Gotta Catch ‘Em All…?

To Dublin, the one in Georgia, not the one in Ireland. That’s Georgia, the one in the United States, not the one on the Black Sea. Okay, to America, where a man has been sentenced to three years in prison for using a COVID relief loan to buy a $57,000 Pokémon card.

Vinath Oudomsine had told the Small Business Administration last year that he owned an “entertainment services” company with a high turn-over and a growing staff, and pleaded for $85,000 to keep things going during the pandemic. Then, he spent two thirds of the money nabbing himself a highly collectable Charizard card.

This was not what the Small Business Administration had in mind, and Oudomsine was obliged to hand over the ridiculously high-priced card, which I can only assume was one of the ultra-rare, first-printing Japanese basic sets from 1996. So, unlike the 1999 Holographic Charizard #4 ($36,000) or the 1999 Shadowless Holographic #4 Charizard ($25,500), the first-printing lacks a rarity symbol, because it was printed in the first two weeks of the existence of the game, before anyone thought rarity symbols would be necessary. It would have been literally one of the first Pokémon cards ever printed, which is apparently worth something to someone.

The issue of trading cards is even a matter of some academic speculation, as covered in Gilles Brougère’s “How Much is a Pokémon Worth?” in Pikachu’s Global Adventure (2004, you’re welcome, media students). Back in NEO #165, this column expressed my doubts about the collectability of many collectables. But Oudomsine’s case demonstrates that there was at least one person in the world prepared to assign such a value to a “trading” card.

Oudomsine wasn’t sent to jail for placing notional value on a rare Charizard – that is still not a crime. He was sent to jail for defrauding the US government to be able to afford one, so don’t worry, the Poké-police will not be knocking on your door any time soon. But what I want to know is what happens to that card now? Will the Small Business Administration will be trying to sell it off to get its money back, and if so, does it come with a new bill of provenance, increasing its value even further by noting that it was that card, from that case, that got all the international press coverage?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #219, 2022.

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