Holy Cardboard & Kryptonite, Batman! Superman trading cards go back to the 1940s?

Last night I interrupted what may well have been my 100th viewing of Superman II (which yields feelings of both joy and shame) because something suddenly, seemingly miraculously occurred to me during the scotch o’clock witching hour. The impetus was a typically cheesy, Salkind-produced sequence—completely overblown yet at the same time touching—when a limpid-eyed Christopher Reeve halts an elevator in freefall on the Eiffel Tower just in time to save none other than Lois Lane. For a brief moment, rescuer and rescued stare deeply and smile before Superman flies off to hurtle the elevator’s hidden hydrogen bomb into outer space. Something about that shared, intimate instant amidst chaos compelled me to freeze the frame on Reeve’s charismatic, young face. Then as if I was the very first to ever contemplate it, I felt struck with wonder by the power of the still image: if profiteering manufacturers of 1980s pop culture schlock managed to mass-produce and circulate trading cards of trendy franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ThunderCats, then at some opportunistic, product tie-in juncture surely someone did the same  with Superman trading cards (and many times over). Oh boy, did they ever.

Check out the listings on the PSA registry for “Non-Sports” trading cards. You will see that their records include over half of a dozen company sets for Superman listed between 1940 and 1978. And as PSA maintains some stricter standards, doubtless more card issues exist. Certainly, the individual “1940 Gum Inc. Superman R145s” come with the higher price tags in online auctions, but they nevertheless remain vastly more affordable than individual comics of the era.

For example, this raggedy #1 card of the 1940 Gum Inc. series went for nearly $30 in an online auction. That cost still pales in comparison to a $300, poor-condition Superman comic book (likely sans cover) from this year.

1940 Gum Inc. Superman Card 1 Superman

But personally—and wallet-wise—I prefer something more along these lines. . . .

1978 TOPPS, TREBOR UK SUPERMAN MOVIE

Typical low-ball asking price for a similar 1978 Topps (US) or “Trebor” (UK) issue: $12 plus shipping—and that includes an entire set of more than 60 pulpy specimens from the Carter-era!

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