Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shiny And Crowded, Rittenhouse Falters With The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex Cards!

The Good: Great concept, Some interesting autograph signers, Generally easy to assemble, Wonderful sketch cards!
The Bad: Sketch card rarities, Common set images, Warping of cards, Less inspired lower chase cards.
The Basics: The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex cards might have been ambitious with cards like hand-drawn sketches and costume cards, but the set was largely filler around a few valuable cards.

It is hard, when working in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, to go wrong with women. Women in science fiction are a cash cow that make merchandising a snap because, largely, horny twenty-something men make Hollywood films with women who are obvious sex symbols (robust and even curvy women seldom make it into space or live to see the bold future of Star Trek, for example, nor were there many women at all in a galaxy far, far away. Of course, that was a long time ago.) Anyway, women in science fiction are a pretty solid way for those with the licensing rights to major science fiction franchises to make money; men like women for their sex appeal, women tend to go for women in science fiction because they are largely positive role models in positions of equality or authority. Arguably, that is why Rittenhouse Archives went right to that niche with their Women Of Star Trek In Motion as their second set to turn collectors toward their company. It was their first sellout Star Trek product and there have been few since they have released that have not sold out on preorder!

So, as Star Trek: Voyager came to its abrupt end, it became the perfect subject for a trading card set. But rather than banking on the general popularity (which was waning) of Star Trek: Voyager, Rittenhouse cunningly released a set of cards called The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex cards. By focusing on the women, something the series did when it ditched the "plain" Kes in favor of the catsuit-wearing Seven Of Nine, Rittenhouse sought to appeal to a broader audience than just the Star Trek: Voyager audience and their gambit paid off. The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager (as it is more casually known) sold out before its release and Rittenhouse had another success on its hands . . . until it actually hit the shelves.

Basics/Set Composition

The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex set was a set of trading cards produced by Rittenhouse Archives to celebrate the end of Star Trek: Voyager. Focusing on the women from the show, it offered Rittenhouse its first chance to exploit the buxom Seven Of Nine and provide collectors with something new and big to collect. Pioneering the HoloFEX card style, these cards were printed on cardstock that was thicker. As well, the set was smaller and all of the cards were foil cards! Boxes of The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex cards contained only twenty packs with six cards per pack. One does not get a lot per box and the only guarantees are one common set and two autographs per box. Given that there are not many autographs to hunt, this made the boxes appear to make the set easy to collect. To mix it up, Rittenhouse inserted two levels of hard-to-find chase cards: costume cards and SketchaFEX cards. Even so, Rittenhouse Archives was good to its word and this set was remarkably by-the-numbers with common sets per box and the proportions of chase cards.

The common set is all about the female characters of Star Trek: Voyager. The chase cards, however, range from inexpensive sets focused on different costumes the characters wore to autograph cards featuring characters and actors from all seven seasons of the show. This set feels remarkably sloppy the way it is put together, mostly because Rittenhouse seemed obsessed with quantity over quality in the images.

The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex set consists of two hundred five cards, which seems like it would be a fairly easy set to complete. The 205 card set consists of 70 common cards and one hundred thirty-five chase cards, only five of which cannot be found in the packs.

Common Cards

The 70 card common set of The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex cards established a new style of card, actually presaging the Star Trek: 35th Anniversary HoloFEX set (reviewed here!). And while fans might have been bothered by the quantity of images on those cards, they had reason to feel downright swindled with the Women Of Voyager cards. The promotional cards which were released contained beautiful, portrait-oriented images with a big head shot of a character as well as a full color, foil full-body shot. What collectors ended up with was very different.

On the plus side, each card was a foil card that had a glossy UV-resistant coating on its surface. The cards looked almost like bonus cards because they were shiny and their thickness. Initially, fans were wowed by the gimmick of the set. But as the years have gone by, fans have become disenchanted with this set for two big reasons.

First, the front of each card features an image of a character from Star Trek: Voyager along with a caption with the character's name. There were nine foil cards each of Janeway, Seven Of Nine, and Torres, six for Kes, three each for Seska and the Borg Queen. The rest of the set was filled out with notable guest stars and the set was generally in chronological order. Unfortunately, outside the poor organization that did not entirely prioritize or keep in chronological order the women in the set, the Women Of Voyager HoloFex set falls down in that most all of the images are tiny. Each card has one inch and a half tall image of the character, with the rest of the landscape-oriented card peppered with five small windows with images of the character or an aspect of the episode the character is from in them. There is also a symbol with the card series name on the front of each card and that little symbol is about the size of one of the images! The result is that the images look sloppy and that is a huge detraction for collectors of the set.

