expensive card sold. This sale was then broken again at a recent auction in December, with a similar card selling for £275,000.
Coupled with popular YouTubers such as Logan Paul or penguinz0 who have made videos about their Pokemon collections and news of expensive card scams rising – in one case, fans were almost scammed out of £290,000 – Pokémon cards are no longer just reminders of nostalgia. Like Supreme box logo drops and limited edition Nintendo Switches, they’re a way to make money.
Barney Menzies is the owner of popular eBay store 7th City, where he sells both affordable cards to everyday players, as well as more expensive sets and individual cards worth hundreds of pounds. VICE spoke with him to see just how big the collectible card resale scene is, and how to make money from it.
VICE: How did you get started with your shop?
Barney Menzies: 7th City started out of me playing at card game events and needing to generate some revenue to pay myself to travel around Europe. It’s quite an expensive hobby to travel around tournaments and I was doing this as a university student, and I didn’t have much money. I started out buying and selling collections of cards from people who left the hobby or found some in their attic. It’s kind of grown since then.
What card game did you start with first?
Initially, the business was focused around buying and selling collections of Magic the Gathering cards. We did that for quite a while. And then, about four or five years ago, we expanded into doing Pokémon. We picked it up and started playing it. We found that it is quite popular on the collectors‘ front, which was something we were interested in looking at. Some games are mostly for playing, but Pokémon has an interesting dynamic. It’s almost a collectable game first, more than it’s played.
What kind of customer do you focus on?
We tend to approach the hobby in the broadest sense we can. We want to cater to the customers who want to play the game, but we equally look at younger customers who are interested in Pokémon but maybe aren’t interested in playing them and just want a raw quantity of cards to start that card collecting experience. But then obviously you’ve got the higher end, the rarer more speculative items, things like graded cards and sealed boxes that are more geared towards the older collectors who are buying more expensive items and are really getting deep in the collecting aspect.
Do you have any “bread and butter” cards?
Not really, lots of cards come in and out of fashion so we’re not relying on a small subset of cards.
How do you get the really expensive cards?
For a lot of it, it is just purchasing off the public. We operate a physical store where people can sell collections to us. We also go to conventions and trade shows where we buy collections and a lot of it is just being present in the community. In terms of the graded cards, there are multiple avenues that you can use. You purchase them maybe speculatively, thinking they will increase in value, or you can purchase them second hand from people who had them graded. Or you can have them graded yourself.
How far have you gone when trying to buy a particularly rare card?
I’ve driven a lot of hours to go buy collections and look at cards. I can remember we did a trade show in Lyon where we drove for 16 hours straight to make it there on time.
What’s the most expensive card you’ve sold recently?
I think we sold a Hidden Fates Charizard a little while ago for a few hundred pounds. We don’t tend to sell some of the really high-end items like some of the Gold Start promos. We don’t tend to have a large stock of those times; those tend to be things we would source for customers and get it in specially for them rather than holding it in stock.
Has anyone ever sold you a fake card?
Only as part of a bulk collection – they usually sneak into almost every child’s collection. We have specific processes for verifying authenticity on cards and most fakes are so obvious, especially if you hand cards all day.
It seems that there’s a pretty strong momentum behind Pokémon card collecting. Have you noticed a greater demand for the more expensive cards?
Recently, there’s been an uptick in demand, pretty much since lockdown hit. I think a lot of that is that people have had a bit more time on their hands, maybe they’ve gone into their lofts and found their old collections.
What do you think of the influencers and YouTubers who have become interested in Pokémon card collecting?
There’s been a trend of public Pokémon collecting in celebrities and influencers for quite a while. If you look at people like JME, who was trading gold copies of his album for Charizards a few years ago, it’s been a trend that’s existed because it’s an intellectual property and a hobby that a lot of people relate to their childhood. It fits that nostalgia trend.
How will the card collecting scene change in the next five years?
I think that particularly with products like Pokémon, they’ve reached that generational gap where customers who were interested in it as kids have now had their own children who are now maybe interested in it as well. That provides it with a new life cycle.
On a personal level, is Magic or Pokémon still a personal part of your life or is it more of a business now?
It’s one of the adages in the industry that when you open a game store you play far less games, and that’s definitely true. But I still love playing and take every chance I get to play.