My Favorite Find!
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2007 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
There are usually two stories that any long time card collector can recite at a moment's notice. The first is how their original childhood collection was given away, thrown out, or sold at a garage sale by their parents! But that story is rather depressing, especially when the cards were destroyed. The happier of the two universal stories is the other tale--the "favorite find" story. I've never told mine, but it's rather interesting, because it happened right here in The Wrapper.
It all started with one of those old cheap-o classifieds that our stamp-hungry editor fills out the back pages with. The ones where people pay ten cents per word or something ridiculously cheap like that. An advertiser had 32 monster stickers for sale for $15. I love monster cards or stickers, and the price was affordable, so if this was something I didn't have, I knew I wanted it. The only problem was that there was no series name listed in the ad. The only clue was that they were stickers.
The collector lived in Canada, and this was before the arrival of all those cut-rate international phone plan days, so it would cost me about a dollar a minute to find out anything more. I'm always one of the last people to get The Wrapper, so I figured, why bother? If it was anything really good, it would probably be sold already. (This is before Galaxy Quest's "Never surrender, never give up!")
Fortunately, curiosity got the better of me, and I called on Saturday when the rates were a little lower. The chap who answered seemed like a nice fellow, but he wasn't able to shed much light on the stickers. He said the backs were blank and had no copyright, and there was no series or company name on the front as well. He also indicated the pictures were artwork, not photos from movies or TV. (That ruled out the 1980 You'll Die Laughing stickers, which I already had.)
I asked if they could be Ugly Stickers, but he didn't know. Could they be something I was unfamiliar with, or a foreign/Canadian issue we in the US hadn't seen yet? He had no idea how old they were or what country they were issued from, but he did say they were all different (no dupes). So I figured, what the heck? I didn't have a clue what they were, but it didn't sound like anything I had. And besides, every minute I hesitated was like pumping gas several inches shy of the tank and spilling a $1 a gallon fuel all over the ground. (Ah, those were the days! Fuel was still a buck a gallon, and it was AT&T--instead of OPEC--who had us over the barrel.) So I asked him to hold them and I'd send a money order.
Besides the $5 phone call, now I had to add the cost of an international money order and international postage to the bottom line. This $15 mystery was beginning to add up! But as regular Wrapper subscribers/ collectors all know, the thrill of anticipation while waiting for the cards to arrive in the mailbox is worth something as well. Besides, I had committed to the deal on the phone, and one doesn't want to get the reputation of being a flake. So I sent the money order and waited. And waited. And waited some more!
Several weeks later, after I had given up all hope and decided the "nice guy on the phone" had ripped me off, an envelope arrived in the mail. It was much smaller than I imagined. My excitement of having a new monster series slowly turned to dread as I fully expected to find some stupid Cracker Jack sized carnival-type party favor inside. I emptied the envelope into my trembling palm. To my amazement, it held 32 pristine Spook Stories stickers!
I had never seen the colorful 2.25 x 3 inch stickers "in person" before. They are quite scarce today as many of them were stuck on lockers, notebooks and anything else within arm's reach of the kids who bought them back in the early 1960s. I wouldn't have even recognized them except for having seen black and white reproductions in the Sports Americana price guide. Their crude artwork looked cool and very retro in the book, but I had decided NOT to collect them because they were way too expensive. (High grade samples usually cost $18 back then, and closer to $30 per sticker these days.) Yet here was a near mint batch of 32, just sixteen shy of a complete set!
After pausing long enough to allow the angels to finish singing their "Hallelujah" chorus, I had to consider if it was appropriate to keep the prize. They were obviously worth a lot more than what I paid. Then again, I didn't set the price, the seller did. And I bought them as the proverbial "pig in a poke," not knowing what they were and not trying to take advantage of anyone. So it was a gamble that just happened to hit the jackpot. I concluded that I had acquired them honestly and didn't owe anything more for them. That being said, I still feel a little sorry for the chap who gave them away so cheap. (At least it was clear that he hadn't paid much for them either.)
