Saturday, May 14, 2011

(Near) Perfection And One Annoying Flaw: SkyBox Revolutionizes Treading Cards With Star Trek Season One!

The Good: Amazing concept, Thoroughness, Image quality, Collectibility*, Value!
The Bad: *Gaming card issue!
The Basics: Close enough to perfect, SkyBox's Star Trek "Season One" set establishes a new standard for completion and quality in Star Trek trading cards!

In the world of Star Trek trading cards, there have been a few sets that change hobby. There are sets that take leaps forward in terms of common card quality and chase card composition and transform the trading card collecting industry. While Fleer/SkyBox had the Star Trek trading card license, it made three leaps forward. With the release of Star Trek The Next Generation Inaugural Edition trading cards SkyBox put to rest the old cardboard format in favor of sleek cards, with some impressive computer-enhanced graphics. A few years later, they leaped forward with screen capture technology to make the Star Trek The Next Generation Episode Collection trading cards an absolute smash. And before he went to found his own trading card company, Rittenhouse Archives, Steve Cherendoff created the ultimate Star Trek trading card sets. Star Trek The Episode Collection became the unbeatable original Star Trek set.

The Star Trek Episode Collection set began with "Season One" trading cards and they were a meticulous work of exacting precision which revitalized the Star Trek trading cards and set an impossible standard that arguably has not been met or beat since.

Basics/Set Composition

Properly assembled, the Star Trek Season One trading card set consists of three hundred three trading cards, all but one (well, two, actually) available in the boxes and packs of cards. This was before the advent of sets with huge numbers of incentive cards, so boxes of "Season One" remain one of the best values in the business. . . .if you can find them. The supply is virtually gone and as a result, finding boxes or even components to this incredible set is quite difficult.

The basic concept behind Star Trek Season One is much the same as that of the Star Trek The Next Generation Episode Collection set: to provide a comprehensive exploration of each and every episode of the original Star Trek. The brilliance of the Star Trek Episode Collection, as established in the "Season One" trading cards, is that in addition to plot synopses, these cards also include: character explorations, behind-the-scenes information, interesting quotes, and cast lists for each and every episode! The Star Trek Season One trading cards were initially sold in boxes of thirty-six packs with nine cards per pack.

Common Cards

With only ninety of the cards in the set being common cards, this established a trend of trading card sets with impressive numbers of bonus cards in a chase card set. This was something new for collectors and some actually shied away from the concept because it was so different from what they were used to. The ninety cards in the common set of Star Trek Season One are quite impressive and simple. Each episode from the first season of Star Trek is given three cards which detail the events of that episode. As well, there are three checklists and the checklists are the only cards in the common set which are oriented in a portrait orientation. All of the rest of the cards in this set were oriented the same way, a landscape orientation that made it very easy to look through the cards when in one's binder.

The set was a winner from the beginning because of how the cards were presented. Every common card has a stripe at the bottom that has the name of the episode and a large screen-captured image (cleaned up perfectly for the cards) on the front. Both the common and chase cards include a condensed "sidebar" image from the episode as well. Thus, while looking at the front of each card, there is an easy visual clue for what goes together, between the colored bar and the character in the sidebar. So, for example, all of the "Shore Leave" common and chase cards have an image of the White Rabbit on the right side of the front of each card. In addition to looking good and adding uniformity, this was a clever way on the part of SkyBox to make the images conform to the specifications of trading cards without having to stretch or skew the image!

The images on the front of each Star Trek Season One trading card are crystal clear and include shots never before seen on trading cards and hardly ever seen outside the actual television series. So, for example, cards 16 and 18 both have images from "The Man Trap" that are not available elsewhere: Dr. Crater and his wife and Kirk screaming as the salt vampire attaches to him! The common set is a treasure trove of carefully mined and expertly restored images from Star Trek's premiere season. Collectors responded enthusiastically to this common set and it remains one of the hardest ones to find because the boxes quickly sold out. The only negative aspect of the common set is that Robert Walker Jr. had not signed away his likeness rights, so none of the "Charlie X" cards feature his image.

Chase Cards

The magnificence of the "Season One" set continued with the bonus cards and here SkyBox outdid itself. While each episode has three common cards devoted to it, it has six bonus cards! The Star Trek Season One trading card set has two hundred thirteen bonus (chase) cards in the set, of which all but (we'll say) two are found in the boxes and packs of cards. The bonus cards found in packs are broken down into the following sets: Character Log cards (58 cards), Behind The Scenes (58), Profiles (29), Gold Plaque (29), Game piece (11, we're saying) and Autographed cards (26).

The Character Log cards are most similar to the common cards. At two per pack, the character log singles are also fairly common. These cards add to the common set by providing perspectives on main character growth, recapping the main themes of the episode by presenting a card as if it were a log entry from a character who had a significant role in the episode. These were differentiated from the common cards by their backs, which were dark and had a larger image of the character whose log the card was quoting, and a dull brassy color for the line separating the primary image and the color bar with the episode's title. While this in not (on the surface) much of a bonus set, it is common enough that it is worth collecting and most fans responded favorably the the additional images and intriguing writings on the Character Logs.

In every other pack, there was one of fifty-eight different Behind-The-Scenes singles. Like the Character Log cards, the Behind-The-Scenes singles appear almost as an extension of the common set. On these cards, though, there is a silver foil line on the front separating the image and the color bar. The backs, however, feature a picture window image of (usually) characters and extensive writing. These cards were written by Bob Justman and D.C. Fontana - an Associate Producer and staff writer, respectively - on Star Trek. Justman and Fontana wrote a card per episode with stories of how each particular episode was created, from the writing perspective, costume design, etc. The Behind-The-Scenes set is a wealth of information on the history of Star Trek and they are informative even to the seasoned fans of Star Trek who have heard tons of stories from cast members over the years!

