Picture: Ben Gilmore

You probably have ever learn up on the historical past of Nintendo, that earlier than it went into the online game enterprise, the corporate started life by making playing cards and different novelties. The hanafuda and enjoying playing cards which Nintendo produced from its formation in 1889 took a again seat following the recognition of toys just like the Extremely Hand within the Sixties, and the corporate would quickly transfer into digital video games and, finally, arcade and video video games.

However this isn’t to say that the corporate left playing cards behind fully. Nintendo-branded Japanese Menko playing cards had been launched in Japan within the early Eighties and collector Ben Gilmore has a sizeable colletion of those lesser-known Nintendo-branded playing cards. This milk cap/Pog-like tabletop sport is older than Nintendo itself, and there are Nintendo Menkos with Mario designs that date from the plumber’s pre-NES arcade days.

Gilmore has simply launched his website, Mario Menko, which paperwork these Mario and Nintendo playing cards. Eager to study extra about this area of interest a part of the corporate’s licensing historical past, we caught up with him to debate the historical past of Menko playing cards, his assortment, and simply how Mario comes into all this.

Nintendo Life: Beginning with the fundamentals, what are Menko playing cards?

Ben Gilmore: Menko playing cards had been solely launched in Japan. They had been made from thicker card inventory and a bit of smaller in dimension in comparison with an American baseball card. They had been collected as playing cards and performed as a sport.

Mario Menko Cards 5
Picture: Ben Gilmore

The historical past of Menko begins in the midst of the Edo Interval (early 1700s) when Menkos had been made from dried mud or clay. Paper or cardboard Menkos started within the mid-Eighteen Nineties. Baseball Menkos grew to become highly regarded in Japan within the Thirties and ’40s, whereas 1945-1964 had been the golden years for Sumo-related Menkos. All through the ’70s and early ’80s not as many Menkos had been produced as youngsters had been now spending extra time watching tv and utilizing digital units.

Menko was not simply card gathering, however it was additionally a sport. Gamers would put a bunch of Menkos on the bottom or on a desk, then you definately would take a card in your hand and slam it down within the hope you’d flip some Menkos over. Those you flipped over, you can hold. The one with probably the most Menkos on the finish was the winner. In fact, there have been many variations of the best way to play Menko, however this was the final concept.

What first attracted you to those playing cards?

Once I first found these playing cards, I used to be instantly drawn to the colourful colors and creative parts. The opposite interesting side is the actual fact these had been produced earlier than the Famicom got here out in 1983 and the NES in 1985. A Nintendo card of Donkey Kong and Jumpman in ‘81 and Donkey Kong Jr in ‘82 might be one thing that even most Nintendo lovers don’t realise exists.

Mario Menko Cards 7
Picture: Ben Gilmore

How massive is your assortment now?

I at the moment have round 200 Menkos. My assortment will proceed to develop, however I’m choosy about which playing cards I purchase. Fairly than shopping for giant plenty of playing cards in unhealthy form, I select to attend and discover those I would like in good situation. Though there are some uncommon ones I’ll purchase in any situation as a result of they don’t come up on the market that usually.

Might you inform us a bit of extra about Nintendo’s relationship with Menko playing cards?

I do know that Nintendo employed an organization known as Amada within the early Eighties to provide video game-related Menkos for them. In Japan, there was not good file maintaining on specifics and manufacturing of Menkos, so this data is troublesome to seek out. Even when looking Amada on-line, there’s nearly nothing.

Alongside this Menko journey, I’ve made a couple of mates in Japan. They’ve helped me get hold of some particular Menkos I needed to purchase prior to now. My buddy Shinnosuke helped me determine that Amada continues to be in enterprise. They’re at the moment a dad or mum firm of Ensky Plus in Japan. I’ve contacted them, and I hope to accumulate particular data from them (issues just like the years they produced Menkos for Nintendo, portions, and so forth.). If I will get the suitable data from them, I’ll have the ability to share this with card grading corporations to allow them to lastly grade online game Menkos.

Mario Menko Cards 6
Picture: Ben Gilmore

A number of of those playing cards predate Mario’s breakout position in Tremendous Mario Bros. When did the Nintendo mascot first enter your life and what are your fondest recollections of the corporate’s video games and consoles within the years since?

