Mass-produced scarcity in the antiques and collectibles trade is nothing new, but the naive speculators who fall prey to this kind of marketing are unfortunately almost always new to the trade. Massproduced scarcity is the result of multibillion dollar corporations doing what they do best, making a substantial profit, sometimes at the expense of their own fan base. We have seen this play out multiple times over the past several decades in the collectibles trade. Baseball cards, comic books, POGS, and Beanie Babies were all prime examples of this concept in action. Even at present time, this concept is still playing out in multiple collecting categories: toys, video games, modern era sports cards, and even collectible card games are all benefiting from the concept of mass-produced scarcity. Manufacturers have learned to limit mass-produced products in order to create hype and demand, which in turn increases these products' perceived value on the secondary market in the short term. This then causes starry-eyed speculators to pay a premium to get them thinking they are truly scarce. Ask any expert in the antiques and collectibles trade, and they will tell you to avoid these types of products if you are buying for investment over the long term. Unfortunately, a lot of collectors refuse to believe this and continue to hoard items with production runs in the millions and in some cases the tens of millions.
Pokemon Meets Mass-Produced Stupidity
It is no secret that Pokemon is a very hot commodity right now. Pokemon came to the United States from Japan in the late 1990s during a massive advertising blitz from parent companies Nintendo and Game Freak, who together formed what is now known as the Pokemon Company. Most enthusiasts first encountered the franchise, via the original Nintendo Game Boy system with the release of the very first Pokemon video games, aptly called Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. After exposing video gamers to the incredible world of the franchise the company decided to commission the release of a collectible card game based on the series. The collectible Pokemon trading card game hit the United States in late 1998 and immediately sold out. Ironically, the collectible card game was outsourced to be produced by Wizards of the Coast as at this particular time the Pokemon Company did not want to be bothered with the mass production of collectible trading cards. Wizards of the Coast (now a part of Hasbro Inc.) at the time was already well versed in the newly created collectible trading card market due to the success of their Magic: The Gathering card game that premiered in 1993. It was believed that Wizards of the Coast would be able to handle the demand and distribution of the collectible Pokemon card game. Unfortunately, demand was overwhelming, and Wizards of the Coast could not produce enough product to meet demand. It is actually believed that this is one reason why today some of these vintage Pokemon cards are so sought after. Had Wizards of the Coast actually been able to overproduce these cards back then, the values being paid on the secondary market for some of these treasures would have been reduced as supply would be much more readily available.
In 2003, the Pokemon Company started to manufacture Pokemon cards themselves, and they cut Wizards of the Coast out of the mix. It was also around this time the Pokemon card game suffered a modest lull in demand. Several years later, the Pokemon card game would continue to sell well, but not stellar when compared to todays numbers. By around 2010 or so, that would change. Fueled by nostalgia and the latest video games released in the ongoing series by Nintendo, enthusiasts would start to covet Pokemon once again. At first, demand was easily contained by the Pokemon Company, but little by little, newly introduced fans to the series started getting involved, and within a few years Pokemon fever would begin to grow. With the release of the mobile game in 2015 aptly called Pokemon Go, Pokemon became bigger and bigger. Social media influencers and YouTubers all started to comment on the collectibility of Pokemon. Stores started selling out of their stock and distributors were left asking for more products. By 2016, it was clear that Pokemon was a force to be reckoned with. This led to the company making some controversial decisions that would anger speculators while helping casual enthusiasts new to the series who didnt want to spend a lot of money to play the game. Roaring Skies was a popular Pokemon card game expansion set that would debut in 2015. Shortly after, the set was discontinued, but demand kept prices soaring on the secondary market. Booster boxes that originally cost about $90 were now selling for around $300, with speculators hoarding inventory and calling it a cant-lose investment. Thats about when the Pokemon Company decided to do the unthinkable. The company announced a surprise reprinting of the set, and there would be no distinguishing differences between the first printing and the second. This angered a lot of speculators, while others doubled down and committed to buying out as much of the second printing as possible in an effort to keep prices high. Even after the reprinting, demand for the latest Pokemon products always seemed to eclipse available supply. However, a then unknown virus would make matters much worse.
By the end of 2019, the first reports of the coronavirus were already upon us. By March 2020, almost the entire industrialized world would be at a standstill. Many collectibles, crypto-currencies, and meme stocks benefited during this time, largely through stimulus money. Pokemon cards became a speculators dream, and due to the pandemic, even if the Pokemon Company wanted to pump more supply into the system, it would be a struggle. This caused the value of modern era Pokemon cards to soar. Stores were selling out and even encountering violence and destruction from crazed fans (and resellers). To combat this problem, the Pokemon Company promised more supply was coming. Fast forward to today, and it was announced that the Pokemon Company would be producing over 9 billion cards in a single year to ensure game cards were kept on store shelves. It was also leaked that within the past three years over 25 percent of all Pokemon cards in existence were produced in that time frame. At this point, I seriously dont think the definition of mass-produced scarcity is enough to define this. In my opinion, this is mass produced stupidity, but please dont tell the starry-eyed speculators that. They think they know more than the economists and experts who have been warning against this kind of practice for decades. These are not your fathers Pokemon cards. Much like agreeing to kiss a Charizard (spoiler alert: they breathe fire), caution in this market is highly advised. Until next time.
Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace