Many reading these pages are dedicated and passionate gamers, and plenty of us will have sizeable collections from our hobby that'd make the uninitiated scratch their heads in bewilderment. Yet gaming is powerful, it can be motivating and inspiring. Sometimes, it can also lead to surprising changes in fortune.
Chris McGivern is a big Nintendo and Pokémon fan. He was also, in his younger years, a serious collector for The Pokémon Trading Card Game. As is the story with so many Pokémon fans, his love affair with the series began back in the Game Boy days, before he became interested in the equally intriguing and addictive card game. He lives in the UK and spoke to us of his early days with the game, as the beginnings of a life-changing hobby took shape.
Pokemon Blue. That was my first delve into the wonderful world of Pokémon. If I remember correctly I was in sixth form and simply bought a copy whilst on one of my routinely random wanders around town after school one day.
I was instantly hooked. The incredibly cute music alone won me over!
Then before I knew it I was collecting the cards. If I recall, I think Jungle was in the shops at that time. I started buying packs just to collect. I’d always been a fan of collecting and looking after my sets in as ‘mint’ condition as possible. Even when I was a child I loved collecting stickers etc and keeping them pristine. I still to this day have my full collection of Care Bear stickers. Yes. I’m THAT cool.
Well, within a few months I was hooked with playing Pokémon on my trusty Game Boy. But before long I’d learnt of a ‘league’ for the card game. It was being run at the now extinct Warner Bros store at Gatwick Airport. Living only a few minutes away by train, I started visiting every week. I quickly got to know new faces and slowly began to learn an absolutely AMAZING new world. The world of trading card games. Wow. FUN! I found the game so incredibly easy to learn and incredibly deep.
That's a common refrain from those that love the Pokémon Trading Card Game, and indeed various other card games. What can look baffling and impenetrable from the outside is enjoyable and challenging on the inside. It's not just about winning, either, as the card game allows true collecting instincts to take over - all of that virtual collecting of Pocket Monsters in the video games can become more literal. For Chris, it became a passion as he sought to develop a full and detailed collection.
I began collecting cards for my collection AND to make as many fund decks to play with as possible. Within a couple of months my views on the game were set. To collect every English card I possibly could and to (ideally) collect 4 more copies of each card to make a full library of cards to deck build.
I was totally in the game and LOVED it. It became an incredibly fun passion of mine and I don’t regret a second of it. It was so much fun. My collection continued to build as I started hunting for cards I’d missed, namely first edition cards of Base and Jungle that I’d missed by a year or so. That was more fun than anything but I managed it. With my now wife many years ago even buying me a first edition Charizard card for a Valentine's Day!
From Fossil onwards I’d buy boxes of boosters to ensure my set was as mint as possible. Not long after, I’d typically be buying a case of each new set. This as good as gave me the entire collection and enough to play with to my hearts content!
This led to some competitive success, as would perhaps be expected. In 2005 Chris won in the final of the UK Nationals - "Thanks to my ‘rogue deck’ of Zapdos EX, Moltres EX and Articuno EX, I managed to win against a Tyranitar deck". That secured a $500 scholarship and a trip to the Worlds in San Diego, at which a ‘Championship Arena’ card was given as a promo, which would go on to become a key part of this tale. There was also a US trip for the 'Wizards of the Coast' farewell event, which the publisher held before Nintendo took over the game.
The collection kept growing, with promo and 'error' cards often sought out. Yet collections like these don't last forever, especially as life - and priorities - change. A primary school teacher with a family, Chris found that his collecting wasn't sustainable.
I kept up as best I could. I actively took part in the ‘Professor Program’ and hosted a few pre-release events myself at the schools I was teaching in at that time. Yes, the kids loved having me as a teacher!!!
I completed the Arceus set. I started collecting the Heart gold and Soul Silver promo sets… but my interest was waning. Why?
I still loved the game but I had a family now. My responsibilities at work were increasing and so time and money were becoming larger factors with each and every set release and news of a new error, promo or misprint.
As is the case for many, then, years of collected items were boxed up and stored away - in an attic, garage and wherever they'd fit. Chris hadn't lost his passion for Pokémon and Nintendo but his main medium was now video games, which he "could manage comfortably whilst being a father to three children and a full time Primary School teacher". In fact the two could combine at times; below is a video Chris produced for our 'Twelve Days of Animal Crossing Christmas' competition back in 2013.
By this point the sizeable and impressive mint collection of Pokémon cards represented more than a passion for the game - it was an opportunity. At points when money was tight it became a potential fix, years of eager collecting paying off to suit new priorities. One attempt to sell the cards, though, came up empty.
Every now and then we’d go through stressful times for money. When it was Christmas, one of the cars would need servicing or even when the wife would get stressed because we couldn’t afford a ‘big’ family holiday. But we always got over it and everything was fine. Every now and then my Pokémon collection would jump into my head and I’d wonder how much it would go for on eBay. I’d wonder, and then do nothing about it. Actually, I tell a lie. A good few years ago I did put my collection on eBay and asked for a ridiculous amount of money (I can’t even remember how much) but of course it didn’t sell. Hey ho. Never mind.
That all changed this year. Chris spent four days cataloguing the collection and preparing to auction it off, and this time there was progress. He settled on an asking price of £15,000 to be ambitious, which would be more than enough for a memorable holiday for the family. This time, though, there was interest. Not long after the listing a bidder from the UK offered £11,500 (outside of eBay) to buy immediately and pick them up, then it was upped to £12,500. It was suddenly very real, and sensibly Chris held off and sought the views of the TCG community.
