Published Jul 8, 2019
Star Trek Playing Cards are Very Serious Business
We've rounded up the rarest ones for an "all hands on decks" look at these unique collectibles.
By REX UNGERICHT
From the round cards seen in several episodes of The Original Series to the poker games of The Next Generation, it's good to know that playing cards — the four suits of ace through king as we know them — will still be around in the future.
But in the present, it seems as though playing cards are dying — at least the ones commemorating the different Star Trek series. TOS and TNG have plenty of decks, but the others? Not so much.
Still, the past 50+ years have seen the release of many Star Trek playing cards, both in complete decks and as individual cards in non-Star Trek decks. Many of these cards can still be purchased commercially, or regularly found on resale sites such as eBay, but others are more difficult to track down.
If you are interested in collecting Star Trek playing cards, you might want to start by looking through my Star Trek Playing Card Compendium. But be prepared for a hunt, especially when looking for the unique and rare cards in the following list.
The Experience (Opening Day Deck)
For eleven years starting in 1998, the Las Vegas Hilton hosted Star Trek: The Experience. (If you want to know more about The Experience, there are multiple videos on YouTube.) The attraction had a "History of the Future" museum, a restaurant styled after Quark's bar in Deep Space Nine, two rides (Klingon Encounter and Borg Invasion 4D), and the largest Star Trek-themed store in the world.
In that store, you could find Star Trek: The Experience playing cards, otherwise regular playing cards with a Star Trek: The Experience design on the back. The grand opening deck (pictured) has the text overlapping the logo. Although the attraction didn't open until 1998, this version of the deck is dated 1996, and is the more rare of the two. The second version of the deck has the text below the logo, and is dated 1998.
If you live in Australia, you likely know what a "showbag" is -- the bags of goodies often handed out at conventions, fairs, and carnivals. Originally containing free samples of merchandise, showbags are now typically offered for sale at conventions. There are hundreds of different showbags themed around movies, TV shows, entertainers, toys, cosmetics, and confections. Bensons Trading is one of several companies that makes showbags.
In 1995, they created a Star Trek: The Next Generation bag that included a deck of playing cards. These are regular playing cards with a Next Generation design on the back. Hard to find these days, The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney has some images of the TNG showbag and its contents where you can at least get a small taste of the Bensons deck yourself.
Tele Banco Cancion
These cards, from the 1960's, come from decks produced in Spain. The cards have suits of swords, cups, suns, and sticks. (These designations are just four of many different older suit symbols. Over time, swords became spades, cups became hearts, suns became diamonds, and sticks became clubs.)
The history of these cards is somewhat sketchy. It appears that there was originally a blue-backed deck showing popular singers of the day, and a red-backed deck showing TV stars. But in a later reissue of the cards, the blue backs became green and some of the cards were changed to show different singers, while the red backs became even more red (the red-and-white text on the back was changed to solid red) and some of the cards were changed to show different TV stars.
The Star Trek cards are in the original red-backed deck with red-and-white "Tele Banco Cancion" text. Note the alternative show title on the DeForest Kelley card: "La Conquista del Espacio" or "The Conquest of Space". Your best chance of finding these cards today is on Spanish resale sites like eBay.es, and Todocoleccion.
In the 1980-90s, Cinema International Corporation (CIC) was the licensed distributor of Star Trek home video in the UK, Germany, Australia, and other countries. In 1996, they created a promotion where playing cards were included with specially-marked Star Trek videos. If you bought all of the videos, you would be able to assemble a complete deck. As part of the promotion, you could order a personalized round tin (made to look like a movie reel tin) to hold the cards. Two years later, in 1998, CIC continued the promotion in Germany by offering complete decks of the cards.
The cards show a starship on each of the aces, and characters from the show on the face cards. The Jokers are an Alpha 177 Canine and a Tribble. The deck itself can be difficult to find, but the rarest object is the personalized tin.
