CGC Trading Cards Encounters a Uniquely Deceptive Fake 1st Edition Base Set Charizard

Posted on 2/12/2021

A counterfeiter’s attempt to knock off Pokémon’s holy grail doesn’t hold up under CGC Trading Cards’ forensic imaging machines.

The 1st Edition Base Set Charizard is the holy grail of all English Pokémon set cards. In fact, a 1st Edition Base Set Charizard is tied with the Test Print Blastoise card certified by CGC Trading Cards for the highest price ever paid for an English Pokémon card. Of course, with that status and value, there are innumerable fakes on the market. CGC Trading Cards graders have seen many counterfeit examples, but one recently submitted card was very unique in its deception.

Counterfeit 1st Edition Base Set Charizard.
Click images to enlarge.

The card, when sleeved, could likely fool many collectors. One reason is because a main point that collectors are told to examine is the holo pattern. This fake card has a genuine Galaxy Star holo pattern with stars that change when the card is moved. However, the card has poor print quality, and the Charizard seems to be sitting on top of the card rather than being part of it. The back of the card also looks off, especially for a Wizards of the Coast (WotC)-era card. How can this be?

Close-up of Charizard on the counterfeit card.
Click image to enlarge.

The answer is in how this forgery was made. When removed from a sleeve, the card is extremely glossy, almost like a Japanese Vending Machine issue. Of course, this is not at all how the surfaces of a genuine example should look. What might explain the glossiness?

It appears the counterfeiter used a method that CGC Trading Cards had not yet encountered. They took a genuine WotC-era holographic card and removed the ink using chemicals, leaving just the holographic surface (including the Galaxy Star pattern). Then, they printed the Charizard graphic onto a transparent material. This was glued on top of the blank foil, which allows the holographic foil to show through. While it did not fool the graders even for a moment, it was an interesting card to further study using CGC Trading Cards’ forensic imaging machines.

Genuine Shadowless Charizard (left) and the counterfeit (right) under Spot Fluorescence lighting.
Click images to enlarge.

Looking at the photos above, the text on the genuine Charizard is still fully legible under Spot Fluorescence lighting. The fake, on the other hand, has many areas that are completely impossible to read. In addition, the Charizard’s wings are much darker on the genuine example, and its body does not fluoresce like it does on the fake. This shows that different inks were used by the counterfeiter than what is used on genuine cards.

Genuine Shadowless Charizard (left) and the counterfeit (right) under UV lighting.
Click images to enlarge.

Considering that different inks were used, it is not surprising that the two cards also react completely differently to Ultraviolet (UV) light. Whereas the genuine card has no inks that react to UV, the fake lights up an odd mix of purple and red. This is completely different from any real card.

Genuine Shadowless Charizard (left) and the counterfeit (right) under Side Infrared lighting.
Click images to enlarge.

While the cards look very different under Spot Fluorescence and UV, the best lighting test was left for last. CGC Trading Cards’s advanced imaging equipment has the ability to light cards under a multitude of different types of light and from different angles. The Side Infrared shows what the card looks like at wavelengths invisible to the human eye.

While the genuine Charizard is still fully visible, all of the text and design disappears on the counterfeit! The low angle of the lighting also reveals the height differences of the card in relation to the holographic area. It is clear that the Charizard itself was meticulously cut out and glued on top of the foil.

Normal holo card (top) and the counterfeit (bottom).
Click image to enlarge.

Lastly, the photos above show how incredibly thick the fake card is. The thickness is perhaps two to three times that of a normal card. The graders are perplexed as to why the counterfeiter covered up the genuine back of the card with a poor forgery, unless perhaps they were trying to match the glossiness of the front. Due to this extreme extra thickness, it is apparent that this card is a fake, even with your eyes closed, much like the counterfeit WotC promo cards that we analyzed before.

While this was not a particularly convincing fake, it could fool many collectors without a closer examination. Cards authenticated, graded and encapsulated by CGC Trading Cards are guaranteed to be genuine.

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