It's a set that has terrorized hobbyists for years.
Showcasing some of the most memorable beasts in movie history, the 1961 Nu-Cards Horror Monster series is the "granddaddy" of monster sets according to renowned collector Bill Bengen.
One of the oldest and most popular monster issues, this offering shines the spotlight on the best and worst of the classic monster movies.
Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, The Wolfman and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are featured in this set, alongside B-movie menaces like The Giant Behemoth, The Alligator People, The Hideous Sun Demon, The She Creature and The Blob.
Kuersteiner says this set was likely released to capitalize on the popularity of the Creature Features movies appearing on TV in the '60s. The savvy monster card enthusiast also adds that this issue probably drew inspiration from the best-selling 1959 Topps You'll Die Laughing set. The fronts of the Topps cards feature cartoon monsters drawn by Jack Davis accompanied by humorous captions. Corny jokes adorn the card backs. Fifty years ago, parents feared that the images on these cards would traumatize children. It's believed that Topps added humor to soften the impact.
Nu-Cards adopted a similar formula for their 146-card, 1961 Horror Monsters series. One significant difference, however, is that the cards showcase black and white movie photos rather than drawings.
First-series cards (1 to 66) boast green-bordered fronts and red-orange backs. Along with a photo, the fronts also display the card number inside a small skeleton design and a caption. The backs include a series of cartoon monsters above a frame that showcases an aptly named "Horrible" joke.
The first-series cards were initially distributed in two-card panels with white backs. Bengen points out that the Non-Sports Bible identifies 19 different panels (a total of 38 different numbers) and that the panels were released in five-cent cello packs containing three, two-card panels and a single card.
"One of the things that makes it hard for that first series is the fact that they were sold in panels originally. There was a perforation, so you had to tear them apart. So, right there, you're going to have condition problems," said Tom Pernice, who owns the No. 3 set on the PSA Set Registry.
Marty Quinn, who owns the Registry's No. 2 set, agrees.
"The perforations often ran into the card itself, which impacts the grade," he said.
Two-card panels that are still intact command a premium
Single series-one cards with gray backs were later released in five-cent "Horror Monsters" packs. The wrappers joked about the fact that gum was not included, showcasing the wording: "Packed with GHOST GUM. You can't see it. You can't taste it. You can't chew it. But dentists say it's good for your teeth."
Completing a first-series set with card backs that are the same color is difficult. And while the white backs appear to be scarcer, they generally don't command a premium over the gray backs.
Hobbyists say that first-series cards surface less frequently than the second-series singles, and that when they do come up for sale, the green borders are often chipped.
"I would definitely say that in decent grade, the first series is a much more difficult set to assemble than the second series," said Kuersteiner. "I don't think I've ever seen a near-mint set of the green series offered for sale. But probably half of all the sets I've seen offered of the orange series have been in really high-grade."
"The green fronts are very, very difficult to find in any grade," he said. "They're brutal. You almost never see them in high-grade anywhere."
Quinn has been attempting to complete the first series (green cards) in high-grade for five years, but remains 20 cards short.
"The green (first) series is definitely, without a doubt, the tougher series to collect," he said.
One of the most popular cards in the first series is the Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein single (#21).
"That's a premium card just because Abbott and Costello are on it," noted Quinn.
Second-series cards (#67 to 146) boast orange-bordered fronts and green backs. The cartoon monsters above the "Horrible Jokes" on the backs are more professional and detailed for this series.
Distributed without gum, these cards were housed in five-cent packs that say "Movie Monsters" and are more readily available than those in the first series.
"The orange cards are fairly common, you see them frequently," noted Bengen.
The Electronic Monster (#102) is a key card in this series. This card can be found with a rare bonus back that indicates it's "WORTH 100 WRAPPERS" towards the company's redemption prizes. Bonus backs are also reportedly available in denominations of 50, 25 and 10. Because collectors often redeemed these cards, they're difficult to find and command a significant premium.
Collectors that submitted the appropriate bonus card (or $1 and five wrappers or 50 wrappers) would receive a poster of the entire first series. Kuersteiner owns one of these prized posters.
"This poster is basically the entire set of the green series fronts. It's printed on standard poster paper, not on cardboard," he said, adding that he hasn't seen a poster of the second-series cards.
According to the PSA Population Report, the four most frequently submitted cards from this set are from the scarcer first series: The Headless Ghost (#16), The Alligator People (#39), The Giant Behemoth (#47) and Horror of Dracula (#62).
"The green cards come up very infrequently but, when they do, it's always the same cards that seem to be available," explained Pernice.
"There seems to be a couple of cards from the green series that show up frequently and the rest of the set shows up very rarely at all. There must have been some peculiarities in the way they produced these cards," he said.
A mysterious blue-bordered variety of these cards also exists. Slightly smaller than the cards in the first two series, these pasteboards boast a picture with a caption in a white panel below it. The caption text appears to be entered with a typewriter. Blue-bordered versions of cards from both the first and second series have been uncovered. The backs of these cards boast a similar design to their first- or second-series cousin, but it appears that the Nu-Cards address line has been blotted out.
The general hobby belief is that the blue-bordered cards are the original prototype of the first- and second-series cards, but Kuersteiner has disputed this in recent years. He believes that the blue cards are bootlegged versions of the Horror Monsters cards printed by a separate company. The blotting out of the Nu-Cards address is a key to his argument.
"If the blue cards were really originals, the designers wouldn't need to blot out the address, because it wouldn't exist until they typed it later for the green (first) and orange (second) series," he explained.
Despite their amateurish look, the blue-bordered Horror Monster cards tend to command a premium over cards in the first and second series.
With all of this set's idiosyncrasies and its wide variety of memorable movie monsters, it's no wonder it has been dubbed the "granddaddy" of monster sets. But, until more high-grade cards surface, it will continue to terrorize Set Registry enthusiasts for the foreseeable future.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. A special thanks to Kurt Kuersteiner for his extra efforts on this article. 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.