Monday, June 6, 2011

Rittenhouse Archives Finally Surrenders Its Promise With Star Trek (2009 Movie) Trading Cards.

The Good: Good autographs, costume cards and Movie star cards
The Bad: Extraordinarily lopsided common set, Ridiculous rarities on incentive cards, Lackluster chase cards, Autograph card style.
The Basics: With the incentive card rarities being astronomical, Rittenhouse Archives's Star Trek set goes from being a lackluster, average set, to a miserable collecting experience.

It should be noted right at the outset that my original interpretation of the new Star Trek (2009 Movie) trading cards from Rittenhouse Archives was far more neutral than it ended up being. Opening the boxes of the cards that I got in made me enthusiastic about going to see the film a second time and psyched about sharing card collecting with my partner. But as the packs dwindled and the cases cracked mediocre and finally I did a little more research on the set, I became more and more and more disillusioned. And, unfortunately, I am left considering the Star Trek set as the set that should inspire a magazine like Non-Sport Update (reviewed here!) to say that Rittenhouse Archives has finally abandoned (once and for all) the principles upon which it was founded. But, because that magazine is too gutless to pen any such thing, I suppose I shall.

The backstory is remarkably simple on all of this: when Fleer/SkyBox had the license to make Star Trek cards, their quality continually eroded. When it came to the point that they did not guarantee an autograph or a costume card in their Star Trek: The Next Generation Profiles trading cards, they pretty much hit rock bottom. At that point, Steve Cherendoff formed Rittenhouse Archives, a new trading cards company and he quickly got the Star Trek license. He built his company on the Star Trek name and fans flocked to his products because they were good and Rittenhouse had principles. One of those principles was that there would never be less than 250 of any autograph card released in a trading card set of theirs. While the principle of the principles Rittenhouse had - i.e. that card rarity ought not to make it impossible to complete sets or make collecting completely unfun - was bent with releases like the Women of Star Trek Voyager set where there were only 125 of certain sketch cards, it became almost inarguably violated with the Star Trek The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 trading card set (reviewed here!). In that set, there were twenty-five of a single card: a Gene Roddenberry cut signature card. The justification Rittenhouse gave was that it was not an autograph card, it was a cut signature card, but because what they were trading on was Gene Roddenberry's autograph, the principle was gutted and Rittenhouse Archives was pretty much sunk into the same boat as virtually every other trading card company. With Star Trek trading cards, a set that has only five of one of the incentive cards, the company puts the nail in the coffin of Star Trek card collecting. Being able now to satisfy only five collectors in the world destroys the credibility Rittenhouse Archives once had as a collector-friendly company that was out to do more than make a dime.*

Basics/Set Composition

Days before the release of the 2009 film Star Trek, Rittenhouse Archives released a trading card set based upon the new film. Cashing in on the reboot of the franchise, Rittenhouse Archives released an ambitious set that was one of their most expensive to complete endeavors yet, despite not being anywhere near as massive as many of their other sets. Like their release for Star Trek: Nemesis, but unlike the Fleer/Skybox releases for Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, and Star Trek: Insurrection (as well as the retroactive sets for the first six Star Trek films), the Star Trek card set was produced in standard trading card size as opposed to the elongated "widescreen" movie card size used in the industry for many major film licenses.

As well, this set focused a lot more on the plot of the movie and the common cards were exclusively preoccupied with that. The thing is, most of the card set is made up of shots that were from the trailer, not the full movie and between that and the rarities of many of the cards, boxes became a poorer value than most. Like almost all of Rittenhouse Archives' products, the cards come with a UV protective coating to protect the trading cards from fading over time and to give them a nice sheen. This does appear to work as I've not had any cards from Rittenhouse Archives fade. As well, this set is designed for those who put the cards in binders with the "sensible format." Formatting is all in one orientation (landscape) and the text on the back of the cards is opposite that of the text on the front, designed such that when one flips a page in the binder, they can read a card without having to rotate the binder around. This is very friendly to those who want to sit and read the cards and it a definite plus in my book.

