Horror Monster cards

1961 by Nu-Cards

By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2005 Monsterwax)

You have to give the folks at Nu-Cards credit: They only made two non-sports sets during all the 1960s, and yet both of them were classics. The first set was an 80 card series devoted to dinosaurs. It was a first and favorite among American dinosaur fans, eventually spawning several imitations. Nu-Cards' second non-sport series was also released in 1961, and it was the first monster series to use photographs. It also spawned a bunch of imitations, but none of them matched the diversity and quality of the two part Horror Monster series. Both the green first series (1 -66) and the orange second series (67 - 146) use clear black and white images. Most of them also take a character in the foreground and add a duotone color to make it stand out. (Terror Monsters tried this on some of their cards, but they were usually out-of-register.) The result is one of the earliest and best monster sets made.

The green series was originally sold in two card panels, and collectors would tear them apart or cut them along the perforated line. The backs were a white cream color. But then Nu-Cards issued them as regular single cards, and this time, the backs were gray. Completing a set of the same color backs can be very difficult for the first series (especially if one tries to get all attached panels). The orange 2nd series is much easier to find complete and in Near Mint condition. There is also a bonus orange card. #102 can be found with a "Worth 100 Wrappers" back design. According to long time collector Emil Tierno (who opened many boxes) there was a bonus card in every orange box, and they also came in denominations of 50, 25, and 10. The front of card #102 is the same for all cards, bonus or otherwise.

Collectors could send in the wrappers (or bonus cards) to order free posters of both Horror Monster series from Nu-Card. These have also become prized collectibles for traders. I have the green poster which is basically the uncut green series, except that the back is blank and it is printed on poster paper.

The paper wrappers for both series were amusing in that they took a disadvantage and turned it into a selling point. Nu-Cards did not issue gum with Horror Monsters, so the wrappers joked about this fact by saying "Packed with GHOST GUM. You can't see it. You can't taste it. You can't chew it. But dentists say it's good for your teeth."

Above, the first series Horror Monster green back (in orange ink) and second series Horror Monster orange back (in green ink)

The wrappers are otherwise very plain. They are printed with two ink colors and with cartoonish illustrations of several monsters on them. (Series 1 says "Horror Monsters" and series 2 says "Monsters Movies".) They are not conventional wax wrappers that fold, but rather, paper wrappers that are stamped together on each end with a machine.

Nu-Card went all out on their boxes, however. Both the green "Shock Monster" box and the orange "Horror Monster" box are favorites among collectors, and none too common. But even more rare are what can best be described as the first ever monster promo card panel (another Nu-Card first?). It's a four card (horizontal 5 x 7") panel of Horror Monster orange series. The fronts are identical to random Horror Monster orange cards, but only the bottom half of the back has the same graphics as the regular cards. The top half states, "Authentic MOVIE MONSTERS. The only collection of real movie monsters - 80 different cards with 'horrible' jokes on the back of each card. ORDER NOW - So the kids can continue collecting the popular horror monsters. Nu Cards Inc, Box 217 Seaford NY." I've seen several different, and they sold for $200 per panel.

The final aspect of this series worth noting is the controversy over the so-called "original version" of Horror Monster blue cards. The blue cards contain the same photo images, but they are not half toned and look like primitive mimeograph copies on card stock. It looks like the same title has been typed on a typewriter and pasted over its future location on each front. The backs have the same graphic as both series, (but more commonly, the orange series), with the address of Nu-Cards blotted out. Everyone I know seems to think these are the original Nu-Cards prototypes. Even the Sport American Price Guide to Non-Sports (for 1960s & up) advances this theory by saying "We believe that the blue front cards are the original version issue, which was refined and later reissued with the green and the orange colors." I have the greatest respect for the authors of that book and my fellow card collectors who believe this theory, but I'm convinced they are mistaken, and here's why:

If you look at the outside of the 1961 Horror Monster orange wrapper, it offers posters of both complete series (for $1 and 5 wrappers, or free for 50 wrappers). It clearly states this offer expires Dec. 31st, 1961. I have one of those posters and they are not the cheap-o blue photo copy versions. They are the beautiful two color duotone in all their half-tone glory. This means as of 1961, both series were available in color duotone. No one suggests that Horror Monster blue cards came out before the Topps Funny Monsters cartoon cards did in 1959. So that leaves a little over a year for the blue series to have evolved from Fred Flintstone caveman quality to the futuristic equivalent of George Jetson! And don't forget, they also had to squeeze the two card panel series into that same time frame. There just isn't enough time for a company to make and distribute the blue cards, receive feedback, go back and redesign, and redistribute the product in panel form, then go back to regular size and issue a two part series in under two years (1959 - 1961).

More evidence: If you look at the backs of the Horror Monster blue series, the graphic most commonly used is the same as (orange) series 2. It's a very professional graphic of the Ray Harryhausen cyclops, a skull, and an insect monster. Would some bozo who pastes sloppy typewriter logos over the titles on the front turn around and design such a professional back? If so, why would they also include the less professional graphich used from (green) series 1 in the same blue series, when it clashes in style and jumps around in the numbering sequence? Answer: Because both graphics were already in circulation from the early 1960s and the publisher of the blue cards used whichever ones he could get ahold of the easiest. Since the (green) series 1 had been out of print the longest, fewer of them were used.

