Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Star Trek: The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 (Or How We Came To Loathe Card Collecting!)

The Good: Some mildly creative and interesting bonus cards
The Bad: Only 25 complete sets possible, Blase common set, A number of dull chase sets.
The Basics: Arguably the hardest set to complete, the Star Trek 40th Anniversary Series 1 harkens collectors back to the days when collecting was fun. This set isn't.

Some of my fondest memories, geek that I proudly am, from middle and high school involve sitting around tables or on my friends' beds opening packs of Star Trek trading cards. At the time, it was something I could afford and enjoy and it was an activity my friends and got into, in part because one of them was bedridden most of the time. I seriously loved trading card collecting, so much so that as the years went on and every other collectible became too expensive or too poorly done for me to collect, I continued to collect Star Trek trading cards. In fact, I made a small business around selling Star Trek trading cards, which for a time paid for my collection.

The Star Trek The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 trading card set was what led me to stop collecting. It killed my love for Star Trek trading cards and gutted my interest in the hobby. After sixteen years of loving this collection, it was this set that made me cry "No more!" And I was not the only one. The Star Trek The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 set is a completist's nightmare. In the entire world, there are only twenty-five possible complete sets because of the rarity of one card. That is 100 fewer complete sets than the prior hardest-to-complete Star Trek set (The Women Of Star Trek Voyager Holofoil set). And by this point, it is pointless and just not fun.

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Trek The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 set was a set of trading cards produced by Rittenhouse Archives to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the first season of the original Star Trek. It was a pretty shaky idea to begin with, whatwith earlier in the year Rittenhouse having produced a set that commemorated the entire franchise. Boxes of the "Series 1" cards contained only forty packs with five cards per pack. One does not get a lot per box and the only guarantees are one common set and two autographs per box. With the quantity of autograph cards in this set, two per box is not a whole lot.

The common set is all about the first season of Star Trek. The chase cards, however, range from expensive sets focused on the first season to autograph cards featuring characters and actors from all three seasons of the show. This set feels remarkably sloppy the way it is put together and it has a singular preoccupation with the pilot episode to Star Trek, "The Cage" with three chase sets devoted entirely to that episode!

The "Series 1" set consists of 229 cards. The 229 card set consists of 110 common cards and one hundred nineteen chase cards, ten of which cannot even be found in the packs.

Common Cards

The 110 card common set of "Series 1" cards established a new style of card which was suspiciously like a very old style of Star Trek card! The front of each card is modeled after the old Topps 1976 Star Trek trading card set and the card stock is a very primitive-appearing cardboard type. The backs are rough and unlike virtually every other set produced by Rittenhouse Archives and other current trading card companies, "Series 1" does not have a glossy UV-resistant coating on its surface.

Instead, the front of each card features an image of a person, character, situation or artifact from the first season of Star Trek along with a caption describing exactly what the front is. The back of each card is a puzzle piece for a mural. Murals include larger shots of images from first season episodes. For example, there is a mural of Captain Kirk sitting on the bridge and another of the Gorn captain from "Arena" and still another of the android Ruk from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" Every nine cards forms a mural on the back and the last two cards are checklist cards for the series.

I actually applaud Rittenhouse Archives for not wasting the backs of each card with yet-another plot rehashing of each episode or scenario from the first season of Star Trek. After all, people who collect the trading cards by now know the episodes depicted. Moreover, when SkyBox - while being run by Steven Cherendoff, founder of Rittenhouse Archives - did their "Episode Collection" sets of Star Trek trading cards, most fans got all they could handle of the individual episodes of the three seasons of Star Trek.

This, of course, makes collectors like me wonder what the point of this set was. The original Star Trek has the least source material and the greatest number of trading card sets in the Star Trek franchise. I pointed this out to the president of Rittenhouse Archives before this set (with its promised two follow-up sets) was released and the response was uncharacteristic indifference (for the record, Rittenhouse Archives has a strong record of customer service and every member of their staff I have met or had contact with over the years has been friendly, responsive and professional). Star Trek has been mined to death and there are very few images in the "Series 1" set that look original or different, that is to say that have not been plastered on every 8x10, t-shirt or trading card for the last forty years.

As an additional liability with the common set, the cards seem more easily damaged than most cards produced these days.

