Baseball, football, and other sports trading cards can be worth a pretty penny, but there's a sprawling universe of "non-sports" trading cards out there, too. And while none of them can quite match up to a nice Honus Wagner, there's still no shortage of money changing hands over these collectibles.
Here are ten of the most valuable collectible cards out there, but be warned: if the thought of printed bits of thin cardboard selling for thousands of dollars makes your blood pressure climb, you may want to have your meds at hand.
Pokemon: Pikachu Illustrator
Price: About $20,000
"Gotta catch 'em all" claims the catchphrase of this celebrated franchise. Doing that with Pokemon trading cards, though, might require a second Pokemortgage.
The rarest find in the game — the belle of the Pokeball, you might say -- is this Pikachu Illustrator card. Never officially sold, never released in English, and worth somewhere around $20,000, the cards were given away as prizes in a Japanese drawing contest and only four are thought to exist. Good luck finding one — and good luck paying it off.
Magic: The Gathering: Alpha Black Lotus
Expensive, addictive, and fantastically successful, Magic: The Gathering remains one of the most popular trading card games in the world — and that popularity has fueled a thriving card-collector market that's been worth big bucks for years.
Here's a case in point: the game's Black Lotus card, widely regarded as the priciest regular-issue Magic card in existence. Fans say it's one of the best cards in the entire game, but good luck finding out: not only does it cost as much as a perfectly good car, it's typically restricted or banned outright in competitive Magic play.
World of Warcraft CCG: Spectral Tiger
The World of Warcraft collectable card game isn't quite as famous as the online RPG that inspired it, but the clever synergy between the two games is buoying up card values nevertheless.
At about $600, this Spectral Tiger is a fine example. A valuable card in its own right, it's given extra appeal by the unique code each one carries. Redeem it on the World of Warcraft web site, and your in-game alter-ego will be rewarded with an ultra-rare tiger on which to parade about. Needless to say, this'll destroy the card's collector value — it's a one-shot deal. But think of what it'll do for your Azeroth street cred.
Pokemon: Charizard, First Edition
The fierce, fire-breathing Charizard is a familiar face to any Pokefan, but his corresponding trading card is a much rarer sight.
Holographic versions from the first edition of the Pokemon game, printed in 1999, can easily be worth thousands if in pristine condition. It might be tricky finding such loot -- plenty of cards out there purport to be in mint condition, but only a few actually make the cut and are worth the dough.
Still, with tons of hit points and a devastatingly powerful attack, this particular collectible isn't just a treasure -- it's a potential game-winner to boot.
Garbage Pail Kids: Nasty Nick, First Series
Price: Around $600
Grotesque, gory, and surreal, the Garbage Pail Kids cards appeared as a reaction to the dough-faced Cabbage Patch Kids dolls that were all the rage in the 1980s. Much to our surprise, there are apparently still collectors of both.
But which cards fetch the most dough? A highly sought-after proof version of the famous Adam Bomb Garbage Pail card is currently for sale for the remarkable sum of $4,250, but we think that price is a bit optimistic. Instead, try to track down a mint condition of Nasty Nick, the first card (1a) in the first series, as a copy recently sold for over $600.
Superman Trading Cards, 1940
Not all valuable trading cards are new releases. Dating from the 1940s, this series of Man of Steel trading cards is nearly as old as the much-loved character himself. Mint-condition examples are rare — and, considering they were originally little more than bubble-gum wrappers, highly valuable.
Single cards can fetch several hundred dollars, and an uncut sheet of 24 sold at auction in 2010 for over $15,000. If you're lucky enough to have a complete, 72-strong set of the 1940 line, its estimated worth is around $20,000.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Cyber Stein
No, this card doesn't depict a robotic German drinking vessel, unfortunately. Instead, it's a comparatively boring cybernetic version of Frankenstein's monster.
Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, however: back in 2004, according to reports, one sold for a frankly monstrous $23,000. Not a good investment, as it turns out: that same card sells for a "mere" few hundred dollars these days.
Mickey Mouse trading cards, circa 1930s
Price: : $50-$150
Boasting a name that's an instant passport to collector cachet, it's not surprising that old Mickey Mouse trading cards can be worth a bundle.
This 1930s set of cards took a cunning step to encourage kids to collect them: each one carried half a joke or riddle, with the second part printed on a different card. Individual cards are worth anywhere from $25 to $150 depending on rarity and condition; getting your hands on a full set (and all the answers) will run as much as $4,000.
Digimon: Lucemon Gold Print
Though it began life as a tamogotchi, the Digimon franchise eventually ballooned into a viable competitor to Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon. And while its cards don't quite have the same collectors appeal as some other trading-card franchises, that's not to say that they're completely without value.
Take this ultra-rare gold print of favorite Digimon bad guy Lucemon: one recently fetched a healthy $400 on eBay. Maybe he's not such a bad guy after all.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Tyler the Great Warrior
Only one of these Yu-Gi-Oh cards was ever made, and it's never been sold.
It's the work of a unique collaboration between Yu-Gi-Oh maker 4Kids Entertainment, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Tyler Gressle, a teenage fan of the game who was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2002. Tyler beat his cancer, earning him the "Great Warrior" sobriquet -- and as he'd always wanted to design his own Yu-Gi-Oh card, the nice folks at Make-A-Wish arranged for him to team up with 4Kids to make his dream come true. The Tyler the Great Warrior card was the result.
As to its value, your guess is as good as ours; right now, it's pretty much priceless.
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