One in every four packs contained one of twenty-nine Profiles cards. Like the other chase sets so far, this is a pretty obvious extension of the common card set. The stripe on the front of this card is gold foil, though, so it is clearly not a common card. The Profiles cards pick a single character per episode and feature a large picture of that character on the front and on the back. The card then details a history and significance to the episode of that character. These cards were beloved by fans and tended to include characters who were interesting and underrepresented in the Star Trek merchandising that offered fans something different to get signed by celebrities at conventions!

Finally (for the primary chase cards) there were Gold Plaque cards. The Gold Plaque cards were found three per box and were exactly as they sound: foil cards that made a placard for each episode. Embossed on each card in this set was the name of the episode, the writer, director and original airdate. The back of the card had the full image of the "image bar" image that was consistent on the common and other chase cards for the episode (so, for example, all of the "Shore Leave" common, Character Log, Behind-The-Scenes and Profiles cards had the same condensed image of the White Rabbit on the right side, the back of the Gold Plaque for "Shore Leave" has the full, uncompressed picture of the White Rabbit. In addition to the iconic image from the episode, each Gold Plaque has a cast list for the episode and that can be useful for fans who want to know exactly who was in each episode.

The net effect of all of the sets so far is this: SkyBox under Steve Cherendoff's direction created a set that lovingly makes the definitive tribute to each episode from the first season of Star Trek. Properly assembled under a special alternate numbering system, each page in one's binder contains three common cards, two character log, a profiles, two behind-the-scenes and one gold plaque card: a page in the binder assembled thus is a full page tribute to a single episode of Star Trek! This is an incredible concept and it was well-executed in this way, making the set one of the most complex but uniform to assemble. It is astonishing in the complexity and care the way this set was put together!

There are, however, two sets of cards left in the "Season One" trading card set! Because autograph cards were still a new phenomenon, people wanted them badly and SkyBox decided to be sporting about it. One per pack was a game card, featuring a full-bleed image of a character from the first season of Star Trek with a letter in the lower right hand corner. So, for example, there was a card of the Gorn with a letter "G" in the corner. There were (sort of) eleven letter cards in this set and fans had to spell the phrase "Star Trek Autograph Series." If one pulled all of the letters needed to spell that, they could redeem them for a complete set of all twenty-six "Season One" autograph cards!

Given that autograph cards were just becoming a standard when "Season One" was released, SkyBox could have started getting autographs from virtual unknowns from the first season of Star Trek and fans would probably have been just as excited. Instead, one in every thirty packs (so seven autograph cards for every six boxes!) contained an autographed trading card. Hand signed by the celebrity depicted, the cards set a bold standard for what autograph cards ought to be. Each one had a full-bleed, portrait-style image of the character with a light bar where the celebrity signed the card! To insure authenticity, SkyBox then embossed each autograph card with their seal, making them unimpeachable for their authenticity. Signers from the main cast included William Shatner (Captain Kirk), James Doohan (Scotty), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), and Grace Lee Whitney (Rand). Significant guest stars were included as well and fans were thrilled by the opportunity to get Kim Darby (Miri),. Clint Howard (Balok), Ricardo Montalban (Khan!), Joan Collins (Edith Keeler) or Majel Barrett (as Number One) autographs! These autographs were what sold out the boxes of "Season One" cards and what keeps the boxes at inflated prices today. Considering that as of this writing, at least four of the signers in this set (Doohan, Paul Comi, Montalban, and Barrett) are dead, these boxes are packed with potential value from just the autograph cards! And yeah, they are beautiful cards!

Non-Box/Pack Cards

There were only two cards in the "Season One" set not found in packs and boxes of the trading cards. The first was the promotional card put out by SkyBox. With a collection of seven "sidebar" type images packed onto a single card, the promo card intrigued buyers and generated some enthusiasm for the set of cards. These promotional cards are easily available on the secondary market, usually for no more than $5.00.

Attentive readers will note that in the gaming card set, I claimed there were eleven cards when there are actually twelve unique letters in "Star Trek Autograph Series." The way the game was managed so there could only be a few winners was through limiting one of the letter cards. There were only fifty "I" cards produced. This insanely rare card was virtually impossible to find and almost every known one in existence was redeemed. However, SkyBox produced a "Voided I Card." This card, featuring the delta shield symbol and the letter "I" on it, also had the word "VOID" printed over the front this clearly established that it was not a "live" game piece and was meant for collectors. Here is the potential to rob the entire work of perfection: the "I" card was virtually impossible to find and the voided "I" card was only given out by SkyBox for a ridiculously limited time and most collectors were not privy to the information that they could get one free from SkyBox. Fleer/SkyBox, seeing their value in the secondary market and claiming to want to protect fans from getting gouged, pulped a large stack of voided "I" (and subsequent letter cards) cards and the net effect was to make those that were in the marketplace skyrocket in value. This was a dark cloud over an otherwise perfect set.


Still, it was not enough to sink this set! Star Trek trading cards never looked better and as a result, this set changed the industry. Fans lapped up the boxes but those few that pop up in the marketplace have exceptional value. Despite the shenanigans with the voided game cards, this set is a perfect set and worth the time, effort and expense of any serious Star Trek trading card collector.

This set culled images from: Star Trek - Season 1 which has a review here!

I have a very limited stock of these trading cards in my online store! For my current available inventory, please check out my store by clicking here!

For other trading card sets, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Cinema 2000
Star Trek 40th Anniversary Season 1


For other card reviews, be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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