I have samples of the Horror Monster blue that range from card #64 (a green series card) to card #143 (orange series). All the numbers correspond exactly with the green and orange series. Even the professional skull graphic from the front of series 1 is present and outlines the numbers of all the early number cards (except the face of the skull is missing). Also present is the Nu-Card copyright, yet the address of the company has been carefully blotted out with a marker on each back. Why? Because I believe these are pirated bootleg cards. The last thing the culprits wanted buyers to do was to write the address and alert Nu-Card of their mischief. If the blue cards were really the originals, the designers would not need to blot out the address, because it wouldn't exist until they typed it later for the green and orange series.

That last sentence is really all the proof one needs to make a common sense conclusion. But there's more evidence if you're a hold out.

Look at the sloppy quality of the printing and off centered cutting compared to the fact that the front borders and back graphics are professionally designed. Why would someone with professional equipment to typeset the backs turn around and use a conventional typewriter to type and paste on the front titles? The answer is because they are two different groups of people. The pirates had to paste a new title on the fronts because Nu-Cards' green or orange colored backgrounds would have interfered with the black title type when it was all converted into one color (blue). Try photocopying a title against a dark colored background on a cheapo b/w machine, and you'll see what I mean.

So who could the pirates be? I was still kicking around inside my mom's stomach at the time, so I can't say for sure. But based on what I've seen since, I strongly suspect it was the makers of Monster Cards.

Yes, Monster Cards, the blue cards that look just like the Horror Monster blue cards, except they have a different back graphic, a different numbering sequence, and the same quality control in creating well cut cards as the DMV has in creating conscientious drivers. The back graphic looks like a six grader drew it. There is no company name, no address, no date or copyright included. Odd isn't it? Unless it's a bootleg, and all that information would be meaningless anyway. After all, despite the new "original" back, the photos on the fronts are still obvious rip-offs from the Nu-Cards set (especially the orange series). If there is any doubt, just check out the Kong image on #64. Not only is the distinctive NuCards arch border still visible, but so is the top of the skull graphic that originally surrounded the number. Some attribute this series to Rosan, circa 1966. It's anyone's guess if that claim is correct. But obviously, if it was 1966, it could not have been the first Nu-Card series ever issued, which is another claim made by many who don't believe both blue sets are bootlegs.

And speaking of sets, the Monster Cards series are often found as complete sets, although I know of no one who has a complete set of Horror Monster blue cards. (If you do, please contact me.) I believe this is because the Horror Monster blue cards were prototypes for the Monster Cards, (not the Nu-Card series they pirated). My belief is that the pirates collected at least 80 different Horror Monster cards in 1961, and saw demand for monster cards continue to grow until 1965. (That's when more monster series were produced than ever before.) Nu-Cards wasn't producing anything then, so the pirates saw an opportunity. They copied samples of both Horror Monster series with blue fronts (and an orange series back design, carefully covering up the address information at the bottom). When the reaction to these prototype samples was positive, they created their own Monster Cards back graphic and renumbered the series 1 - 80, creating a set which they sold complete, probably through mail order via a faceless P.O. Box. This time, they completely left off any copyright notice, because they knew better than anyone that such notices were pointless.

But don't let my heavy handed accusations about Monster Cards fool you. I still enjoy the set a lot. The pirates added a new dimension of humor with their low production standards and often funnier captions. See for example card # 64 of Horror Monster green. It's a picture of a skeleton man in a cloak. Nu-Cards' caption was "The Man Who Lost His Skin." Kinda cute, but not especially funny. But the blue version # 64 says "I need vitamins" (repeated in Monster Cards #57). Now that, as a pirate would say, is a hearty "Har-har!" (Does it make sense for Nu-Cards to replace a good joke with a lessor one later on? Nope.)

So there you have it: My conspiracy theory of Horror Monster BOOTLEG blue. You'll have to decide which explanation you believe, but I don't see any other theory that could explain the ultra-short production timeframe and the blotted out address which mysteriously reappears in the final version. Not to mention all the other reasons listed above. (So much for not mentioning it.)

Whichever camp you're in, it makes for a monster of a debate that you could argue until you're blue!

Top lef to right: The bootleg card reverse for #74, and #70 (note the blotted out address). Below, the NuCard originals from the Orange series. (The Green series always used orange ink on the reverse.) Notice that both bootleg cards reveal edge lines along the sides. That's from the outer edge of the original cards which unintentionally showed up when photographing them! If the bootlegs had really come first, there would be no reason for such a line along the outer edges. The borders are normally clean (as shown in the bottom samples from the orange series).

JUST THE FACTOIDS: Horror Monster Green & Orange (Nu-Card, 1962): Photo cards of various "B" monster flicks with certain images containing duotone green or orange. The first series has green borders, and the second series has orange borders. The backs have a monster graphic with various "horrible jokes." Each series had a standard back design, but the second series design was more professional than the first. Retail: Series 1 (green #s1-66) $400-$600 in Ex/Nrmt. Series 2 (orange #s67-146) is usually $250-$300 Nrmt.

Rosan Card company is suspected of recycling (stealing) the same photo fronts for their 1966 series of "Monster Cards Blue" (printed in blue ink). Those cards are usually found in complete 84 card sets for $100 to $175 in Near Mint. Another blue card series exists, with the Nu-Card back design from the orange series. The manufacturer of either blue series is uncertain.


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