A collectible goes through three stages (if it doesn’t die earlier) during its lifetime. These are Speculative, Established and Mature.
Let’s see how it gets to each of them and, then, talk about Pokémon TCG specifically and in which stage it is right now.
The Speculative Stage
A speculative collectible is that in its first 30 years of existence. This comes from the Harry Rinker’s 30 Year Rule, which states that for the first years of anything’s life, all its value is speculative.
Some disagreement and discrepancies may arise between experts, regarding if this timeline should start when people really start collecting those ítems, or when the object is first manufactured.
I think this should be decided having the concrete collectible in mind and not as a rule of thumb.
For example, Pokemon TCG wasn’t seen as a collectible for the general public at the beginning, but more as a card game. But to be fair, being cards, there were also some people (although a minority) that simply collected them.
On the other hand, things like video games were bought to play with. Very rare would be to see someone in early video game times that bought one to collect.
So, regarding this 2 examples, we could say that with Pokemon TCG we will probably not be completely wrong starting the timeline when cards were firstly manufactured, while, on the other side, the video games one could begin when it started attracting collectibles
In this speculative category we could put collectibles such as Pokemon TCG, Magic The Gathering, modern comics and video games.
During this first stage, these types of collectibles often experience pumps that typically end up in speculative bubbles. This ignition is normally caused by influencers or mass media. When these bubbles burst, some collectibles disappear while others emerge stronger than before.
These ups and downs continue until the collectible disappears or mutates and evolves into an established collectible.
Established collectible is that that has been collected for a 31 to 50 years period.
If you check the market for any of this type of collectibles, it has probably gone through many ups and downs during its early life time, even past through some speculative bubbles (or even could be in one).
But interest in them has been proved by collectors for a long period of time, and the market starts to flat down a bit. At this stage, market cap has grown, so influencers and mass media are not able to move the prices so easily. Bubbles occur less frequently and huge swings in price stop being so frequent.
Good examples of established collectibles could be vintage comic books and vintage sport cards (prior to the 1970s).
Lastly, a mature collectible, is that which has been collected and traded for more that 50 years.
The market of a mature collectible is much more stable and growth/decay normally occurs slowly.
In this stage, the collectible has already demonstrated its value to collectors and has survived multiple speculative bubbles. The market is now established, and most collectors feel a genuine passion for the object itself, looking beyond the possibility of making money or a “good investment.”
Prices can be high or low, but there is not as much volatility as in the previous stages. In this stage, collectors focus on the historical and cultural value of the object, as well as its rarity and quality.
Keep in mind that even though a collectible can achieve a mature “status”, that doesn’t mean that speculative bubbles can’t occur, or that interest from collectors can’t disappear or decrease massively.
An example could be stamps as a collectible. It’s clearly a mature market, in which first collectors appeared in 1774. Its market has evolved during all these years. It had its baubles and highs/lows in demand. Nowadays, interest in stamps is low and very few collectors remain active in comparison with what it used to be.
Examples of mature collectibles are coins, currency, antique bottles, high end art…
Also take in mind that when a hobby passes from one stage to another, it can mutate. Interest from collectors can change from one part of the hobby to another, making them prefer collecting other things within it. We will see an example of what this could mean as we put all of what we have just learned into Pokemon TCG context.
In which stage is Pokemon TCG now?
If we use time as the way to measure, and take the manufacturing date of the hobby as the starting point (as discussed earlier), Pokemon TCG is still in a speculative stage as a collectible.
Being first released in Japan by The Media Factory on the 20th of October of 1996, the hobby is almost 27 years old. Approaching the 30 year mark that would make it an established collectible.
Pokemon TCG has passed through 2 main speculative bubbles that could have destroyed it… but ended up making it stronger.
The first one was in 2016, with the successful worldwide launch of Pokemon Go, which made people remember that Pokemon TCG existed, having been stagnant and forgotten for many years.
This made many people return to collecting and added others to the hobby, which established a wider and stronger base of collectors ready to explode with the next bauble…
In mid 2020 and early 2021, with the help of the US Government giving away money because of COVID and influencers like Logan Paul, Pokemon TCG experienced a huge speculative bubble that led to astronomically high sell prices and a huge mania.
As with every bubble bursting, lots of people made lots of money, and many others saw great losses…
Being correcting in prices and interest since that burst, the hobby seems to have reached a new and stronger base of collectors. Interest is higher than before the last bubble, and some could argue that we are still in a mania phase, with an astonishing interest for modern products that never seems to stop being printed…
Probably the pandemic has delayed the entry of Pokemon TCG into an established collectible status, and probably we will have to see the hobby reach 33 or 35 years old until it really stabilizes itself and settles down after the 2020-21 great pump.
But, the truth is, that we are probably seeing enough evidence that this will eventually happen and that growth in the hobby will continue.
Which is some of this evidence?
Even though we could probably list plenty of points of evidence for why we might think the hobby will strengthen, I can quickly think of three:
- Generational relief. Yes, I can see how children of my son’s age range (3-6) are totally into collecting Pokemon cards. This is essential for a hobby lasting throughout the decades… and it’s happening.
- Pokémon is the world’s most valuable media franchise, with an all time revenue that approximates the 100 billion dollars. The 25 Highest-Grossing Media Franchises of All Time
- The Pokémon Company shows no intention to stop growing. Video games and new Pokémon continue to be created; a new animated series is going to be launched after 25 years of Ash and Pikachu; there are rumors of a Pokémon human-type series by Netflix; Merchandising and toys are everywhere; Pokemon TCG continues releasing expansions (that sell completely) and huge events are organized worldwide…
And meanwhile all of this happens, there’s NO one on planet Earth (or almost) that doesn’t know who Pikachu is.
Pokemon is really STRONG.
Even though probably Pokémon TCG will be here for the long run and become an established collectible (who knows if a mature one someday), remember what we said about collector interests veering and the hobby mutating as it changes stages.
No one knows if by then, people will be looking for Rainbow rares (yes, the same ones that people are tired of now); or chasing Mid-Era rare cards or promos; or if everyone will be looking for only sealed products. Maybe plastic is rejected and raw is King… who knows.
So just be prepared to see variations in tastes and, why not, more volatility and turbulence during your journey. Place your bets and get ready!
But, above all, just continue collecting whatever you really love.
Some questions for you:
How do you think collectors’ interests will change throughout these years to come?
What type of event do you think will ignite the next huge mania phase?
Any other thoughts?
Thanks for reading and have a GREAT day!