It has been a long journey over many years, but it has paid off. Finally, Mario Menkos can be graded! Menkos can now get the recognition they deserve among the Nintendo and card collecting communities. CGC Grading Service will now grade Menkos (square Menko only), and in doing so authenticates them as legit pieces of Nintendo history. I have gone down this rabbit hole for many years. I have spoke with every card grading company you can think of through the years only to be told they would not grade Nintendo Menkos. Those days are over. This opens up a new way of collecting Menkos by trying to find them in good condition, but this will prove to be very difficult.
After seeing how the game of Menko was played with these cards by slamming them on the ground or table, finding your favorite Mario Menko in good condition will be extremely difficult. A lot of these Menkos were often miss-cut, off-centered, stained, and marked on by Menko players. Finding a Menko in really good condition is very difficult, even in Japan where Menko originated. For many years I've been looking for Mario Menkos that have sharp corners, good centering, good surface with nice edges. I'll be honest, finding a Menko like this is like searching for a needle in a million haystacks! Sometimes you will find one with good corners, but then it is terribly off centered. Or you'll find one with excellent centering with trashed corners. Or one with really nice corners and centering, but it is all creased up or marked on with a pen or marker. It can actually be quite maddening sometimes.
Out of all the Mario Menkos I've collected, it is my opinion the 1981 Donkey Kong/Jumpman Menko is by far the rarest of them all. Many Menko collectors and card shops in Japan share my opinion that this particular Menko rivals all the others. They almost never turn up for sale and when they do, unfortunately they are usually trashed and in terrible condition. After all, Mario was so popular in the 80's, I'm sure if you had a Mario Menko you used it when playing Menko. Fortunately there were some people that collected Nintendo Menkos not to play Menko, but simply to collect the card. The needle in the haystack is finding this persons collection that has been sitting in a box or a binder for years, and if your lucky, the Menko you are looking for might turn up. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean it won't have any of the miss-cut or off-centering issues made by the manufacturing of the card. On top of all of this, the 1981 Donkey Kong/Jumpman Menko was not mass produced or made in large quantities. There were a lot of Nintendo Menkos made in 1985 after the success of Famicom in Japan and the NES in the US. I'll also point out that the round Menkos, for whatever reason, was produced in much larger quantities, but we are only talking about the square Menkos here. The earlier Mario Menkos from 1981-1983 were manufactured in far less quantities since the success of Nintendo and the Mario franchise had not been realized yet.
With all of this said, the holy grail of Nintendo/Mario Menko would be to find a pristine 1981 Donkey Kong/Jumpman Menko. Don't get me wrong. There are a few other very rare Mario Menkos that are difficult to find. But, the 1981 is the one to look for. It is Jumpman (Mario) first appearance on anything other than the actual 1981 Donkey Kong arcade machine itself. It was produced in low quantities and is considered Mario's real "Rookie Card."
The 1981 Donkey Kong/Jumpman Menko card is considered to be the rarest Mario/Video Game card ever produced. Due to its scarcity and success of the Mario franchise, it is the rarest Non-Sports card of all time.
Pictured above is the 1st ever graded 1981 Donkey Kong/Jumpman Menko. Finally, 42 years after the release of Donkey Kong, Mario's official rookie card has now been graded. Being a Nintendo fan all my life, its special to me to own the first Mario rookie card to ever be graded in the world! A true "one of a kind."