At the end of the original King Kong film, director Carl Denham famously laments, "It was beauty killed the beast."
It's rarity, however, that generally conquers aspiring 1965 Topps Test King Kong set collectors.
"It's sad and tragic that such a cool series – one of Topps' best series – is also one of their most scarce," said Kurt Kuersteiner, webmaster of www.monsterwax.com and www.monstercards.org, of the King Kong set.
Philip Allison, whose No. 1 set on the PSA Set Registry boasts an incredible 9.05 GPA and was named the Best Vintage Non-Sports Set of the Year in 2010, expresses similar sentiments.
"I've only heard of two or three complete sets," he said.
Mark Skerbe, co-owner of Triple sSs Sportscards, Inc. in Shelby Township, Mich., estimates that there are less than 25 complete sets in the hobby.
"The true rarity of the set overall is outstanding," said Skerbe, who was offering more than 20 PSA-graded cards from this set on eBay at press time.
Featuring black and white stills from the classic 1933 movie, this 55-card offering was reportedly tested and withdrawn from the market. As a result, the few cards that have surfaced command exorbitant prices.
Topps told hobby trailblazer Bob Marks that the pictures for these cards were secured in an unusual fashion.
"RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum Pictures), who made the movie, delivered an actual print of the film to Topps with instructions to select whatever pictures they wanted by taking them directly from the film," explained Marks. "Topps then had to go out and rent a movieola-type machine so that they could view the film. After the decision was made not to enter full production, Topps sold the images that they had selected to Donruss."
Marks says this accounts for the similarity in images between the Topps test set and the Donruss issue (described later in this article), released in the same year.
Marks has seen a 1965 Topps Test King Kong wax box. The box is a standard 24-pack box that is predominantly "hot pink with black accents" – similar to "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." boxes issued in 1966. The box advertises packs for five cents apiece, although there were no packs or wrappers in the test box that Marks viewed.
"I haven't seen a test wrapper and I don't know anybody that has," said Marks. "My guess is that these cards were wrapped in cellophane with a stick of gum."
Over the years, Marks has seen a few uncut sheets of these cards.
"Every once in awhile you see some partial sheets," he said. "And there have been some complete sheets out there, but they were blank backs. They were proof sheets."
Marks believes that these cards, like other test issues from the same era, were test marketed in select Brooklyn stores and then were taken off the market.
"The '60s were your hottest TV time," he noted. "Cards from TV shows in the '60s sold like hot cakes, whether it was The Green Hornet, Beverly Hillbillies or The Addams Family. I think it was just that they weren't that interested in King Kong. King Kong was a movie from the '30s."
Along with the black and white photos from the 1933 film, the fronts of these cards also flaunt a caption. Marks notes that these cards "follow the sequence of the movie."
"The photos are 99% action," said Kuersteiner. "King Kong is the perfect subject, because like Mars Attacks, the card set jumps into the story and it takes off running and there's not a dull picture in the series. It's all action and excitement for all 55 cards."
The card backs feature narrative in chocolate brown on off-white stock. The tops of the backs showcase the card number and caption, while the bottoms highlight the copyright information. The company is listed as Bubbles Inc., the moniker Topps often employed for monster sets in this era.
As noted earlier, Donruss released a King Kong set the same year employing some of the same photos as the Topps issue. Manufactured in significantly larger quantities than their Topps counterpart, the Donruss cards parodied the King Kong films by adding humorous bubble captions to the photos. The backs were puzzle pieces. These cards can generally be purchased for a fraction of the cost of their Topps contemporaries.
"I don't like them because of the balloon text that makes them a lot less appealing," said Allison.
Kuersteiner expresses similar disdain.
"The Donruss set is an insult to the legacy of King Kong for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they mix and match photos from various King Kong movies," he said.
"Overall, the picture quality, clarity, choice and layout of the subject matter is clearly superior in the Topps test set," he said.
Fortunately, the legacy of King Kong has endured this much-maligned Donruss production. The legendary gorilla has inspired several films since the 1933 original, including Peter Jackson's 2005 remake. King Kong has also been featured in books, comics and video games.
"The original King Kong movie has the monster motif. It's got this strange adventure theme going on in it. It has the prehistoric monsters and it has King Kong and the love interest. It just has everything," explained Kuersteiner. "It was an iconic film and it drew in a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise consider themselves monster fans. It was a movie you could take the whole family to go and see."
Marks adds an interesting piece of trivia about the movie.
"The big wall in the King Kong movie was used in Gone with the Wind," he said. "It was burned in Gone with the Wind to simulate the burning of Atlanta."
The movie also featured revolutionary stop motion effects.
"It was the Star Wars of its time," said Kuersteiner. "Everything else was left in the dust by it."
With this type of legacy, it's no wonder that cards from the 1965 Topps Test King Kong set are in high demand. Due to their rarity, however, just 289 cards from this series have been submitted to PSA, making it hard to distinguish which cards are more elusive than others.
"There are 55 cards in the set and each one is difficult to get," said Allison.
With eight submissions, the Warning Cry (#10) single is the highest population card, and with only four submissions each – Kong to the Rescue (#27) and Deadly Fire (#50) – are the lowest population cards.
"The No. 1 card and the last card of the set will likely sell for more than the others," said Skerbe.
Due to the scarcity of these cards, there are few auction results to report. In June 2010, a PSA NM-MT 8 copy of Rooftop Peril (#42) fetched $400 on eBay and an entire graded set sold for $37,741 in April 2006.
On top of their scarcity, these cards are also difficult to find in top condition.
"I know that they are commonly miscut," said Kuersteiner.
Skerbe has also noticed centering issues with some of the cards.
These condition issues make this rare set a "monster" to conquer.
"It's the only monster card set that I don't have a complete set of that I want," said Kuersteiner. "The cards are just too difficult to find."
A special thanks to Bob Marks and Kurt Kuersteiner for their extra efforts on this article. Please contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Triple SSS Sportscards provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of press time.