Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rittenhouse Archives Bets Big With True Blood Premiere Edition Trading Cards!

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The Good: Interesting concept/decent execution, Some good chase cards, Exceptional autograph signers, Intriguing parallel set
The Bad: Rarities on some of the autograph cards.
The Basics: Rittenhouse Archives took a big risk on their new True Blood Premiere Edition trading cards, but they made a set that almost completely justifies the risk!

For all my – very legitimate – gripes about Rittenhouse Archives and the way the company has evolved, I have a lot of respect for the risks Steve Cherendoff and the company take. The trading card market is an especially fickle one and it is one that has to bet (big) on the “Next Big Thing” . . . before the big thing is evident. That risk has not always paid off and some of the risk has illustrated severe differences in the fan base for a work and the collector’s base. So, for example, Rittenhouse Archives took a big risk years ago when Six Feet Under was popular. Six Feet Under was, at the time, one of the most-watched, most-talked about programs on premium cable television and Rittenhouse Archives attempted to market a trading card series (check out my review of the promotional card!) around the mundane (reality drama, as opposed to fantasy, science fiction, horror, comic book or other genre work!) television series. They made an amazing (one of the most beautiful and complete) trading card sets and it absolutely bombed in the marketplace. Despite nice cards, great signers, and some very cool gimmicks, the Six Feet Under trading card set led Rittenhouse Archives – and the dealers who purchased their products – away from such trading card sets.

So, when Rittenhouse Archives announced its True Blood Premiere Edition trading cards, I was intrigued and wary. After all, True Blood is very popular within its niche, but many shows that have popularity – like Six Feet Under a decade ago and the genre show Heroes much more recently – have proven difficult to find a market for viable collectibles. Moreover, True Blood is geared mostly toward women and that is a market that is even harder to market collectibles, especially trading cards, to. In fact, in recent memory, the only female-targeted trading card set that actually exploded in value and found its market with collectors was the Twilight trading cards (reviewed here!). And even that was something of a fluke; the Twilight trading cards achieved a value and level of success that none of the card series’ based upon the subsequent films duplicated.

As if to illustrate how far the company would go to try to make the True Blood Premiere Edition trading cards a success (and the make it an exceptionally valuable and worthwhile set even if it should fail to find its audience), Rittenhouse Archives came up with an amazing assemblage of autograph signers from the series. In fact, of the main stars of True Blood, only three of the biggest stars did not sign (Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell, and Ryan Kwanten). While this might have seemed like a smart attempt to lure collector’s back for a subsequent set, it seems more like Rittenhouse Archives went all out with this set and got everyone they could get to do as much as they could as far as signing went (though it is odd that they did not get John Billingsley – who plays Bon Temp’s coroner and has signed autograph cards for the company before – to sign for this series). And, truth be told, the series is impressive enough to enthusiastically recommend, whether or not women and True Blood fans gravitate toward it and bolster the collectible card market as a result.

Basics/Set Composition

The True Blood Premiere Edition was only the second release of True Blood trading cards from Rittenhouse Archives, right behind its limited "Legends Of True Blood" trading cards. Properly assembled, the set is a collection of 267 trading cards and there is an official The True Blood binder from Rittenhouse. All but nine of the cards are available in boxes of the True Blood Premiere Edition cards. The cards were originally released in boxes that contained twenty-four packs of five cards each. Boxes tended to run in the $60 - $75 range and guaranteed one common set and two autograph cards per box.

Collation in the True Blood set was good. To complete a true master set of the True Blood cards, collectors had to purchase at least two cases of the cards, though there were incentive cards that were only released to dealers who bought six or more cases. As well, there were promotional cards that were not available in boxes or cases. This is one of those sets that took quite a bit of time, money and luck to make a true master set. It had three Extremely Limited autograph cards that were the toughest to find and continue to keep collectors hunting!

