When Tony Jansen was 13-or-so-years-old, his mother gave him several video games and a console that she’d bought at a garage sale for about $25. One was the ultra-popular Legend of Zelda, in its original packaging, sealed and never opened, with the $19.99 Kmart price tag still adhered.

“I already had two or three copies of the game, so I didn’t need to open it. It still had the seal on it. I thought someday it might be worth something,” Jansen told me when we talked last week. “I thought it might be worth $100 someday in the future.”

Instead, the game ended up in an auction on July 9 and bidding climbed to a whopping $46,000. With the 20% buyer’s premium that’s automatically added onto the bid at this type of auction, the final sale price came in at $55,200.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be worth that much money,” said Jansen, who’s the owner of Valley Sports in downtown Shakopee.

For non-gamers who don’t know, Legend of Zelda is a high fantasy action-adventure game that’s turned into a franchise. The original game in the series, Legend of Zelda, follows the story of a boy named Link who’s tasked with saving a kidnapped princess from the evil Ganon, who cast a spell that can only be broken with three pieces of a golden triangle.

It’s one of the best-selling franchises of all time, with 118 million games sold over the last 35 years, according to Never Ending Realm, which reviews video games.

Jansen’s game was listed at the auction as “Wata 9.0 A Sealed [Oval SOQ TM, Later Production], NES Nintendo 1987 USA.” Wata is the company that rates games. Video games are graded for quality similar to comic books and baseball cards. The original packaging and seal are critically important to collectors. Rips, tears, fogginess and other issues in the packaging can impact the grade.

About a month before Jansen’s game went under the hammer, a Legend of Zelda game with a similar rating sold for $26,000. “So I thought if I get $26,000, that would be great. Mine is a 9.0 rating for the actual box, and also the seal was graded with the letter A,” Jansen said. “In my auction, there was another Legend of Zelda game that was a rare variant. It had a round seal instead of the oval seal, and it was also rated a 9.0 A. It was an early production. They only printed that game for two months, so it’s rare. That game went for $860,000.”

The high sum helped raise the value for Jansen’s game because buyers who didn’t get the rare edition now wanted his. Interestingly, about four years ago, he offered to sell the game to a collector friend for $600, and the friend declined.

“He said, ‘That’s too much for a game I’m never going to use and it’s going to sit on my shelf.’ About the middle of last year, we had both been looking at prices of where video games were going, and he finally offered to buy it for 600 bucks,” Jansen said. “Then I saw one go for $15,000 and thought whoa, I need to tell my friend. He said, ‘You need to get it graded and put it in an auction.’ He encouraged me to do it.”

Jansen selected Heritage Auctions, which specializes in collectables. It takes a 10% commission fee.

“It took me a while to get a hold of them, and once I did and told them what I had, they were pretty excited,” he said. “They estimated it would get $15,000 to $20,000, and I said, ‘That’s great.’ It ended up getting a lot more.”

A couple days after the auction, on July 11, a different game broke the record for the highest-selling amount. A Super Mario 64, Wata 9.8 A++ Sealed from 1996 sold for an incredible $1,560,000. Jansen is planning to use the money from his sale to take his wife on a vacation, most likely to Aruba, and strategically invest the rest.

And in case anyone is wondering, he did tip his mother for buying him the game all those years ago.

Brett Martin is a columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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