Make no "Bones" about it: the Dr. "Bones" McCoy card (#3) is arguably the most important card in the 1976 Topps Star Trek issue.
Rick Dalton, who has built several Star Trek sets – including the No. 1 set – on the PSA Set Registry, has submitted numerous examples of this card but has yet to receive a grade higher than PSA NM-MT 8.
"There are only four [PSA MINT] 9s out there and I tried to get the last one that came up for sale, but it went for over $1,000," he said.
Mark Adams, who has assembled the registry's No. 5 Current Finest set, is also looking to upgrade his McCoy card.
"For the last year, I've been looking for it and nothing has come up for sale," he said.
So why is this card so elusive in mint condition?
No. 2 registry set owner, Scott Stonebrook, says it's frequently found off-center. He also uncovered a photo of a 1976 Star Trek sheet and forwarded it to fellow hobbyist Robert Mruczek, who determined that the McCoy card was located on the edge of the sheet.
On the 132-card sheet (12 rows of 11 cards across), the McCoy single was the third card from the left in the top row, leaving it in a vulnerable position on the top edge of the sheet.
"The edge cards tend to have problems with centering, blue printing lines and things of that nature," explained Mruczek.
So while Dr. "Bones" McCoy was a secondary character to Spock and Kirk in the original TV series, he has a starring role in this 88-card Topps offering. Released in 1976, seven years after the original TV series was cancelled, these standard-sized cards comprised the first American Star Trek set since the 1967 Leaf effort. It's also the first U.S. set to be released in color.
Featuring photos of characters and scenes that span the three seasons of the original series, the card fronts also boast a caption, a yellow Enterprise icon and white borders. Under the heading "Captain's Log," the text on the backs generally describes the photo.
The backs also showcase the card number and copyright information. Cards #1 to #18 and the set's last card also advertise the then-forthcoming Star Trek movie at the bottom, while the remaining pasteboards indicate the name of the episode featured in the photo.
Compared to the outlandish plots described on the backs of the 1967 Leaf set, "this [1976 Topps] set really does represent the whole [TV] series nicely," noted Adams. "The backs on these actually coincide with the show's storylines and they give a really good synopsis of the photo on the front, which is useful because a lot of people don't know the episodes and they can learn as they go."
Mruczek likes the design of these cards.
"The set is in color and it encompasses many of my favorite episodes," he said. "I thought it was extremely pleasant to look at in terms of aesthetics."
The 1976 Topps Star Trek cards were distributed in 10-cent packs (36 packs to a box) that included five cards, a sticker and a piece of gum.
On the 132-card sheet that Mruczek studied, he discovered that some cards appear twice, while others – including the aforementioned McCoy single – are featured only once. In fact, all but one of the cards that Mruczek wishes to upgrade to PSA 9 (#3, #6, #23, #32, #64 and #77) in his registry set appear on the sheet only once and are located in edge sheet positions. And not coincidentally, according to the PSA Population Report, four of the cards that Mruczek needs to upgrade (#3, #23, #32 and #77) are the toughest cards to track down in PSA 9 grade or above.
The two sheets examined for this article boasted the same 132-card layout. On both sheets, there were 44 cards (listed below) that appeared only once, while the remaining 44 cards were featured twice. Provided there isn't a sheet with a different card composition, the cards that only appear once could be deemed single prints, while the other 44 could be considered double prints.
Cards That Only Appear Once on the 1976 Star Trek Sheet
(Likely Single Prints)
#2 Captain James T. Kirk
#3 Dr. "Bones" McCoy
#4 Science Officer Spock
#6 Lieutenant Uhura
#7 Ensign Chekov
#9 The Shuttle Craft
#12 The Alien Mr. Spock
#14 Story of Voyage One
#16 View from the Bridge
#18 Enterprise Orbiting Earth
#20 Outwitting a God
#21 Planet Delta Vega
#23 Mysterious Cube
#27 Frozen World
#30 The Demon Within
#31 "My Enemy ... My Self!"
#32 Monster Android
#33 Korby's Folly
#34 The Duplicate Man
#41 The Lawgivers
#42 Hunting the Tunnel Monster
#43 Batting the Horta
#47 The Guardian of Forever
#49 Mystery at Star Base 6
#51 The Talosians
#52 Ordeal on Rigel Seven
#53 Capturing the Keeper
#55 Trapped by the Lizard Creature
#56 The Gorn Strikes!
#61 Strangled by Mr. Spock
#62 Grasp of the Gods
#64 The Companion
#65 Journey to Babel
#67 The Tholian Web
#72 The Melkotian
#75 Creation of a Humanoid
#76 Captured by Romulans
#77 A War of Worlds
#79 I, Yarneg!