With over 3/5ths of the series complete, I began a crusade to finish the set I otherwise would never have dreamed of starting. I already had both the regular Spook Stories sets. The first 72 black and white cards from Leaf are pretty easy to finish, but the second 72 cards (#73-144) are much tougher to piece together in decent grade. It turns out that the stickers are far worse, because so many were destroyed not only from use, but also because the backs have no protection. Typical stickers have peel-off paper covering up the sticky part. Not so with Spook stickers. They have "lick and stick" gum backs, the same as the old style postage stamps. If they get wet or damp, they get ruined. And roaches and silverfish love to eat the glue off them, destroying the fronts in the process. Since Florida is the wettest and most roach & silverfish infested state in the Union, I had my work cut out.
There are other obstacles for Spook sticker collectors as well. There is no simple checklist. Since there are no numbers or titles on the stickers, one has to describe every single sticker they are looking for to dealers, and even then, there is a chance of confusion. (Thank goodness Benjamin has pictures of all of them in his book, otherwise, how would one know which ones they are missing or be able to describe them?)
The other big obstacle is counterfeits. For many years, various crooks have photocopied the stickers, smeared adhesive on the back, and sold them as originals. This has had a chilling effect on the buying and selling of Spook stickers in general. Fortunately, the fakes are pretty easy to spot because the fake adhesive doesn't have that smooth "from the factory" look. It should appear smooth and even, like the old style stamps, and not brushed or sprayed on after the fact.
It took about a year for me to find dealers who had the missing 16 stickers and finish the 48 sticker set. I'm not aware of any particularly scarce singles, but there probably are hard ones because other collectors have expressed frustration finishing their sets. No one seems to know for sure if the same 48 stickers were issued with both series 1 and 2 of the cards. It would seem more likely that a set of 24 came with series 1, and a different set of 24 were sold with series 2 of Spook Stories . If this is the case, then the first 24 stickers are more common than the follow up set of 24 that were sold with the second series. Of course, that's assuming both series of Spook cards offered stickers and they were different in each series. Perhaps only the 2 nd series offered all 48, or series 1 only offered them for a limited time just before it was replaced with series 2. As I said, no one seems to know for sure how it was done.
Of the six wrappers I've seen from the set, five of them mention stickers. Given that the cards are evenly divided into two series of 72 each, it is probable that the stickers are also divided evenly into two series of 24. So the second 24 (and we don't know which ones those are) would be scarcer. But that's only an educated guess and no one has found any uncut sheets to help shed light on it.
In retrospect, I feel very lucky that my greatest find happened to be a series I wanted but never would have collected otherwise. What are the odds of that happening? I owe it all to The Wrapper and that nice Canadian on the phone. Buddy, if you're out there reading this now, thank you, thank you!
Seriously, I almost didn't write this article because I thought that if that same guy still subscribes and reads this, I don't want him to feel bad. But then I remembered the first universal experience we collectors all had with our parent's destroying our childhood collections, and I figured this is just another chapter in that ongoing saga of card related regrets. I know I've had my share of those experiences, like the time I sold my complete Davy Crocket green set in The Wrapper for a fraction of its current value. (Wouldn't it be ironic if it went to the same Canadian?)
Anyway, here's my printed checklist of all the stickers. It's the best I could do to prevent any chance of duplication and it's more compact than a photo-list. (Remember, the stickers are not numbered and this is in no particular order.)
1. Reptile man/creature face
2. Snake head striking
3. Witch Doctor (full body)
4. Hag climbing out of coffin
5. Man behind 8-ball
6. Lizard with bone
7. Syringe with poison vial
9. Giant hawk atop man.
10. Angry blood-shot eye
11. Cow skull
12. Salivating dog head
13. Vampire standing in coffin
14. Incan Indian head w/ nose ring
15. Face of man hanging
16. Grave digger atop grave
17. Stabbed Voodoo doll
18. Frankenstein face
19. Asian pirate face w/ big mustache
20. Mummy face w/ tomb in background
21. Man in giant jar
22. Empty hangman's noose
23. Gorilla (full body) image
24. Gorilla face profile
25. Black Tribal face
26. Vulture w/ bones
28. Grave with hand popping out
29. Werewolf face
30. Ghoul's face dripping blood from lips
31. Black widow spider
32. Devil face
33. Dragon face
34. Cyclops face
35. Poison bottle
36. Witch face
37. Bloody knife
38. Octopus w/ man
39. Cobra snake
40. Pharaoh and Cleopatra
41. Black cat
43. Creep behind gravestone
44. Bloody hand
45. Monster ape about to eat doll woman
46. Mummy stepping out of coffin
The Non-Sports Trading Card Article Index