Monday, April 1, 2019

HERO-TRICORDER PART 2: BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING – IT'S HERO TIME!

This is the second of a multi-part series of stories regarding a research project covering original series Star Trek Tricorders and Phasers. 

Part 1 can be found HERE.

An overview of the project can be found HERE.

Throughout the three season run of the original Star Trek (TOS), the intrepid crew beamed into any number of circumstances holding that greatest of all scientific gizmos, the Tricorder. The device permitted the characters to analyze and report on the various conditions that they were facing. And as Mr. Spock gave the Captain his analysis of things on Cestus III ("Arena"), he was also telling us, the viewers, what was going on as well.

With the need of such a vital prop on a week-to-week basis, the Tricorder was one of the first props developed for the production. Gene Roddenberry called on special effects artist Wah Ming Chang to develop the Tricorder prop as well as the Communicators. Roddenberry gave Chang an overview of how the prop would be used and the overall functions that were required. Below is Wah's sketch with one of his finished props to the right. While the pieces are similar, the details changed a bit between concept and execution. Be sure to click on images to see larger versions.

According to a surviving copy of his invoice, Wah delivered two highly detailed Tricorder props to Roddenberry. Unfortunately, only one of the props has a surviving beauty shot (above). A lot of detective work had to be done to determine whether or not the second version was the same (it's not). The beauty shot gives us the single best shot of a Wah Tricorder, which I will refer to from this point on as the "Heroes". A Hero prop is one that is highly detailed and can be used for close-ups.

Let's see exactly what this great shot shows us.

The true nature of the materials used in the Heroes is known to us because one of the two survived and is in the possession of a well-known Star Trek prop maker and collector. His version has been screen-matched to TOS episodes so it is a conformed authentic piece. This is a very important fact and informs much of this story.

Anatomy of a Hero Tricorder
Unlike the Phasers (which were neither designed nor built by Wah Ming Chang), the Tricorders and Communicators were meant to be companion pieces with both using the same materials and design elements. Let's take a look at the two props side-by-side
Comm as seen in "Patterns of Force" (left) and Wah Chang's Tricorder archive photo (right)
It's a simple thing to see the commonalities:
  • Same black plastic
  • Same moire disk
  • Same control buttons
  • Same use of speaker material
Because there are surviving Communicator props as well as a Hero Tricorder, we know for certain that the same types of materials were used.
  • Body created with vacuum-formed Kydex plastic (a very common material in the sixties).
  • Aluminum frame and detail parts – lightweight and easy to mill and cut 
  • Transistor radio speaker material
  • Colored "lights" made from watch-winder crowns (they did NOT actually light up)
  • Silver "knobs" made from Aurora slot car hubs
Surviving Tricorder showing hood details (courtesy Greg Jein)
The view-screen on the Tricorder was simply a heat-slumped piece of clear plastic that was back-painted. The Tricorder also had a leather strap for easy carrying.

Not-so-identical Twins
We know that Wah delivered two Heroes, and this is clearly confirmed by analysis of scenes from early episodes. The above version is identified here as Hero #1 and is easily defined by its blue control buttons and moire disk. Hero #2 is identified by buttons of three different colors and a light diffusing disk (known as a "jewelarama" effect). The moire disk detail mirrors the same detail used on Communicaters, while the Jewelarama disk is a one time detail.

Here are the best shots of Hero #1 (H1):
Left is Wah's photo taken prior to delivery. Right is a shot from a PR photo shoot (colorized by Herocomm.com)
Here are the best shots we have of Hero #2 (H2):
For Hero #2, the image on the left is taken from the episode "Charlie X" while the one on the right is from "Balance of Terror". We can see that the three top buttons are not all blue but are three different colors (green, red and blue, we think) and we can clearly see the Jewelarama disk. The detail is soft because the prop is simply in the background of the frame and is blown up in size. In three seasons worth of episodes, these are the only times we get a full look at this specific Tricorder. It's worth noting that this level of detail, though not perfect by any means, is only available because of the sharpness of Blu-Ray. Before Blu-Ray these would have been a smudgy mess!

Along with the differing details already discussed, there were some other, more subtle differences between the two.

