I can remember the waxy feel of the paper as you opened up a fresh package of trading cards, and shoved the cardboard-like stick of gum in your mouth, it would be good for a couple of chews and then it would just lose all taste and just take up space, but I still love that smell. That scent speaks of ball fields, hot summers, late evenings, tee shirts, when those miraculous films portrayed on those cards were still new and they could fire your imagination for days, if not seasons of play. I remember carefully selecting from my triples pack, attaching it to a clothes-pin, the card flapping through the spokes of my back wheel with a rat-a-tat-tat and riding around on my red bike with its banana seat, affectionately referred to in my own mind as The Falcon.
When I was a kid everyone collected Topps cards. There was a strong elastic band wrapped around your premier deck, and then another held your doubles, triples, and you would consult your checklist card before getting down in the dirt and grass of the schoolyard to haggle and trade to complete your sets.
Anytime I could dig up a quarter (can you believe they were only fifteen cents when they first started making Star Wars cards?!), I would head off to the store to get a fresh pack, carefully shifting through them until I felt I found just the right one, slapping down my quarter and then go outside, sitting on a curb in front of my sprawled bike, it’s chipped red paint glistening in the sun, and I would thumb through them rapidly, my fingers describing a dance worthy of a croupier, tumbling from my lips the card collector’s mantra “Need it, got it, need it, need it, got it, got it, got it, need it…”
I tried to get them all, but from ages 7 to 11 it was tough to come across change, even between the sofa cushions. I missed out on a lot of the original Star Wars (and the seemingly countless series they released, I remember the red and orange series) and Superman cards (I even completed some of the huge pictures using some of the puzzle cards), but by the time The Empire Strikes Back (another one with like three series I think – I remember the silver/blue, silver/red, and the yellow) and Raiders of the Lost Ark rolled around, my collection was starting to grow, and my desk was covered in the doubles and triples of the stickers that came with them.
There were puzzle cards, trivia cards, story cards, I learned about model work, matte paintings, and I know it’s tough now, as those movies have completely saturated the culture, but can you imagine the excitement and joy as you slipped your fingers through all these promotional pictures, film images, and art work, and came across something you had never seen before? What a rush those moments were, to discover some little corner of that universe you weren’t aware of yet…
By the time The Return of the Jedi rolled around, I easily had two shoe boxes full of trading cards (including my treasured E.T. cards), with even a couple that I wasn’t sure how they had come into my possession; there were a couple of Grease cards, Dukes of Hazzard, Moonraker, and Charlie’s Angels!
We were living in Kingston when Jedi hit the big screens (I remember one of my friends was lucky enough to have gotten one of the Revenge of the Jedi posters before the title was changed, and it was taped to his wall over his bunk beds – we had no concept of them being collector’s items, not like we do now when we look at movie memorabilia).
And here’s a terrible thing to admit, though I think both my parents may have suspected something… They had a change keeper atop the fridge, with slots and towers for quarters, dimes and nickels. I would regularly pillage that for card money, I would ever so carefully unwrap the twist tie that held the two tiny keys, and then unlock the quarters’ tower, and pour out $1 or $2 worth at a time.
Then, primary deck, and doubles/triples in hand, we’d head down to the little beach area that we had (though having seen it in recent years, I can’t believe I actually went in THAT water). There was a little snack shack there, with a broad counter, and there on the right hand side, sidled right up against the wall, was the brilliantly, some may even say garishly yellow box for the Return of the Jedi trading cards (red series).
I would throw down my ill-gotten coinage, and pick out the packs that felt lucky for me, and I would hope to get the missing pieces I needed…
By the time I was done I had every single one of the 132 cards (twice), I can’t say the same for the stickers… In fact I don’t have any of the stickers from those or any other card series any more. Sigh. I remember they were not only on my desk, but all over my bike’s fenders, and my first walkman (which seemed to only want to play the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi, Thriller or Seven and the Ragged Tiger), slowly fading from sun and rain.
