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Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting

Entertainment Cards

The collecting of non-sport cards is an oft-ignored faction of the trading card market but it can be a fun and profitable hobby to undertake. With companies like Cryptozoic, SkyBox, and Topps, among others, constantly reinventing the quality and content of entertainment trading cards over the past 50+ years, there is a rich and fascinating history to delve into and likely a set or two for every collector's interests.

The primary appeal of entertainment card collecting lies within the countless options found in the hobby. Whether you are a fan of comic books, television, pop culture, film, science fiction, trains, dinosaurs, music, history, the military, cartoons, or soda pop, there are card sets available for your collection.

Junk Wax Sets

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 1As with all things in this hobby, there was a peak in the early 90s of card sets barely worth the paper they were printed on. However, the availability of these sets on the trade market allow collectors a quick and inexpensive means for beginning their collection and many of the sets, although worth very little, are beautiful and of of the highest quality.

Look at Batman, for example. Being the cornerstone character of DC Comics for over 75 years, spawning movies, television shows, comic books, and cartoons, Batman has been the sole subject of dozens of trading card sets. A collector interested in compiling a complete collection of Batman trading cards would be well advised to hit eBay for unopened boxes of the "junk wax" era cards for a modest price point. Out of these boxes, a collector should be able to compile a complete set, a handful of chase cards, and several duplicates for trading or resale. Between 1989 and 2000, there were card sets released for four films, several television cartoons, and several sets devoted to original comic-based artwork. For a fairly modest investment, a new collector could begin their collection with several hundred cards and a wide range of card types.

Autographs and RelicsComplete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 2

Taking a cue from the success that autograph and relic cards have had in the sports collecting side of the hobby, many entertainment sets now come with a wide range of variations for both. Of course, sets based on films and television shows are a natural fit for autographs and relics and you will often find the biggest celebrities in the world have put pen to card for a set.

It is worth noting that in most cases autographs are signed on-card as opposed to the sticker autographs that you'll find on many sports cards these days. Also, there are a number of celebrities who only have signatures on one card which makes those a highly attractive collectible. For example, Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Reeves Superman movies, is featured on a Smallville card. Because her Superman films predated autographed cards and she's unlikely to appear in another action film again, it is very likely that this is the only autograph card you will find of hers. Unlike sports, you won't find the same checklist of signatories year after year.

Relics can include pieces of costumes, uniforms, set pieces, animation cells, and much more. To accommodate the comic or cartoon collector, Cryptozoic has developed a "Totally Fabricated" line of cards that feature relics manufactured specifically for the set that take specific cues from the show in question. While this may sound a bit like a cheat, these cards actually resell on the trade market for a competitive price in comparison to their authentic relic counterparts and can be fun additions to a collection.

Refractors, Holograms, & Spectra Etch Chase Sets

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 3Beginning in the 1990s, entertainment card sets began to include short-print chase sets. These sets were often Refractor, hologram, or spectra etch-based cards and were limited to ten or less cards per set, making them relatively easy to complete.
Another option, Spectra etch cards were very popular, particularly among comic book card sets, and are featured in most junk wax-era sets. These cards, which look as if they're printed on metal, often feature stunning original artwork and are rarely alternatives to base set cards (although there are occasional alternatives).

Holograms, once all the rage of card collecting, have fallen out of favor for the most part. Possibly due to their unappealing aesthetic when not shown in the proper light, these 3D-simulated cards have been replaced by Refractors in modern-day cards but the junk wax era has plenty of hologram subsets for a collector to find. Hologram cards were also popular as giveaway sets in cereal boxes during the 90's and those complete sets can be a fun treasure hunt.

Parallel cards, just like in sports collecting, have become incredibly popular in the entertainment card market and virtually every set released will have some sort of parallel to collect. Many comic-based sets have complete Refractor base sets and there are plenty of chase sets designed in this style.

Sketch Cards

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 4Sketch cards are very unique to the entertainment card market and are gaining popularity and demand as each new set is released. Sketch cards are one-of-one cards, drawn directly onto the card by industry artists. While an artist may have 100 cards floating around the set, no two are going to be the same design. This leads to three different types of collectors: those who want to complete a sketch set, those who want to collect all the cards sketched by a particular artists, and those who want to collect all the sketch cards of a particular character.

