The Simpsons made their prime time television debut on December 17th, 1989. The world was a much different place back then but it’s safe to say the animated show about a blue collar family caught fire with young viewers. By 1990, Topps Company was hard at work on a Simpsons card set, which was not uncommon, as they were at the time the premier, non-sport card manufacturer. From Garbage Pail Kids to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and everything in between, it seemed Topps was most successful with non-sport properties during this time.
Although Topps was able to strike while the iron was red-hot, the 1990 set, which was 88 cards and 22 stickers, was as basic (not to mention boring) as it gets, even by “Junk Wax” era standards. I feel as a whole, Topps’ 1990 products all suffer equally across the board, which is why Upper Deck was able to overtake them in baseball straight out of the gate. I bought a pack (or 3) of 1990 Topps Simpsons but even as an impressionable 10 year old child, knew that my money was better spent somewhere else, such as on 1990 Impel Marvel Universe, which absolutely lit up Topps in every single category.
If you’re looking for a cheap Simpsons trading card set, you can’t go wrong with Topps but just a few short years later, Skybox, would enter the Simpsons card market with their very own set that would change the world of trading cards forever. I know, sounds like hyperbole, right? IT IS NOT. Also, remember that company Impel I mentioned earlier? Eventually, that company took on a new name: Skybox International. By 1995, Skybox was purchased by Marvel. The following year, Marvel purchased Fleer and thus Fleer/Skybox was born.
ANYWAY, in 1993, Skybox produced their own Simpsons trading card set which was heavily focused on the latest craze at the time, inserts. The base set was just 80 cards but Skybox included inserts like lenticular motion cards (see below), temporary tattoos, acetate, as well as glow in the dark cards. It had everything you could want in a set and became one of the hottest items of 1993, the same year Topps killed its competition by introducing the Refractor, but that’s a whole other story. Basically, Skybox, put Topps’ now ancient Simpsons set from just three years back to shame.
Best of all, Skybox produced redemption cards (YES, in 1993!). If you were lucky enough to find one, you could redeem it for an original sketch card by Simpsons creator, Matt Groening. These now, almost mythical cards were hand numbered to just 400 and expired over twenty years ago, not that it matters anyway since the original Skybox went under in 2006. It would be safe to assume that not all 400 of these sketch cards were redeemed, which is why they sell for BIG MONEY whenever one finds its way on eBay.
I’m not kidding. There’s only ONE on eBay right now with a $5,000 price tag. Take a look for yourself. I’d venture to say these cards are some of the rarest and most valuable of any trading cards from the 90s that aren’t prototypes. There are more expensive cards from that decade, sure, not many can compete with Jordan or Griffey Jr. autographs and game-used relics but when you consider the year these cards were produced, the particular license, and that these may in fact be the very first sketch cards collectors have ever pulled from a card product, suddenly these cards triple in collectible appeal.
It doesn’t hurt that Matt Groening is sort of a recluse. He’s way more social these days but that doesn’t change the fact that these sketch cards are his one and only appearance on card board. How Topps, a company that at one point, had a working relationship with Groening, hasn’t included him in Allen & Ginter over the current autograph checklist hacks of today is beyond disturbing, unfortunate, and disappointing. If EVER there was a set to feature Matt Groening in, it’s Allen & Ginter. For now, this is all we have to work with but good luck with an unopened box, they don’t come cheap.
With Upper Deck owning the Skybox license, one has to wonder if we will ever see a modern Simpsons trading card set featuring autographs, parallels, printing plates, and other goodies from today’s hobby. It’s been 27 years since the last Simpsons set and with the now legendary animated sitcom running on fumes, it’s perhaps the best time to look back on the 30+ year run of The Simpsons while the show is still on the air and with millions of dollars to cash in on nostalgia-driven collectors.