The early 1990s saw an unprecedented boom in sales for comic books and trading cards. Driven by a speculators market that seemed to believe that every new comic book series or baseball player rookie card was bound to quadruple in value every year, the market was absolutely flooded by new products. One of the key areas where the market exploded was in the arena of nonsports trading cards. Baseball, basketball, football and hockey were doing tremendously well, but there was so much demand for new collectible product that cards based on comic books, television shows and movies filled that void.
Now, nonsports trading cards had been around for decades. In fact, the first collectible trading card ever made was for Canadian governor Marquis of Lorne in 1879. Card sets like Mars Attacks, Star Wars and Garbage Pail Kids were big sellers in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, respectively. However, things just went crazy in the early 1990s. From a 1991 article on the trend, "In the last couple of years, the market has really taken off," said Harris Toser, production manager of Non-Sport Update, a quarterly trade magazine based in Harrisburg, Pa. "Six to seven years ago, there were at the most 10 non-sports sets put out in a year. This year alone, from last October to this month, there have been 167 sets out that we know of." With an increase in production like that, there were bound to be some strange choices for trading card sets and here, in chronological order, are some of the most bizarre nonsports trading card collections that burst on to the scene in the 1990s.
25 RAD DUDES (1990)
The success of Garbage Pail Kids in the 1980s was so impressive that card companies tried to rip Topps off for years. One of the odder attempts was Rad Dudes, from Pacific cards.
Just like Garbage Pail Kids, the characters' names are all alliterative, only instead of going for gross-out humor, these cards simply show teenagers (male and female, despite the dudes aspect of the title) doing "rad" things, mostly skateboarding and surfing. The featured card here was also used on the packs themselves. His name is "Boom Box Bryan."
24 ROBOCOP 2 (1990)
It is hard to imagine it now, but in the days before VHS tapes, the only way you could catch your favorite movie was to hope that it re-ran on television. This then led to a big after-market on trading cards tying into major motion pictures, so at least you could collect your favorite scenes in card form.
The oddity of this approach, though, is that some weird films got card sets meant for kids. For instance, Robocop 2 was an R-rated film that got a card set despite the first Robocop film not getting one!
23 THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW
One of the key demographics for the nonsports trading card market were older fans who wanted to collect a piece of their childhood. It was with that in mind that The Andy Griffith Show got their own card set in 1990.
The show was notable, back in the day, for ending while still one of the most popular shows on television, a feat that has rarely been duplicated in the decades since it went off the air. However, black and white photos of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts are still odd for collectors items.
22 THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME
The Hollywood Walk of Fame surprisingly only started in 1960. The choices have always been a bit odd over the years (Julia Roberts, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney and Robert DeNiro are among the stars who have never received a star) and in 1991, the eclectic nature of the Walk of Fame was made clear when Starline released a card set dedicated to the Walk of Fame.
There were plenty of famous people in the set, but you have to wonder who was really looking for a Morey Amsterdam trading card or, as featured here, an Englebert Humperdink card?
21 YO! MTV RAPS
Yo! MTV Raps was a very important program when it debuted in 1988, because it showed the world that rap and hip hop was a whole lot more popular than the mainstream media was giving them credit for at the time.
The show's popularity was probably at its peak when it released a card set featuring some of the top rappers of the era. However, the set is very much of the era, which means, naturally, that MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice are featured just as prominently as Public Enemy and Run D.M.C.
20 DESERT STORM
If you could harness the power from the patriotic zeal of Americans during Operation: Desert Storm, you could probably light up the entire country. It is hard to find a more popular military action than Desert Storm, with a larger-than-life and easy to hate villain in Saddam Hussein and a seemingly clear moral mission, it was very popular in the United States at the time.
So popular that Topps' Desert Storm trading card set sold like crazy at the time. Everyone had to have their own Dick Cheney card!
19 THE SOAPS OF ABC, FEATURING ALL MY CHILDREN
The idea of doing soap opera trading cards is not all that odd. However, it is always a bit amusing when you see projects launch with clearly lofty intended goals that never quite meet those goals.
