One of the most difficult endeavors when it comes to video game related Menkos is finding out who manufactured these cards and how many were produced. It appears, according to several sources, that there was not good record keeping when it comes to Menko card specifics and production. This is why finding out this information has been a very difficult task.
I have emailed about every card grading service to see if they will grade Menko Cards of the video game type. Every single one responded back they will not grade Menkos. PSA card grading service told me their research team cannot find any reference or original source information and for this reason they cannot grade Menkos. Without this kind of information, they cannot say a card is authentic without good source information, nor will they grade a card on condition alone. It was daunting to find this information out because I believe these cards are an important part of Nintendo history.
Nintendo Menkos for example is clearly marked Nintendo Co. Ltd, so I know they are legitimately licensed cards from Nintendo. So, now the task at hand is to somehow find out who the company was that Nintendo licensed to produce these Menkos. Usually, you can find anything on the internet. In this case, I have come up empty. I have noticed a few terms used with Menkos. You will notice the terms “Showa” or “Amada” used sometimes in the description of Menkos for sale in Japan. I’m certain that Amada is the company that produced Menkos for Nintendo, but I haven’t been able to find specific information for Amada online. Until I finally had a good idea.
I have a few friends in Japan that search out specific Menkos for me. So, I emailed my good friend Shinnosuke in Japan to see if he knew or could find out anything for me. Believe it or not, even in Japan this information is almost non-existent. Until recently, I finally got a good lead. Shinnosuke found out that the company called Amada is now currently called Ensky Plus. So, I immediately researched Ensky Plus online. Thanks to Shinnosuke's help, I finally found some promising information.
Ensky Plus Co. LTD. Is a company that started out manufacturing and selling Menko as far back as 1938. On their website they have a fascinating company history. It is as follows:
-1938 Established Amata Toy Mfg. Co. Ltd. Started manufacturing & selling Menko
-1938 (Showa 13) Established Amata Toy Manufacturing Co., Ltd.
Started manufacturing and selling Menko
-1956 (Showa 31) Established Amada Toy Manufacturing Co., Ltd.
-1959 (Showa 34) Introduced a printing machine and started production cooperation for supplements for boys' magazines.
-1962 (Showa 37) Changed company name to Amata Printing & Processing Co., Ltd.
Commenced commercialization of TV characters
-1966 (Showa 41) Soka factory completed, head office relocated from Adachi-ku to Soka-shi
-1975 (Showa 50) Distribution warehouse completed
-1983 (Showa 58) Started production and sales of calendars.
-1985 (Showa 60) Started production and sales of jigsaw puzzles
-1989 (first year of Heisei) Established Amada Co., Ltd.
-1991 (Heisei 3) Otone (currently Kazo) factory completed
-1994 (Heisei 6) Established Hong Kong Tenta (now Ensky Hong Kong) Co., Ltd.
-2005 (Heisei 17) Company split by holding company, Ensky Co., Ltd. Established
-2013 (Heisei 25) Established Japan Card Products Co., Ltd. as a joint venture between Amada Co., Ltd. and Carte Mundi Co., Ltd.
-2016 (Heisei 28) Capital tie-up with Gadget Co., Ltd.
-2019 (first year of Reiwa) Amada Co., Ltd. merged with Gadget Co., Ltd., and the company name was changed to Ensky PLUS Co., Ltd.
According to Ensky’s Company history, under the name Amata (later Amada) did in fact produce Menko. They make children's toys, puzzles, and other paper products. They also commenced commercialization of TV characters, so it makes sense they likely did the same thing for video games. It’s believed Nintendo licensed them in the early 1980’s to produce and sell Menkos for them. Of course, this is not yet confirmed. I recently emailed Ensky Plus. I explained to them what I am trying to find out with the hope they can shed some light on the matter. According to their company history....it looks promising. Hopefully the proper reference and source information can be revealed so card grading companies like PSA can finally grade these pieces of Nintendo history.
