There's bound to be a buzz around the 1966 Donruss Green Hornet set when the new Seth Rogen movie hits theaters in July 2010.
The "Knocked Up" star unveiled the film's new Black Beauty – the Green Hornet's answer to the Batmobile – at Comic Con in San Diego this summer.
"Whenever something like a movie is released, there's always a little bit of an increase in popularity," said Marty Quinn, who owns the No. 5 Current Finest, 1966 Donruss Green Hornet set on the PSA Set Registry.
Bob Florio, proprietor of the registry's No. 3 Current Finest set, agrees.
"It's going to be very interesting to see if more Green Hornet cards will be submitted for grading after the movie comes out," he said. "When the Batman movies came out, it spurred more interest in Batman memorabilia and rekindled interest in us old-timers and baby boomers."
Even without the movie, interest in the set seems to have picked up in recent months.
"I just don't come across the Green Hornet cards that often and I've got them in my favorites on eBay and when they do come up, I've noticed that lately they've been gobbled up for more than I'm willing to pay," said Florio.
Distributed in five-cent packs with gum, these cards – billed as Green Hornet Photos – feature scenes from the short-lived TV series that ran on ABC from September 1966 to March 1967. Van Williams starred as the Green Hornet and martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, played Kato, the Hornet's loyal sidekick.
Newspaper publisher, Britt Reid, by day, the Green Hornet was a vigilante crime fighter at night. Sporting his trademark green mask, hat and overcoat and employing his distinct weaponry (including his Hornet's Sting), this mysterious law enforcer posed as a criminal to infiltrate the underworld. Just two people outside of Kato were aware of the Hornet's real identity: his secretary Miss Case and the local district attorney, Frank P. Scanlon.
The original Green Hornet was conceived by George Trendle and Fran Striker, the duo that also created The Lone Ranger. Fittingly, the Green Hornet debuted on WXYZ – the same Detroit radio station as The Lone Ranger – in 1936 and remained on air until 1952. The character also spawned film serials and several comic book series.
The first three cards in this set feature profile shots of the Green Hornet, newspaper crime reporter, Mike Axford and Miss Case respectively, while the remaining singles relay stories of the Hornet's crime-fighting escapades. The card fronts boast white borders and the Green Hornet logo, while the backs include a brief description of the scene and a puzzle piece. These backs can then be merged together to form six different puzzles, including eight-piece puzzles of Miss Case, the Black Beauty and two that feature both the Green Hornet and Kato. There are also six-piece puzzles that showcase solo shots of the Green Hornet and Kato.
"When we were kids, we really liked the Green Hornet. We liked the Black Beauty and we liked Kato because of Bruce Lee," said Harry Kleiman, who owns the registry's No. 4 Current Finest Green Hornet set.
Florio shares similar sentiments.
"It was one of my favorite sets and the main reason is Bruce Lee," he said. "With this set, you may have people that are huge Bruce Lee fans. He's known worldwide and there are a lot of people that are into martial arts. And Bruce Lee is the man. So, you probably have a crossover of people that are not card or sticker collectors, but just collect everything with Bruce Lee."
Cards featuring Lee sometimes command a premium. A PSA NM-MT 8 copy of card #21, which showcases Kato in the Black Beauty, sold for $43.99 on eBay in June 2009.
Lee is also the focus of the set's last card. On this pasteboard, Kato is pictured towering amongst skyscrapers. The description on the back reads, "The people can sleep well tonight. Kato stands ready to help." Because this card features Lee and is the set's final card, making it susceptible to wear, it tends to command lofty prices.
The set's first card, a head shot of the Green Hornet, is similarly fragile and also sells for a premium.
"I think I paid $200 or $300 for the No. 1 card in PSA 8," said Kleiman.
The set's second single – Mike Axford The Crime Reporter for the Daily Sentinel . . . – has the fewest graded examples. Just 10 have been submitted to PSA.
Kleiman says it's difficult to track down almost any card from this set in high-grade and the PSA Population Report backs him up. Of the 835 Green Hornet cards submitted, there has yet to be a PSA GEM-MT 10.
"With 44 cards in the set, the pile is so skinny, that the rubber band you would put around the cards would kill even the middle cards," he said. "I think as kids, we played with these cards . . . We really liked the cards and they got wrecked."
Quinn has also noticed flaws on the surface of these cards.
"The Green Hornet cards are susceptible to scratching. They seem to be of a higher gloss," he said.
But some argue that the 1966 Topps Green Hornet stickers are even more elusive in top condition.
"I think that what's really appealing about the sticker design is that it is more like the 1960s' psychedelic era," said Florio.
Distributed in five-cent packs, this 44-sticker set consisted of 40 stickers showcasing shots from the TV series and four with artwork. Interestingly, this set features more shots of the Green Hornet and Kato without their masks than the Donruss set. The fronts generally boast colorful borders (though no consistent color) and the words "The Green Hornet," but were absent of the Green Hornet logo and scene descriptions. The backs were blank and the stickers can be peeled apart in two parts. Just 248 stickers have been submitted to PSA.
"The stickers are extremely difficult to get from what I've seen. They're actually harder to get now than the cards. People used to peel them and put them on their notebooks," said Kleiman.
"The stickers are very colorful," noted Quinn, "but they also come horribly centered."
With the buzz that the new Green Hornet movie is bound to generate, interest in these stickers and the Donruss cards is likely to increase, and it looks as though we can expect more collectors to be stung by the Green Hornet collecting bug in the future.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Marty Quinn provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of press time.