Luxury Investing

Pokémon cards are making collectors serious cash. Some people are upset about it

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An analysis by Credit Suisse in October found that indexes tracking high-end collectible value gained across most categories, with varying degrees of volatility: “On aggregate, wines and fine art have returned the least. Watches and jewelry have been effective stores of value, with cumulative 10-year returns between 27% and 61%. Classic cars were by far the best-performing collectibles category.”

Anthony Jimenez hadn’t thought much about his Pokémon cards since middle school, when girls suddenly seemed more interesting.

But with time on his hands during the pandemic, Jimenez dug out his old collection and found that the cards were in pristine condition, a fact that would change his life and financial outlook.

“When I found my old Pokémon cards, it was like, ‘Oh my God, these are skyrocketing in value. I should try to sell some of them,’” Jimenez said. “So we decided, just for fun, to try this out because L.A. was shut down, and we literally had nothing to do.”

Jimenez, 27, has kept his day job doing marketing for a West Coast tech giant. But he’s sold enough new cards and some of his old collection to fuel a lucrative side gig — Tony’s Collectibles — that he runs live on Instagram on some nights with two childhood friends. It’s been clearing an average of $6,000 per show.

The pandemic inspired a surge in the buying and selling of all manner of collectibles, from traditional fine art, rare coins and currency to newer crazes such as Pokémon cards and street art. It’s the kind of commerce that normally relied on brick-and-mortar stores and large, in-person events, but it has managed a relatively smooth transition to online events run by newcomers like Jimenez and venerable firms like Stack’s Bowers Galleries, founded in 1933.

“We have seen a record number of new clients coming into the market,” said Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, which recently auctioned an 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar for $7.68 million, making it the fifth-most valuable United States coin ever sold. “We’ve really seen it across all asset classes.

“These are new clients at an entry level from a price point perspective as well as at a highly advanced level that are spending six figures and beyond,” Kendrella said.

The demand explosion has increased scarcity and injected a bit of chaos into the collector industrial complex.

Professional Sports Authenticator has been hit with an “avalanche of cardboard” from collectors seeking out the authentication and grading company for a third-party evaluation of their trading cards, President Steven Sloan said.

The crush forced the Santa Ana firm in April to temporarily stop accepting new submissions while employees worked through the backlog. In a July update, the company said it and parent Collectors Universe have been hiring “at a phenomenal pace” to shrink the backlog.

“We recently received more cards in three days than we did during the previous three months,” Sloan said in a statement on the company’s website. “Even after the surge, submissions continue at never-before-seen levels,” he said.

Some Walmart stores pulled their Pokémon cards after collectors and resellers rushed brick-and-mortar locations, creating scenes reminiscent of a Black Friday shopping frenzy. Big B Cards tweeted a video of one such brawl on May 21 that has received more than 1 million views.

Also in May, Target said that it was suspending in-store sales of Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Assn. and Pokémon trading cards after a fight broke out in a Wisconsin store parking lot.

Police told ABC affiliate WISN that four men allegedly confronted a fifth and demanded the box of trading cards he was carrying. The fifth man pulled out a gun, and the assailants fled but were arrested nearby, police said. The cards are still available on Target’s website.

Some parents are upset that they are unable to buy their children Pokémon cards because of high online prices after resellers beat them to the available supply in retail outlets.

A mother who identified herself on Yelp as Fatima D. of Cerritos gave a one-star review to a Southern California trading-card business, but her rating had nothing to do with poor service.

“It’s people like them who make it so hard for CHILDREN just to get Pokémon cards and enjoy it,” she wrote. “You guys are so greedy!”

Part of the boom can be explained by increased disposable income and idle time for some people lucky enough to keep their jobs but work remotely during the pandemic, experts said.

The collecting increase also is an emotional response to coronavirus lockdowns without precedent in living memory. Stay-at-home orders left people feeling more isolated than ever before. At a time when it was difficult to meet with people, activities built around collectibles presented an opportunity for people to bond over items that give them pleasure.

“In times of stress like these, we are sort of biologically programmed to try to hold on to things, and to acquire things,” said Bradley Klontz, a psychologist and author. “Collectibles has the word in it. ‘I’m going to collect things and surround myself with things.’ And I think that’s a survival instinct at work.”

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