Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Good Idea Goes Terribly Wrong: Art & Images Of Star Trek Crashes. Hard.

The Good: Good concept, One or two descent autograph signers, Hand drawn sketches
The Bad: Rarity is grossly disproportionate to the value,Common set is mediocre at best,Concept sets didn't take.
The Basics: Rittenhouse Archives lays a real failure at the feet of Star Trek trading card collectors with the Art & Images Of Star Trek cards.

Every now and then, there is something that seems like it might be a good idea and it works for one group of people, but it does not with another. In the world of Star Trek trading cards, this was never made more clear than with the Art & Images Of Star Trek trading card set. Following on sets like the "Art & Images Of Xena," Rittenhouse Archives released Art & Images Of Star Trek without considering a vital difference between the two franchises: there are relatively few Xena products on the market, whereas Star Trek has been merchandised to death even (or especially) in the trading cards. As a result, concept sets like Art & Images Of Star Trek tend to be a big risk.

This risk did not pay off. At all. Rittenhouse Archives hyped the Art & Images Of Star Trek set on three things: 1. it was the only set that had all three seasons of Star Trek represented in one set, 2. There was a hand drawn sketch card for each episode of the first season (one in every other or third box), and 3. Tough signers like Ricardo Montalban, Joan Collins and Leonard Nimoy signed in this set. Point one failed to impress most because of the format, point three failed to wow people because of the concept of the cards the signers signed and as a result, the only thing that moved and still moves boxes of Art & Images Of Star Trek trading cards are the SketchaFex cards.

Basics/Set Composition

Properly assembled, the Art & Images Of Star Trek trading card set consists of two hundred sixty trading cards: two hundred forty-nine available in the boxes and packs of cards and only eleven found elsewhere. For a current series of cards, that there are only eleven cards that cannot be found in the boxes is actually quite extraordinary (in a good way). It also means that boxes of the trading cards potentially hold a lot of value.

The basic concept behind Art & Images Of Star Trek is that Star Trek (The Original Series) can be the subject of art, through both a common set that had an artistic theme (not actual art, which is bothersome) and chase sets that focus on how Star Trek has been interpreted in other artistic mediums (comic books, computer generated art, etc.) the set tried somewhat problematically to capture the theme of art in Star Trek and fell drastically short of being meaningful to fans, much less a wider population. The Art & Images Of Star Trek trading cards were initially sold in boxes of twenty-four packs with five cards per pack.

Common Cards

With only eighty-one of the cards in the set being common cards, this is a pretty rich bonus card set for collectors. The eighty-one cards in the common set of Art & Images Of Star Trek are refreshingly direct: there is a single card per episode for each of the seventy-nine episodes of the original Star Trek and then two checklists. Because fans of Star Trek and card collectors know this material backward and forward, Rittenhouse Archives opted to not include writing on the backs of the common cards. Instead, the back of each card simply has the single number and the episode name. At least all 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.

What, then, makes this Art & Images Of Star Trek? It all comes down to how the cards are presented and this is largely where the set loses fans . . . and fast. The common cards were printed on a thicker cardstock with a canvas stock imprinting. This means that each and every common card is textured to represent a canvas and promote the concept that the image that is on it is art. This shot the set in the foot from the outset as these cards are harder for celebrities to sign and one of the big markets for the trading cards are convention-goers who are looking to get something different signed in person by their favorite celebrities from the show.

The set - which is trading on being both "art" and including one card per episode - continues to lose fans by how it is presented. Each card features an image from the television series printed on the canvasstock. The images are modified to blur the details, like the Photoshop technique that makes them look like paintings. The borders are similarly smeared outward so that the images looks slightly like they are oil painting versions of each image. It is, however, quite obviously, only a photo alteration technique and the appeal wears off more or less instantly as a result.

Add to that, the images on the front of each Art & Images Of Star Trek trading card are hardly indicative of the episode portrayed. While the set offers the first (blurry) images of Robert Walker Jr. as Charlie Evans (in "Charlie X") and France Nyuen as Elaan from "Elaan Of Troyius" (both had refused to sign away their likeness rights before this set), the blurry images for other episodes are hardly indicative of the themes or even plot of the episode. For example, card 21 shows Scotty flailing in the engine room (presumably when the Enterprise was rocked). This is how Rittenhouse Archives embodies the time travel episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." Similarly, card 23 for "A Taste Of Armageddon" simply shows the matte painting of the buildings on one of the planets. And for a set enthusiastically advertising a conceptual image of an animated Chekov (see "Expanded Universe" cards below), Rittenhouse Archives managed to omit Chekov from any of the cards in the common set!

This common set is possibly the least desired common set from Star Trek that Rittenhouse Archives has created!

Chase Cards

Where the series has the chance to intrigue fans and collectors is in the bonus sets. The Art & Images Of Star Trek trading card set has one hundred seventy-nine bonus (insert) cards in the set, of which all but eleven are found in the boxes and packs of cards. The bonus cards found in packs are broken down into the following sets: Comic Book cards (61 cards), Expanded Universe (39), ArtiFex (9), SketchaFex (29), and Autographed cards (30).

The Comic Book cards were the most prevalent, with one such card found in every four packs. These were a ridiculously simple trading card set: the front had a panel of artwork from each of the sixty-one Gold Key Star Trek comic books and the word Star Trek in foil embossing on the front. The back had a picture of the cover of the comic book and a plot description of the comic. This was a nice boon for a lot of the collectors as the Gold Key comic books are rather hard to come by and most collectors do not have the funds to collect both the comics and trading cards. As a result, they had a pleasant glimpse into that other hobby in their favored medium!