I first skilled Mario on Atari. I spent many hours enjoying Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. I briefly performed Mario Bros. on Atari as nicely, however I’ll always remember my expertise getting a NES. One among my mates obtained a Nintendo earlier than I did someday in 1986. I went over to see if he needed to go baseball and he invited me in and confirmed me his NES. Once I noticed the Zapper, I needed to play Duck Hunt first. Taking pictures the geese was enjoyable. Despite the fact that I nonetheless needed to shoot extra geese, he rapidly shut it off and mentioned let’s play Tremendous Mario. I had heard about it however hadn’t performed it but. We began a two-player sport, he was Mario and I used to be Luigi. All it took was enjoying World 1-1 and I used to be hooked for all times.

We’d do paper-rock-scissors to see who might be Mario. We saved enjoying all day and it rapidly grew to become darkish outdoors. I didn’t wish to, however I needed to give up and go residence earlier than I obtained in hassle. I went residence and informed my dad and mom concerning the NES and the way badly I needed one. It didn’t take lengthy and I had a NES of my very own. I used to be fortunate to have dad and mom that searched out the video games I needed for my birthday or Christmas. I virtually had Tremendous Mario Bros. 2, Mario 3, and Tremendous Mario World the day they got here out. I miss these online game departments from the ’80s. A lot cool stuff. Anytime my mother went buying, I went together with her. If I could not discuss her into letting me get a sport, I might a minimum of attempt to get a Nintendo Energy or one thing.

Then, on Christmas of 1989, I obtained the most well liked toy that yr, a Sport Boy. After I used to be informed to go to mattress, I spent many hours below the covers enjoying Tetris (with a Mild Boy put in, after all). There have been by no means any extra arguments with my sister on lengthy holidays due to my Sport Boy.

The final system I had earlier than I left residence was a Tremendous Nintendo. I’ve to say I most likely performed Tremendous Mario World greater than another sport. The 16-bit graphics and attempting to finish my map with all of the secrets and techniques saved me busy for a very long time. There have been many Friday and Saturday nights I had mates over to spend the night time. We ordered many pizzas and performed Mario till 3 or 4 within the morning. These had been the times. I nonetheless have a Wii U with quite a lot of classic video games downloaded on it, in addition to about each Mario sport you possibly can consider. However, I nonetheless have all my unique classic tools and video games — I’ll by no means half with them! Too many good recollections and I nonetheless play them to this present day. Nothing beats enjoying them on my 36” CRT TV.

Mario Menko Cards 8
Picture: Ben Gilmore

Again to Menko, the artwork on every card is wonderful and so they present how a lot Mario’s design modified between 1981 and 1985. Is there a specific design that you simply like probably the most and why?

It’s troublesome to select just one design as I like all of them. I believe I can solely slim it all the way down to Mario’s design in Mario 3 and Tremendous Mario World. Mario 3 modified a lot. Mario can now fly and all of the cool fits. Identical in Tremendous Mario World. As I’ve gotten older, I discover myself going again and enjoying the unique Tremendous Mario Bros. loads. It’s a traditional that can all the time be enjoyable.

Given your ardour for the retro type, what do you make of Mario’s latest design in video games like Tremendous Mario Odyssey or Mario + Rabbids?

I like the best way Mario seems these days. He’s cool and up-to-date with the instances. I’m positive as time goes on, he’ll proceed to alter and keep present. I hope Nintendo continues to not let him develop stale and all the time finds one thing new he can do. That’s what has all the time made Mario video games so enjoyable. With that mentioned, I nonetheless love my old-school Mario video games the perfect.

Alongside Mario, Nintendo additionally licensed Menko playing cards to be made with photos of different video games like Excitebike and Duck Hunt. What do you assume made these playing cards so interesting for Nintendo?

The colors and artwork nearly popped off the playing cards. How they represented the photographs on the playing cards remained true to how they seemed within the video games. Should you had been aware of the video games, while you noticed the playing cards, you knew precisely what it was.

How have you ever approached constructing a set when data of every card’s manufacturing are so arduous to seek out?

I mainly purchase what’s interesting to me. Should you purchase what you want personally, almost certainly you may be pleased with it. Through the years I’ve discovered which of them are rarer than others, so I all the time have my eyes peeled for these.

Mario Menko Cards 4
Picture: Ben Gilmore

Is there a very uncommon card that you’re nonetheless hoping so as to add to your assortment?

