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Trading Cards Are Scoring Outside the Sports Arena : Collecting: Sellers report increasing demand for series on subjects ranging from politics to nude dancers.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

So you give your kid a dollar to buy some trading cards--Cal Ripken, maybe, or Kirby Puckett. And he comes back with . . . Paul Tsongas?

There it is, though: “Tsongas on Issues,” Card No. 24 in the series “Decision ’92,” put out by AAA Sports Inc. of Cincinnati. On the back, we get this sound bite from the failed Democratic presidential candidate that was issued, presumably, in more hopeful times: “We need a president who recognizes that absent a viable manufacturing base, there is no U. S. economy.”

If that’s not enough to grab you, there’s Card No. 30 (“Democratic VP Selection”) or No. 43 (“Bush on Issues--Defense Spending”) to whet your appetite for the coming election.

“Decision ’92" is but one example of what has become a surprisingly fertile market: non-sports trading cards. From Harley-Davidsons to the Iran-Contra hearings to old true-detective magazines, there seems to be a card for just about any topic.

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“It’s easy entertainment, and there’s a diversity with non-sports cards that just can’t be matched in sports cards,” said Maggie McKenzie, co-owner of Alternate Worlds in Cockeysville, Md., which sells a wide variety of non-sports trading cards. “Plus, with the way sports cards are going, prices can be ridiculous--$5 and up sometimes. Kids can afford non-sports cards.”

At Alternate Worlds, buyers can also get their fix of baseball cards or National Football League cards. But the store also sells trading cards featuring such topics as modern warplanes (“Wings of Fire,” eight cards for $1), old country music stars (“Country Classics,” 10 for $1.49) and crime figures of the 20th Century (“True Crime,” 12 for $1.65).

“In the last couple of years, the market has really taken off,” said Harris Toser, production manager of Non-Sport Update, a quarterly trade magazine based in Harrisburg, Pa. “Six to seven years ago, there were at the most 10 non-sports sets put out in a year. This year alone, from last October to this month, there have been 167 sets out that we know of.”

According to The Licensing Letter, another industry publication, about $1.2 billion was spent in 1991 on new trading cards--a 20% increase over 1990. Non-sports cards accounted for about $160 million, or 13% of that figure.

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Non-sports cards also best indicate the number of choices available.

Take, for instance, the recent set “Thee Dolls,” which features nude dancers from the adult nightclub chain Thee Dollhouses.

“They’re doing really well. There’s been a big market for adult cards,” said Mike Horn, a sports-card buyer for Diamond Comic Distributors, a major card distributor based in Baltimore.

Then there is “Republicans Attack!” put out in mid-July by the Kitchen Sink Press of Princeton, Wis. This 36-card set, which sells for $10.95, is a satirical shot at President Bush and friends, patterned after the classic early-1960s cards, “Mars Attacks!”

A breathless science-fiction novel about a Martian invasion, “Mars Attacks!” was also a thinly disguised anti-Communist parable.

In “Republicans Attack!” Bush uses the Hubble Space Telescope to wipe out Democratic voters, and Patrick Buchanan helps wall off the country’s borders to stop immigration.


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