A sealed cartridge of The Legend of Zelda sold on Friday for $870,000, making it the highest-priced video game ever sold at auction. The sale broke the previous record, held by the sale of a sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. that went for $660,000 in April. Both games were sold by Heritage Auctions, and the price on each includes a 20% buyer’s fee.
The deal dwarfs previous sales of The Legend of Zelda conducted by the auctioning site. Prior to this, another high-end cartridge of the game sold for $50,400 in September of 2020, making this sale roughly 17 times the price of that earlier one.
What accounted for the exorbitant price hike? Well, this one’s factory sealed and rated 9.0 A sealed by Wata (with ten being the highest possible rating). But beyond its condition, much of its value comes down to this: It is the only copy from one of the earliest production runs that the auction site has had the opportunity to offer, and as the listing says, possibly will have to offer for many years.
“It is widely believed that the copy sold Friday is one of just two sealed ‘NES TM’ copies graded by Wata,” a release said. The cartridge is a rare variant edition of The Legend of Zelda that was only produced for a few months in late 1987 before it was replaced by another. “Essentially, this copy is the earliest sealed copy one could realistically hope to obtain,” the auction description said.
That, coupled with the sweeping fan interest and cultural significance of the The Legend of Zelda franchise at large, made for a highly desirable item. You can read a full description from the auction here:
The Legend of Zelda - Wata 9.0 A Sealed [No Rev-A, Round SOQ, Early Production], NES Nintendo 1987 USA. Truly, the term “grail” only begins to scratch the surface of describing this game. Of all of the games we’ve offered in our auctions, this sealed, early production copy of the first game in the groundbreaking Legend of Zelda series is no doubt the apotheosis of rarity, cultural significance, and collection centerpieces. A proverbial trifecta of collector perfection that only one will receive the honor of calling their own.
While it is a hard truth, it is a truth nonetheless — none of the copies we’ve offered of this title previously could even attempt to hold a candle to this one due to its incredibly rare variant that holds early production status. This matter is completely inarguable. This is the only copy from one of the earliest production runs that we’ve ever had the opportunity to offer, and, possibly will have the opportunity to offer, for many years to come. Considering this variant was only produced for a few months in late 1987 before it was ultimately replaced by the “Rev-A” variant in early 1988, this statement likely comes as no surprise to collectors. Only one other variant precedes the offered “NES R” variant and that is the “NES TM” variant, which is the true first production run. However, it is also widely believed that only a single sealed “NES TM” example exists, and there is no telling whether or not that copy will ever come to market. Essentially, this copy is the earliest sealed copy one could realistically hope to obtain.
So if you happened to be the lucky person with a spare $870,000, well congrats, you just got a really nice, really rare Zelda. Just don’t open it!