On the shots of Hero #1, above, take a close look at the area between the row of aluminum disks and the moire ring. In the first shot there is nothing there. But in the second shot, there is clearly some kind of detail that was added between the two shots. The first was taken before Wah Ming Chang delivered the props to Roddenberry, while the second shot was done midway through Season 1. Along with several other shots, that Tricorder was photographed for the book, "The Making of Star Trek". Here's two blown-up shots of that detail:
This particular aspect of this Tricorder was the source of a ton of discussion in our research group. It was a mystery due to the fact that the interior detail that was originally seen in the surviving Hero was now missing. More on that later. At no time was this detail ever seen on screen and we were never given any hint that it existed, let alone its function. The consensus that we arrived at was that this was probably a device used to eject the disk to its immediate left. Why? Two reasons.

First off, we can clearly see that the last disk on both Tricorders had more space between it and the rest of the disks in the row.
Note the gap between disks is consistent until the last piece.
We felt that what we were likely seeing was a single piece of aluminum with grooves lathed into it that ended before the last disk. We felt that the last disk was not attached to the rest of the row so that it could be removed by an actor. According to the original sketch made by Chang, it was apparent that these disks were meant to be inserted into/onto the moire disk in order to be "read".

The second reason that led to the "ejector" theory was the fact that John Dwyer, the set decorator on TOS, was attributed to speaking about this very detail. The magazine "Star Trek Communicator" (#155) contained the following quote in a story about the various props:

"Not only did Dwyer confirm that a number of tricorders had this feature, but it turns out the disks were a headache for prop master Irving Feinberger. The disks had a tendency to get lost. In the end, Feinberger just glued the disks in place on some of these tricorders."

Combine this quote with the wider gap and we felt is was likely that the last disk could be removed. So why would an ejector be added? We assume that the removable disk was originally pressure-fitted but without a way to specifically grab it. The ejector was probably just a simple "L'-shaped piece of metal that could be pulled out and bring the disk with it. But since it would have been difficult to see on screen, we think that it simply was never used as it was too small and too fussy. Bummer. Be aware that this is ONLY a theory, however, as the surviving Tricorder no longer has this feature so we simply cannot know for sure. But it's logical. (See what I did there?)

As for the H2 Jewelarama Tricorder, it had its own strange details. Since we never get a good look at its interior, we can't definitively say that it didn't have the ejector retrofitted like its twin. But we CAN say that it got a retrofit of its own – a mysterious black switch on the top crosspiece.

We get glimpses of that area during several early episodes so we can definitively say that it wasn't there at the beginning. It's in "Miri" that it can first be seen clearly. In that episode, Kirk does something that we had never before seen. While on the planet with McCoy and Spock, Kirk makes a log entry into a Tricorder like we had seen him do in prior episodes. But in this case, when he is finished, he reaches up to the crosspiece and seems to flick a switch! We even hear a sound effect for it.
Here we see Kirk flicking the switch.
Here's that area a few frames earlier. The black switch can just be discerned on the crosspiece.
Sure enough, if we blow up a frame from that scene we can actually see the switch on the crosspiece. It's more evident in later episodes like "Shore Leave" when Sulu obligingly leaves his Tricorder open and facing the camera:
Seen here in "Shore Leave" is the mysterious black switch.
The switch can be seen in a number of later episodes including "The Galileo Seven", "The Squire of Gothos" and "This Side Of Paradise" so this isn't a fluke. In "Bread and Circuses" Kirk once again makes a log entry, this time on the bridge. And, once again at its conclusion he reaches up and flicks the switch.

So what, exactly, did this switch actually do? As far as we can tell: nothing. I wouldn't be surprised if the actors asked for it so they had something to do and have a way to tell the audience that something (like a log entry) was beginning and/or ending. Other than the swiveling hoods and operable doors, this little switch is the only moving part on any Tricorder! For what it's worth, we seldom see anyone else use it other than Kirk. It's true function will likely never be known for certain.

Along with the switch, the Jewelarama had another distinctive trait, starting with "Charlie X". In that episode we can see a new addition to that specific Tricorder – a dent in the hood.