I remember laying out each card, face up, on the rug and floor of my bedroom, piling doubles, triples, and quadruples up on top of each card, leaving spots to be filled in by missing numbers, and then, slowly taking each card, examining each of them to find the best possible version of that card, and then sliding the extras over into their own pile. Then I would look at the keeper card, looking at the pic, reading the back, memorizing facts, character and ship names, story points, and slowly begin to pile them up, face down, one atop the other, until my collection was complete.
In the early 80s I was fascinated by the idea of 3-D movies and images, I had never seen one, but had a couple of Dynamite magazines with the glasses (red and green) and images within. I’m not sure how I discovered it, or why I thought it was so amazing, but I realized that if I held up the image of one of my cards to the window of my bedroom, or when I was outside, the window of the family car, you got a double image in the reflection! It was like the card was 3D, it wasn’t Viewmaster cool, but it held my attention for longer than I care to admit now.
When 1984 rolled around, my family and I pulled up stakes and resettled for the remainder of the decade in Bermuda, and while I had access to Marvel’s Star Wars comics which were coming to a close, there was no access, anywhere that I could find, to get trading cards.
So for a time, card collecting fell by the way side for me, until I got back to Canada in the summer of 1989, and Batman had been unleashed on the public, and there I was in Nova Scotia, and they had trading cards!
I jumped right back onto the card collecting train and I think I completed both the 1st and 2nd series of those (I should really see if I have those around my apartment somewhere – I know I have all my Wars ones in a card binder, alongside a Looney Tunes series of cards my friend Rob got for me before I left Halifax).
On the down side, as much as I loved getting cards again, it just didn’t seem to be the same experience anymore, and it was never more clear to me than when Impel released its 25th Anniversary Star Trek series. Instead of buying individual packs I went out and learned that you could just buy them by the box.
That’s what I did, and I think that kind of ended my love of collecting cards, or at least put a stay on it.
It kind of removed the randomness and the excitement of buying packs, and working to put your collection together. I know that trading cards are still a huge thing, and that people still go out looking for specific cards, even if they buy them by the box, hunting down that elusive chase, autograph or foil card, or just one last card to complete a set.
I still love them, and I keep toying with the idea of starting up again, but that same sense of wonder and marveling at the images just doesn’t seem to be there.
I collected the first series of Star Wars Galaxy (have them all but for some foil and chase cards, of course) and even bought the companion book, and the art for this series is fantastic unleashing artists in this wide wonderful universe and letting them create new images or interpret familiar ones in new ways… Apparently Topps is up to Series 7 currently, so I think if I were to start again (I’m awfully close to it), that would be where I would start with, the Galaxy cards, and then I’d be able to start hunting down series 2 on.
I’m also hoping that now that Upper Deck has the Avengers trading cards, that maybe they’ll expand and start something akin to a Marvel Galaxy (Universe?) similar to the series that were released in the early 90s by SkyBox, I could probably get caught up in that…
Course, if I tried to put one of the cards through a bike’s spokes people would lose their minds, asking me if I knew how much they were worth…
But oh man, looking back through my cards, some of which still smell of the bubblegum, it brings back so many memories.
My sister, who totally knows how much I love my geeky movie memorabilia actually tracked down an unopened pack of Raiders of the Lost Ark cards for me a few years ago. It’s still sitting, all wrapped up, a rectangular shape signifying the unchewable stick of gum that is still inside. A monument to my love of movies, and the collecting of memorabilia around it.
Topps cards were a huge part of my childhood, and helped foster my love of collecting.
It was never stamps.
It was never coins.
It was always trading cards.
Thanks for the memories that still echo in my mind, I can still remember the excitement, the joy, the despair at another double, the ecstasy of a much-needed card, the feel of the wrapper under my fingertips, the smell and taste of the gum stick.
And the sound of that card thrumming across the spokes as I rode into the sunset of another summer…