To my data, I consider I’ve acquired the rarest. What I’m at the moment searching for are the pre-1985 Menkos in wonderful situation. My purpose is to try to discover one of many ’81s, ’82s, or ’83s. Discovering one which has excellent corners, floor, and [is] centered is sort of unattainable. I’ve a 1981 that’s gradable, however it nonetheless isn’t what I might take into account excellent. Does an ideal one even exist? Who is aware of! I’ll all the time be wanting and my mates in Japan will probably be searching for me, too.

What are your favorite playing cards in your assortment (each Nintendo-themed and in any other case)?

By far, my favorite is the 1981 Donkey Kong Menko card. It has Donkey Kong, Pauline, and Jumpman. It’s the similar picture that’s on the facet of the unique arcade machine. To my data, that is Jumpman’s (Mario) first look on a buying and selling card. That is what I take into account Mario’s rookie card and the Holy Grail of Nintendo Menkos. It has taken me a few years of looking to accumulate those I’ve. Looking for one in good situation is subsequent to unattainable due to how they had been performed with. I’ve been fortunate and have managed to seek out two which can be in actually fine condition and are value grading as soon as it turns into obtainable.

The 1982 Donkey Kong Jr. card is particular, too. Jumpman is now formally Mario and, for the primary and final time in Nintendo historical past, he’s a ‘villain’. This may be his first look on a card as Mario.

The 1983 Mario Bros. is one other one in every of my favourites. This may be Luigi’s first look on a card. To my data, that is the one Menko card that Mario and Luigi seem on collectively.

The photographs on these three playing cards are the identical photos that had been on the arcade cupboards and on the Famicom cartridge field. In my view, these three playing cards are a very powerful to the historic significance of Mario and Nintendo historical past. There’s nothing sooner than these. These had been the primary!

My different favorite is the 1985 Menko with Mario, Bowser, and Peach. That is the primary Menko I purchased. At first, I believed I purchased a Mario rookie card however we now know that isn’t so — it could be a Peach and Bowser rookie card although. It is cool to see how Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, and Bowser have modified their seems in comparison with these early pics of them.

These playing cards make up a distinct segment a part of Nintendo’s historical past. Why do you assume it’s important that we protect objects comparable to these?

These are the earliest items of Nintendo historical past that got here out within the very starting. Not solely displaying the success of Nintendo however commemorating these unique video games and the preferred mascot on planet Earth.

It’s believed that the online game Menkos weren’t made in the identical portions as baseball playing cards within the US, so it’s unclear what number of had been made and what number of have survived. As a result of manner the sport Menko was performed, I can’t think about giant portions of the pre-1985 playing cards are left, not to mention in good situation. These are the earliest playing cards produced by Nintendo, which included Mario’s rookie. That is why I really feel they need to be preserved.

Discovering data of Menko playing cards looks as if a tricky job, how will when you’ve the complete set?

I’m nonetheless ready to seek out out extra data from Amada in Japan. Perhaps they’ll shed some mild on what number of of those playing cards they made. Till then, I simply purchase what I like or don’t have.

Mario Menko Cards 10
Picture: Ben Gilmore

Do you’ve any recommendation for folks seeking to accumulate Menko themselves? What are the perfect locations to purchase and do you discover any forgeries or reproductions on {the marketplace}?

At all times purchase what you want. Should you do, you must all the time be pleased with it. If the situation is vital to you, all the time be sure to look at the pics of the cardboard. If the pics aren’t that good, request higher ones from the vendor. Watch out for bulk Menko card heaps on the market. A whole lot of instances these giant heaps have Menkos which have seen higher days. It’s potential to seek out good playing cards in first rate situation in a big lot, simply be cautious and people pics are vital.

I bear in mind years in the past when eBay would solely have two or three particular person Mario Menkos listed for months on finish. These days there are a dozen or extra pages of Nintendo Menkos. In terms of Menkos, should you see one thing you want, you higher get it. Up to now, I’ve waited too lengthy and let one go me by. That was a grave mistake as a result of it took a number of years earlier than I noticed one other one come up on the market. That may be a mistake I solely made as soon as.

I haven’t seen any forgeries or reproductions of Mario and Nintendo-related Menkos. When you’ve held a Menko in your hand, you’ll know. Even in footage, they’re unmistakable in case you are aware of them.

This interview has been edited for readability.

Because of Ben for taking the time to speak to us and share photographs of his Menko assortment. You may go to his website, Mario Menko, for extra footage and knowledge on…nicely, Mario Menkos, after all.

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