PSA Set Registry

Collecting the 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids Series 1 Sticker Set

Definitely Not '80s "Garbage"

by Kevin Glew

Their parents were appalled by them, so naturally kids couldn't get enough of them.

That's the story of the 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids Series 1 cards in a nutshell.

These sometimes grotesque and darkly humorous cards parodied the family-friendly Cabbage Patch Kids and showcased artwork of kids vomiting, gorging themselves on junk food, smoking and wielding weapons, among other destructive behaviors. And the card backs, which encouraged children to skip school, stay up late to watch TV, lie and drive erratically, were equally distressing to parents.

Nasty NickNasty Nick

So it wasn't surprising that parents and teachers wanted them banned - a reaction that only made them more irresistible to children who snuck them into their bedrooms and classrooms.

"These were the cards that your mother would not let you buy," said Brantley Pace, who owns the No. 12 Current Finest, 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids Series 1 Master Set on the PSA Set Registry.

According to onetime Topps art director, Art Spiegelman, the idea for this controversial 82-card series was hatched in the Topps offices when the company was considering obtaining a license to create Cabbage Patch Kids cards. In the introduction for Topps' 2012 book, Garbage Pail Kids, Spielegman recalled that he was in an office with Stan Hart (from Topps' product development department) and Len Brown (the company's creative director at the time) when the decision was made to move forward with the cards.

"We were trying to figure out whether it was worth pursuing a Cabbage Patch Kids license, when Stan said, 'Well, let's just do a parody,'" wrote Spiegelman.

Dead TedJay Decay
Guillo TinaVirus IrisFryin' Brian

Spiegelman, who had worked on Topps' Wacky Packages in the 1970s, was concerned that they wouldn't be able to come up with enough ideas for an entire series, but he and his team, which included fellow art director Mark Newgarden, eventually succeeded and they enlisted artist John Pound to work on the fronts.

In the 2012 book, Spiegelman described the brainstorming process that went into this series.

"After a while, we started to get punchy," he wrote. "We'd go into a trance trying to figure out, say, what we could do with some poor kid's ears that would be graphically compelling. Or how the kid would react to being stabbed."

The cards were designed to provoke a reaction, and part of their appeal was that they were inexpensive compared to the Cabbage Patch Kids.

"The dolls were pricey and had to appeal to adults," wrote Spiegelman. "The stickers were available for chump change and appealed to the inner beast in all kids."

Electric BillBlasted BillyBoozin' Bruce

The first series of 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids is the most coveted of the 15 Garbage Pail Kids series that were ultimately released. This series was comprised of 41 "a" cards and 41 "b" cards, for a total of 82 cards. Each of the "a" and "b" subseries are numbered #1 through #41, and the corresponding numbers in each subseries showcase the same artwork but different character names.

The vertical, white-bordered fronts flaunt a removable, die-cut sticker that consists of the artwork, the Garbage Pail Kids logo and the kid's name. The subjects are featured engaging in rebellious acts and sometimes meeting a cruel fate. For example, card #4a Fryin' Brian and #4b Electric Bill feature a boy being electrocuted in an electric chair, while cards #37a Guillo Tina and #37b Cindy Lopper present a girl about to be decapitated by a guillotine. 

"The stickers are very colorful and bold, and while they can be gross, they're kind of charming at the same time," said Eric Roberts, who has collected the entire 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids Series 1 Master Set in PSA GEM-MT 10.

The bulk of the horizontal, white bordered backs offer a mock certificate or award. Parents believed that some of these were mean-spirited and encouraged kids to make fun of each other. The back of cards #21a Virus Irus and #21b Sicky Vicky, for instance, offer a "Most Unpopular Student Award." Part of the text on this back reads, "You have no enemies, but all your friends hate you." The award or certificates were signed by an imaginary person whose name was a play on words. On card #21a and #21b, for example, it was signed "N.O. Friendship."

Hairy MaryWacky Jackie
Corroded CarlSicky VickyStinky Stan

Brendon Zeidler, who was the first to complete the registry's Basic Series 1 set in all PSA 10s, noted that "Topps produced less award backs and more puzzle backs with the second series." Although not confirmed, it is possible that Topps encountered so much criticism about the messages being relayed to kids on the first series card backs that they decided to ameliorate the situation by just scaling down the production of that back type.

There are also six back variations that collectors are required to track down to complete the Series 1 Master set on the PSA Set Registry. Cards #5a Dead Ted and #5b Jay Decay, #8a Adam Bomb and #8b Blasted Billy and #29a Bony Joanie and #29b Thin Lynn each have two different backs, one that presents a certificate/award and another that harbors a checklist.

The Series 1 cards can also be found with a matte or glossy finish. It's believed that the glossy cards were produced in smaller quantities and, as a result, they command a premium.

"The glossy cards go for about twice the amount of the matte cards," said Pace. "Rumor has it that Topps was printing the matte version and they ran out of paper, so they started using the glossy paper."

Not surprisingly, the makers of Cabbage Patch Kids, a company known as Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. (OAA), objected to the Garbage Pail Kids cards and launched a lawsuit against Topps. OAA was most concerned that the appearance of the Garbage Pail Kids strongly resembled their dolls; plus, the logo was also similar. The case was eventually settled out of court and Topps agreed to alter the look of the Garbage Pail Kids and the branding beginning with the tenth series in 1987.