Chase Cards

The "Series 1" set has one hundred nineteen chase cards, of which one hundred nine are available in the right packs! But let's be honest right up front, there are only one hundred eight that anyone has any likelihood of finding, especially now. There is one card, the Gene Roddenberry Cut autograph card, that there were only twenty-five of the the bulk of those have been found (there was a website tracking them at one point).

The first level of chase set was the "Quotable" Star Trek expansion set. Between the release of the "Quotable" Star Trek set and this set, Rittenhouse Archives diligently attempted to get the likeness rights to France Nuyen and Robert Walker, Jr. (Elaan of Troyius and Charlie Evans, respectively). After years of trying, Rittenhouse's efforts paid off. As a result, the fine folks at Rittenhouse decided to add cards to their previously-released, very successful "Quotable" set, including a few quotes (with images) from the first season episode "Charlie X." While most of this set is dominated with quotes and images from "The Cage," there are a few memorable quotes added to that early set in this one. There were eighteen cards in this chase set and they continued the numbering from where the "Quotable" set left off.

One in every fourteen packs had a Captain Pike card. Celebrating the noble Captain Christopher Pike was a set of nine glossy images of Captain Pike, all in landscape orientation. Cards had a different image of Pike on the front than on the back and there was no text. This is not a bad idea and the nine-card set was interesting enough for most collectors to be happy it existed.

Then came the "Faces Of Vina" set. Like the "Captain Pike" set, these cards included one large image on the front and one on the back, this time featuring Vina, the survivor from the S.S. Columbia from "The Cage." At only two per box, this set of six cards seemed to illustrate a lack of creativity on the part of Rittenhouse archives as these generally look like the average common card would. There are no foil embellishments or anything that makes these cards special save their rarity and by this point, that is hardly enough for most fans.

At one per box, there were the Portrait cards. The Portrait cards are full-bleed black-and-white images of significant characters. The back of each card has the character's name and the actor who portrayed them. This set includes all of the main cast from the first season of Star Trek and rather bafflingly included Chekov, who did not enter the series until season two. As a result, there are all of the main crew, plus such worthwhile aliens and guest characters as the Talosian, the Romulan Commander, Ruk, Edith Keeler, the salt vampire and Khan. This is an annoying set because there is no reason for the cards to be black and white as the series was shot and aired in color! Retro for the sake of retro does not impress me. Moreover, the rarity of these eighteen cards makes it stifling to try to collect a whole set (it takes at least eighteen boxes with ideal collation to make a set!).

Also one in every forty packs is one of eighteen different 1967 Expansion set cards. This set focuses on the pilot episode "The Cage" and I'm absolutely baffled as to why. This set reproduces the form and style of the 1967 Leaf trading cards and the only reason these make sense to be in black and white is that the original trading cards were. However, the lack of "The Cage" in that set wasn't keeping most fans up at night. Moreover, because most fans do not have a 1967 Leaf set (though most settle for the reprint forgery set) this is somewhat insulting for an expansion set, like saying "Here, have an extension to something you'll never have!" That's cold, Rittenhouse!

Also in the packs are the autograph cards. The autograph cards are found one in every twenty packs, which are good odds, but there are thirty-one autograph cards. First off, these cards do continue the style of autograph card begun in the Star Trek episode collection set and continued in "Quotable Star Trek." The style and numbering are the same and that is decent. However, at this point, Rittenhouse Archives is milking a rather tapped out base of actors. From the main cast, only Leonard Nimoy, George Takei and Majel Barrett signed for this series and the cards make little or no sense in this context. Nimoy's autograph is of the Mirror Universe Spock from the second season episode "Mirror, Mirror," as is George Takei's. Rittenhouse released a Barrett autograph of her as Number One from "The Cage," when there was a virtually identical card in the same style in the "Season One" set from SkyBox (which is one of the most valuable autograph cards to date). That Nimoy and Barret are again signing at a classification of Very Limited (meaning the signers signed between 250 and 300 of each card) is ridiculous.