I have not heard from Ensky yet. As new information becomes available, I will post what I learn on this page. If anyone has any reference or original source information of video game related Menkos please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 3-20-23
I heard back from a representative at Ensky Plus today. This gentleman did confirm that Amada is one of their parent companies. He said he was going to try and help me and forward my information and questions to Amada. This is great news because the journey to figure this out has been a roller coaster ride. I'm operating over 6,000 miles away here in the U.S.A. (a 13 hr. difference from Japan) and the fact this information is non-existent on the internet has made things beyond difficult. I hope to hear back from Amada soon. As I learn more, I will post it hear. Date: 3-22-23
I heard back from Ensky Plus today. Not good news. Their parent company Amada says that they did not keep specific information or records on the production of Nintendo Menkos from the early 1980’s. It’s a last shot in the dark but I have emailed Nintendo directly in Japan on the matter. I’m expecting to hear the same news from them. It looks like these early pieces of Nintendo history will never have a chance to be graded by grading companies. It also looks like we will never know some of the specifics for certain. Things like how long Amada produced them, how many they produced, and how many cards are in the set. Although, we can look back on the history of other Japanese Menkos that may shed a little light on the matter of these Nintendo Menkos.
Baseball, Sumo, Wrestling, and a few other Menko types have been produced going back as far as the 1920’s. Grading companies like PSA are able to grade some of these Menko types because there is enough original source information for them to go by in order to properly grade and authenticate them. They know who made them, the time-period they were made, quantities, and how many were in a set. I am not a collector of Baseball Menkos, but some of the historical information on them does help us understand a few things about the Nintendo Menkos of the 1980’s.
Going back several decades we can see that some of the Sets of Baseball Menkos only had 12-15 cards in the entire set. Even in later years most Sets of Baseball Menkos had 100 cards or less in the Set. It is also understood that these Baseball Menkos were not mass produced in Japan like we see here in the United States. For instance, some Baseball card sets here in the US have 500-800 cards in a set. In some cases, even more. Then “each” card is produced in the hundreds of thousands. There have been some cases in the late 80’s and early 90’s that “several Million” of “each” card was produced. With that said, we can now see how rare Japanese Baseball Menkos are in comparison to American made Baseball cards. Then we can go a step further. Even though Japanese Baseball Menkos were made in very small quantities, there are those few cases where proper records were kept so that the grading companies of today can grade them. This same scenario applies to other types of Menkos like Sumo, Wrestling, Disney and just a few others. The purpose of mentioning Baseball Menko production is we can see that even though some Baseball Menkos had short runs and small quantities, there were still records kept. The fact that a company like Amada didn't keep records would indicate an extremely short run of production.
Now let's look at Amada and the Menkos they produced for Nintendo. There are two possible scenarios. There are Amada produced Nintendo Menkos that have dates of 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 & 1985. Amada either produced these Menkos in each of these 5 years or they produced all of them in 1985 marking each card with the appropriate date corresponding to the subject matter. No matter which is correct, they were only produced for only 1 or 5 years. There are some clues for each of these scenarios. Lets take a look.
1 Year Production Scenario:
Clue# 1: I'm sure it's not a coincidence that all the Nintendo Menkos appear to be dated with the date of the release of the game depicted on the card. For instance, the Donkey Kong Menko with DK, Jumpman & Pauline dated 1981 only exists with this date (its date of release). The same card does not exist with a 1982-1985 date. If they were producing the cards all over again each year, we would see the same cards with different dates….but we don’t.
Clue# 2: Why do these particular Menkos begin in 1981? Nintendo had other arcade and Game & Watch games prior to 1981, so why not start from the beginning of everything? It is believed if Amada produced all of these Menkos in 1985, when looking back at Nintendo's success up to that point, it made the most sense to start with Nintendo's biggest success, Donkey Kong. The only way Amada could know of Donkey Kong's success could only be because it was after the fact.