 

The dent can be seen in the rippling nature of the hood's shadow in "Charlie X"

The dent shows up in "Balance of Terror".
The dent can be seen clearly in "The Squire of Gothos" and many more episodes.
The dent becomes an additional way to identify the Jewelarama piece without actually needing to see the control panel or the interior.

Lastly, there's a small detail that changed early on for both Tricorders: the door handles.

The H1 Tricorder started life with thin handles that were inset into the doors:
The handles were originally thin and inset into the doors per this shot from "Miri".
The shot above probably demonstrates why these were changed. The thin style would have made them very difficult to grasp and and open the doors easily. I wouldn't be surprised if the actors complained about that detail which led to slightly larger "L"- shaped handles that were undoubtedly easier to grab. For some unknown reason, the H2 Tricorder had easier to grab handles.

By the time Season 2 started, the Heroes all had the same type of handles:
The new handles would have been easier to grab – as seen in "Metamorphosis".
The Old Switcharoo
There's one more issue to deal with regarding the Heroes and it's a bit confusing. That black switch that we mentioned earlier? Well... it moves from one Tricorder to the other. Kind of.

Say what? Here's the deal.

At the end of Season 1, the switch is still on the H2 Jewelarama (we can see it in "The City On The Edge Of Forever", the next-to-last episode of Season 1). But when we get to the beginning oif Season 2, the switch has vanished! In the second episode of the season, "Metamorphosis", we can clearly see that it is no longer present on the Jewelarama when McCoy uses it:
 
The red center jewel identifies this as the H2 Jewelarama but there's obviously no switch. It's also worth noting that the handles are now changed. So, no switch and new handles. What the...?

What about the H1 Moire Tricorder? It doesn't show up until the ninth episode of the season, "The Apple". But when it does, we get a surprise:


There's the switch, but now on the OTHER Tricorder! This is confirmed in several other appearances going forward. Also, this one has the new handles as well.

So between seasons, the handles were replaced and the switch switched props. We can assume the handles were about usability. But why move the switch?

Our theory is that between seasons the props were undobtedly cleaned up. This would have not only been logical but necessary. After a whole season of getting used and banged around, all of the regularly-used hand props – Phasers, Communicators and Tricorders – would have all been showing wear and tear. Surviving Phasers show multiple paint layers from just that kind of thing. Apparently the Tricorders were taken apart, their parts cleaned, the handles replaced, and then reassembled. But not everything got put back to where it had originally been. So from this time forward, the switch would be associated with the H1 Tricorder, the one with the moire disk.

Though that brings up yet another wrinkle. About that moire disk...

Vanishing Act
It's gone. After Season 1 we never ever see the insides of ANY Tricorder again. The Jewelarama disk? We never see it again. The moire? Same there. The row of disks? Vanished.

The obvious question, of course, is why go to all the trouble to create such a detailed interior and then never use it again? By Season 3, we can see that those details are not just hidden but that they are GONE – removed from the Tricorders altogether. Here is a shot of the H2 during Season 3's "That Which Survives". Notice that the guts have been totally replaced by all new stuff. This episode required a Tricorder to be set up with a "homing beacon", so the H2 was converted into what we call the "Geology Tricorder" because it was ostensibly used by geologist D'Amato.


With a little adjustment to the image we can see that the center gem on the control panel is definitely read which makes this the H2 Jewelarama without its original guts. What happened to them? Unfortunately, that's not a knowable thing. But since Spock went out of his way during Season 1 to show off the interior details, I think it likely that they were removed between Seasons 1 and 2 and never restored. Perhaps they were a little easier to lug around with a little less weight? Who knows? That's a mystery that's lost to history.

The above image also tells us a lot about the state of the Heroes in general by Season 3. Look at how the crossbar is not solidly attached. And what's with that big blob of – what, glue? – on the inside of the door. Overall this is looking a bit the worse for wear. For what it's worth, this prop is never seen again in any subsequent episodes. Where did it end up?