Common Cards

The common card set consists of 96 trading cards, which are printed on standard cardstock and have a glossy UV resistant coating. Rittenhouse Archives must have perfected their formula in the last few years because none of the cards in this set stuck together. With 96 cards, Rittenhouse Archives created an odd set that does not naturally fit into a binder, but it is organic for the concept of the set – there are two cards per episode from the series’ first four seasons.

The ninety-six card set focuses on the plot events from True Blood seasons one through four. The common card set features nice large, widescreen-style images as there is a bar at the bottom that informs the consumer what card set this is The front bar helps make collation exceptionally easy; each card has the episode’s title and place in the series (Season X, Episode Y) right on the front of the card. There are no particularly controversial images in this set, which is odd considering how risqué the show itself can be. Rittenhouse Archives went with a very safe collectible, though more casual fans who may have missed an episode or two will find “spoilers” on many of the cards.

Collation on this set was excellent, so the common sets were exactly one per box, with only a few cards left over! The common sets do not hold that much value (common sets almost never hold their value these days). All of the common cards are landscape orientation with the “sensible” format, which means that they have opposite orientation for their backs, so when they are in the binder they may be read without having to turn the binder around.

Chase Cards

There are one hundred seventy-one chase cards in the True Blood set, with one hundred sixty-two found in the boxes of cards and the remaining nine available outside the boxes and packs. The bonus cards that can be found within the boxes were the Parallel Common Cards, “Quotable” True Blood, Character Cards, Black-N-White, True Blood Shadowbox and autographs. There was no checklist(s) for this set, which is a little unfortunate; the series could have begun with a nice three-card montage with the checklists on the back. Outside looking up online, there is no way for collectors to know, for example, about the specific autographs included in this set.

The most common bonus cards are almost not chase cards. Each of the common cards are replicated as foil cards. This foil parallel set is reminiscent to the similar parallel set done for the Star Trek: Cinema 2000 trading card set (reviewed here!) and the execution of it for the True Blood set is even better! While this is very much a concept that appeals only to die-hard trading card collectors, most of the foil parallel cards actually look amazing.

The next most common bonus cards in this set were the “Quotable” True Blood cards. These portrait-oriented cards feature full-bleed images of most of the significant characters from True Blood with quotes or dialogue exchanges written over the bottom portion. The quotes are memorable or fun and the nine card set was fairly easy to collect as there were two of these cards per box (one every twelve packs). These “Quotable” cards are not like their Star Trek counterparts as they utilize most of the card and oddly minimize the quotes in favor of the images on the cards. That said, this set is quite nice in that it includes very different images on the fronts than on the back, making for a very dynamic feeling subset.

Also at one in every twelve packs were the Character Cards. The Character Cards are the Season Three Promotional images of the main cast members – the nine main characters – in the dark swamp. The color scheme is very blue and cold and they are presented with a crystal clarity that is very compelling.

Characters are obviously at the heart of True Blood and the Black-N-White (which is actually black, white, grays and red) focuses on that nicely. With one card every eighteen packs focused on Sookie, Bill, Eric, Sam, Tara or Jason, the portrait-oriented Black-N-White cards is a very cool set, though all of the images are promotional images (not anything unique to this card set).

Pioneering for this set were four Shadowbox cards. These cards are five times as thick as normal cards in the True Blood Premiere Edition cards. These layered cards focus on Sookie and her three main men for the first few seasons – Sam, Bill, and Eric. Given their thickness, when one pulls a Shadowbox card, they are only one per pack! Found in every third box, these are incredible cards that cannot fit into one’s binder page. They have a layered look and feel to them and the silkscreened images float over a bright red back that makes the cards almost look bloody!

