This story is presented by:
Forget space being the final frontier, we all know the true undiscovered country is collecting. And when it comes to fandom there is none greater than Star Trek. After all, Trekkies (or Trekkers, they are awesome either way) were the first fans in history to revive a fandom that would have otherwise vanished into the past.
Bear in mind this was an age when tech like the internet seemed about as far-fetched as a replicator or transporter. The Trek faithful keep their hopes for a peaceful future alive first through a letter-writing campaign that gave the show a third season. After NBC cancelled the show in 1969, viewers kept the dream alive through fan newsletters and some of the country’s first science fiction conventions. Word-of-mouth spread that Star Trek was a force to be reckoned with and its Lazarus came in the form of individuals from different ages, races, and sexual orientation who were connected by the cosmic thread of an optimistic future that Gene Roddenberry weaved into their lives.
In the dark times when Star Trek only existed, merchandise kept it going. One of the earliest and most inexpensive Trek products were bubblegum cards. One side of the card would feature an eye-grabbing image from an episode, the other a brief description. In a time before VCRs, these cards were a pocket-sized way to relive the adventures of Kirk and the Enterprise crew…. along with the fascinating foes they faced. Since the first Star Trek cards were produced (quasi-legally, but more on that below), there have been millions of the things circulated across the globe based on every era of the franchise. They endure to this day.
We’ll spare you the obligatory “set phasers on fun” joke. Well, maybe not. But we are certain that you’ll enjoy this guide to the coolest, most collectible Star Trek cards ever made. For these are items that will live long and, you know, long after we are gone.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Uncut Trading Card Sheet
We can think of no better way to start off this guide to Star Trek trading card collecting than with this item: An uncut sheet of 33 Star Trek: The Motion Picture trading cards that was specially printed by Topps as a promotion for Rainbo Bread in 1979. Suitable for framing and available at a jaw-dropping price — even with shipping this will set you back less than $20 — this is a collectible full of eye-popping graphics worthy of the Enterprise’s underrated debut cinematic voyage.
Star Trek Leaf Trading Card Wrapper
The very first Star Trek trading cards arrived not too long after the show premiered….if you could find them that is. Like the similarly elusive Rocket Firing Boba Fett action figure that Star Wars fans still lust over, these trading cards were produced in 1967 by the Leaf Candy Company.
So why were they so hard to track down? Internet legend has it that they were only ever sold in the Midwest, and that they were quickly taken off of the market because Leaf might not have actually had the license to make them in the first place.
The illegitimate factor certainly explains what the cards seem like they are written by a semi-concussed person to whom Star Trek is little more than an acid-induced fever dream. And so they took on mythic proportions, especially in the halcyon days of pre-Internet fandom, in which counterfeit reprints of the original Leaf cards and wrappers were a staple in the consumerist Wild West that was 1970s Star Trek convention dealer’s rooms.
For the curious among you, let us point out that such items are still readily available to purchase, an action we neither condemn nor condone. As for everyone else, you owe it to yourself to at least take a look the original wrapper being sold on eBay at this very moment. Which begs the question, can you actually put a price tag on a fascinating footnote in Trek history?
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Niners Baseball Patch
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gets a lot of attention for how it pioneered serialized science fiction storytelling, but amid championing the show’s grit critics often overlook how flat out hilarious it could be. Take for example the seventh season effort “Take Me Out to the Holosuite.” Written by Ronald D. Moore (who would later helm the Battlestar Galactica reboot) and inspired by, of all things, a Fame episode written by Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr, this episode takes a breather from the Dominion War storyline as Sisko enlists the help of his officers to defeat a cocky Vulcan rival at a game of baseball.
The change of tone allowed the actors to ham it up — Michael Dorn’s Worf declaring “death to the opposition” as a way to psych himself up remains a high point in 1990s TV — and the episode became a, well, home run for the show.
For nearly 20 years, Rittenhouse has had the trading card license for the various Star Trek series, and their chase cards are consistently great. Their 2018 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Heroes and Villains set featured 12 cards that featured mini embroidered patches of the team logo. Pictured above, this “relic” collectible from the set is a souvenir from perhaps the show’s goofiest outing.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Iggy Pop Autograph Card
While on the topic of Rittenhouse’s Heroes and Villains line of Deep Space Nine cards, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the company had Iggy Pop sign an autograph card from his appearance as a Vorta in “The Magnificent Ferengi.” So if you are fan of both punk and Star Trek, you are pretty much obliged to have this in your collection.
Star Trek: Voyager Profiles Unopened Box
Fleer held the Star Trek license for the mid-to-late 1990s, releasing cards rich with fan-pleasing information, great graphic design, and a subtle gloss that made purchasers feel as if they were truly owning a high-end collectible at a bargain price.
During this time, Star Trek: Voyager was the buzz sci-fi show, for better and/or worse, so collectors wanting to bring merch from the series home would often buy entire boxes of Fleer’s Skybox “Profiles” cards. Each unopened box guaranteed one autographed card would be enclosed.
