The Sample Set is a small release of cards created in order to show the functionality of the e-Reader at events and press conferences prior to the device's widespread release on December 1, 2001 in Japan and September 2002 in the United States. Pictures of these cards also appeared in magazines and posters showing how the e-Reader could be used. These cards were created for demonstrative purposes and were never intended to make their way out into the public, but several of them have found their way into collectors' hands.
Press Conference, March 2001
Game Boy Advance Product Announcement Meeting (Japanese: ゲームボーイアドバンスプロダクト発表会) was a press conference held in Tokyo on March 7, 2001 with demonstrations given by Tsunekazu Ishihara. During this demonstration, 3 cards with brand new illustrations by CR CG gangs were shown off: Eevee, Pikachu and Pichu. These illustrations did not make it into the final set. May 2001's CoroCoro comic dedicates a full page to previewing how the e-Reader will work which features a larger close-up of the Pichu card shown off at this demonstration. These cards contain various elements of the Neo Era card design, due to their creation and display before the end of Neo related releases. For example, the three cards all feature a level, none of them have Sample written on the card, unlike cards demonstrated at later events, and the Baby Evolution rule on Pichu features the Neo Era artwork for Pikachu in the e-Card design.
Nintendo Space World, August 2001
The Nintendo Space World event, held on August 24-26, 2001 at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, invited members of the public to sit down and try out the upcoming e-Reader with much more refined set of Pokémon cards. All of these featured a 'Sample' stamp in place of a regular set symbol. These featured completely different artwork to the cards shown at the press conference 5 months earlier. These were tethered to mounted Game Boy Advance with e-Reader devices via a metal cable to prevent loss or theft. These all feature artwork by Ken Sugimori and feature the normal e-Card template. Also distributed to those who attended the event was P Promotional Celebi, which was included within the Nintendo Spaceworld 2001 Official Guidebook. The 10 cards were all hole-punched and kept on chains in kiosks set up for demonstrations. Two prints of each card were also on display in a glass case hanging on the wall showcasing the next eras of Pokémon cards. It is not known whether these cards still exist or were destroyed after the event.
In August 2014 a bulk listing appeared on Yahoo Japan Auctions. Mixed in with over 500 cards that made up this listing were a variety of sample cards, including the Eevee, Pikachu and Pichu used in the March 2001 press conference with dotted and striped variations. Other sample cards featured artwork from previous sets (Expansion Pack, Pokémon Jungle, Mystery of the Fossils, Rocket Gang, Gold, Silver, to a New World...) which aren't known to have been shown at any event around their original creation. Some of these cards featured e-Reader strips positioned on all four sides of the cards and have large pink numbers printed just offset at the bottom of the artwork.
E3 Expo, May 2001
Before the Nintendo Space World event in Japan, the E3 2001 event, held on May 17-19, 2001 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in California, saw English versions of these cards made to demonstrate the upcoming e-Reader. It's difficult to verify this though as there is very little surviving documentation of this from the time, but two cards are so far known to exist: Pichu and Dratini. The Pichu card has the word "SAMPLE" shown in all-caps in red over the artwork, which appears to be from a post-production stamp. It's unclear whether the Dratini has the same, as the only known surviving image of this card is pictured underneath a Game Boy Advance console. It is not known whether these cards still exist or were destroyed after the event.
E3 Expo, May 2002
To demonstrate the upcoming e-Reader, attendees of the E3 2002 event, held on May 22-24, 2002 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in California, were given four-card booster packs which included almost-finalized versions of Pichu and Hoppip along with a "Manhole" card and a Kirby card. Attendees were supposedly meant to discard these packs prior to leaving the event, but a lot of them made it out. Unlike regular English cards, the Pichu and Hoppip from this booster pack feature the then-new Japanese card backs. There are also some very subtle differences between the text positioning on these cards and on their final releases.
Press Conference, August 2002
Mimicking the Application Pack (Japanese: アプリケーションパック), which was distributed alongside Pokémon-branded Game Boy Advance e-Reader devices, 10 English cards were created to be used for demonstration purposes at a press conference held at the New York Pokémon Center in August 2002. All 10 of these cards feature the same 'Sample' stamp seen on the Japanese Nintendo Space World cards in place of a regular set logo. Unlike the final versions of these cards, which were created by Wizards of the Coast, these cards were created by MEDIAFACTORY in Japan, resulting in alternate translations and exclusive numbering based on the e-Reader card ID number. These sample cards also feature an e-Reader identifier which is prefixed with an "M" character instead of the finalised "B" character (M-83 for Pichu instead of B-83, for example); it's unknown whether this was a translation error, however, as the Japanese cards from this set also use a "B"-prefix - these cards could well have been created prior to the finalised Japanese release in the previous year. As with the cards given out at the E3 Convention in 2002, these feature the new Japanese back. It is not known whether these cards were supposed to have made their way out of this press conference, but around 20 of each card are known to still exist (and it was estimated about 50 of each were made).