I was recently offered a first shot at a complete set of authentic Star Trek Leaf cards. These are a holy grail of TOS collectibles. The story often told is that the distribution was shut down because the manufacturer had not bothered to secure a licence, and I can’t say if that tale is correct but authentic cards are certainly rare and a complete set is worth a lot.
So I had to decide: how much was I willing to pay? I settled on a limit of US$500, but there is a story in how I got there. Read on for a tale of high hopes and poor manners, and for advice on how to spot the real cards in an ocean of worthless forgeries.
The 1967 cards were made by Leaf Brands. The 72 cards were a little smaller than standard and featured black-and-white images backed by text. To call them oddball is faint praise; the text is often unrelated to both the image on the front and any actual episode of Star Trek, but they are wildly entertaining.
I started collecting TOS more than 40 years ago, which means I have been chasing a Leaf set for all those decades. At the end of July, 2022, I was contacted through this site by a guy I will call Trey. (I’ll call him that because that’s his real name.)
Running a Star Trek collectibles site means I get email fairly regularly from people looking for information and advice on items bought in a curio shop, acquired from a deceased relative or found in an attic. Most of these people are not actually Star Trek fans.
I like to be helpful, so I spend time on research and reply with estimated values, selling advice and even contacts. And then — more often than not — they disappear, without even saying thank you. Which is what Trey did.
How to tell if a Leaf card is real
Those who really know their Trek collectibles can spot authentic 1967 cards, but it’s not knowledge most people have.
The real 1967s. If you’re looking at cards that meet these three criteria, you probably have the real things.
- The size, measured end-to-end of the cardboard, is 61 x 88 mm.
- The authentic items were made from layers of cardboard in slightly different colours, so there should be visible layers in the construction of each card.
- The images should be sharp. Check particularly card 3, but if any are fuzzy or soft that is a bad sign.
The excellent 1981 reprints. This reprint set is helpfully and clearly labelled “1981 reprint.” These words replace the “Leaf Brands” on the back and the reprints were not printed using shaded layers of cardboard, but otherwise they are identical to the originals, as they are the same size and the images are clear.
The worthless 1989 Dan Kremer Imports set. A bunch of cards were released to the market in the late 1980s, sold with a fake Certificate of Authenticity which told the following story. (The text here is drawn from the excellent Wixiban Star Trek site.)
1967 Leaf (European) Star Trek Set
This Star Trek Leaf card set was discovered in Europe in 1989 at a former card producer’s warehouse that has been in business since well before the 60’s. From the information provided to us, we understand that these were manufactured in cooperation with Leaf for European distribution only. Shortly thereafter, Desilu withdrew the contract with Leaf, due to contractual difficulty. Upon notification of the aforementioned problem, the European card manufacturer decided not to issue them and stored them in the warehouse where they have been until their re-discovery in 1989 by Dan Kremer, a European collectibles importer.
And on the reverse:
Upon examination, The European set exhibits the following differences to their American counterpart. The European sets were never gloss coated (very few European cards were ever gloss coated). The cutting was poorer than the American edition (the cutting machines in Europe were early outdated cutters from the U.S.) The camera work is slightly poorer (again, inferior cameras).
We hope you enjoy the very special previously unavailable set.
Dan Kremer Imports
That tale is untrue; these were simply pirated copies, produced later and poorly done. They are slightly smaller than the originals, the images are often fuzzy, and the card stock is single layer, so there is no variation when a stack of cards are viewed on end.
Trey and his cards
Back to Trey. In July 2022, I received a few polite but insistent emails from him. He wanted to talk as soon as possible, so we set a time. Over email and a long phone call down to Texas, I learned that he and his partners buy abandoned storage units, and one of those gambles paid off: they found a bunch of valuable construction material and a small pile of Star Trek cards. Internet research led him to Leaf and then to a mention on my About my Collection page.
Trey had also seen an article that referenced an auction price of $1,000 for a complete 1967 set, so he had visions of dollar signs dancing in his head. He wanted advice on selling and asked me if I wanted to buy them.
I asked if the cards said “Reprint” on them and was told no. I then said he most likely had the pirated 1989 set, as there are a lot of them around. His business partner actually had the cards in front of her and, once she was added to the call, I told them what to look for and suggested she grab a ruler to measure a card. Then she suddenly dropped off the call. Oh oh.
And I never heard back from Trey. Not even to say thank you. Follow-up emails were ignored.
So, what would it be worth to me?
Had the cards been authentic 1967s and in good shape, how much would I have offered? My 1960s and 1970s collection does not have many holes, and this is certainly a big one. But I have the 1981 reprints, and that feels very much like owning the real things.
As I said above, I decided on a limit of US$500. I was a little reluctant to spend that much but how could I not try? How often does an authentic 1967 set just drop out of the air?
So now I feel let down, by Trey and because I would like to own the 1967s. To make myself feel better, I spent some time with my reprint set and then decided to share, so here’s my piece on them, full of reprinted 1967 goodness.
Being repeatedly asked for advice and then not even thanked has a draining effect on one’s willingness to help the next person. But a guy named Maxwell on the US west coast recently renewed my faith. He was looking for information on a dinner plate produced by Pfaltzgraff for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The text on the back is not the standard and I hoped he had a prototype or an artist’s proof, but some research revealed his version is rare but not a one-off. I gave him some advice on selling it.
And Maxwell thanked me for my time, even adding “Too bad I’m on the other side of the continent (NW WA state in the U.S.) or I’d offer you a Saurian Brandy at some point.” He owns a Dickel bottle, similar to the ones used on the series, so he’s an actual Trek fan.
That probably explains why he was kind enough to thank me for my time.