You probably won't have to tell anyone to keep their "stinking paws" off of your 1969 Topps Planet of the Apes cards.
Demand for these pasteboards, which feature photos from the groundbreaking 1968 film, has been relatively tame. And not even nine solo singles featuring Spaceman George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) - whose famous first words to the apes were "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" - have been enough to catapult this set to the forefront of the non-sports hobby.
"I've been following this set regularly for a couple of years and looking at what's available online, but I haven't seen a spike in prices or anything like that," noted Ron Saad, who owns the No. 7, 1969 Topps Planet of the Apes set on the PSA Set Registry.
But that's not to say that interest in these cards won't pick up. The fact that Heritage Auctions sold the registry's No. 9 set, which boasted a GPA of 6.70, for $448.13 this past May indicates that this offering does have allure, even in mid-grade. And with a new Apes movie set for release in May 2014 and the original film still highly revered, Saad believes this offering will always have a steady stream of followers.
"I always thought the movie was cool because the special effects were ahead of their time and the costumes looked pretty realistic," said Saad. "And quotes from the film will always be re-quoted."
So maybe - as ape soldier Julius utters in the movie - it will be a case of "Human see. Human do," and more hobbyists will begin pursuing this 44-card issue. Measuring 2-1/2" by 3-1/2" each, these cards flaunt photos from the original motion picture released on February 8, 1968. In this science fiction classic, a crew of U.S. astronauts - headed by Taylor (Heston) - crashes into a planet in the distant future where apes are the ruling class and humans are considered savages.
The timeless flick - which also features Roddy McDowall as Dr. Cornelius - is groundbreaking for its makeup and spawned several sequels, a TV series and a plethora of promotional merchandise, including this card series.
On top of the color photo, the white-bordered fronts of the 1969 cards showcase a yellow caption inside a red ribbon-like design. The green-tinted backs present the set title, caption and card number at the top, followed by text describing the photo on the card front; this text is surrounded by an elaborate border that includes sketches of some of the apes. The narrative, which flows from card back to card back, is an abbreviated version of the movie plot. Copyright information is located towards the bottom of the card.
"The design is very standard with white borders," noted Steve Lam, who owns the top registry set. "They're not the greatest pictures, but still, for a small 44-card set, Topps did a pretty good job."
These cards were distributed in five-cent packs (with gum) that Lam says are difficult to track down today.
Rick Dalton, who owns the registry's No. 4 Current Finest set, agrees.
"It's very hard to get a full box," he said.
Vending boxes were also reportedly produced. One vending box sold for $6,104 in 2006.
The set was printed on 132-card sheets that consisted of 12 rows of 11 cards. Each card in this 44-card series appears three times on the sheet, and the sequence of the 44 cards in the first four rows is repeated in rows five through eight and rows nine through 12.
As is common with many vintage sets, the first and last cards in this offering tend to fetch a premium.
"The first and last cards command the most because when people put their set's together back in the day, they used to put rubber bands on them, and the first and last card always got creases," explained Lam.
The first card "Crash Landing!" is particularly elusive in top condition.
"The No. 1 card is really hard to find centered," noted Lam.
Just one PSA MINT 9 and 10 PSA NM-MT 8s have been uncovered. A PSA 8 fetched $153.50 on eBay in May 2011.
The last card "Lights! Camera! Action!" is the only single in this set that describes the production of the film rather than the plot. This pasteboard isn't as elusive in top condition as the first card. Of the 47 submitted, there has been one PSA GEM-MT 10, six PSA 9s and 16 PSA 8s.
With just two PSA 9 examples, card #3 "Stranded!" is also highly coveted in top grade. A PSA 9 sold for $168.50 on eBay in May 2009.
As noted earlier, there are nine Spaceman George Taylor (Charlton Heston) solo cards in this set. Card #4 "Spaceman George Taylor!" features a particularly fetching photo of a ruggedly handsome Heston. Located on the left edge of the print sheet in the first, fifth and ninth rows, this single was in a position which generally makes cards vulnerable to flaws (e.g. miscuts) during the production process. Just four PSA 9s and 11 PSA 8s have been recorded. Over the past three years, PSA 8s have sold for around $39 each, which is $10 to $15 higher than PSA 8 commons from this series have generally garnered.
But Dalton says the apes, not Heston, are the true stars of the movie and the card series.
"Charlton Heston added a big name to the [first] movie, but the sequel made a lot of money regardless of the fact that he was just thrown in as a secondary character. After all, it's the apes that people go to see," explained Dalton. "It's called Planet of the Apes. I think Roddy McDowall [Dr. Cornelius] was the real star of the movie, and he starred in four [Planet of the Apes movies]."
Saad agrees, adding that his favorite card in this series is #9 "Stalking Human Prey!" which depicts the apes combing through a field to capture the human savages.
"The apes are the attraction," said Saad, "especially some of the bad apes that look ominous."
Saad also adds that cards with the fewest number of PSA 8 or higher examples on the PSA Population Report tend to generate a premium. With just 22 submissions each, card #40 "Under Arrest!" and #42 "Farewell!" have been submitted to PSA the fewest number of times. A PSA 9 copy of #40 sold for $146.50 on eBay in November 2009.
A rare American test issue that boasts black borders instead of the white borders on the regular series has also surfaced.
"I've seen an entire [raw] test set come up for sale in an auction on eBay for some ridiculous amount of money, like $4,000 or $5,000," said Saad. "It's rare that you see the test cards come up on eBay as singles."
There is also a 1968 A&BC Planet of the Apes set comprised of the same 44 cards as the regular American issue, but like the test offering, these cards have black borders. Produced in the U.K., these cards are smaller than the American cards.
Cards from the 1975 Topps Planet of the Apes offering showcase a front design identical to the 1969 series. The photos on the 1975 cards, however, are primarily from the short-lived Planet of the Apes TV series. The easiest way to distinguish these from the 1969 cards is to examine the card backs. The top portion of the 1975 backs exhibits a puzzle piece.
The 1969 Planet of the Apes cards can be challenging to find in top condition.
"I think some of the green backs look like they're a little bit faded," said Saad. "There seems to be print defects on some of them, like little dust flecks on the printing press."
Lam adds that there are also centering issues with some of the cards.
But so far it hasn't been - as Taylor famously quips in the movie when being hosed down and restrained by an ape - "a mad house" for cards from the 1969 Topps Planet of the Apes series. But these cards do seem to hold promise. The 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a box-office smash and the new movie slated for release in May 2014 is also bound to attract huge audiences; this, combined with continued interest in the original movie, could translate into an increased demand for the 1969 set.
"I think the original movie definitely stands the test of time," said Dalton. "I've watched it with my kids and it had one of the biggest surprise endings of that time."
So while you probably won't have to tell anyone to keep their "stinking paws" off your 1969 Topps Planet of the Apes cards right now, you might have to in the future.
View the set in the PSA Set Registry.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Steve Lam and Heritage Auctions for providing scans for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of June 2013.
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