The CGC Trading Cards Experts Investigate an Unusual Pokémon Card

Posted on 9/22/2022

The unexpected appearance of handwritten text on this filler card is the result of alterations to a printing plate.

CGC Trading Cards® has authenticated and graded an odd but interesting Pokémon “filler” card. The card, which has yellow borders but is mostly blank, has what appears to be jagged handwriting in the center that says: German Fossil PCD Deck “Bodyguard” 14-/8/00. However, this same exact “handwriting” has been seen on numerous examples. What could have caused this?

Click images to enlarge.

After a thorough analysis and scientific examination of the card, as well as speaking to former Wizards of the Coast (WotC) Lead Typesetter Christopher Nitz, CGC Trading Cards has determined that it is highly likely that a printing company employee scratched the information into the film negative used to create the black printing plate. These negatives were full-sized, meaning the scratching of the text into the surface would have been easy to accomplish.

According to Nitz, shenanigans like this were a common occurrence, although sheets were not typically marked in this way: “Even after it was printed, we had to be careful to keep the localized product going into the right packs and boxes. Marking the sheets, or even what was done in this case, would help keep everyone sane.”

The result of this alteration to the film negative is that, instead of a normal blank filler card, there appears to be handwritten text on the front of the card.

What are filler cards, anyway?

Filler cards are blank cards on a sheet of Pokémon cards that are meant to be discarded rather than released. However, occasionally, these cards make it into Booster Packs or Theme Decks and are found by the public. Typically, these cards simply have the yellow border of a Pokémon card with a blank white interior. But sometimes, they have text printed on them like the ones below.

Click images to enlarge.

The "handwriting" analysis

This particular example, however, is the only known filler card with such “handwriting” on it. Of course, many people will think it’s simply written on from the appearance of the card, but that is not the case.

First, the odd handwriting itself indicates it is not normal writing. Instead of being smooth, it appears to be made up of straight-line segments. This points to the fact that it was likely not done with a normal writing instrument, but perhaps a sharp object. The letters were likely carved into the surface of the film negative, and that was transferred to the black printing plate. Note that the film would have been a mirror image of the printing plate, which means it would actually have been a positive image and therefore easy to engrave the text in the correct orientation.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Second, the text is underneath the gloss coat of the card. Like any other playing card, a clear coating is applied on top of the card to protect it from wear. This is done at the factory, and any ink or writing applied to the card after the gloss coat is added would very clearly be sitting on top of that coating.

The photo above shows how the sheen of the card is completely undisturbed by the text. This confirms that the text was applied at the factory before the wear coat.

Click images to enlarge.

Last, the actual surface of the card shows no evidence of alteration. In the photo on the left above, specialized infrared lighting at a low angle reveals the surface texture of the card. It shows that the M in “GERMAN” is sitting on the card just as any other ink applied at the factory would be. There is no evidence of any indentation from this being written on the card after it was produced.

On the other hand, the photo on the right shows a modern card on which the letter “M” was written with a normal pen. Note how deep the grooves in the card are from the pen and how the surface of the card has been completely altered.

CGC Trading Cards has already graded two examples of this filler card, and many more are likely still out there waiting to be discovered. However, in this case, it is highly likely that some were thrown away due to the appearance that the text was written on the card.

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