How to Tell if a Pokemon Card is 1st Edition? (Helpful Guide)

While some people may not care whether they have one of the first Charizard cards printed, others care a whole lot more. Being able to spot those 1st Edition cards will help you better judge the value of a card you are looking at when you are in the market.

Determining whether a Pokémon card is a base set First Edition card can be done by identifying 3 distinct factors. All base set First Edition Pokémon cards will possess the First Edition stamp, unique border shadowing, and appropriate copyright dates. For a Pokémon card to be considered First Edition from the base set, all 3 elements should be present on the card. 


If you have some Pokémon cards lying around from the late 1990s, you may be wondering if you have any 1st Edition cards of your own.

We survived over 156 random Pokémon card collectors from all over the world and asked them if they knew what the 3 ways to identify a First Edition Pokémon card were. 

Here is what we found.

  • 35.3% said they knew all the ways to spot a base set First Edition card.

  • 15.4% claimed to knew 2 of the 3 ways recognize a First Edition card. 

  • 24.4% were only aware of a single way to identify a First Edition card.

  • 25.0% of those who were survived admitted to not knowing any way to recognize a First Edition Pokémon card.  

This means that 64.7% of the Pokémon collectors we survived would potentially fail to recognize a First Edition Pokémon card sitting in their childhood collection! 


New and old fans alike love the franchise, and collectors are desperate to get their hands on vintage cards from the original 1st Edition, Shadowless, and Unlimited card runs. 

Some of these cards now sell for around $20,000 per card, a massive jump in value for cardboard that once only preserved as a children's pastime - If only we had known then what we know now. 

Pokémon cards are likely to maintain a central part of the collector's market as long as the franchise continues to be popular, and the best of the best cards that people clamor over are those in the original run.

These cards, printed when Pokémon cards were still brand new and are sometimes referred to as 'Base Set' Cards, came in three different runs: The 1st Edition cards, the Shadowless cards, and the Unlimited cards.


How Are Base Set Cards Classified?

Those Base Set Pokémon cards might all look the same to the untrained eye, but when you know which details to look out for, you'll be able to spot the difference.

As the original cards continued to roll out, small aesthetic changes were made that set the cards apart from each other.

Naturally, people believe the 1st Edition cards are the most desirable, as finding these in gem mint condition, or even near-mint condition is incredibly difficult thanks to age.

With rarity comes a boost in value compared to the other classifications. Learning the values of these collectible cards helps you to ensure you know what you are trying to buy, trade, or sell.


1st Edition Cards

The 1st Edition cards were the very first ones to roll off the press.

There was a limited run of cards that got that 1st edition designation, and they are marked as such with a little stamp (more on this later!).

These cards are the most valuable of the three thanks to how limited and scarce they are. As usual, the scarcer the card, the more valuable it is, following typical supply and demand rules.

If you can get your hands on these cards, or if you already have some hidden in your basement from your childhood, they may be worth a pretty penny, especially if they are in good condition.

Charizard in particular is the most valuable card in this run, and a 1st Edition Charizard in gem mint condition sold for a whopping $220,574 in October of 2020.

Shadowless Cards

After the 1st Edition card run was completed, the stamp commemorating its status was removed, but for the most part, the card designs remained the same.

For all intents and purposes, these cards are exactly what you'd expect to see out of 1st Edition cards.

However, these too were limited in print before one more change was made to the printing style of these Pokémon cards.

Unlimited Cards

The final run of Base Set cards is known as Unlimited.

They are easily identified by the fact that they have a shadow to the right of the card frame where the Pokémon's image is contained.

When comparing the shadowless cards and the unlimited cards, you'll see the shadow there that marks it as an unlimited run.

These cards are still quite valuable, especially if you have some of the more desirable Pokémon, such as the starters, Pikachu, Mewtwo, or any of the holo rare cards.


1. The Stamp

As mentioned previously, each 1st Edition card gets a stamp denoting it is a First Edition card.

This will be found on the bottom left corner of the frame in which the Pokémon's image is printed.

It should align with the banner giving the length and weight of the Pokémon.

This stamp is a black circle with a clear "1" in the middle, showing the color of the background of the card. It also has "EDITION" written around the top half of the circle.

This stamp is only visible on the 1st Edition prints.

If you don't see it there, you know you have either a Shadowless or an unlimited card.


2. The Lack of Shadowing

1st Editions and Shadowless cards will always lack the shadow on the right of the image's frame.

If you see the shadowing there, you know that it is an Unlimited card.

However, if the shadow is lacking, you may have either a 1st Edition or a Shadowless card. Look for the stamp to confirm.


3. The Dates

The dates are another important clue for identifying the type of card you may have.

In particular, the 1st Edition cards have a copyright line that states:

"1995, 96, 98, 99 Nintendo, Creatures, GAMEFREAK"

and this can be seen on the Shadowless cards as well.

The Unlimited cards omit the '99' year in the copyright line.


Identifying Trainer Cards

If you have Trainer cards, identifying the 1st Edition runs can be a bit more involved.

Trainer cards did not include shadowing between the Shadowless and Unlimited runs, so you will have to turn to other clues instead.

1st Edition cards will be marked with the same stamp seen on the First Edition Pokémon cards, but in this case, they will be near the bottom left corner of the card.

If there is no stamp there, you'll have to check the copyright dates.

As mentioned, the Unlimited cards omitted the '99' year, so when you look at the copyright line, the presence of that year will determine whether you have an Unlimited or Shadowless card.


On the road to becoming a Pokémon card master arming yourself with the right knowledge is just as important as cracking packs. You should now be full equipped to wage through your childhood collection of money cards to see if you have any hidden gems lying in wait for you! 


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Article| 11/03/2021 | pokemon cards