The conceptual set that seems to be met with the greatest "meh" reaction when I present it at conventions to potential collectors or buyers is the Star Trek Expanded Universe set. The Expanded Universe set operates on a very simple principle: the Star Trek: Animated Series did not include some vital - or even interesting - characters from "Star Trek." Chekov and Rand never appeared and there were plenty of opportunities to revisit the best characters from Star Trek that The Animated Series never depicted. So, Rittenhouse Archives commissioned artist John Czop to recreate recognizable Star Trek characters like Ensign Chekov, Captain Pike, Balok's Puppet and Khan as if they had been drawn into the Star Trek: Animated Series. Given the lack of popularity with the Star Trek: Animated Series, this was an idea that completely flopped and failed to help sell this set, despite the bright colors.

At one per box, there was one of nine "ArtiFex" cards. The ArtiFex episode posters took nine popular episodes of Star Trek, made an animated style poster of important characters or scenes in the episode and put the image in foil. These foil cards have been known to warp once out of the package and many fans again failed to be engaged by the animated likenesses depicted on the cards. Czop and Rittenhouse Archives tried, but the concept just did not sell!

What did sell was the idea of the SketchaFex cards. These hand-drawn sketch cards - yes, each card is a pencil-drawn sketch and therefore, technically unique! - were commissioned with various artists doing a popular character or scene from an episode from the first season of Star Trek. So, for example, Sean Pence did a masterful depiction of the bunny from "Shore Leave," the salt vampire in "The Man Trap," and a Talosian for "The Menagerie!" Unfortunately, these sketch cards are highly variable in quality based upon the artist. For example, whomever sketched the shuttlecraft as the card for "The Galileo Seven" used sketch cards that had faint blue outlines of the picture and their sketches are simply tracing (poorly) over their original thumbnails of the card! Still, these twenty-nine cards are where the value is in this set!

Where the value in most modern trading card sets is is in the autograph cards. Unfortunately, this is part of the Art & Images Of Star Trek set that Rittenhouse Archives gambled on and lost big. Hoping to attract collectors and fans with big named signers like Majel Barrett, Yvonne Craig and Lee Meriwether, Rittenhouse Archives continued the numbering and style of autograph used in their Complete Star Trek: The Animated Series trading cards. The problem here was that, like the Expanded Universe cards (exactly like them for most of them!) these used John Czop's animated conceptualizations of characters who never appeared in the Star Trek: Animated Series. As a result, many collectors refused to pay for autographs by the likes of Joan Collins or Ricardo Montalban because the images are like caricatures of the characters they love! This was the death knell of this already shaky set.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

As is customary from Rittenhouse Archives, there are a few cards not available in the boxes, no matter how many one buys. These range from the ultra-common P1 promotional card (easily available in the secondary market) to the two cards that can only be found in the Rittenhouse Archives-manufactured binder. In this case, those two cards are the P3 promotional card of a Talosian and the Arlene Martel autograph card.

There are three other promotional cards that might take a little to track down: the P2 Non-Sports Update promotional card and the two Convention Exclusive promotional cards. The P2 is available easily enough by purchasing the back issue of the relevant Non-Sports Update magazine. The two convention exclusive promotional cards, though, are a bit harder to track down and they tend to be in the $10 - $25 price range on the secondary market.

There was also a landscape-oriented promotional card of Mr. Spock at his Science console on the bridge. This was exclusive to the United Kingdom and tended to be harder to find in the United States. As a result, tracking it down on the secondary market is not necessarily going to be cheap or easy.

This set also had one of three casetoppers. Steven Miller did (for two of the three) colored SketchaFex cards of popular tools in Star Trek, including the communicator, tricorder and phaser. The problematic aspect of collecting this set was there was only one of each of these casetoppers in each case, so at least three cases needed to be purchased just to complete this set!

The real grail of the bonus cards was the incentive card for buying two cases of the Art & Images Of Star Trek trading cards. For that, every dealer was given a hand drawn, colored sketch card of the U.S.S. Enterprise by artist Warren Martinek. These sketch cards were seldom just the Enterprise, though. Mine, for example, had the Enterprise and the Doomsday Machine about to swallow it up! These were meticulous and absolutely unique works: no two look even remotely alike!

For every six cases of Art & Images Of Star Trek trading cards a dealer ordered, they were granted a LA3 Legends Of Star Trek autograph, in this case featuring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. This card has never managed to adequately hold the value of a card he signed only 125 of because collectors are largely unwilling to overpay for his autograph because he has signed so many other trading cards.


Ultimately, Rittenhouse Archives took a risk and created a Star Trek trading card set that included a lot of conceptual material with the Art & Images Of Star Trek trading card set. Unfortunately, the fans did not respond favorably and as a result, this set - while a sellout from Rittenhouse Archives - has languished on many a dealer's shelves since. Only the SketchaFex cards save this set from being an utter dog and add any real value to the boxes.

This set culled images from Star Trek, which is reviewed here!

This is a set of cards which I sell in my online store.  Be sure to visit and shop from our extensive inventory of them by clicking here!

For other original Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek - Season 1 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek - Season 2 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek - Season 3 Episode Collection trading cards
35th Anniversary HoloFEX Holofoil cards
Star Trek 40th Anniversary Season 1
Star Trek 40th Anniversary Season 2
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards


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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