The Star Trek trading card set properly consists of 135 (or 138) cards plus two posters. The difference in perspective, though, is not enough to make the set better in any significant way and most fans will be disappointed by the difficulty of collecting this set. Boxes contain only twenty-four packs of five cards each. Rittenhouse Archives only guaranteed two autograph and/or costume cards per box. As a result, given the frequency of the costume cards, it was quite possible to pull a box where there was - essentially - nothing good in the box.

Common Cards

The Star Trek common set is an 81 card set focusing entirely on the eleventh Star Trek motion picture, Star Trek. The set is comprised of a title card with the main cast and eighty plot cards detailing some of the film's plot. All of the cards are presented in landscape format.

The plot cards tell the story of Star Trek and this is the meat of the set. The cards feature the same image on the front and on the back and each card has an ugly white and blue border which changes the perspective to that of a widescreen trading card. Unfortunately, the set is remarkably lopsided. The first fifteen minutes (if that much) of the film - the story of the U.S.S. Kelvin being destroyed - makes up the first ten cards in the set. Moreover, cards like #13 waste a shot on two old men (judging from the credits, one presumes one of them is J.J. Abrams' father) in the bar from early in the film. Card 31, also seems like a waste in that it is a shot of Admiral Komack, one of the less-speaking Admirals of the review board from when Kirk cheats the Kobayashi Maru test. The end of the film is severely truncated by the card set.

The plot cards are also plagued in some ways by the writing on them. The backs are essentially one-line descriptions of the plot that the picture on the front is of.

Chase Cards

The 135 (or 138) card set features fifty-four (fifty-seven) chase cards, of which all but ten are available in the packs. The bonus cards that can be found in the boxes include: Movie Star cards, Behind-the-Scenes With J.J. Abrams, U.S.S. Enterprise 1701 cards, fifteen autographs and eleven costume cards. The bonus cards range from the decent, to the near-impossible (seemingly) to find. There are great repetitions and great deficiencies and having opened three cases (thirty-six boxes) I know of what I write.

The first level of chase card, found one in every six packs are the Movie Star Cards. These foil-enhanced trading cards showcase the new cast of Star Trek and feature a decent sized image (different ones on the front and back) and the backs inform collectors who the character and actor are. In addition to the entire main cast, Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike and Eric Bana as Nero are featured to round out the set of nine and give the collectors a full sheet of new, cool characters. These will no doubt be hot on the convention circuit at fans look for new things to get autographed by the new cast.

Unfortunately, this set is followed by two lesser bonus card sets. Both found one in every nine packs, there is a six card set of Behind-the-scenes with J.J. Abrams and another six card set of U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 cards. These cards are fairly easy to mistake for common cards - especially the Behind-the-scenes cards - and are special only in their rarity. They feature big images on the front and smaller images on the back (in the case of the Behind-the-scenes cards, it is the same image only smaller!). The problem with these two bonus card sets is that they do not inform the collector of anything. The Behind-The-Scenes cards, for example, do not describe the creative process in any way and the Enterprise cards are basically static special effects shots. In other words, these chase cards are boring.

The costume cards almost redeem the set, though. There are eleven costume cards and most boxes I opened contained a costume card and an autograph card, though some contained two costume cards. All of the main cast of Star Trek, save Scotty, have a costume card in the set, as well as costume materials from Pike, Ambassador Spock, Nero and Male and Female Cadets. Those last two, the male and female cadets, were bland costume cards that seemed to come up with disturbing frequency. In fact, while I opened thirty-six boxes, I could only make two complete sets of costume cards, with about five of each CC10 and CC11 left over! Otherwise, this is one of Rittenhouse Archives' better costume card sets, whatwith there appearing to be no variants!