#84 Kirk's Deadliest Foe
#85 The Trouble with Tribbles
#87 The Starship Eater
Five of the likely single-prints (#2, #3, #4, #6 and #7) introduce members of the cast. Ron Saad, who owns the No. 6 Current Finest Registry set, says these cards are very popular.
On top of the elusive McCoy single, the Lieutenant Uhura card (#6) has been difficult for Adams and Saad to track down in top condition.
"I currently have a PSA [NM] 7 Uhura card, but I've been looking for a higher grade example on eBay for years," said Saad.
On the 132-card sheets reviewed for this article, the Uhura was the last card on the right in the top row. Like the McCoy, this card was situated in a fragile, edge sheet position. Just eight PSA 9s exist, one of which sold for $431.66 on eBay in December 2012.
Hobbyists also cite card #77 "A War of Worlds" as particularly elusive. There are just two PSA 9s of this card, and like the McCoy and Uhura singles, this card is located in the top row on the edge of the sheet.
"Card #77 is very difficult," said Stonebrook. "I actually found the PSA 9 that I own in a box. I believe #77 was the last card in this set to have a [PSA] 9 graded, and I think I got the first [PSA] 9."
The first (#1 U.S.S. Enterprise) and last (#88 Star Trek Lives!) cards are also tough to find in flawless form.
"When people put rubber bands around their sets, those are the cards that would most often get damaged," said Stonebrook.
One popular character who doesn't have his own card in this issue is Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, played by George Takei. He's also left unmentioned as a cast member on the back of card #13 "Men of the Enterprise."
"The original series was not like The Next Generation, where the characters would, at times, have their own plot lines and their own stories," explained Dalton. "The only two characters in the original series that had plot lines dedicated to them were Scott and McCoy, besides your typical Kirk and Spock [plot lines]. Sulu was a background character."
Stonebrook offers another explanation.
"What I heard was that George Takei was not considered a full-time cast member of the show," shared Stonebrook, who actually had Takei sign the back of card #13 in this set. "He broke away and he starred in other movies, and I think that kind of rubbed the producers the wrong way."
Poor centering and print defects tend to hamper the 1976 Star Trek cards.
According to Saad, he's never seen another card set possess as many print defects as this Star Trek set appears to have.
But Stonebrook points out that it's easier to find high-grade cards than stickers. Inserted at the rate of one per 1976 Topps Star Trek pack, the 22 stickers each feature a captioned photo of a character or cast member surrounded by a green, yellow or orange border against a black, galactic scene.
"The stickers are plagued with roller marks and gum stains on the back," said Stonebrook. "The white back of the sticker is against the gum. If you open boxes that have been sealed for 30 years, there are gum stains on the backs of the stickers and you're likely only to get a [PSA EX-MT] 6. You have to find stickers that were opened in the 1970s or early 1980s in order to obtain them without the gum residue."
But the stickers haven't proven to be as popular as the cards.
"The prices on PSA GEM-MT 10 cards have gone through the roof," said Dalton. "In the last three auctions on eBay, the [PSA] 10s sold for over $700 [each], whereas a few years ago, you could buy those cards for less than $300. Even the [PSA] 9s are going up."
Stonebrook says he's fortunate that he started his set in 2003 because he doesn't think he could afford to put together a high-grade registry set today.
"Trying to collect this set today with a 9.35 GPA would prove difficult. I really don't think I could do it with all of the competition and the scarcity of the unopened boxes nowadays," he said. "Back then, in the early 2000s, you could find unopened boxes for $300 to $600, but now I've paid as much as $1,200 for a box. And [PSA] 10s, if they are low pops, can go anywhere from $700 all the way up to over $1,000."
And collectors suspect these prices will continue to climb in the future.
"I think the set is only going to increase in value," said Adams. "I think it's going to be a real gem 15 years down the line."
"With the boxes being harder to come by and with more Star Trek movies coming out, I think the next generation is going to become interested in Star Trek as well," he said. "I think the price is only going to rise because of demand."
Saad expresses similar sentiments.
"I think it will always be a popular set just because the show will never die," he said. "It's always going to be on TV and there are always going to be movies coming out. So I think interest in it will always be there."
View the set in the PSA Set Registry.
Information about the print sheets from this series has been difficult to track down. If you have any further information, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] Thanks to Scott Stonebrook for providing photos to go along with this article. Thanks also to Dave Hornish, Bill Christensen and Mike Thomas for sharing their expertise. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of May 2013.