I ran into someone I knew from way, way back at Wondercon and got to talk to him for a couple of minutes. He’s a non-sports card dealer, although he didn’t have a booth this year, he was just attending the show. Many, many, many years ago, both my wife and I collected non-sports cards, back in the day of dusty bubble gum stuck in the pack and a few printed cardboard rectangles came out of a pack for a dime or a quarter. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, at least until the industry got taken over in the 90s by companies with holograms and other gimmicks who introduced artificial rarity as a means of upping sales, pushing the price-per-pack to a couple of bucks each and, in a lot of ways, ushering in the age of the Collectible Card Game (CCG). We talked about how many people lost their shirt in the madness of the 90s, when they were spending tons of money on cards that would ultimately be worthless. Today, full sets of cards issued in the 90s can be had for a couple of bucks. He said he finds it interesting that companies are trying to recapture the classic nostalgia of old cards with the release of retro sets like Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packs.
Of course, that got me thinking. While the new cards may not be worth much, I do have a complete set of the first 15 series, plus all variations, and those are worth a decent price, if I ever decided to sell. The first set alone, which I have in perfect condition, all variations, in both glossy and matte backs, sells for almost $500. The price for all 15 sets is around $1300. Add in the UK 1st series and the Giant Size cards and it’s up to $1600. Not bad for a bunch of cardboard.
Or heck, how about the original Star Wars cards. I’ve got all of those too. They put out five different series with differently colored borders in 1977. Each set came with 66 cards and 11 stickers, it was always the stickers that were the biggest problem to get in mint condition because kids would… well, stick them on things. A complete set of all five series goes for over $300 today. Of course, Topps put out multiple sets for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well and for all 10 sets, which I have, you’re looking at about $600.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the goofy gimmick cards came along. I remember the first set of Star Wars Galaxy cards, where it seemed that the regular cards were almost an afterthought. You had promos and foil cards and redemption cards and hologram cards and prism cards, all of which were ridiculously rare. Getting a full set by buying packs was virtually impossible unless you were buying cases and cases of cards, a lot of them were packed 1 to a case. In fact, it was this kind of thing that made collecting cards no fun. You knew you were getting screwed without lube and the only rational way to collect cards was to go buy them as complete sets, which made the hobby little more than a credit card exercise. There was no point in hunting for cards, you just shelled out a ton of money for a complete set all at once.
So I looked around the convention at the few booths that were selling cards and realized that most of them were either selling sets from the 70s and 80s or they were selling more recent sets for a couple of bucks each. How much money did they lose when they realized that those overpriced cases of cards, with all the hours it took to open and sort them, essentially amounted to a few dollars? I’d be pissed!
We no longer collect cards, it was fun while it lasted but once companies got greedy, or thought that they could get greedy on the backs of collectors, the market largely fell apart. Whereas most popular movies had a set of cards come out with it, today, I doubt that more than a handful, if that, ever do. I don’t know that I saw any new sets, or to be honest, any non-CCG cards sold in packs at the convention. I guess this is just another reminder of another hobby that we once had that’s gone to hell because the people involved lost sight of what made it fun in the first place.