This brings us to the autograph cards. The True Blood set has thirty-eight autograph cards available in the packs, but only twenty-seven signers. This is a decent number for a True Blood trading card release, but the duplications are odd. Several of the signers signed two different cards. People like Mariana Klaveno (Lorena), Marshall Allman (Tommy Mickens), and Adina Porter (Lettie May Thornton) – among others – signed cards that have a nice full bleed (larger image) style autograph card and the standard True Blood autograph card, which features a half image, a graphic of blood dripping and the autograph in the lower half of the card. Of the people who signed for two cards, only the Very Limited autograph from Lizzy Caplan really thrilled me (though all of the Full Bleed style were pretty cool, especially compared to the others). Oddly, Dan Buran, who played Marcus Bozeman, is given two autograph cards and this has the unfortunate side effect of accenting that Joe Manganiello did not sign for the set.

However, Rittenhouse Archives did manage to collect a pretty compelling collection of celebrities to autograph for the set. Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica), Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette), Todd Lowe (Terry), Carrie Preston (Arlene), and Jim Parrack (Hoyt) all signed. Fans of True Blood and The Big Bang Theory will be thrilled that Melissa Rauch signed for the card set. There were three Extremely Limited (meaning the signers autographed less than two hundred of the cards!) signers – Michelle Forbes and the big couple, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer! That means that most fans (of the show or the trading cards) are unlikely ever to see the autograph cards for the main protagonists of the series.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

As with most "modern" trading card releases - certainly the ones from Rittenhouse Archives - not all of the cards needed to make a true master set are available in the boxes of these trading cards. In this set, there are only nine cards that cannot be found in the boxes, which is nicer than in some sets. There is the usual promo card which foreshadowed the series release which is common enough to find (P1). There was a card exclusive to the True Blood trading card binder - the binder promotional card (P3). The P2 card is a promotional card available only through Non-Sports Update Magazine and it might take a little work to track down (though the magazine offers back issues pretty readily).

There were also two convention-exclusive promotional cards. Those who attended the Philly Non-Sport show were able to snag a card featuring Jessica, looking very much like the bad girl she started the series (at least in her vampire form) as! There was also a 2012 San Diego Comic Con exclusive promo of Sookie and Bill. None of these promos is truly remarkable, though they are typical for what card collectors expect of a promotional card. The promos, like only the common set before them, are all landscape orientation.

The remaining cards are the casetopper, the multicase incentive cards, and a Rittenhouse Rewards card. The casetopper is a card of a bottle of True Blood. The beverage from which the show derives its name makes for a cute, though somewhat unremarkable, chase card.

Then there are the multicase incentive cards. Both are autograph cards, identical in style to the standard True Blood autographs in this set. For every three cases, dealers were granted a Kristin Bauer as Pam autograph card. For every six cases, there was an Alexander Skarsgard as Eric Northman autograph card. That seems to put it on about par for rarity with the big two (plus Michelle Forbes), so collectors can get their love triangle completed right in this first set of True Blood cards.

Rittenhouse Archives also released an additional single “Quotable” Card as a Rittenhouse Rewards exclusive. The exclusive card of Arlene (on one side) and Jessica on the other is an odd choice for the company. In addition to making a nice nine-card set into a clunky ten-card set, the bonus card available only through redeeming wrappers seems like it is cutting off the potential for another True Blood set (or forcing an awkward number of cards in a subsequent set’s “Quotable” bonus set). Either way, it continues the quality of the “Quotable” cards from the main set, but seems valuable only for its rarity rather than any inherent quality in the card itself.


The True Blood Premiere Edition cards may have been a risk – and I am surprised to find that there are boxes selling now for below wholesale! – for Rittenhouse Archives and a bit frustrating to collectors (so many very hard-to-find autographs!), but it is a beautiful set and time will tell as to whether or not the fanbase shows the love this set deserves.

This set culls images from:
True Blood - Season 1
True Blood - Season 2
True Blood - Season 3
True Blood - Season 4

For other trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Enterprise - Season 1 Episode Collection trading cards
The Complete Star Trek: Voyager trading cards
The Hunger Games trading cards


For other trading and gaming card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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