If a TV pilot was written about these Set Registry enthusiasts, it might be called, "What Are Star Trek Collectors Made Of?"
Tracking down high-grade singles from the 1969 A&BC Star Trek set is enough to test the patience and persistence of the most devoted Trekkie. In fact, pristine examples are so rare that collector Andrew Jude Dedo has simply titled his two registry sets (No. 6 and No. 8 Current Finest), "Where the hell can someone find good quality cards?!"
Though lacking the hobby prestige of the 1967 Leaf and 1976 Topps Star Trek issues, this 55-card UK offering - featuring photos from the episode titled "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" - is the most challenging vintage Star Trek set to complete.
"The blue border condition [on these cards] makes high grades tough to achieve," noted Graeme Arno, who owns four sets - including the No. 1 set - on the PSA Set Registry.
Mark Adams, who has amassed the registry's No. 2 Current Finest set, agrees.
"The main thing that I don't like about this set is the powder blue borders that surround the cards. With any kind of wear, the powder blue borders show white, which obviously brings the grade of the card down significantly," he said.
Arno, who's based in the UK, adds that miscuts, poor centering and print defects also tend to plague these cards.
"I acquired a discarded full box at some point in the early 1970s and kept it unopened for around 20 years," shared Arno. "During the mid-1990s, with my interest rekindled, I decided to open a wrapper. To my horror, I found that one of the cards in the [three-card] pack was ruined by staining from the stick of gum in the wrapper. This prompted me to open all of the packets carefully and remove the gum from each wrapper. However, all cards attached to the gum were stained, meaning that 48 cards were ruined and would be classed as 'ST' by PSA."
Brent Lebo, who owns the No. 3 Current Finest set on the PSA Set Registry, has also had trouble finding cards in top condition.
"It's the corners on these that get worn down first," he said.
Measuring 3-1/4" by 2-1/4" each, these horizontally aligned cards feature a photo from the original series episode called "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" - an episode that first aired on October 20, 1966. The card fronts also showcase a caption enclosed in a spaceship icon.
The card backs exhibit the card number, dark blue borders at the top and bottom and a drawing of the starship Enterprise traversing through space. Text describing the photo, copyright information (Paramount Pictures Corp., 1969) and the words "Printed in England" are also displayed, as well as the slogan "A voyage of space discovery" or a "Space Fact" along the bottom.
In the episode this set focuses on, the crew arrives at planet Exo III to attempt to locate missing scientist Dr. Roger Korby. His fiancé, nurse Christine Chapel, is aboard the Enterprise and longs to reunite with Korby. They make contact with Korby, and Kirk and the nurse are beamed down to the planet to meet with him only to discover that Korby is now obsessed with reproducing humans in the form of androids that he hopes to spread throughout the galaxy.
Despite the presence of Topps' mascot Bazooka Joe on the packs, these cards were produced solely by the UK-based A&BC Company. There was no Topps U.S. equivalent. Lebo believes this may be because Leaf, who created a Star Trek set in 1967, still possessed the trading card license.
"One of the things that I've heard is that this set might have been [created] as a test issue," said Adams.
As noted earlier, these cards were distributed in three-card packs (48 packs to a box) in the UK. The packs showcase a copyright of Desilu Productions, Inc. 1968.
"I have no idea what the production run of the 1969 set was," said Arno. "If we look at the size of the UK set [compared] to the USA set, I would suspect that the 1969 card set production was a fraction of the 1967 set, and therefore rarer."
Adams adds that it's difficult to build a set of these cards in the U.S.
"You have to be able to get the cards from one side of the pond to the other," he said. "That's a tough thing to do because of transportation issues. I think it's clearly the hardest [vintage Star Trek] set to build in high grade."
The PSA Population Report seems to support this. Far fewer of these cards have been submitted than 1967 Leaf or 1976 Topps Star Trek singles.
When reviewing the backs of the A&BC cards, Trekkies will notice some egregious errors. For example, on the set's first card, Captain James T. Kirk is referred to as "Roger" Kirk, while on the second single Spock is incorrectly described as part Martian. Also, the Android "Ruk" is deemed "Rock" throughout the series.
"It is laughable and I guess the author writing the captions was under pressure to meet certain timelines," offered Arno. "Maybe he just didn't proofread his work or just wasn't interested in Star Trek. Yes, Kirk's first name is given as 'Roger' on the first card. Maybe the author got confused with 'Dr. Roger Korby' whose first name is never given in the text."
Lebo offers a similar theory.
"It could've been that [A&BC] got an early description of Star Trek and who the characters were," said Lebo. "More than likely, they just didn't spend enough time researching. But the errors on the backs are nowhere near as bad as they are in the  Leaf set. After you get past the 'Roger' Kirk and Spock errors, these cards are pretty accurate."
Another burning question about this series is why did A&BC choose to create an entire set that focused on one episode?
"I don't think it's a classic episode," said Lebo. "If I was to pick one, I'd pick a dozen other episodes that were better. My guess is that it was licensing. I think it was also one of the very first episodes that they filmed. So out of the very early episodes, I would say that this one was probably as good as any to make a set about."
Lebo and Arno say the first (#1 Captain Kirk) and last card (#55 Star Ship Enterprise) sell for a premium. They were commonly located on the top and bottom of collector piles, and as a result, they were subjected to additional wear and tear. Just 11 examples of the first card have been submitted and there's only one PSA NM-MT 8 (with nothing grading higher). The highest grade recorded for #55 is PSA NM+ 7.5.
Arno owns the only PSA GEM-MT 10 example (#31 Kirk Escapes) from this series and there are just three PSA 8s.
"PSA 8s [sell for] anywhere between $40 and $150," said Arno.
On the description attached to his No. 1 registry set, Arno advertises that he will pay $200 for any PSA 9 card that he needs and $500 for PSA 10s.
And collectors might pay more for variations that showcase a rare 1968 copyright.
"There has been a find of some cards with a Desilu 1968 copyright and I have seen a picture of one," said Arno. "All my wrappers have Desilu 1968 copyright. All my cards have a Paramount 1969 copyright. Not much is known about the variation of the Desilu cards [with the 1968 copyright], and I have always drawn a blank when I try to find out. The Desilu cards may have been a test print, and then when A&BC went to actually produce the set, the copyright was changed. A&BC may have produced this set initially as a 1968 set."
It's hard enough, however, for collectors to track down cards with the standard 1969 copyright.
"There may still be some sets out there. [Either] people just don't know what they have or there's still not enough interest in them to get them graded," said Lebo. "On the other hand, Star Trek was not popular during the time frame that these cards were released. So [A&BC] may not have sold many of these, or people may have bought them and then ditched them."
Lebo does believe, however, that these cards will generate more interest in the future.
"I've seen what's happened with the 1976 set and those things are going for just crazy prices. And people just want the Leaf set like crazy. A [PSA] 9 will go for $1,500," he said. "I would consider this  set a sleeper. I think at some point, especially with the resurgence of the Star Trek movies coming out, that there will be interest in it."
"Undoubtedly yes," responded Arno, when asked if he thought these cards would increase in value in the future. "There will always be a market for Star Trek collectibles and PSA is becoming more and more popular. The market will get stronger over here [in the UK] as more people collect PSA-graded cards."
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Brent Lebo for providing photos to go with this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of October 2013.
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