Wrath of Khan (1st Printing)
When Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released in 1982, a companion deck of cards was released by Movie Players Inc. The deck features the movie title on the back, images of ships on the face of the Jokers, and images of characters from the movie on the other card faces. The character images are a mix of publicity shots and images from the movie (including some images that didn't make the final cut of the film).
It didn't take long for Star Trek fans to spot an error on the cards. The official title of the movie is Star Trek II, but the cards just said "Star Trek." The error was acknowledged and from the second printing on, the card backs display "Star Trek II." This makes the initial print run without the 'II' (as pictured) one of the rarer Star Trek playing card decks.
Back in 1964, Joseph Segel started up a private mint: first to make gaming tokens for casinos, and then to make coins and medallions for coin collectors and the general public. This mint was originally named General Numismatics Corporation, but was soon renamed The Franklin Mint.
Segel retired from The Franklin Mint in 1973, and the product line was expanded from coins into other types of collectibles. The mint produced several Star Trek items, among them (in 1997) a Next Generation senior officers poker set with silver, blue, and gold chips and two decks of cards in a display case. The decks feature characters from the show on the face cards and jokers.
These cards were only available in the poker sets, and the sets rarely appear on the secondary market.
The Motion Picture
In the early and mid 1960's, Don Fraser was an ad man. For one client, he created an ad campaign using characters from the Peanuts comic by Charles Schulz featuring a promotional gold-plated Snoopy flying ace pin. The experience of getting that pin made led Fraser to partner with Elliot Steinberg in 1968 to create his own company to make pins.
Their company, Aviva (named after Steinberg's daughter), not only made pins, but also gifts, toys, and accessories. They contracted with Paramount to make Star Trek-related products, including buttons, stickers, a jigsaw puzzle, a water pistol phaser, and other items. And, in 1979, they produced a deck of playing cards with a Trek design on the back to commemorate Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The Voyage Home
In the 1980's, Trans World Airlines (TWA) was still one of the largest U.S. airlines, even though corporate raider Carl Icahn was starting to make the moves that would lead to its demise. TWA was the first airline to serve in-flight meals and offer in-flight movies. And back in those pre- iPad and iPhone days, passengers could ask their flight attendant for a deck of cards to help pass the time.
On November 26, 1986, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was released in theaters. But it wasn't until September 30, 1987 (ten months later and two days after the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation) that The Voyage Home was finally released on VHS and Beta. To help promote the home video release, Paramount partnered with TWA. If a passenger asked for a deck of cards, they received a Star Trek IV deck. They’re rare to come across these days, but if you’re lucky and eagle-eyed, you might one day spot a deck on eBay.
In 1991, NASA launched three space shuttle missions, SEGA released the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the first Internet browser (called WorldWideWeb) to his colleagues at CERN, and Star Trek celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Of course, there was a convention with all of the major Original Series actors, there was a 25th anniversary documentary hosted by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released in theaters, and and there was an abundance of 25th anniversary merchandise. One of the anniversary items was a deck of cards from California-based souvenir maker Karol Western Corp. These are regular playing cards with a Star Trek design on the back, and they too are occasionally spotted on eBay.
In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter rated the TOS episode "A Piece of the Action" the 12th best of all Star Trek episodes across all series. The made-up card game "Fizzbin" from the episode has taken on a life of its own.
Fizzbin appears in multiple Star Trek episodes, games, and novels. You can buy Fizzbin merchandise, including apparel, mugs, and jewelry. Some cards games (Killer Bunnies and Fluxx, to name two) have special Fizzbin cards. And yes - there are also actual rules on how to play Fizzbin.
As part of a Star Trek 10th anniversary celebration, Paramount Pictures presented Fizzbin commemorative decks to people connected to the show. The cards have regular faces, and backs that show a scene from the episode.
Writer, song parodist, and keeper of The Star Trek Playing Card Compendium, Rex Ungericht (he/him) posts his work on his website Parody Man.