Collecting Your Favorite TV Shows – They’re Not Just for Watching – Non-sport trading cards, or what I prefer to call entertainment trading cards (why describe something by what it isn’t?) have always been part of the hobby. In fact they are older than the first sports cards. Long before tobacco companies used images of athletes and sports figures on cardboard, they utilized subject matter as diverse as flora, wildlife and transportation.
Through the years, trading card manufactures have chronicled pop culture and television through a myriad of trading card releases. In fact one of the country’s oldest and original trading card companies, Donruss, for years, specialized in non-sport related trading card production. Even Topps’ original cardboard creations were non-sport related.
Television, in particular, has provided a litany of subject matter for trading cards with sets being produced for a wide variety of TV shows ranging from the 1960’s to the present day. Iconic TV series like The Addams Family, Batman, Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, X-Files and CSI, just to name a few, have all been immortalized on cardboard.
The list of TV shows chronicled on cardboard is too exhaustive to list. In fact an entire media company, complete with a printed publication, website, semi-annual trade shows and social media presence in the form of Non-Sport Update was created to provide collectors with pricing and product information, current news and archival context.
Entertainment Trading Cards Grow Up
During most of the late 1990’s and 2000’s, three primary companies specialized in producing trading cards catered to the non-sport collector – Artbox, Inkworks and Rittenhouse. Each company developed their own unique niche with a stable of pop culture properties that had collectors ripping wax from such TV shows as The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Smallville, Star Trek, Xena and many, many more.
Like their sports card cousins, non-sport/entertainment cards were once designed based on the tried and true formula of a base set and a handful of insert sets. Base sets of entertainment trading cards focused on the show’s characters and episodic images, with insert sets adding a chase element.
In keeping up with emerging trends in the hobby, these trading card manufactures started incorporating autographs from actors, wardrobe and set prop cards as well as parallels with manufactured scarcity. As a result, production costs increased as did consumer prices. The contraction of the hobby as a whole impacted these entertainment trading card manufactures with only Rittenhouse surviving.
Non-sport trading card collectors mourned the passing of Inkworks, in particular, whose products had a very loyal following from collectors all over the world. Ironically, current manufacturer, Leaf Trading Cards purchased numerous assets from the company through the bankruptcy liquidation process. Some of these assets included unused autographs which made their way into some of Leaf’s own pop culture related products.
The Modern Hobby
Fortunately for entertainment collectors, a young, creative and aggressive company emerged to fill the void created by the exit from the market of Inkworks and Artbox. Cryptozoic Entertainment burst on the scene in 2011 with key ties to Hollywood, specifically Warner Brothers that brought the company instant credibility and a built in fan base and therefore, a potential customer base as well.
Today, along with a handful of micro-manufactures, Rittenhouse and Cryptozoic drive the entertainment trading card marketplace. Both companies deliver quality products from a wide array of modern pop culture properties, movies and TV shows. Even Press Pass, before their demise, produced a trading card set for NBC’s incredibly popular mockumentary sitcom Parks and Recreation.
The emergence of comic book and “nerd” culture becoming chic has provided a wealth of subject matter that makes a perfect transition to TV and the silver screen. As a result, fans of these TV shows and movies also have the opportunity to go behind the scenes by collecting trading cards.
With the growth of original programing by cable TV entities, Netflix and other streaming services, niche programming has created a whole new demand for collectible related items from these shows. Over the last several years, each company (Cryptozoic and Rittenhouse) have produced trading card sets for some of the country’s most popular TV shows.
Some of Cryptozoic’s early releases in their portfolio include:
- The Walking Dead
- The Vampire Diaries
- The Guild
- The Big Bang Theory
- Downton Abbey
- Breaking Bad
- Sons of Anarchy
- Once Upon a Time
- Sleepy Hollow
As you can see, Cryptozoic has been at the forefront of producing entertainment trading cards. From award winning and critically acclaimed shows like The Big Bang Theory, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead to capitalizing on the popularity of comic book culture with Arrow and Smallville, the company has found their niche.
Not to be out done, Rittenhouse Archives has also been a key source of entertainment trading cards. Through the years, they have specialized in popular movie properties like James Bond and Star Trek. However, they have also produced trading card sets for several quintessential TV series.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Babylon 5
- Battlestar Galactica
- Six Feet Under
The company also capitalized on the popularity of iconic franchises from yesteryear including:
- Outer Limits
- Twilight Zone
- Lost in Space
- Brady Bunch
- Six Million Dollar Man
- Bionic Woman
- The Dead Zone
- The Munsters
Rittenhouse continued to accelerate it’s acquisition of TV property licenses over the last ten years and produced trading cards for shows like:
Recent and planned TV entertainment trading card releases include:
The Future of Entertainment Trading Cards
The keys to the success of both companies and their respective entertainment trading card releases has been:
- Identifying popular and passionate niche properties
- Small production runs
- Quality autograph content
Each company will continue with this formula and provide collectors plenty of collecting opportunities in the future. Both have proven able to adapt to changes in the marketplace in terms of collector interest and more macro-economic factors.
In recent years the entertainment trading card hobby has seen the development of premium products. This pack-out configuration includes the elimination of base and chase sets, focusing solely on autographs and other premium content like wardrobe, costume and prop cards.
In addition, smaller manufactures like Breygent Marketing have also produced successful trading card releases of other popular TV shows including:
There appears to be no slow down in sight for the entertainment side of the hobby and if your store isn’t stocking trading card products of these and other pop culture properties, why not? Maybe it’s time to expand your inventory to attract a whole new segment of passionate collectors. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
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