Clue# 3: Are we to believe that Amada took all the necessary steps to set up their operation to produce Menko cards to only produce "one" card for Nintendo in 1981? I don't believe they would. Could have Amada produced only "one" Menko for Nintendo in 1981? Sure they could have. We're just trying to understand the uncertainties by using common sense and the process of elimination at this point. Because Amada did not keep records, we will never be 100% certain.
5 Year Production Scenario:
There is only one clue to this scenario. We know that Amada was also making Menkos for other companies during this time. Amada released Nintendo Menkos in boxes or packs that included other Menkos of games not related to Nintendo. With that said, there would only be one clue for Amada producing these Nintendo Menkos in the year in which they are marked. For instance, in the grand scheme of producing many Menkos for other companies in 1981, they could have produced the 1981 Donkey Kong Nintendo Menko among all the others they produced that year. The same for Donkey Kong Jr in 1982. Then we see more Amada Nintendo Menkos in 1983 because of the release of more games due to the release of the Famicom that year. So, Amada could have slowly released these Nintendo Menkos among all the others as the Nintendo games came out each year leading up to 1985.
We can now see possible scenario's for a 1 year or a 5 year production. Either way, this is an extremely short run compared to the production of other Menko types of the past. I personally have never seen these same type of Menkos dated after 1985. It appears they suddenly stopped making these Menkos in 1985. I wondered if there is a plausible understanding for this. I now believe there is.
Donkey Kong was a huge success in 1981. Then followed Donkey Kong Jr in 1982. Mario Bros came out in 1983. The other major release in 1983 was the Famicom in Japan. By late 1985 early 1986, when the NES and Super Mario Bros were released in the US, Nintendo had a huge success on their hands. Money was now coming in by the boat loads. I can only imagine that during this period Nintendo was obviously directing all their time, money, and efforts on the NES and game development. Kids wanted video games now....not Menkos. I’m sure these developments are why Amada’s run on Nintendo Menkos was short lived and why they didn’t keep specific records. Nintendo had saved the video game industry from the crash of 1983 and most everyone on the planet wanted to play Super Mario Bros.
Of course, this is the short version of the story. By piecing together the historical aspect of other types of Menkos and what was going on at Nintendo & Amada in the early and mid 1980’s, we can see a little more clearly what may have happened to Amada and the amazing Menkos they made for Nintendo. It appears that these Nintendo Menkos from the 1980’s may be much rarer than we previously thought. Even though some of the specifics are uncertain, we now know more about the mystery of Amada's production of Menkos for Nintendo. It was an extremely short run of production, especially if it was only a 1 year production run. So short, Amada didn’t even keep records. I believe Super Mario Bros had something to do with that!
I previously mentioned the possibility of Amada producing these Nintendo Menkos all in one year and just putting the date on the card that corresponded with the release date of the game on the card. We now know this simply isn't true. The date on the Nintendo Menkos reflect the year they were produced. We now have proof of this. For instance. The Menko of Donkey Kong, Jumpman & Pauline dated 1981 was actually made in 1981. Attached below is a pic of the same scene on a card produced by Amada in 1985. Amada would not have made two different Menko cards in 1985 of the same scene. That wouldn't make any sense. What does make sense is the date on Nintendo Menkos is the actual date that Amada produced them. This is the only scenario that would explain why we see Nintendo Menkos with the same scene but with different dates. There are actually many examples of pre-1985 menkos printed again by Amada on a different style menko dated 1985.
So, it looks like the one year scenario is out. The date on a Nintendo Menko is simply the date Amada manufactured it. Below is an example of the 1981 scene of Donkey Kong, Jumpman & Pauline and of the 1982 Donkey Kong Jr. Menko, but manufactured and dated 1985. The difference between these and the originals printed in 1981 & 1982 are very obvious.
Another piece of the puzzle solved!