Topps Original Trading Card Artwork
To cash in on the Nintendo Entertainment System craze, Topps struck a deal with Nintendo in 1989 to produce a variety of merchandise like plastic Mario and Link bubble gum dispensers.
The company’s most popular Nintendo-endorsed product, however, may have been its Game Pak trading cards. Selling for 50 cents a pop, Topps included three scratch-off card games and two peel-off stickers per pack.
In the 60 different “card games,” kids could fight familiar video game enemies or move across the screen by scratching off little gray circles. Game instructions were printed on the back of each card.
For example, on one Super Mario Bros. scratch-off card, the directions read, “Find 3 arrows and you win. Uncover 3 Buzzy Beetles and you lose!”
Converting the Nintendo multimedia experience into a static scratch-off was a clever idea, but, like used lottery tickets, the cards became nothing more than litter afterwards. (Unlike lottery tickets, though, players were not given anything by winning. “THIS PRODUCT IS FOR FUN–NO PRIZES AWARDED” was plastered on the front of every card pack to make that very clear.)
The peel-off stickers numbered 33 in total. On the backside of each sticker were “Top Secret Tips” containing game hints and strategies.
In 2006, Topps, under the eBay name “thetoppsvault,” auctioned off several of the original color artwork and black-and-white overlays that were used to create the Nintendo cards.
The auction description read, “Direct from Topps’ legendary vault, this is the actual color art used in the creative process of this 1989 Topps release. One is the original color art, the other is the overlay containing the camera-ready B&W line art. In order to create the reverse side cartoon image, the overlay is placed over this mini art board. Each piece measures (2 1/2 x 3 1/2-inch). This art and overlay sheet come encased in hard plastic holders to maintain its delicate and original state.”
Some of the card art reached fairly high prices. The Zelda logo piece went for over $70, and an image of Link holding the Triforce ended at around $55.
I managed to pick up a few, including a Little Mac (of Punch-Out!! fame), a cool Samus Aran original reverse side card art, and an affordable Cobrat (the snake from Super Mario Bros. 2). Cobrat and Samus turned out to be stickers that Topps released in a 2nd series exclusively through its Canadian licensee, O-Pee-Chee.
Cobrat Super Mario Bros. 2 Topps Original Card Art
Samus Aran Topps Original Reverse Side Card Art
Little Mac Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay
About a year later, Topps then began selling the original artwork and card overlays from its Nintendo scratch-offs. Some of the pieces were from never produced cards and included an entire series based on Metroid.
It was hard for me to pick and choose because there were just so many of them up at once, but I controlled my wallet and went after three that I had remembered fondly from my own childhood.
Super Mario Bros. 2 Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay
My favorite of the bunch, this piece arguably represents the best example from the Super Mario Bros. 2 Topps cards. Here we have Tryclyde blasting fireballs at our famous plumber friend. As you can see by comparing the original with the released card, the scratch-offs are missing, as they were applied by a machine at a later time. Another difference is the size. Unlike the original Topps sticker cards, which are the same dimensions as the mass produced stickers, these original scratch-offs are much bigger and measure 4 x 5 1/2 inches.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay
The second scratch-off artwork that I picked up depicts a scene from The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Fans of that game will recognize it as one of the random Hyrule forest screens that Link must battle through to get back to the game’s overworld map. Notice how the sky is painted blue instead of black.
Double Dragon Topps Original Card Art and Camera-Ready Overlay
I cannot seem to locate my matching card for this last piece, unfortunately, but I have confirmed that it is a released Topps card from the Double Dragon series. The most affordable of the three, this one caught my eye because of the bright colors in the background. Nothing says ‘’80s action quite like throwing crates from a pink construction site. This scene depicts the first screen of the second level in Double Dragon.
Archive Listing of Topps Vault Auctioned Nintendo Card Art
The Legend of Zelda
Super Mario Bros.
- Super Mario Bros. Screen 2
- Mario Driving
- Mario Logo
- Mario Madness
- Hammer Bros., Toad, Mushrooms
- Mario Pulling Up Mushroom
- Koopa Shell Bowling
Super Mario Bros. 2
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Birdo
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Squatting Mario
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Cloud Ninji
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Screen 1
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Screen 4
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Screen 6
- Super Mario Bros. 2 Screen 6 Birdo