This week a copy of Super Mario Bros., at first glance indistinguishable from the one gathering dust in your parents’ attic, sold for $100,150. According to Heritage Auctions, this “set a world record for a graded game,” which means perhaps it didn’t have that much dust on it, according to Wata Games, which graded it at 9.4, or Near Mint. But, you might be wondering as you rush over your parents’ attic: Why is this simple cartridge, box, and manual worth over one-hundred thousand dollars?
This is the graded and sealed Super Mario Bros. that sold for over $100,000. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
To answer that question, we turned to one of collecting’s foremost experts and Co-Owner of Pink Gorilla Games in Seattle, Kelsey Lewin, who explained:
“In 1985 through parts of 1986, Nintendo began releasing the NES as part of a test market launch, testing the waters in specific cities before launching country-wide. This began in NYC, followed by LA, and then Chicago, San Francisco, etc., before it eventually reached the entire country. This first print run of NES systems and games was super small, and the games weren’t shrink-wrapped, but rather sealed with one of two plain black stickers that said “Nintendo” on them: a matte one in 1985, and a glossy one in 1986.”
Another view of the cartridge provided by Heritage Auctions.
So its the historical significance of this particular sticker and the way the game is packaged is the allure. There just aren’t many of these out there before shrink-wrap became common — the NES wasn’t exactly a hit at launch.
“The $100k Super Mario Bros is sealed with a gloss sticker from the 1986 expanded test market launch. It’s the only one known to exist, and it’s in incredible shape considering there was no shrink wrap to protect it from wear and tear. (There are 11 total BOX variants of the original Super Mario Bros on NES, not even counting cartridge/manual variants or the combo cartridges with Duck Hunt or Duck Hunt & World Class Track Meet).”
Check out the glossy sticker on this bad boy!
So who would buy Super Mario Bros. for over $100K? A group of collectors, according to Heritage Auctions, “joined forces” to purchase this particular cartridge. Lewin explains, “The buyers of this game (which includes Heritage Auction co-chairman Jim Halperin) likely see it as an investment.” The best these collectors are taking is that this cartridge might even be worth more money some day.
But will this copy of Super Mario Bros. hold its value? To answer that question, we spoke with historian Frank Cifaldi, founder of The Video Game History Foundation, who, like others compared this copy of Super Mario Bros. to the “Holy Grail” of comic book collectors, Action Comics #1. Cifaldi says:
“Super Mario Bros. for the NES is the video game equivalent of Action Comics #1, which is the first appearance of Superman, the birth of the superhero, and the most expensive comic book. Like Action #1, Super Mario Bros. is not the first video game by a long shot, and it’s not particularly rare either. Hell, it’s not even the first appearance of Mario! But I think we’ve collectively come to recognize that at least in the U.S., this was the start of modern video games, the template that inspired countless designers, and in many ways, the game that revitalized the entire video game industry in this country and brought it back from the brink.”
Wata games showed IGN’s Max Scoville this exact cartridge. Check out the video above and skip to the 3:20 mark.
Not only is this game rare, but it’s in great shape, and Frank adds, “There’s really not another example of the game that comes close to this yet, so as of right now, as far as collectors are concerned, this is the best copy of the game in the world.”
Samuel Claiborn is IGN’s Managing Editor and both fixes and breaks arcade machines in his garage. TCELES B HSUP to follow him @Samuel_IGN on Twitter.
Correction: We previously wrote that this copy of Super Mario Bros. sold at auction. It was not auctioned but simply sold. We apologize and regret the error.