I then joined a brilliant Facebook group of Pokémon card lovers. I shared my collection on there and they couldn’t believe it; before I knew it I was having a video chat with a guy on the group. He was amazed at my collection. He’d ask me to show the front and backs of certain cards such as Charizard, star cards and shining cards. He was so kind and wished me the best of luck, recommending to let the auction go on for it and that he thought it was worth A LOT more than £12,500. REALLY!?
That got me thinking. Were these THAT desirable?! No bids yet. So I actually thought I’d go for broke and change the starting bid to £30,000! Why not!? If it didn’t sell, I‘d only have to pay eBay 50p as I chose to put a stupid £80,000 as a ‘Buy it Now’ price! I also figured if it didn’t sell I was going to be swamped with offers afterwards anyway.
Formal bids were slow to come on eBay, however, albeit there were lots of enquiries and questions. Getting the cards professionally authenticated was suggested, but there wasn't the "energy, money or time" for that. Interest stepped up another notch, however, as two collectors sought video interviews. One was another local collector, while the other spoke to Chris from Tokyo. Informal bids and agreements were made, providing a potential backup should the £30,000 target be missed on eBay.
After hours of intense staring at the backs and fronts of various cards both people were genuinely interested and wanted a deal. The Tokyo chap in particular was brilliant and he insisted he’d just keep my collection as a collection and add it to his. He was even keen to avoid eBay fees and Paypal fees and instead use the money to pay for me to come out and meet him. He’d transfer the money to me and happily give me a little tour around. THAT was tempting! Both video chats certainly made me think that the auction wouldn’t sell, but it seemed like I’d be able to hit the £20,000 mark. WOW!!! I thanked them both and we agreed that if the auction didn’t sell we’d be back in touch pretty darn quick!
It wasn't just family now involved in the thrill of the potential sale. Staff at Chris' school became fascinated, as colleagues began to learn of the value some of his cards possessed. It can seem unreal at times when collectibles from the past acquire such value, one of those "it'll never happen to me" stories. For Chris, of course, it was about to happen.
He told us of the dramatic moment the eBay auction closed.
Well, we reached the day of the auction’s end. It was due to finish at 6:58pm. It was 6:45pm and I was waiting to pick my daughter up from the village hall after her weekly dance lesson. She asked me if there had been any bids and I said no. I explained once again that I’d be bartering with people after the auction would fail. We got into the car and began driving back home.
Minutes later my phone received a notification. Two minutes before the auction was due to end.
Then another notification.
A SECOND BID!
I (safely) slammed the brakes on and said to Emily there’d been a bid!
We both watched the auction on my phone. The max bid hadn’t gone above £30,000. The same person had raised their bid to try and protect it! Gosh!
Then. The auction was over. I HAD SOLD MY COLLECTION FOR £30,000.
My daughter and I then started to re-enact the scene from Only Fools and Horses when Delboy and Rodney knew they had a fortune on their hands. The car rocked.
Pleasingly, the high-stakes bidding for Pokémon Trading Cards often brings other enthusiasts into play, those spending a lot of money to fulfil their collections as opposed to merely acquiring assets. The US-based buyer got in touch with Chris to explain why they're excited about the cards, and also transformed his fortunes at the same time.
Within minutes of getting home I received a message from the winning bidder through eBay. He introduced himself and said how much he loved my collection and the photos etc. He ended the message by asking if I wanted him to pay straight away. I, err, nervously typed back….yes.
And in seconds my Paypal app pinged with over $36,000 US dollars in it.
I nearly fainted.
It turns out the gentleman had just fallen in love with my auction listing. He said he collects Pokémon cards too with his three children and promised me he had no intention on grading them. He has sent me message after message saying he fully intends to look after them with as much passion as I clearly have. I couldn’t believe my luck. He has since sent me numerous messages of kindness and I have even invited him to come and meet me the next time he is in the UK. Simply so I can shake his hand and thank him. He was very appreciative of the invitation and we fully intend to meet up for a drink in London in the not too distant future. He is really excited to receive the collection and cannot wait to sit down with his children and look through each and every album together as a family.
The happy ending to this tale isn't just the serious amount of money that Chris made, but what it means to him and his family. The collection had served its purpose for him when he competed in tournaments, travelled to the World Championships and more, and those memories hold enough value on their own.
There was a final evening with the cards, shared with his family, when Chris reflected on his history with the collection. That seems like the perfect way to end this story, though the Pokémon and Nintendo tale continues for this particular collector and his family.
Before packing up my collection I had a special evening with my children. We took many photos. Photos with my collection. Photos with Championship Arena. Photos with particularly rare and special cards. That’s all I need really. Memories.
I genuinely feel like the buyer of my cards will truly continue to care for my collection, which really does feel like a Poké dream come true.
Do I regret selling my collection? Nope. I stopped collecting years ago. It’s the memories Pokémon and Nintendo have given me that are important and they will last with me forever.
And now, it’s all about the memories I can give to my children and wife over the coming years, and how that is all thanks to Pokémon and the huge love I have for everything Nintendo.
Ever the dedicated teacher and Nintendo fan, Chris has told us he's already used a small amount of the money on a Wii U copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for his class to play during breaks; he's also planning a family holiday at Disney Land Florida next Summer.