The other autographs range from the ridiculous - several actors have signed autographs in this style for the same characters before, like Bruce Hyde as Lt. Riley - to the pointless. By pointless, I mean that we are down to roles like A106 Jason Wingreen as Dr. Linke from "The Empath." If that doesn't sound familiar, it might be because he was in the teaser of the episode and his great acting bit (captured on the autograph card) was standing still in a frozen position of dead terror in a giant test tube! At this point, all of the most coveted signers have signed and Rittenhouse Archives is having a difficult time padding out the common autographs with people to keep collectors interested. (How many Lawrence Montaigne autographs do they truly think we need?!) At least, outside the three main crew and the very cool autographs of France Nuyen and Robert Walker Jr., most of the autographs are easy enough to find. Indeed, there is a Joan Collins as Edith Keeler signature which was only Limited (meaning she signed between 300 and 500)! As for the rest, it's very hard to care.

There was also a tribute card to Gene Roddenberry which was signed on the back in a little squiggle by his son and seriously, the less said about that card, the better. Limited to only 220 cards, this is a preposterous waste of trading card rarity and . . . as I said, best not to get me started on it.

The grail of the packs are the seven Bridge Crew Delta Shield Patch cards. In every two hundred packs, there is one of individually numbered (out of 350) limited edition patch cards for one of each of the main cast (including Chekov). Rittenhouse Archives commissioned the creation of mini patches in the style of the emblems worn on the uniforms on Star Trek which they embedded in the cards, like they do with costume cards. These look great, were a terrific idea and were a clever and creative idea.

Then there was the card that ruined so much of it all for so many of us. Out of the thousands of boxes of "Series 1" cards produced, there were twenty-five hand numbered trading cards featuring a Gene Roddenberry autograph. Overcoming the minor obstacle of the creator of Star Trek being dead for fifteen years - well before the autographed trading card fad began - Rittenhouse archives acquired signed checks and/or contracts authenticated them, and cut the autograph out and embedded it in a trading card. This, then, meant that for those who absolutely must have a complete set, Rittenhouse was eliminating all but twenty-five collectors from that club. And after this, loyal collectors like myself, who stared into the future and saw that we would never again have an absolutely complete collection, began selling off our collections.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

There are ten cards that cannot be found no matter how many packs one opens. These include the regular P1 promotional card, which is easily available in the secondary market, as well as the P3 promotional card and an A126 Walter Koenig as the Mirror Chekov autograph card which were exclusive to the Rittenhouse-produced binder.

The P2 card follows the same pattern as the other promotional cards and it was exclusive to Non-Sports Update magazine. That is easily available as the magazine has affordable back issues available for a relatively inexpensive price. The CP1 is a little more difficult to find as it was given out exclusively at Star Trek conventions in 2007. Still, it can be found usually for under $20.00. But finding the UK exclusive promo, numbered simply UK is likely to run more than $20.00 when it can be found, which is tough in the secondary market.

The big cards not available in the packs or boxes were the incentive cards. In every case, there was a pair of TV Guide cover cards to finish off the set begun in the "Quotable" set. The casetopper is the pair of both Chapel and Rand foil TV Guide cover cards. This was an exceptionally popular format and these might have retained much value, but they were popular with the fans.

For every two cases (twenty-four boxes) purchased, Rittenhouse Archives gave dealers an autographed Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Rand "Quotable" card. Made in the style (and following in the numbering) of the "Quotable" set, the Grace Lee Whitney autograph is an annoying addition that has never held the price of most incentive cards because, frankly, by this point the market is pretty well flooded with autographs from Grace Lee Whitney.

The final card is the autographed costume card of Leonard Nimoy and admittedly, that's pretty cool. Made in the style of the autographed costume cards from the other "40th Anniversary" set (the one that celebrates the entire franchise!) this card includes a fabric swatch from one of Spock's uniforms (or a skein of fabric used to make his costumes, not a set worn shirt) and is hand signed by actor Leonard Nimoy. This is a wonderful card which caps off a pretty terrible set.


"Series 1" is an incredibly disorganized and problematic set in terms of its composition. The topic is uninspired and haphazard as it is not a true celebration of what it claims to be, which is the first season of Star Trek. Including chase sets that simple expand earlier, better sets, "Series 1" serves as a monument more to when card collecting was fun than a valuable addition to the hobby.

This set culls images from Star Trek, focusing especially on the first season, click here for my review of that!

These cards are available in my online store! Please check them out by clicking here for my current inventory!

For other trading card reviews, please check out my take on the Inkworks Twilight trading cards by clicking here!


For other card reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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