For instance, 1991's The Soaps of ABC trading cards launched with an All My Children-themed set. The title of the initial set specifically touted the fact that sets featuring General Hospital, Loving and One Life to Live were set to follow...only the first set sold so poorly that they never released all of the sets.
18 TOXIC HIGH SCHOOL
Even Topps themselves tried to cash in on the popularity of their own Garbage Pail Kids product with the release of 1991's Toxic High School. Designed and penciled by artist Drew Friedman (with his pencils then being painted by some of the top Topps card artists of the era, such as Tom Bunk, Pat Pigott, John Pound, Walter Velez and Xno) the cards used a school setting for gross-out humor.
Besides general jokes about the school, the set also spotlighted a number of students who passed on in bizarre fashion.
One of the most aggressive trading card companies of the early 1990s was Impel Marketing, who hit the jackpot with its first edition of Marvel Universe cards in 1990. However, the company (which was later renamed Skybox and ultimately purchased by Marvel itself) shot far and wide with its other licenses of the era.
An odd one was Laffs, a brand based on ABC's hit "TGIF" lineup of shows. So cards based on Full House, Family Matters and Perfect Strangers. Amusingly enough, they didn't even get the entire TGIF lineup from that year, as Dinosaurs had their own card set!
16 DECISION '92
Now, one thing that we all know trading card fans are also huge fans of are the ins and outs of American politics, so it naturally made sense to produce a trading card set in 1992 about that year's Presidential Election. In all seriousness, that year was a unique one, in that there was a particularly wide berth of Democratic challengers and cable news was just starting to expand the national coverage for elections.
Since it was released before the election, the set had "surprise cards" that you could trade in later on for the winner of the election.
15 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
After their soap opera trading cards failed to set the sales word afire, Star Pics tried a different approach in 1992 by doing a Saturday Night Live collection. The fascinating thing about this set is that it was released 17 years into the show's existence and that isn't even the halfway mark of the show, which is currently in its 44th season!
The cards mostly ignored the non-Lorne Michaels years, with a heavy concentration on the then-current cast (so lots and lots of Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman).
14 ORIGINAL HOT AIRE
Besides Presidential elections, the other thing that you would assume all trading card fans were into were, of course, hot air balloons. The most amazing thing about the Original Hot Aire collection of trading cards is that it lasted more than one year!
Two hot air balloon enthusiasts, Danny Edwards and Patrick O’Hea, put together the collection during the 1991 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Edwards took photos and collected the information about the various balloonists and then O'Hea designed the cards themselves. They were released in limited quantities to try to make them more collectible.
13 GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS
The trading card boom was so big that there were a few companies that latched on to the idea to try to do some educational sets. Sort of riding the fence between informational and entertainment was Guinness's Book of Records trading cards.
You got informational stuff like learning which animal was the fastest in the world, but you also got to see the 1990s version of the Victorian Freak Show by seeing the world's tallest man or the world's shortest woman. Plus, of course, for variety's sake, check out the biggest chewing gum bubble!
12 BRANSON ON STAGE
In the late 1950s, Branson, Missouri, began promoting itself as a live music destination. They built a number of theaters along Route 79 in Branson. Slowly but surely, the city became a regular spot for country music stars to perform and that, in turn, began to make Branson a tourist attraction.
In 1983, Hee-Haw star and country music legend Roy Clark opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre and since then, the town has just boomed in popularity, as other celebrities also opened their own theaters in town. The town became popular enough for its own card set!
11 SAVED BY THE BELL
One of the odd things about the success of Saved by the Bell is that the show saw most of its success after it was off the air. Like other programs such as The Brady Bunch and Star Trek, it was only when the show hit off-network syndication than it became a sensation. It did not even make it to 100 episodes in its original run.
Thus, it was surprising when Pacific released a Saved By The Bell card set right before the show's last season in 1992, just before the show really hit big in syndication.
10 WARRIORS OF PLASM
In 1993, after being pushed out of Valiant, the comic company that he had formed after leaving Marvel in 1987, Jim Shooter formed a new comic book company called Defiant. The first book launched by Defiant was Warriors of Plasm, by Shooter and artists David Lapham and Michael Witherby.
