Do you need to pick your non-sport hobby out of a recessionary tailspin but don't know how to start? Get going with some of these five-dollar-and-under cards handpicked by the one and only staff of Non-Sport Update magazine. Within this price range newer products are usually restricted to cards from base sets; bypassing the more expensive autograph, costume and prop cards. With older products, however, base cards usually are the master set, and there are beauties still out there to be found. So read on and start saving!*
1995 Monty Python's Flying Circus Act 1 (Cornerstone)
Cornerstone's set of 81 cards is spiced by several inserts like scratch-and-listen beauties (plus their fake counterpart) and a "be a world famous animator in the privacy of your own home"; a bit as wacky as the British comedy team they commemorate. The photos recall many of the troupe's classic routines though they can't really reflect the intensity of their great energy. The irreverent and unpredictable Python players brought true genius to skit comedy, with more than a touch of the surreal, and the cards preserve a share of it for posterity.
The Encyclopedia of Non-Sport & Entertainment Trading Cards estimate: 25¢ per card
1998 Titanic (Dart Flipcards)
The ill-fated voyage of the Titanic is a story I first heard about in elementary school. The tragic loss of life and the sinking of such a majestic ship always made me think of the people who endured the catastrophe. When Dart Flipcards released Titanic in 1998, I was attracted to the set because it was a tribute to those who sailed on the "unsinkable" ship. The cards display pictures of the ship in all its glory, the passengers, and other related information that will tell their stories forever in history.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: $3.20 per card
1959 Funny Monsters (Topps)
Wisecracking monsters have always been a favorite of mine, and presenting them in a colorful hand-drawn artwork format makes this spookily humorous collection a hard to beat series. Published the same year as the initial Funny Valentines, this vastly underappreciated classic era set boasts 72 punch line-driven horror cards with a bonus "You'll Die Laughing" ha-ha on each card back—a great example of an innocent time when cards were successfully designed and marketed to kids. Boo!
NSU Price Guide Estimate: $1.25 per card
1982 E.T. (Topps)
When the E.T. film first came out, home video and cable TV were luxuries reserved for only the most special of occasions. It was those packs and packs of E.T. cards which gave me the chance to relive my favorite moments of my favorite film, whether it was Elliott and his alien friend flying on their bikes, the great toad escape, or Gertie giving E.T. a cutie pie makeover. Today the set might be seen as overproduced and readily available. To me, I see the iconic logo, starry blue borders, and corny headlines as the beginning of my collection and a connection to a movie that really does mean so much more to me, even today.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: .20¢ per card
1960 Foney Ads (Leaf)
It is all Roxanne Toser's fault. I began collecting this series after finding a bunch of singles in one of her binders at a recent Philly Non-Sports Show. As a kid I bought one pack of these and decided I didn't like them because they were printed on rather dark cardboard. That was then! I am wild about the various art series of that era now and the fact they are truly cards and not stickers makes them tops on my want list.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 20¢ per card
2007 Heroes (Topps)
Although the quality of NBC's Heroes has taken a creative dive the past two seasons, the series' trading cards continue to highlight what's good about the show (its colorful ensemble) on heavy-duty glossy cards. The glossy stock makes it harder to get ink to stick when I ask stars to autograph them at DragonCon in Atlanta. But once the ink does dry they make for especially nice keepsakes. Plus, it's a way to remember the characters the creators killed off (like Elle and Daphne). The sketch cards and memorabilia cards are nice bonuses as well, even though they, like the autographs, are had at above the five dollar range.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 10¢ per card
1950 Bring 'em Back Alive (Topps)
The next set on my vintage card collection list has been Bring 'em Back Alive since mid-grade Mars Attacks cards soared beyond the $10 each mark about 10 years ago. The series is based on the jungle adventures of Frank Buck and captures so much about what is great about sets from the 1950s—the odd sized cards, fantastic subject matter and spectacular art. Beyond those great paintings the beauty of this set is you can easily find off-grade cards for a buck or two each putting the 100-card set within reach of nearly any collector. Perhaps after all these years I should start working on this set again. Thankfully the prices haven't shot up like many of the sets from this era.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: $2.50 per card
1992 Saturday Night Live (Star Pics)
This set is based on a TV show; one that began in 1975 and is still on the air! It's the 1992 Star Pics' Saturday Night Live. The base set of 150 cards covers skits and cast members from the first 15 seasons or so. Cards include: The Blues Brothers, Emily Litella, Wayne's World, The Church Lady, the Coneheads, Nate X, the singing trio of Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein, and much more. The only inserts were the very hard to find autographs of cast members on base cards, and one expert I spoke to recently speculated the autos were never inserted in boxes, but given out as incentives to dealers. You may have a bit of trouble putting a set together from a box, so pick up a complete set, if possible. Whatever you do, don't overlook this great set, which will provide plenty of nostalgia and laughs, and make you wonder why nobody's done a Saturday Night Live set since 1992.