All three of these aspirations will be nearly impossible to complete since there is no official checklist for these cards and it can cost you a substantial amount of money as these cards can easily slip into the $100+ range. Collectors of sketch cards are well advised to simply stay on the look out for good deals and pick up every sketch card they find that appeals to them because these rare collectibles are a wonderful addition to your collection.

Vintage Cards and Reprints

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 5The greatest potential for true investment-quality cards lies in the vintage sets pre-dating the 1980s. These sets, in premium condition, can be difficult to complete but are highly collectible. Collectors of vintage cards may also go "full completest" and seek out particular printings such as Canadian or UK prints of the same sets. Because of the popularity of these sets, it is common to find reprints on the trade market that look strikingly similar to the originals. It is important to remember how unlikely it is that a 1966 Batman Black set in mint condition is going to appear on eBay for $20 and that all of these reprints will have some sort of distinguishing characteristic to set it apart, often simply stating that it's a reprint on the card.

The good news for collectors on a limited budget, though, is that these reprints are often very affordable and allow collectors of the artwork, as opposed to financial collectors, the chance to include the designs in their collection.

Obscure Cards and Promos

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 6Collectors who truly love the thrill of the hunt may also find great satisfaction in searching out obscure cards like those given away in cereal boxes, cookies, gas stations, comic book shops, vending machines and a million other unlikely sources. These cards can be difficult to find and locating the information needed to compile a "want list" can be a hassle but collectors with a keen eye and some persistence will find these types of cards pretty frequently on the trade market.

These obscure cards also span the entire length of card production and can be found in every country. A Superman set of cigar cards (minis) from 1972, which were distributed by the Primrose Confectionery in the UK in 1972, are incredibly rare and a complete set may be hard to collect but it may be a rewarding set that most collectors don't even know exists.

Another uncommon subset of entertainment card collecting is Promo Cards which are often included in first printings of sets, distributed with corresponding collector binders, found as a bonus in a trade magazine, available direct from the company online, or included with other related products. These cards are easily searched online if you're not lucky enough to find them on your own.

Crossover Sets

For die-hard sports collectors who are unsure about delving into a new subset of collecting, there are plenty of entertainment/sports crossovers to seek out as well. Of course, there are the annual Allen & Ginter sets which feature athletes as well as pop culture celebrities, but even beyond that there are sets like the 2016 Wacky Packages set that features MLB parody, the 1994 Muppets Take the Ice NHL crossover (as well as a subset of the 1993 Muppets set dedicated to sports), the 2015 Leaf Pop Century set, or the 1990 Upper Deck Comic Ball series which combines the greatest baseball players with your favorite Looney Tunes characters.

Every year, new sets of crossover cards are released and help to bridge the gap between two very different collector markets with a growing number of crossover collectors.

Non-Sport Collecting

Virtually every major pop culture phenomenon of the past 50 years has at some point been immortalized in trading cards and, as a whole, the market is largely ignored. Sports card shops rarely cover more than a hobby box or two of entertainment trading cards. Large box retailers will carry sets devoted to the biggest movies for a short period but focus more on sports and card-based games. Comic book stores used to be a great source for purchasing and trading these cards but even that consumer venue is dwindling in shelf space. That said, there are plenty of auctions online featuring cards from every era and as popularity in these sets grows, card shops will be forced to devote more shelf space to these product lines.

There are plenty of sets and cards worth hundreds of dollars and many more worth tens of dollars but with original artwork and a more storied history than most sports cards, collecting entertainment trading cards could be the most fun you've ever had in this hobby if you just give it a try.

In order to help facilitate that, check out the tab above to view a list of key entertainment releases that have been produced to see if one (or ten) catches your eye.

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 7Making purchases through affiliate links can earn the site a commission

Entertainment Licenses

Entertainment cards have been produced by many companies over the years. This handy list compiles the most popular licenses in entertainment and takes you directly to our detailed profiles for each set. Click on specific franchises below or view the entire lineup by selecting the specific card company.

Complete Guide to the World of Entertainment Card Collecting 7Making purchases through affiliate links can earn the site a commission
Tony is a musician and writer in the SF bay area and is a former contributor to The Cardboard Connection.

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