Wax Pack

Starting in June 1985, Series 1 cards were sold in five-card, 25-cent wax packs that included a stick of gum. The initial packs had the 25-cent price stamped right on them, but later packs were manufactured without the price. This enabled retailers to charge whatever they wanted.

"Even though I wasn't collecting these as a kid, I remember the series quickly selling out," said Roberts. "You couldn't buy them for what they originally sold for. I remember them selling for $10 a pack."

Zeidler believes that fewer Series 1 Garbage Pail Kids cards were produced than the ensuing Garbage Pail Kids series.

"By the time the third series rolled around, they were everywhere," he said. "Topps mass-produced them."

Series 1 boxes have become harder to track down. Zeidler remembers purchasing a box for $300 in 1995. In March 2016, an unopened box fetched $3,181.31 on eBay.

An album consisting of a six-pocket sheet and 12 pages that the stickers could be adhered to was also produced for this series.

Demand for the Series 1 cards really picked up when parents and teachers began voicing their dismay about them. Topps listened to the concerns, but they refused to cease production.

"We're reflecting the times with our products," said Topps spokesperson Norman Liss in a New York Times article published on February 19, 1986. "Take a look at comic books, movies, it's no different. We're in the business of providing entertainment for children. Kids have a great sense of humor."

Nervous RexOozy SuzyBony Joanie
Thin LynnGraffiti PeteyMad Mike

The cards became such a phenomenon that they spawned t-shirts, lunch boxes, a feature film and a cartoon TV series.

"Garbage Pail Kids were a big thing here in the United States," said Zeidler. "I mean, everyone who's between the ages of 32 and 43 now will know what they are. And when they write books about the 1980s in the U.S., they've got the 1980s music in there, they've got the 1980s arcade video games and, invariably, they always put the Garbage Pail Kids and the Cabbage Patch Kids in there."

Spiegelman notes in his foreword to the 2012 Garbage Pail Kids book that the image on the Adam Bomb (#8a) and Blasted Billy (#8b) singles was the first created for this series. This card features a kid with a mushroom cloud exploding out of his head.

"The reason the Adam Bomb card is so hot is that they used it for the front of the boxes," explained Zeidler. That's the image that everyone conjures up whenever you mention the Garbage Pail Kids, he said. "It's just an iconic image."

Roberts didn't collect these cards in 1985, but he does remember the Adam Bomb card.

"I remember that card because I think everyone from my generation remembers the Cold War and the atom bomb," he said. The thought of nuclear warfare was a tangible threat at the time, and the imagery depicted on this particular card directly invokes the widespread fear and paranoia felt by many during the 1980s.

A glossy PSA 10 Adam Bomb card (with a checklist back) sold for $711.97 on eBay in January 2016.

The first cards in each subseries, Nasty Nick (#1a) and Evil Eddie (#1b), are also very desirable. These present a kid dressed as a vampire about to bite the neck of what appears to be a Barbie ® doll.

Cindy LopperUnstitched MitchMean Gene

"For some reason, the Nasty Nick card is always off-center," said Zeidler.

One of the 19 PSA 10, glossy Nasty Nick cards commanded $2,247 on eBay in March 2016.

Roberts says finding the glossy Evil Eddie single (#1b) was difficult for him. Of the 106 submitted, there are just eight PSA 10s.

Zeidler says the Dead Ted (#5a) and Jay Decay (#5b) singles also realize high prices. The artwork on these exhibits a rotting corpse crawling out of a grave. One of the PSA 10 Dead Ted matte examples (with a checklist back) garnered $189.50 on eBay in January 2016.

The last cards in each subseries - Mean Gene (#41a) and Joltin' Joe (#41b) - are also widely sought-after. These cards exhibit an image of a kid wielding a machine gun in one hand and a bundle of dynamite in the other. Zeidler says this was one of the last PSA 10 cards he got for his set.

While this is a relatively modern set, the 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids Series 1 cards are not easy to find in pristine condition.

"For some reason, the first- and second-series cards are notoriously off-center," noted Zeidler. "Sometimes they are so significantly off-center," he added, "that half of another card is on one of the cards."

Adam BombEvil EddieJoltin' Joe

Roberts has noticed a lot of miscuts.

"I've seen some with slanted borders and some where the top border is thicker than the bottom edge," he said.

Zeidler also points out that when collectors open the five-card packs today, the gum is generally stuck to the top card and the back card will have a wax stain, leaving only three cards that can be considered for grading. It was also common for kids to peel off the stickers and stick them into albums or to their binders or lockers.

These condition issues, combined with a newfound nostalgia for Garbage Pail Kids, has led to a rise in demand for high-grade Series 1 cards in recent years.

"The Garbage Pail Kids are starting to really take off," said Pace. "These cards had been pretty much forgotten about," he says, "but people are now remembering them and digging them out of their attics and shoeboxes."

Zeidler has witnessed the same trend over the past five years.

"It could be due to a couple of things: one, the people that collected them are now at an age where they have jobs and can afford them," he said. "And two, they might have children of their own now and want to relive their childhood with them."

For more information on the 1985 Topps Garbage Pail Kids set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/non-sports-cards/1985-topps-garbage-pail-kids-stickers/29358.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Eric Roberts for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of May 2016.