Encyclopedia Estimate: 20¢ per card
2004 LOST (Inkworks)
I remember the first time Inkworks had the cast of LOST at the Comic-Con in San Diego—it was a truly memorable experience. The show itself is unique in the fact a television series would have such a large ensemble cast. Sure, the show lends itself perfectly to today's endless list of chase and specialty cards, but for me, it is the experience of enhancing my enjoyment of the show by collecting the base set of cards. I would have to say with the most recent season, Season 5, LOST has become hands down the best drama series on television. The fact the series creators have promised a beginning, middle and end (and appear to be delivering) make this a show worth watching and a card series well worth collecting.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 10¢ per card
1993 Classic Toys Trading Card (Entertainment Products)
This 66-card set is essentially a superficial collectible toy price guide. The front of each card has a great color photo of a classic toy from the 1960s or 1970s. The back has a brief description of the featured toy, along with a then current estimated price. Since this set pre-dates eBay, the price info may be a bit out of date but the photos of such toys as GI Joe, Barbie, The Lost In Space Robot, Aurora Model Kits, Captain Action and more are a gold mine of nostalgic glee. This is a very inexpensive set to collect and it's a real kick for any purveyor of pop culture.
Encyclopedia Estimate: 20¢ per card
1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation Inaugural Edition (Skybox International)
Impel Marketing had been one of several firms which changed the dynamics of non-sport card manufacturing during the early 1990s. When Star Trek: The Next Generation Inaugural Edition debuted in June 1992, Impel had changed its corporate identity to Skybox International. ST: TNG Inaugural, under the Impel logo, helped usher in a new era in the hobby catering to sophisticated, mature collectors. The 120-card set became another Star Fleet Technical Manual in terms of relating comprehensive data pertaining to the new Enterprise and its crew. Insert cards, then an embryonic innovation in marketing, ramped up interest. Four holograms augmented the issue, along with additional Language cards which harbored greetings in Russian, German, Japanese, Spanish and French. For Skybox, the Inaugural Edition portended an enriching Star Trek association which extended throughout the decade.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 10¢ per card
1988 Iran-Contra Scandal (Eclipse)
This 36-card boxed collection came from Eclipse, one of the bigger players in the independent comics' movement of the 1970s. By the 1980s they were trying to sell other items in comics stores and this set fit both their political temperament and production abilities; so why not? I like this set because it's not tied into a "product"; it's there to inform and educate on a serious event many young people of the time just didn't understand. With satirical pictures on the front, and the character's role in the events on the flip, it can change the way people look at collector cards.
Encyclopedia Estimate: 30¢ per card
2002 Outer Limits (Rittenhouse Archives)
Collecting Non-sport cards came late to me. Having been a freelance photographer the cards of most interest to me are ones with photographic images. I have read and watched science fiction, books, and TV since my younger days. I encountered a card set at a Philly Non-sport show that grabbed my interest right away: Outer Limits, not the black-bordered original set, but a set of photographs of various characters on the show. What could be better for a sci-fi fan than early images of Kirk and Spock in early rolls on TV? Adam West, Robert Culp and David McCallum guest-starred as well, in one of the most thought provoking and entertaining TV programs to have been produced. All for $10 a set; a small sum to pay for great memories.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 15¢ per card
1992 Marvel Masterpieces (Skybox International)
My choice for a more recent set you can collect with minimal funds is the inaugural release of Marvel Masterpieces, produced in 1992 by SkyBox International. Joe Jusko's artwork is just stunning. This set was an instant classic. It was also very innovative at that time, employing one artist to PAINT a complete 100-card set. Though fully-painted sets had been done previously, this series ushered in a new wave and catapulted Jusko's career.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 45¢ per card
1963 Astronauts (Topps)
For those individuals who are interested in the U.S. space program, a real treat is the 1963 Astronauts set by Topps. A trivia question has always been "name the original seven Astronauts." If you owned card number seven from this set, you would know the answer. It is a very colorful set, with great captions and great information.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: $5.00 per card
1973-74, 1976 Ugly Stickers (Topps)
You have to enjoy a challenge and like ugly creature artwork in order to collect Ugly Stickers. The stickers for the 1965 series are priced a little higher than the $5.00 limit but the 1973-74 and 1976 sets fall below the $5.00 limit. The 1965 set is numbered to 44 but there are four different names for each number except 29, 30, 32 and 40 so completists (like me) will want to collect all 164 names. Some of the names used were names of Topps' employees, for example, #4 Sy for Sy Berger. The 1973-74 sets consist of 55 stickers with two names each. There were 12- puzzle cards inserted in packs for 1974 but not 1973 and this was the only difference between the two sets. The stickers are unnumbered so these sets are very challenging, too. The 1976 set is identical to the 1973-74 sets except the stickers have white backs instead of tan backs.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: $2.00 - $6.00 per card
2008 Donruss Americana II (Donruss)
Filled with star cards, cinema stars, sports legends and TV stars, what more could you ask for from the second series of Donruss Americana? Try "Ring Kings" or the top Mixed Martial Arts fighters featured in this first of its kind collection, sequentially numbered to 500. With the likes of Randy "The Natural" Couture, Forrest Griffin and Georges "Rush" St. Pierre, this set is packed with its share of punches. If fans are lucky enough, they may even find a "Ring Kings" signature card.
NSU Price Guide Estimate: 35¢ per card
Want to save more money? Check out our current 20th anniversary issue of Non-Sport Update (Volume 20 Number 5) for a continuation of our picks for the highest value cards at the absolute lowest rock-bottom prices.
* Thanks to collector Thomas Walker of Forth Worth, Texas for the idea inspiring this article. When we say we hear you—we mean it!