“This card is worth $1.5 million dollars 💰😳,” read a March 2023 Instagram post featuring the rare ‘Illustrator Pikachu’ Pokémon trading card from Japanese media giant NHK.
It continued, “Prices for Japanese trading cards have shot up in the past couple of years with huge sums of money changing hands both online and in specialty trading card shops. What’s going on? 🤔”
In August, NPR dug into the phenomenon stateside. “Post Malone is known for smashing music-streaming records, but the pop star is also raising the bar in a more niche arena,” the article stated. Post Malone’s niche interest? Magic: The Gathering Cards. One of the most recent additions to his collection includes the highly coveted "One Ring" Magic the Gathering Card, which was confirmed to be officially authenticated by PSA grading.
As the NPR article continues, it becomes clear that collecting, grading and auctioning trading card game cards actually isn’t so niche — over half a million TCG cards were graded in July 2023 alone by Professional Sports Authenticator, the industry’s grading leader and a Collectors brand.
Throughout both the NHK segment and NPR article, Collectors brands like PSA and Goldin are front and center; a fact which highlights both the surging interest in collectibles and the company’s growth across global markets in a wide array of items, from cards and coins to memorabilia and autographs.
This expertise is nothing new: the company has graded and authenticated more than 80 million items since its 1986 founding. However, Collectors’ rapid expansion and investment in scalable technology is now transforming both its internal infrastructure and the way collectors, investors and enthusiasts alike can engage with its brands and their own collectibles.
“During the pandemic, collectors increasingly turned to their passion of collecting trading cards and having them graded as collectibles or alternate assets,” Director of Engineering Pratixa Joshi, Ph.D., told Built In. “The exponential growth in demand for grading required us to leverage technology to resolve a backlog of more than 12 million items.”
Even accounting for Collectors’ ambitious vision, the growth and speed of the company’s expansion has exceeded internal expectations. It has also powered new opportunities for innovation, thanks to the significant impact of the globalization of the collectibles market, explained Director of Project Management Office Jaclyn McCaffrey.
“Our successful entry into the Japanese market has demonstrated that our business model is adaptable and scalable in international markets,” McCaffrey said.
“Our successful entry into the Japanese market has demonstrated that our business model is adaptable and scalable in international markets.”
As Collectors expands globally, streamlining international shipping, logistics and multilingual customer support are crucial for supporting collectors across borders — but those steps are only the beginning. To support continued growth in international markets, McCaffrey notes that Collectors needs “local expertise and a deep understanding of cultural nuances and market dynamics.”
Since a 2021 acquisition and privatization of the company led by entrepreneur Nat Turner and subsequent acquisitions of Wata Games and Goldin Auctions, Collectors’ reach and growth has expanded even further, and the Collectors team has doubled in size.
“The growth of the product and technology organizations within the company has been much larger,” Joshi told Built In. “The software engineering segment, which includes teams handling breakthrough technological innovations, increased fourfold.”
According to Joshi, the growth across technology, product, operations, grading and management sectors has enabled the team to tackle technical challenges head-on across the company to alleviate customers’ pain points, enhance customer experience and increase operational speed.
More Technologists = More Innovation
Joshi’s AI/ML team is particularly well-situated to develop solutions that will support both graders and collectors, she told Built In.
“At Collectors, we are constantly evaluating cutting-edge technologies such as generative AI and the myriad possibilities for its incorporation and their alignment with our tangible business values. We aim to leverage the growth of both the collectibles and the AI industries and stay ahead of the curve by implementing more AI/ML-based solutions.”
These new AI/ML solutions are already powering major shifts in Collectors’ business.
“When I first began working with PSA, I thought of the brand as being the best in the business for sports cards, but now we have evolved into so much more,” Head of PSA Strategy Ryan Miller said.
To support this expansion, Collectors now runs three grading operations in Jersey City, Santa Ana and Tokyo that are prepared to handle domestic and international growth.
“Continuing to invest in new technology reduces friction and provides moments of surprise and delight for our customers,” Miller said. “Now that we have the right foundation in place, we’re able to build on this strong base and begin to push the pedal down on the growth engine that we’ve built.”
“Now that we have the right foundation in place, we’re able to build and push the pedal down on the growth engine that we’ve built.”
The services supporting grading services are part of a major technological leap forward, according to Joshi.
“We now offer an entire suite of services including enhanced grading submission experience, state-of-the-art internal grading process and the option to vault the graded items for the customer,” she said, adding that the expansion of Collectors’ brand collection also enables customers to sell items at auction directly from PSA Vault.
“With strong data infrastructure, highly qualified technical talent, management endorsement for ML-based solutions and the availability of technical tools, Collectors is excited to bring technological breakthroughs in the collectible industry,” Joshi said. “Currently, the collectible industry is relatively young as a technology-enabled industry and largely untouched by deep tech, we have the unique opportunity to pair rapidly developing, cutting-edge AI/ML solutions with our in-house experts to help drive solutions to the problems we encounter every day.”
“We have the unique opportunity to pair rapidly developing, cutting-edge AI/ML solutions with our in-house experts to help drive solutions to the problems we encounter every day.”
Keeping customers at the heart of the business and tech advancements keeps the Collectors teams focused on where investment in expansion matters most.
“By putting the collectors first and working backwards from their needs, the technological solutions developed at the company are highly specific, relevant and effective,” Joshi said. “Everyone has a collectible that reminds them of a special memory, event, or person in their life, and we want to make sure that each collectible finds the right person.”