By Doug Koztoski
The battle of the bands has always raged on across genres and generations, often through the music, other times through the memorabilia.
With respect to 1960s music-related trading cards featuring a particular group, those depicting The Beatles are here, there and everywhere and still popular. Rolling Stones pasteboards, meanwhile, about as rare as Mick Jagger standing in place for a few songs while in concert, enjoy a solid following. The only other group that makes any sounds of note through this category’s speakers? The Monkees.
Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith. That fun-loving foursome launched onto the music and TV show scene in 1966 as a struggling band known as The Monkees, and they generated all kinds of merchandise during their heyday, including numerous card sets.
The first Monkees’ mainstream trading card issue came out with sepia-toned images of publicity photos and shots from their TV show, which started in September, 1966 and lasted about 18 months in its original run, and in seemingly perpetual reruns, including today.
The Donruss Company produced various Monkees card sets, mainly in 1966. In 1967 A&BC of England and The Topps Company teamed up for a ride in the Monkee Mobile of pop culture pasteboards, too. Packs normally sold for a nickel in each case.
Peter Calderon, a consignment director with Heritage Auctions, who has handled many Monkees cards, noted the sepia set has an edge on other card issues of the Mt. Rushmore of ‘60s made-for-TV musical groups. “Usually that first set that comes out is the most popular and it still holds a little extra importance, some extra sentimental interest, with collectors,” Calderon said. A high-grade sepia set, he added, commonly brings $300-$400.
The auction expert noted that the other Monkees card sets (black & white, color, for instance) bring prices similar to the sepia issue. The band’s pasteboard productions normally comprise 55 cards at most in a set, many average grade cards from these issues sell for a dollar or two.
“We usually have had a relatively regular supply of Monkees cards throughout the years,” Calderon said from his office in Dallas. “They are not quite as plentiful as Beatles cards and other cards from that era, but they are still pretty popular with card collectors.”
I’m A Believer
Graeme Arno has been a fan of the Monkees music since “Last Train to Clarksville” became their initial hit song, shortly before the television show debuted.
Arno has assembled a tremendous collection of Monkees bubble gum cards over a half-century for a simple joyful reason: “It takes me back to my youth and the 60’s Monkees TV program,” he said.
Although many non-sport collectors still assemble sets in “raw” form, as in not professionally graded and encapsulated, Arno goes graded, with an affinity for the A&BC brand cards, produced in his U.K. homeland. His collection includes some of the top-graded samples on the PSA Set Registry, where several “slabbed” sets get ranked against other like-minded enthusiasts.
The collector, who lives about 45 miles south of London, said Monkees cards have seen a recent spike in interest. “There has been a resurgence with the 50th anniversary.”
Vintage pack display boxes and wrappers were often immediately trashed shortly after purchase, and Arno said tracking down Monkees’ display boxes in better condition presents a challenge.
But the demand for older display boxes and wrappers is there, especially from before 1970, sports or non-sports, as they offer an extra dimension that can make a pop culture collection “pop” even more. Calderon said Monkees’ card display boxes in solid shape can be located “for around $100.” The wrappers, he added, are easier to find. “You can get a nice clean wrapper for $25,” he said. Vintage non-sport cards and related items seem to be gaining popularity, so expect stronger prices in the next few years.
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
As to the future popularity of Monkees cards, Arno sees their place on the Pop Charts, so to speak. “There will always be people who like the nostalgia, but they are never going to be as popular as The Beatles or Rolling Stones cards.”
Calderon, meantime, said the interest for many collectors will continue, much like the enduring charm and innocence of much of The Monkees music: “steady.” Steady, like the “Last Train to Clarksville.”
Flipping A Monkees’ Movie
In 1968 The Monkees’ fantasy film “Head” came and went from theaters about as fast as it took the group to sing “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Over subsequent decades the flick has developed a cult following.
In 1967 the band starred in other motion pictures, sort of, as The Topps Company produced packs of Monkees Flip Movies. Essentially, each of the 16 different flip books highlights a brief “scene” from their TV show. When one “flips” or thumbs through the handful of closely related sequenced images/film frames, it appears to show movement.
“I don’t know if the flip book concept went over really well back then,“ said Heritage Auctions’ Peter Calderon, “but they are definitely harder to find than the Monkees cards.”
The Monkees Flip Movies packs initially sold for a nickel. Today those same unopened packs routinely start around $20-$30. Individual books in higher end condition commonly bring $15 to $20; the wrappers about $10-$15 and the display boxes around $75 to $100.