The second drawback in the common set has revealed itself with age; when these cards are removed from their packs, they slowly begin to warp, even if they are kept in an environment that is not humid. This makes it very difficult to define cards in this set as "mint" and for those who are getting them autographed by the celebrity on the card, it forces them to mount the card in a seriously strong protector that will not only protect it, but resist its attempts to curl.

The back of each card is a simple description of the character and for the primary characters, it describes their actions within a specific episode. So, for example, one of the Janeway cards has images from "Endgame." The back of that card simply describes Admiral Janeway's character arc in that episode. The back of each landscape-oriented card also features one image that rivals the size of the picture on the front of the card.

The images - what may be seen of them - tend to be culled from a great selection of episodes and are not the typical images one sees over and over again in published mediums. This, at least, is a saving grace of the common set.

Chase Cards

The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFex set has one hundred thirty-five chase cards, of which one hundred thirty are available in the right packs! Unfortunately, the set becomes very difficult to collect with the sketch cards and Rittenhouse did a strange about-face on this, claiming there were four SketchaFex cards for the checklist (there were four artists) and then providing a separate checklist with the SketchaFex cards listed and there were actually thirteen SketchaFEX included in the boxes. Otherwise, this would be a decent set to collect in terms of the bonus cards, if for no other reason than with two cases, one is likely to pull all of the cards in the set. Then again, the SketchaFex cards complicate those odds some, but generally, this is a decent set for card collectors and Star Trek fans by the numbers.

The first level of chase set was the MorFex set, which were die-cut cards with an orange border featuring images of characters from episodes where Janeway, Torres or Seven Of Nine appeared out of uniform. So, one features shots from "Bride Of Chaotica" in black and white with various characters in their Captain Proton get-ups, including Janeway as Arachnia. These cards, shaped like a PADD, feature three bands of tiny shots, which makes one wonder what the point was. At one per four packs, it still took two boxes to complete this set with ideal collation. Unlike the common set, these cards were portrait-orientation.

Two packs per box had one of nine ReflectiFEX cards. These portrait-oriented cards were cut awkwardly to accommodate a wavy edge (usually part of a head shot) at the top and along the side. The ReflectiFex cards were not foil cards and had images of one of the three primary Women Of Voyager with another crewmember and the backs were written as if the highlighted character were talking about the woman. So, for example, cards include Chakotay's observations on Janeway, Paris's feelings on Torres and The Doctor's commends on Seven Of Nine. This is a mildly interesting set, but the value of the cards has plummeted because fans did not find them to be all that special, despite their rarity.

At only one per box was one of six SpaceFex cards and this was a neat concept that also flopped with most collectors. These die-cut cards shaped like the Voyager's viewscreen featured images of space ships from Star Trek: Voyager, like the Delta Flyer and the U.S.S. Excelsior. What does this have to do with the Women Of Voyager? No one ever figured that out and the set flopped save among the die-hard collectors. These six cards are landscape oriented and feature the ships, but no effects to make the ships interesting in a visual way.

About as hard to complete was the printer's proof set. These cards were found one per pack and simply reprinted each of the seventy common cards without a foil effect and with a gray back clearly labeled "Printer's Proof" over the writing about the character. Fans were not willing to pay what dealers needed to bother with assembling these sets and now the printer's proof set values have tumbled.

Also in the packs are the autograph cards. The autograph cards are found two in every box, which are good odds, but there are twenty-one autograph cards in the various packs. Unfortunately, these autograph cards proved to be very unpopular with the fans because they contained tiny head shots with a large white field for the celebrity to sign in. Having invested much in the autograph cards from the SkyBox Star Trek: Voyager Profiles and Closer To Home sets, fans were used to beautiful full-bleed autograph cards and these failed to live up to the high standards of most fans. Still, Rittenhouse Archives ought to be applauded for getting signers like Sharon Lawrence (Amelia Earhart), Scarlett Pomers (Naomi Wildman) and Martha Hackett (Seska). There was also an entire set of seven autographs devoted to various people in Seven Of Nine's backstory and the autograph grail in this set was the Jeri Ryan autograph of her as Seven Of Nine. Many of the others, though, are bafflingly men like the guy who played her Borgified father.