As of this writing there are several shrink wrapped boxes of these still-great cards by Fleer available on eBay. Jeri Ryan and/or Neelix fans, may the odds be in your favor.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Photo Cards
Upon its release in the summer of 1982, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a blockbuster sensation. It’s a bit strange that the film wasn’t the focus of trading cards to be sold alongside of E.T. and leftover Raiders of the Lost Ark cards at corner stores and on ice cream trucks throughout America. Since Topps no longer had the license (perhaps due to the indifference of their Star Trek: The Motion Picture line a few years early), upstart Fantasy Cards swooped in.
Fantasy were at the time best known for their Rocky Horror Picture Show card line, proving that they took a daring approach to collectibles. This non-traditional ethos carried over to their Star Trek II releases, which featured The Wrath of Khan’s biggest moments in two 5 x 7 photo cards per pack. Widely overlooked at the time of their initial release, these have gone on to become cherished due to their cheap secondly market value and a size that invites framing.
Monty Gum Star Trek II Trading Cards Set
America’s loss is the Netherlands gain, as that country did get a line of traditional Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan non-sports cards thanks to the Monty Gum company. Making these especially noteworthy is how a few of the cards depicted moments not included in the theatrical cut of the film (years before a Director’s Cut of the flick was a gleam in anyone’s eye).
Additionally, there was no next on the back of cards, which we guess is okay if Trekkies purchasing these before the film hit theaters wanted to avoid explicit spoilers. The gum wrappers (featuring Saavik) and boxes from this line are also highly collectible, so if you see them out and about, pounce. The yellow comets and stars that highlight each card are a great choice too. Khannnnnnnnnnnn!
Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game
The early 1990s gave rise to the Customizable Card Game. Once dismissed as a Pog-like dud, the format continues to thrive to this day thanks to licenses like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. In 1994, Decipher, Inc. released a Star Trek: The Next Generation CCG, the first of its kind for the franchise.
Although it never gained the pop culture foothold of its aforementioned peers, this Trek CCG (and its offshoots) still have their own fair share of rabid followers. If you’d like to count yourself among their number, unopened boxes of the starter set remain abundant.
Star Trek Inflexions Leonard Nimoy Autograph Card
Another feather in Rittenhouse’s cap is how they were able to secure Trek’s heaviest hitters to provide autographs for their various chase cards over the year. This is especially poignant when said star has subsequently died, such as with this Leonard Nimoy autograph card from the Inflexions line.
Star Trek Topps Trading Card Box
It’s not just the cards that are in demand by collectors, advertising materials such as sell through sheets to retailers can be regularly found up for auction. As can empty display boxes for the cards. When it comes to sci-fi franchises like Alien, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica, often the empty boxes can be found at way more reasonable prices than their filled counterparts.
And if we could just channel our inner interior designer for a second, might we mention that having a variety of vintage trading card boxes and their eye-popping graphics on top of a bookcase or Blu-ray shelf gives any room an extra nerdy flair?
Star Trek Enterprise Captain Archer Costume Card
Look, Star Trek: Enterprise had its issues. But the casting of its lead was not one of them. Scott Bakula portrayed Captain Jonathan Archer with a warm humanity – often flawed but always true to his ideals and beliefs about the potential of Starfleet. In their corresponding line for the series, Rittenhouse included several cards embedded with fabric from various characters’ uniform – including Archer’s.
For this article we opted not to research whether any cards come with strands of Portho’s hair, but you do you.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine James Darren Autograph Card
In the latter seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, one of the more captivating supporting characters was holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine. Portrayed by 1960s actor and crooner James Darren, Vic gave some real heart to DS9 by having his Vegas-inspired lounge a place of refuge from horrors of the Dominion War. Rittenhouse recognized the character’s importance by making Darren’s autograph a part of their Complete Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line.
It’s a really swinging collectible, and you can take that to the bank, pally!
Star Trek Sealed 1976 Topps Pack
Thanks to an ever-vocal fanbase and non-stop syndication, Star Trek never really left the airwaves following its cancellation by NBC in 1969. As the ’70s wore on, demand for more Trek anything increased. In the absence of new programs, merchandise would have to do. Topps realized this and put together a fondly remembered set of 88 cards and 22 stickers based on the series.
Upon their release in 1976, the cards were a sensation – quickly snatched up by old and new fans alike. To this day, the “Topps 88” are spoken about with so much relevance that they were even the focus of a book from Abrams ComicArts that reprinted the cards and created some new stickers in their now-iconic style. To own an original unopened back of the 1976 Topps Star Trek cards is to quite literary have a piece of history in the palm of your hands, and what a magic thing that is!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Trading Card Box
When Star Trek: Discovery launched in 2017, it ushered in a new era for a franchise that hadn’t boldly gone anywhere on TV for nearly 20 years. Rittenhouse’s 24-pack, individually numbered box sets of cards based on the series proved that demand for Trek cards was not only alive and well but thriving.
Donruss Americana Celebrity Cuts Leonard Nimoy Card
Bringing things full circle, we are going to end on another hugely affordable item…albeit one that is a bit of a cheat. While not Star Trek-based per se, who wouldn’t want a trading card featuring a picture of a crooning Leonard Nimoy? Why if you listen closely you might even be the strains of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”
Also, someone needs to release a set of In Search Of… cards ASAP.