The first issue of the series (technically #0) was actually released in a trading card set! You had to collect all of the cards in the set and then put them into a binder. Once you put them all into the binder, you could read the completed comic book story.
9 AMERICAN BANDSTAND
American Bandstand started as a local show in Philadelphia in 1952, but when Dick Clark took over as host in 1956, its approach to playing Top 40 hits and having teens dance to the music exploded in popularity and ABC picked it up and it ran for 30 seasons on ABC.
The problem with this card set is that Clark could only get an eclectic group of performers to agree to licensing their name for the set and the ones who did were mostly older acts. Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker yes, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper no.
8 THE LAST ACTION HERO
The late William Goldman once summed up Hollywood a succinct phrase, "Nobody knows anything." Goldman himself could attest to this up close and personally when a film that he worked on, The Last Action Hero, was one of the more notable flops of the 1990s.
The film, about a film action hero (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) who magically bursts out of his movie and ends up in the real world, actually made over $130 million worldwide at the box office, but with an $87 million budget and a proven box office star, that was still a bust.
7 THE COCA COLA COLLECTION
While they did not come up with the design for Santa Claus that we are all familiar with today, Coca Cola is likely responsible for popularizing that specific version of Santa, through a series of popular ads that they ran in the 1920s and 1930s. So they certainly deserve credit for how well their ads have done over the years.
However, it is one thing to put out advertisements, it is a whole other thing to then put those ads in a trading card set and then expect people to pay to collect your ads!
6 SAVED BY THE BELL: THE COLLEGE YEARS
If Saved by the Bell trading cards are weird, then how about Saved by the Bell: The College Years? You see, after entering syndication in 1991 while still airing on network, the show really started to take off in popularity in early 1993, after the original series had been canceled!
Besides doing a new show about the next class of students at Bayside High, NBC also did a prime time series following the guys from the original series as they went off to college. It was canceled after one season, but still got a card set!
If you found out that there was a set of trading cards about Titanic that came out in 1998, you would probably think, "Sounds about right. That movie was one of the most successful films of all-time." However, amusingly enough, the 1998 Dart Titanic trading card set has nothing to do with the blockbuster James Cameron film from 1997!
No, it is just a fairly staid and bland set of black and white photographs of the doomed ocean liner and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, for their sake, they were able to cash in on curious fans of the film!
4 TV'S COOLEST CLASSICS
Since the nostalgia market is such a powerful one, the idea of doing a trading card set featuring classic television sitcoms is not a bad one at all. However, TV's Coolest Classics from Inkworks has such a small roster of TV shows that it is just hilarious looking at the set.
The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hogan's Heroes, Get Smart and The Brady Bunch make up the entirety of the roster for this set. Just five shows? Seriously? They don't even have anything in common!
3 RICKY MARTIN
While nonsports trading cards were not quite as big in the 1980s, there were plenty of celebrities who still got their own cards. Some of the singers in the 1980s with their own card set included Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Menudo. Menudo was a boy band based in Puerto Rico whose membership would constantly change.
One of their early standout members was Ricky Martin. He joined a year after the band got their own trading card set in 1983. 15 years later, though, as a superstar solo act, he finally got his own trading card set from Upper Deck!
2 BEANIE BABIES
Toy entrepreneur Ty Warner founded Ty, Inc. in the early 1990s to sell stuffed cat dolls. He came up with the idea of using pellets (or "beans") in his stuffed animals to give them a more realistic feel than typical stuffed animals. Dubbed Beanie Babies, he hand produced the dolls originally in 1993 before finally moving to factory production in 1994.
The popularity of the toys exploded in the late 1990s. They were probably the first national fad to become big on the Internet. This led to a trading card series that lasted for four series over two years!
1 MEANIE BABIES
Beanie Babies were so popular that they even inspired their own parody line of cards! Meanie Babies was a line of cards produced by Dark Horse Comics and Comic Images. They were created and painted by John Pound, who was one of the more popular Garbage Pail Kids artists at Topps in the 1980s.
Jay Lynch provided the text on the back of the cards, which often included naughty poems. Ty, Inc. was not a fan of the trading cards and their lawyers have made sure that Dark Horse ceased making the cards after the first series.