Which leads us to the autographs. The autographs are a real mixed bag and to the kudos of Rittenhouse Archives, they managed to get the entire main cast of Star Trek, as well as the director and two writer/executive producers to sign for the set. This is pretty wonderful. Unfortunately, the set is hampered by two things: style and rarity. Far from being the full-bleed Cinema autograph cards Rittenhouse pioneered with The Complete Star Trek: The Movies trading card set, these cards have small pictures in the upper half of the portrait-oriented cards with a big white bottom where the celebrity signed below. This is not the most visually impressive autograph style and while some - like Chris Pine as James Kirk - look great, most have minimal head shots with a larger autograph area beneath. This leads us to rarity. The autograph cards are mostly "Limited," meaning the celebrities signed 500 to 300 of the autograph cards. There are two commons, the Captain of the U.S.S. Kelvin and George Kirk's actor, Chris Hemsworth. That all of the main cast plus primary creative crew signed seems nice, but all of those autographs are very hard to come by, especially because Rittenhouse does not guarantee an autograph per box in this product! After opening three cases, it became clear that some of the "Limited" autographs were actually much harder to find than others. I, for example, pulled no Zoe Saldana (Uhura) autographs, despite the fact that she is supposed to be as rare as Karl Urban or John Cho (both of whom had pretty terrible signatures!). Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams and the two writers signed somewhere between 250 and 300 of the autographs and they remain the grails of the set. Good for dealers, not so hot for collectors. Given that there are likely to be more trading card sets with this cast and crew, one suspects there is no harm in panning this set as there will be better opportunities to get the same signatures down the line.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

The final level of bonus card is where the set completely comes apart. The casetoppers were cheated with folded posters of Kirk and Spock and many fans and collectors felt cheated - especially given how they had made preview poster cards in prior releases - that getting oversized posters (one per case) made a number of card collectors wonder why Rittenhouse went that route. As well, the posters - in addition to not fitting the collections of many card collectors - were easily and frequently damaged in transit and finding them mint was made more difficult.

The other seven - or ten - cards not found in the packs or boxes range from simple to problematic. There was the standard general release promotional card which was given out freely, as well as the one that can only be found in Non-Sport Update. P3 was exclusive to the Rittenhouse Archives-made binder and that was pretty cool.

Fans who went to the Philadelphia Non-Sport show had the ability to get CP1, a promotional card of Uhura that was only available there. The card is now only available on the secondary market and it already commands prices disproportionate to how cool it actually is (i.e. it is essentially a common card with different text on the back).

Then there are the incentive cards. The first incentive card was one of 250 sequentially numbered Briefcase relic cards and that was given to dealers or collectors who purchased three cases of the cards. This is a moderately difficult to find card, but still it looked cool.

The reason for the numbering weirdness in this article, though, comes from the fact that there were two six-case incentive cards . . . or five six-case incentive cards, depending upon one's perspective. There were sixty cards, sequentially numbered, featuring StarFleet Cadet pins embedded in them. Then there were forty StarFleet Badge cards. The StarFleet badge cards, though, were broken down into Command, Science, Engineering, and Medical badges! There were only five of the Medical badges released and as a result, prices on these cards skyrocketed. The already difficult to find cards became virtually impossible as serious collectors consider the variant badges to be different cards. And Rittenhouse Archives contradicted earlier statements (made when they defined how sketch cards and "Quotable" autograph cards with various quotes were considered unique) that the printing on the card, not the item in it are what make a card unique.


Because this was yet another Star Trek sellout from Rittenhouse Archives, there seemed little good reason for the company to sell out their principles with only five of one card. That dragged an already mediocre set into a mire that the company - and the Star Trek trading card industry - are not likely to ever escape from.

This set culls images exclusively from the 2009 film Star Trek, reviewed here!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store.  Please visit and purchase from the current inventory of them by clicking here!

For other trading card collections based upon the Star Trek films, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Cinema 2000
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Cinema Collection
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Cinema Collection

*It is worth noting that the president and workers of Rittenhouse Archives are exceptionally nice people who have had vision. Regardless of how their professional policies have changed, they are some of the nicest human beings in business today, in ANY industry!


For other card reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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