Now Is the Time to Collect Vintage Trading Cards

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Gen X nostalgia is at an all-time high. If you were born between 1965 and 1980, you may find the things you loved as a child now comes at a hefty price, but trading cards may be the answer.

Recently I have tried to revisit some of these loves, most notably Star Wars and Masters of the Universe action figures, and it left my wallet wanting, to say the least. I just want to relive those simple days on the living room floor when He-Man could battle the armies of Cobra or a battalion of Storm Troopers. Gen-Xers are blessed with a wealth of amazingly nostalgic icons to get lost in, but we don’t want to have to finance those memories.

With that in mind, I went on a little journey to find a collectible that would give me the most bang for my nostalgic buck. Sadly, for me, the things I most connect to are what other collectors share a devotion to… action figures. With a mint-on-card He-Man costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars, collecting a complete set of all seventy-two feels daunting. I sat down and reflected on what else may have had just a strong nostalgic hold on me, and the answer was simple… trading cards.

Being the middle child of an immigrant family, finances were not the best in the ’70s and ’80s. The chances my parents were going to pony up the cash to purchase an AT-AT or Cobra Terror Drome were absolute zero. My best bet was often to ask for a pack of cards when I went to the local bodega for my mother. In those days bodegas or, as well called them in Massachusetts, “corner stores” (pronounced cornah–staws), would have cardboard display boxes of all the current collectible cards on the check-out counter to attract children and annoy parents. I was a complete and utter sucker for these things. 

In 1979, the 6-year-old me desperately wanted one of these 15 cent Hulk Wax packs.

These days we can stream the things we love on a whim, but in the early days of VHS or Betamax (depending on what part of the world you lived in) spending time with your favorite movie or TV characters was limited to what you could find on the television dial. And yes, younger readers, they really were dials back then. So pieces of ephemera like books and especially trading cards were a way to relive the excitement people felt watching their favorite show or movie. Personally, my first experience with Star Wars began with the Scholastic storybook versions sold at the school book sale and not in a cinema. Then the Topps collector cards, and then the toys. My first proper Star Wars experience was seeing Return of the Jedi in the local cinema.

The Evolution of Luke Skywalker in trading cards.

Along with the Star Wars storybook came the Topps card series, and then the Empire Strikes Back, culminating with Return of the Jedi. These became the prized possessions in my childhood, and the cards also doubled as proxies for characters I did not have action figures for. It was much easier to set up a Rebo band with cards than convince my parents to purchase a Sy Snoodles figure. 

One of the other highlights of the late ’70s and early ’80s collecting was the Superman series. Superman II was my very first cinema experience, and it completely blew my mind. I simply could not find enough Superman items to collect. I would cut pictures out of magazines and the TV Guide, so you can imagine my face seeing a display box at the local bodega and harassing my parents into purchasing some packs of joy to open up in the back of my dad’s ’76 Buick Regal.

Turning a dream into reality, I went from collecting Sarah Douglas’ cards to being her aid at Rhode Island Comicon.

Since trips to the cinema were few and far between for me before my teen years, my primary source of entertainment was television, where the aforementioned Incredible Hulk reigned supreme, but later on, I would hunger for all things Battlestar Galactica, and then probably my favorite early sci-fi program, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The show captivated my imagination, and Erin Grey captured my heart, so once again I was off to the corner store with some change I found in the kitchen drawer to pick up a couple of packs.

Another fantasy to reality moment as my card came to life when meeting Gil Gerard also at Rhode Island Comicon.

Now that we have proven the nostalgic validity of trading cards, I suppose the next question you may have is, how much is this all going to cost? I purchased several complete and near-complete sets including, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, Superman, Superman II, Superman III, The Black Hole, The A-Team, Knight Rider, and several others. Not one set cost me more than twenty dollars, and most of them were less than ten dollars. I probably spent under one hundred dollars to have a collection I am comfortable with and proud of. You can compare that to an auction I recently lost for WWF LJN action figures that ended at well over two hundred dollars—just for 30 pieces! 

Another major factor for collectors is storage and cost. IKEA has probably made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling their legendary Detolf shelving units—which I cannot recommend enough if you do want to display your collectibles for a decent price—but they are large and you sort of need a whole room or a good portion of a room to display your wares.

Collectible cards, as many of you know, can be stored in one- to four-inch 3-ring binders. For that, I recommend the Avery Heavy-Duty View 3 Ring Binder. This binder comes with customizable pockets in the front, rear, and spine, which allow you to print up some cool covers and spines to display on your shelves. To complete the package, you’ll need the addition of nine pocket sheets, most notably the Ultra Pro series, which I cannot recommend highly enough, and you can get fifty sheets for $13.99 on Amazon

Arguably the best part about this is that your significant other will complain far less when your collection consists of a couple of low-profile binders on a shelf. This may not satisfy those of you who enjoy displaying your treasures, so some options I have tried have included using poster tack to put pages up on the wall in cool patterns.

My personal goal is to get a huge custom-cut piece of tempered glass to cover my work desktop and trap a few hundred cards in a scatter pattern underneath to create a sort of nostalgia collage. 

That is what makes collecting vintage trading cards so much fun; the options to satisfy your nostalgia bug are almost limitless. These days, with collectibles costs at an all-time high, this may be a great way to affordably collect and share with your little geeks at home.

Thoughts expressed in this article are the authors alone and not that of the editorial board. You can read my previous articles here.

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