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It's All in the Cards : Forget the hits, runs and errors. Trading cards now cover weird and the wacky subjects, and adults are clamoring to invest in them.

November 28, 1991|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you haven't been keeping up with the trading card world, you may be surprised to learn that it's not all batting averages and touchdowns. And it certainly isn't all kid stuff. In fact, the real action is in non-sports cards.

Rather than being dominated by mega-corporations with multimillion-dollar licensing agreements, this field is open to smaller, quirkier publishers whose themes run from the mainstream to the macabre.

"Non-sports trading cards have been appreciating at a rapid pace," says Roxanne Toser, a trading card authority and publisher of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based quarterly publication Non-Sport Update. "The serious collectors--adults who started collecting cards in their youth and have now branched off into the new stuff--are the people who go out and buy entire boxed sets."

These sets, ranging in price from $8 to $30, are sold mostly by mail or in comic book stores, along with albums in which to display the cards. While serious collectors consider the cards an investment, others are attracted to specific subjects. What follows is a sampling of trading cards that draw from entertainment, current events, politics, even circus sideshows.

Much of the inspiration for the new cards comes from Hollywood. Just about every high-profile movie--and even a few clunkers such as "Howard the Duck"--spawns a set. Topps hit the streets this week with its "The Addams Family" set, which is expected to stick around until a few weeks after the film's theatrical run ends. "Adults love everything in the old nostalgia vein," Toser says. She predicts the movie will ignite demand for the old TV show cards within collectors' circles.

(Topps Co., 401 York Ave., Duryea, Pa. 18642; (717) 457-6761).

Of even greater appeal to many thirty- and even fortysomethings are Impel Marketing's Star Trek 25th Anniversary sets. The second series of cards is out now and, like the first, they depict scenes from the old and new TV shows.

And, for animation fans put off by the high cost of collecting original cels from the cartoon shorts of the '30s and '40s, Impel offers Disney Collector Cards as well as the more feminine Minne 'n Me, "the only card set on the market targeted to little girls and their mothers," says company spokesman George White III.

(Impel Marketing, P.O. Box 14930, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27709-4930; (800) 968-9955).

Another Southern California institution captured in cards is the automobile. Collect-A-Card's inaugural Vette Set series, released last summer, features not only photos of gleaming specimens of Chevrolet Corvettes (1953 to present), arguably the hottest sports car Detroit ever produced, but also the esoteric stats--production volume and serial number ranges--autophiles love.

Another set called Musclecars showcases road hogs like the Pontiac GTO, AMC Javelin and Plymouth Road Runner and Barracuda. These pre-oil-crisis gas guzzlers are making a big comeback among classic car collectors and wanna-bes. "It's the baby boomers who once owned those cars that now like to collect the cards," says Nelson Wheeler, director of marketing for Collect-A-Card.

(Collect-A-Card Corp., P.O. Box 17588, Greenville, S.C. 29606; (800) 243-7273).

The first trading card was an 1879 issue depicting a political figure--Canadian governor Marquis of Lorne. Eclipse Books is bringing back that grand old tradition, minus the reverential treatment the marquis no doubt enjoyed, with Iran/Contra, Drug War and Friendly Dictators (America's Most Embarrassing Allies) trading cards.

Now, Presidents Reagan and Bush and California Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) are skewered along with Sen. Alan Cranston, Charles Keating, Michael Milken and Neal Bush in Savings & Loan Scandal cards. Just released, these cards combine painted caricatures on one side and in-depth investigative reporting on the other. "We've had calls from savings and loan CEOs who've asked 'Am I in the cards?,' " says Eclipse editor Catherine Yronwode. "And when we say, 'No,' they say, 'Good, then I'll buy some. I want to show people that I'm not a crook.' "

(Eclipse Books, P.O. Box 1099, Forestville, Calif. 95436; (707) 887-1521).

Bordering on the tasteless is Mother Productions recently unleashed Human Freaks and Oddities. The 40-card collection, which is labeled "intended for adults only" because of its explicit photos, borrows from old circus sideshows and Ripley's Believe It or Not displays of "human phenomena." A card featuring Etta Lake, for example, shows her pulling her skin out 6 inches from her cheek. The text on the back explains matter-of-factly that Lake, a member of the King-Franklin Circus of the late 1800s, suffered from Ehler Danos' disease, a rare illness that results in extraordinary skin elasticity. Who, pray tell, buys these? "Movie producers, attorneys, reverends . . . everybody," says Mother's owner Roger Worsham. "People are just curious."

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