Trek Artifacts: The 1976 Topps Trading Cards
PUBLISHED: February 11, 2007
Star Trek Artifact #5: The 1976 Topps Trading Cards
Nine years after the sort-of release of the bizarre Leaf trading card series, Star Trek received it’s first “straight” card set from Topps in 1976. One of the most famous and well-known trading card manufacturers, Topps was generally known for sports cards–baseball cards in particular–but had experienced success with non-sport sets in the 1970's such as Planet Of The Apes and the classic Wacky Packages.
The Star Trek set of 88 cards and 22 stickers figured to be another winner for Topps as Trek’s popularity was at it’s peak in 1976. But circumstances once again conspired to hamper Trek’s cardboard commemoration as it did in 1967. The cards received limited distribution and sold out quickly across the country with requests for re-orders unanswered by Topps. The reasons why–like the 1967 Leaf set–have been shrouded in mystery for decades although several theories have gained wide acceptance by collectors. The most plausible of these, according to an article in Non-Sport Update magazine in 1996 (“Star Trek: Two Sets Beyond the Final Frontier” by Scott Thomas; Vol. 7, #1, 2-3/96), is that production was stymied by a labor strike at Topps just days after the cards went to press which lasted at least several weeks. By the time the strike had been settled, Topps abandoned the Trek set to gear up for production of that year’s baseball cards which were the company’s bread and butter.
You’d think that with Star Trek’s massive popularity in the mid-1970's that Topps would have eventually returned to manufacturing the set, but at the time it was no doubt one license of many that Topps had acquired. It may have been simply more cost-effective for the company to move ahead with other scheduled projects given the time and cost of re-setting printing plates and other changes necessary to resume production of the set. Other theories include a production slow-down due to a lawsuit Topps had been engaged in by the rival Fleer company, as well as general “distribution problems” stemming from shipping errors. Whatever the real reasons were, they were no doubt compounded by the kind of collector and dealer hoarding of “speculative” pop-culture collectibles during the 1970's (anyone remember the Howard The Duck comics fiasco?) as can be evidenced by the fact that some dealers today seem to have an abundance of the Topps cards while other dealers have none at all. The relative scarcity of the 1976 Topps set has predictably made it one of the more sought after and expensive of Trek collectibles.
Although the Topps set shares problematic distribution under mysterious circumstances with it’s older sibling, the 1967 Leaf set, it doesn’t share that series’ bizarre presentation. The first Topps issue is a straight-forward card set with color photos and matching captions on the fronts with appropriate–and accurate–episode plot synopsis and information on the backs. The set even depicts the TOS episodes in, more or less, the same order that they were seen in TV syndication at the time. Like most sets of the period the 88 cards were complimented by 22 stickers usually featuring head shots of the characters and captions such as “Spock Forever!” or “Highly Illogical”. Since stickers were inserted at a rate of 1 per pack–along with 5 cards–they are scarcer than the cards themselves making the completion of a full set difficult and expensive, as a “complete set” usually includes all cards and stickers.
Originally priced at 10 cents, an unopened wax-wrapper pack today sells at around $20-30 with individual cards going for $2-5 and single stickers at around $5-8. A complete set of all 88 cards and 22 stickers will set you back $400-700 in top condition although many dealers sell the card and sticker sets individually. An unopened display box–if you can find one–will probably cost you $500-800; an empty display box itself can sell for $20 or more and even the wax wrappers can get $5-8 by themselves.
Unfortunately I don’t personally have a complete set of the cards or stickers (but I do have a wrapper!), just a collection of singles which are presented here for your enjoyment. Anyone with cards or stickers not seen here is urged to send us scans of them to post in this special (card fronts and backs; sticker fronts only).
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Check back in a few weeks for more scans of the Topps trading cards!
The following sources were used for research for this article: