Is this copy of Super Mario Bros. the highest-priced video game ever? That’s what experts in the field of classic game collecting are saying today. A first-run copy of the Nintendo Entertainment System game sold in a private transaction earlier this month for $100,150 (£78,000), and the people involved in the deal say it’s the first six-figure transaction (in dollars) for a single collectible game.
This sale represents a huge jump over the copy of Super Mario Bros. that sold in 2017 for over £23,000, which itself was a record price. The difference comes down to a tiny sticker. Instead of being shrinkwrapped in plastic, the boxes containing the very first run of NES games produced in America were only sealed on the top flap, using a black foil circular sticker with the Nintendo logo on it. These were only sold for a brief period of time before the NES’ national rollout, while Nintendo was still test-marketing the console in cities like New York and Los Angeles in 1985 and 1986. At that time, an NES set came packaged with Duck Hunt and Gyromite, but not Super Mario Bros., which was sold separately.
“I’ve always said personally that I believe that sticker-sealed Mario is possibly one of the most significant video gaming items historically,” said Deniz Khan, the president of Wata Games, a company that authenticates and certifies gaming collectibles. Wata certified the game’s authenticity. While there are many other sealed copies of Super Mario Bros. out there, Khan said that this copy of the game is the only known copy of Super Mario Bros. that still has an intact sticker seal from the NES’ brief launch window.
The game is jointly owned by three buyers: Jim Halperin, the founder and co-chairman of the collectibles auction company Heritage Auctions, coin dealer and game collector Rich Lecce, and video game store owner Zac Gieg. The sale was announced today by Heritage Auctions in a press release, which it also used to promote the fact that Heritage recently got into the business of selling Wata-certified collectible games at auction.
While there’s certainly a bit of a publicity element to the sale, Khan said the deal was legitimate. Besides being the service that authenticated the game, Wata had no part of the transaction, Khan said. The seller, a collector who has occasionally advised Wata in a volunteer capacity, was not actively looking to sell the Super Mario Bros. He asked to not be named in this story, citing concerns for his privacy.
“The guy who was selling it has always said that he would never accept less than six figures for this item, for years now,” Khan said. “There have been interested buyers I know, outside of this group, who have made him very significant, solid five-figure offers on it. Over $50,000 [£39,000]. But it was just never rich enough for him.”
“The people who bought it are not just outsiders like Jim,” he said. “Two of the buyers are huge video game collectors… Those guys would not pay for something unless they truly thought the value was there.”
There are more copies of Super Mario Bros. out there than any other NES game, and they run the gamut in terms of pricing. You can buy a loose copy of the Super Mario Bros. cartridge for a few quid. Put it into a box with some wear and tear, and you’ll maybe spend £40. But as the condition of that box improves, and once you start talking about sealed copies, that price goes into the stratosphere. Not only is this the only known sealed copy of the first U.S. print run of Super Mario Bros., it is also in nearly immaculate condition.
While collectible games like Stadium Events, which are only desired because of their rarity, dominated the early days of video game collecting, we’re now starting to see condition and historical relevance become more of a factor in rising prices. The million-dollar comic book Action Comics #1 is far from the rarest comic book in the world, but it is the first print of the first appearance of Superman. That’s something like what this copy of Super Mario Bros. represents to collectors.
“I’ve always said, video games are going to go the way of comics, or cars, or coins; it’s only a matter of time until a video game sells for a million dollars,” Khan said. “I’ve always said, and truly believe,” he said, that a sticker-sealed Mario like this one “would be the first million-dollar video game.”
All images: Wata Games