Rare find of vintage video games unearthed in Dallas: 'Like a true treasure hunt'

Heritage Auctions will feature 166 titles, bestowed with ‘DFW Collection’ pedigree

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Sealed and mint-condition vintage video games have soared in value in recent years.

At Heritage Auctions in Dallas, they are used to seeing one-of-a-kind collectibles. Millions of dollars in rare coins, pristine golden-age comics and historic sports memorabilia flow through their business on a weekly basis.

So, rest assured, it takes something extraordinary to get the team excited.

One day earlier this month provided one of those exhilarating moments.

With their ears to the ground in the collecting world, Heritage had gotten word of a treasure-trove find of rare video games in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Immediately, they sprung into action, attempting to contact the owners, who had already made headlines selling "grail" titles on eBay.

“After we finally got an appointment to go see the games, we headed over to this gentleman’s place without any idea what we would find — but with high hopes,” Cris Bierrenbach, a partner at Heritage, told cllct. “As we walked into his living room, and I saw the games piled on the kitchen table and arranged in several different boxes I knew that we were in for a special ride.”

The meeting lasted more than four hours, with the specialists at Heritage sorting through endless boxes of near-perfectly preserved vintage video games, the likes of which they had never seen in one place.

“Going through each box and finding each was like a true treasure hunt,” Bierrenbach said. “I’ll never forget seeing that perfect sticker-seal 'Urban Champion,' or this super clean, gemmy first print 'Metroid' … and the Sega games! The early-master system with perfect seals! What a day!”

Around 90 percent of the classic games in the Dallas collection were sealed. (Courtesy: Heritage Auctions)
Around 90 percent of the classic games in the Dallas collection were sealed. (Courtesy: Heritage Auctions)

Also included in the haul are early prints of "The Legend of Zelda," "Metroid" and "Contra," as well as dozens of early Sega titles.

The “vast majority” of the games consigned to Heritage are first or early prints and around 90% are sealed, according to the auction house.

During the past few years, sealed and mint-condition vintage video games have sold for astounding prices, punctuated by a series of escalating sales in the summer of 2021, each dethroning the last for the all-time record.

It began with the $870,000 sale of an early-production variant of 1987 NES "The Legend of Zelda" (Wata 9.0 A) at Heritage on July 9, 2021.

"Zelda" held the crown for about 48 hours, quickly giving way to a copy of 1996 N64 "Super Mario" 64 (Wata 9.8 A++), which Heritage sold for $1.56 million — still an all-time auction record.

But once again, the most expensive video game in history would prove an illusive title to hold, as the Heritage sales were soon outdone by a $2 million private sale of a 1985 NES "Super Mario Bros.," brokered by Rally in September of that year.

As is typical, the mainstream response to these seemingly outlandish price tags ranged from outcries of fraud, hurls of insults characterizing the buyers as foolish and/or nefarious, or, for many, a stinging regret that their past selves lacked the foresight to keep their childhood games sealed.

Many, myself included, resigned to always purchase two copies of everything moving forward: one for play, one for preservation, just in case history repeats itself.

Disciplined collectors know the value of holding onto a sealed game in pristine condition. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)
Disciplined collectors know the value of holding onto a sealed game in pristine condition. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)

Well, it turns out two brothers were well ahead of the rest of us on the final point.

Starting in the 1980s, when they were already in their 60s, they began purchasing hundreds of video games, often buying multiple of the same title, keeping them sealed and in pristine condition for decades.

After their deaths, these hidden gems were sold off by their estate with no knowledge of their potential value.

Many were purchased by a buyer (the consigner to Heritage) in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who quickly listed some of them on eBay.

That’s when the world of video-game collectors began to notice something strange.

In March of this year, an eBay sale of a first production copy of a 1986 NES "Castlevania" game sold for $90,100 — believed to be the most expensive video-game sale in the history of eBay. Though the game was sold “raw,” meaning without third-party authentication, the collector community came to broad consensus over its legitimacy, not only in its authentic seal, but also its first-party hangtab, indicative of the first printing (the earlier the printing of a game, the more valuable).

