Altered Card Alert: Gray Stamp Zapdos

Posted on 8/18/2022

This looks like a genuine Gray Stamp error at first, but the CGC Trading Cards' experts found evidence of forgery.

First Edition Base Set Pokémon cards are some of the most sought-after cards in the franchise. They’re rarer than their Unlimited counterparts, demand a higher premium and offer a nostalgic look at iconic characters from the series. A First Edition card can be identified by the “First Edition” symbol: the number “1” on a solid circle with the word EDITION in all capital letters arching around the top of the circle. It can be found on the left of cards featuring Pokémon, on the top-right corner of Energy cards and the bottom-left corner of Trainer cards.

Occasionally, the First Edition symbol on some Pokémon cards will appear lighter or gray instead of jet black. This is called a “Gray Stamp” error and occurs when the plate responsible for the First Edition symbol has insufficient ink. Gray Stamp errors demand a higher premium than normal First Edition cards and are eagerly pursued by collectors.

A Zapdos, Pokémon (1999) Base Set Holo graded CGC 7.5 with a genuine Gray Stamp error.
Click images to enlarge.

CGC Trading Cards' Pokémon card grading team recently received a submission with a supposed Gray Stamp error. At first glance, this Zapdos does appear to have a lighter First Edition symbol. Unfortunately, this card has been altered, a more-common sight as Gray Stamp errors have risen in popularity.

An altered Zapdos.
Click image to enlarge.

It is difficult to tell the difference between an altered and a legitimate Gray Stamp error under normal light. The biggest indicator that the Zapdos’ First Edition symbol has been altered is the positioning of the stamp on the card. The “T” in EDITION should consistently line up with the bottom left corner of the art box, and the “N” with the bottom edge of the text in the description box, as can be seen here on a genuine First Edition Machamp. The First Edition symbol displayed on the altered Zapdos card is placed too far down — the “N” doesn’t line up with the first “E” in the description box to the right.

An altered Gray Stamp Zapdos (left) and a genuine First Edition Machamp (right).
Click images to enlarge.

A close-up, side-by-side comparison of the First Edition stamps from the altered Zapdos (left) and genuine Machamp (right).
Click image to enlarge

CGC Trading Cards further identified the altered card by placing the symbols under cyan-filtered infrared light. The cyan lighting gave the altered symbol a strange glow. Additionally, putting the two cards under normal infrared lighting causes the fraudulent First Edition stamp to disappear completely — a clear indication that the ink did not come from an official First Edition press.

A close-up example of an altered and genuine First Edition symbol, first under cyan-filtered infrared light (left) then under infrared light (right).
Click images to enlarge.

It’s important to exercise caution when purchasing ungraded cards, especially when a small addition like a First Edition symbol can raise a card's value. Every card certified by CGC Trading Cards is guaranteed to be authentic and accurately graded.

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