Approximately two per case was one of two costume cards. The costume cards, featuring fabric from one of Janeway's and one of Seven Of Nine's set-worn costumes were nice and fans gobbled these up pretty immediately, especially the Janeway ones with their variations. Rittenhouse produced these well and they look great.

The grail of the packs are the thirteen SketchaFex cards. Each of these cards was a hand drawn sketch (not a copy of a sketch, but a unique sketch each and every one!). Four artists contributed sketch cards of the same general thing, like Bolson (ships), Czop (characters), Emir Ribeiro (Characters), and Martineck (starships). Rittenhouse Archives insisted on having some standards so while each card is technically unique, artists simply drew the same thing over and over again, like Bolson drew a four hundred sketches of the U.S.S. Voyager from above and two hundred of the ship from below. This was a nice touch, but left collectors hunting some very rare cards. For example, Czop's sketch of Seven Of Nine was limited to 125 hand drawn sketches, which means there are only 125 possible master sets of this series. In a perfectly appropriate and ironic coincidence, in my Czop Seven Of Nine SketchaFex I pulled, Czop had written "Sorry" in her eye piece, which fit perfectly, because I loathed Seven Of Nine and the way the show sold out for sex appeal when she arrive. Until this point, the most limited card Rittenhouse Archives had produced for Star Trek was an autograph card that was limited to 250 signed cards! It was Warren Martineck's cards that drove the nail into the chest of collectors, though. He generously provides six different sketch cards of starships and starship combinations. However, there were only 125 of each of the six sketches! His SketchaFex cards from this set still command incredible prices . . . when they can be found on the secondary market. Still, these sketches are nice, but their rarity was stifling and left a lot of collectors sore.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

There are only five cards that cannot be found no matter how many packs one opens. These include the regular promotional cards, in this case unnumbered promotional cards of Janeway and Seven Of Nine which is easily available in the secondary market. Rittenhouse gave them free to dealers, who distributed them pretty freely at the time. Here is where fans have legitimate reason to feel a bait and switch; these cards were beautiful, big portrait images with only two shots per card, in real contrast to the way the common cards were ultimately made when the set was released!

One of the other cards was exclusive to the binder and was an autograph card. The signed card was exclusive to the Rittenhouse-produced binder. The final cards to hunt were the casetoppers and Rittenhouse included both casetoppers in each case. The ArtiFex cards were colored sketchcards which were then printed to essentially make 999 lithographed cards of Seven Of Nine and B'Elanna Torres. This is a neat concept, but because of how there were far rarer cards in the set and since, they have not held any real value.


Sometimes, it is hard to pinpoint when a phenomenon takes a wrong turn. Other times, it is pretty easy. If there were a branch of scholars looking into patterns in merchandising, with an emphasis on Star Trek, the arguments could be made that the "1701" series figures were what killed the Playmates toyline and that SkyBox almost sank the trading card collecting wing of Star Trek collecting when it pulped the voided letter cards it created for the Star Trek season sets. But Rittenhouse Archives took up the mantle and saved the day. The way Rittenhouse Archives reinvigorated collectors was by providing transparent standards and more attainable sets. If completists for the action figures were kvetching about having to track down one of only 1701 action figures, one can imagine how frustrated card collectors were in trying to track down one of the 125 (at best) autographs in some of the SkyBox Star Trek sets, especially with SkyBox never confirming just how many cards had actually been signed. Hunting for one of fifty letter cards had left a bad taste in many collector's mouths and Rittenhouse Archives stood against such rampant exploitation of the fans and promised enough of each card to go around (their least common cards were going to be 300 of a single autograph card).

With The Women Of Star Trek: Voyager, the concept - if not the explicit standard - began its steady and rapid deterioration, with the six different sketch cards of which there were only 125 of each. This set is, arguably, where the transparency and reasonable potential to collect Star Trek trading cards disappeared. To date, it has never come back. It is unfortunate that the erosion started with such a mediocre set.

This set culls images from all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager reviewed here!

For other Star Trek: Voyager trading card sets, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Season 1 Series 1
Season 1 Series 2
Season 2


For other trading card reviews, visit the Trading Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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