The winner took to Instagram to announce the new purchase:

“The search is over after 23 years. I resigned to never being able to add this grail after years of searching. But, everything just came together for a childhood friend and I this week as we were able to obtain this absolute beauty. This was the first game my mom ever bought me. I still remember the phone call we made to buy it. It’s a core memory, as is this past week. Couple more plane rides to go, but this beautiful first print hangtab 'Castlevania' is almost home.”

In comments provided to cllct, the underbidder on the game, Frank Giaramita, a video-game collector mostly focused on "Zelda" titles, explained he would have bid up to $125,000 if eBay accepted cash payment.

The previous record sale for the title at public auction is for a later-production, copy-graded Wata 9.4 A+, which sold for $72,000 at Heritage in April 2022.

"It's a great-condition sealed 'Castlevania' hangtab. Only six sealed ones are known to exist,” Giaramita said. “Regardless of what you collect or what your personal preferences are, a piece like this justifies a robust effort to attain it."

The six copies Giaramita mentioned include three shown on Wata’s public population report, as well as three copies in private hands, which cllct has been unable to verify.

Since the sale, CGC has authenticated the game as CGC 9.4.

This sale was closely followed by another raw game, "Kid Icarus," one of the most difficult NES titles to find in sealed condition. The transaction notched $81,988.36 about a week after "Castlevania" made headlines.

Now, the rumblings surrounding the flurry of "grail" titles in mint condition popping up on eBay grew to somewhat of a roar (at least within the discords and Facebook groups populated by die-hard collectors).

Soon, the source of the games had been traced back to that estate sale, with many speculating the seller(s) had acquired the games and listed them on eBay shortly thereafter.

The description provided in the "Kid Icarus" sale only seemed to confirm something unusual was afoot:

“I am not a game player or collector. I am a reseller who bought the estate of an avid game collector. I will list items to the best of my ability and try to describe games accurately. They are not graded, and I am not familiar with how to grade video games.”

The seller’s unfamiliarity with the intricacies of the video-game market were further proven when they initially placed the "Kid Icarus" game for sale on eBay with a $500 "Buy it now" price, before quickly removing the listing in favor of the auction.

Attempts to contact the seller were fruitless.

But, that same day, a post from CGC grader Joseph Ross in the Sealed Games Club (SGC) private Facebook group confirmed the story of the legendary find in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“The recent find in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is very exciting. The rarity and quality of the games coming from this estate sale are impeccable. Because of the condition and significance of this collection, CGC Video Games is willing to pedigree it as the Dallas-Fort Worth Collection.”

Ross went on to list more than two dozen titles still up for auction which were eligible for the CGC pedigree, all of which were listed by one of the two sellers who had sold the "Castlevania" and "Kid Icarus" titles.

Not only was this confirmation of a massive video game find, but it also provided a hint with respect to the value and authenticity of the games. In order to earn a CGC pedigree, a collection must be extraordinarily notable.

Only announced in October 2023 by CGC video games (though the practice had long been used by CGC’s comic-book division as well as its rival authenticating service Wata), the pedigree label is “reserved for collections that are especially significant to the hobby.”

There have been 166 of these titles consigned to Heritage, all of which are currently awaiting grading at CGC, where they will be bestowed the “DFW Collection” pedigree.

In addition to the 166 titles consigned to Heritage, dozens more have been tracked via public and private sales believed to be sourced from the same estate sale, a CGC grader told cllct.

Heritage’s auction of the games, slotted for this Summer, will provide an excellent test of the video-game market, which has cooled significantly since its record highs in 2021.

Many chalk this up to a lack of growth in the high-end collector community, meaning the dearth of new capital entering the space has proved insufficient to sustain these lofty prices.

“I think it will be a very good test of the market to see this level of games hit the market at once,” Eric Naierman, a prominent video-game collector, told cllct.

“To see how much interest there is and how much capital there is in the market that people have to spend on one or multiple of these grails.”

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct. You can follow him on X at @Will__Stern.