TAG Grades the World's Most Expensive Pokémon Card, the Pokémon Illustrator

Written by: Justin Cousson



Time to read 4 min

Check out the video above to see a behind the scenes view of grading the Pokémon Illustrator card at the TAG HQ!

TAG Grading hit another milestone in its mission to bring transparent, accurate, and consistent grading to trading card collectors and investors worldwide with the unveiling of its 100,000th graded card - a 1998 Pokémon Illustrator graded a TAG 10 (955). This card represents not only one of the most-coveted issues in trading card games, but one of the most-desired collectibles in all existence.

Only 39 copies of this particular release, intended for winners of three Pokémon fan art contests run through Japan's CoroCoro Comic magazine, were officially distributed. The discovery of two additional cards sold from the collection of Yuichi Konno, one of the individuals involved in the creation of the Pokémon trading card game's rules, brought the number of known examples to 41.

Featuring artwork by Pikachu creator Atsuko Nishida, this card, which is also commonly known as the "Pikachu Illustrator" card is considered by many collectors to be the true grail of Pokémon collecting, with its unique illustration and distribution adding tremendous appeal to complement its overall scarcity.

The Hobby's Most Valuable Pokémon Card

The Pokémon Illustrator card has consistently set sales records among Pokémon cards and is considered the most valuable Pokémon card in existence. A Pokémon Illustrator graded a Mint 9 set sales records in 2013 with a $120,000 purchase. The card's reputation and legend continued to grow subsequently, with numerous high-value sales culminating with July 2021, when a Gem Mint 10 Pokémon Illustrator traded for record breaking value of approximately $5.275 million. The card was purchased by YouTuber and entertainment personality, Logan Paul, from Marwan Dubsy. 

Since the launch of TAG's trading card game (TCG) grading in November 2023, TAG has quickly become a popular option among discerning Pokémon collectors, who have chosen TAG for their cards for optimal presentation, in-depth grading reports, accurate technology-based grading, and innovative features unavailable with any other third-party grading service. Among these differentiating features include TAG's in-slab inscription instead of utilizing paper labels. In addition, for Japanese cards, TAG honors the original katakana (Japanese) characters by including them on the slab next to the English translation. 

Official TAG Grading slab image of the 100,000th TAG Graded card - a 1998 Pokémon Illustrator graded Gem Mint 10 (955)
Slab image courtesy of TAG Grading's Digital Imaging and Grading (DIG) Report

Trusting in Transparency

This card was submitted by Pokémon collector, Instagram handle: @pokecardzone, who chose TAG after seeking a definitive grade on his card, which had previously been graded a Gem Mint 10 by CGC.

Unsatisfied with inconsistency demonstrated in grading standards by the third-party grading companies which had previously graded and encapsulated his card, @pokecardzone visited TAG's facility to witness the grading of the card and was won over by TAG's technology, the professionalism of TAG's representatives, and the presentation and security features of TAG's QR-enhanced and proof-authentication-enabled casing.

"TAG Grading seems incredibly promising and on track to disrupting the grading industry, which quite frankly is primed for disruption," he wrote in an article detailing his TAG Grading experience on Pokémon website EliteFourum,

@pokecardzone's strong impression of TAG extended beyond the grading of the card itself to TAG's foil-wrapped packaging and boxed presentation of the final graded card. "It’s as close [as you can get] to experiencing the thrill of a raw card but with graded protection," @pokecardzone remarked.

A Gem Mint 10 Redefined (TAG 955)

A trading card is shown in-depth using  photometric stereo imagery to demonstrate potential defects
TAG's Surface Defect Transparency Slider allows for the in-depth use of stereoscopic photometric imagery to view cards closer than ever before

TAG's system ultimately graded the card a Gem Mint 10, with a 955 overall score on the 1000pt grading scale available in TAG's flagship service, TAG S, which offers TAG's most in-depth grading annotations along with additional features such as chronology tracking and leaderboards allowing for the ranking of popular cards.

The card scored perfect 1000 marks for Front and Back Edges as well as Front Corners. The card's lowest subgrade score occurred in Front Centering, with its 950 score nonetheless within TAG's threshold for Gem Mint centering. Precise centering measurements of 48.15 / 51.85 top-to-bottom and 54.81/45.19 left-to-right on the front of the card fell in line with TAG's grading rubric criteria for a 10, which can be viewed here.

TAG's system annotated multiple light surface issues such as print lines and scratches, none of which were notable enough to impact the grade significantly, but were found using TAG's patented photometric stereo imaging - all of these defects are publicly viewable through the card's Digital Imaging and Grading (DIG) report, which can be seen in TAG's Population Report at my.taggrading.com and through scanning the QR code on the slab itself. The annotation of minor defects and what TAG considers Non-Human-Observable-Defects (NHOD) is crucial to TAG's grading system, which aims to create a digital fingerprint of each card which aids in the machine-learning process as well as in resubmission detection.

The complete DIG report for the card can be viewed here.

An excerpt from TAG
An excerpt from TAG's Digital Imaging and Grading (DIG) report of the Pokémon Illustrator (CERT: 100000TH)

100,000 cards and more grails to come

Following the grading of this Illustrator card, three more Pokémon Illustrators were graded by TAG within three weeks time as other high-end Pokémon collectors eagerly sought out TAG's technology and unparalleled presentation for their most iconic cards. The Gem Mint 10 (955) Pokémon Illustrator is now joined in TAG's Population Report by two Mint 9s graded 904 and 901, and a 7.5 with a score of 794 on the 1000 point scale.

TAG continues to push forward and innovate in their mission to make their revolutionary grading approach the hobby's most accessible, affordable and desirable option. With 100,000+ cards now graded and some of the most famous cards in collectibles now TAG'd, a new standard in trading card games is quickly emerging.

Collectors may begin their TAG Grading experience at any time here - TAG's TAG X service (1-10 Grading with DINGs reporting) and TAG V service (for encapsulation without grading) are available to collectors at all times. TAG's TAG S service is currently available to collectors through limited Grading Drop events announced through TAG's newsletter, official social media channels on Facebook, X, and Instagram, and TAG's active community on Discord.

TAG's TCG program is currently open to many English-language trading card games and includes Japanese-language support for Pokemon, Magic: the Gathering, One Piece and select Dragon Ball releases. TAG's current eligibility guidelines, which are expected to expand further throughout 2024 and beyond, can be viewed here.

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