The Wrap-up
The two Heroes were the only Tricorders seen through the first 18 episodes of Season 1. The nineteenth episode, "Arena", had a story demand that had never come up before. It required that Tricorders be used in heavy action scenes including one being thrown by Spock, no less. The Heroes were too valuable to risk in these kinds of scenes, so three new Tricorders were introduced. These were made of fiberglass and were simplified in detail as well as being lighter in weight. They would never be shown in close-up as that was not their role. The Heroes would be saved for that need. At least for a while.

Throughout the first two seasons the two Heroes were the workhorses for most episodes. Hero #1 was usually used by Spock while Hero #2 was usually in McCoy's hands. Did the actors decide that one or the other was "theirs"? Did the prop master make that choice? We can't know but in 90% of the time when a Tricorder could be identified (and they can be identified a LOT!) H1 was Spock's and H2 was McCoy's. It's too regular to be coincidence in this writer's opinion.

But by the beginning of Season 3 this completely changed. The Heroes were effectively replaced by the new Leatherettes that were created for Season 3. Look for that story as well as the scoop on the Fiberglass versions.

So with all this information, we're still left with one great mystery: where is the second Hero?

Maybe it will pop up in someone's attic. You never know.

LLAP

Don

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ENTERPRISE-A THAT MAKES IT SO DARNED COOL? MAYBE IT'S MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK!!

All my life I've had a fascination with the original Enterprise and it's direct descendant, the Enterprise-A (or Motion Picture Refit – same thing, basically). The Enterprise-A, especially, represents a perfected starship design based, of course, on the original ship, but refined and perfected in every way, at least in this fan's heart.

But why? What is it about that particular design that I find so appealing? What's the secret? Well, maybe this guy has it pegged.


And then there's those engines:


Maybe he's on to something. What do you think?

LLAP

Don

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A CHALLENGE TO PROFILES IN HISTORY AND PHASER CONSIGNOR JASON JOINER: SHOW ME THE MONEY (SHOT)!

Last week I wrote about the Star Trek original series (TOS) Phaser prop that was being offered in the upcoming auction (click HERE).

It was my opinion that the piece was likely a real, honest-to-goodness Phaser prop from Star Trek, and as such was a thing of beauty. As you read this, please keep in mind that I stand by that opinion: I still think this is a wonderful thing.

That said, the one aspect of the piece that I had a problem with was the attribution of the piece as having been used by Leonard Nimoy. Profiles states the following:

"Since this prop is hand made, it exhibits unique characteristics and it screen matches as being worn by Leonard Nimoy as "Spock" in the episode "The Paradise Syndrome."

When they use the term "screen-match", that is setting a high bar, indeed. It means they can PROVE this was used by Nimoy. In other words, Profiles is telling the world – "this is not just a real phaser – it's Spock's real phaser!"

I proceeded to point out that neither I nor a cadre of my fellow Phaser enthusiast friends could find that "screen-match" that they cite for such a lofty claim. I then said that it had nothing to do with the authenticity of the piece, however. It was a great specimen, in our eyes, and I let it go at that.

I have now come to realize that was a mistake on part. By claiming the screen-match, Profiles and the consignor, Jason Joiner, have subtly marketed this as "Spock's Phaser", not just a generic phaser, and that's a big, BIG deal!

In the screen-used prop collecting world, a premium is always assigned to any prop or costume that can be put into the hands of a principle actor. A dark suit from The Godfather is no big deal. But a suit from The Godfather used by Marlon Brando is a VERY big deal! A blaster from Star Wars is great, but Han's Blaster is phenomenal! So it is with Star Trek items. A blue tunic from TOS is worth thousands. A blue tunic from TOS worn by Spock is worth tens of thousands! As I said – it's a very, very big deal.

So how does this translate to the Phaser in question? To begin with, the estimate starts at $100,000 ($125,000 with buyer's premium). Please note that NO PHASER PISTOL HAS EVER SOLD FOR THAT AMOUNT. The only thing even close was the Phaser Rifle that sold for $231,000 in 2013. It was a one-of-a-kind piece and – most importantly, in my opinion – it was used exclusively by Captain Kirk himself! So Kirk's Phaser Rifle went for big bucks. What about other phaser props that have hit the market? Surely they did well, right?

Only one other Phaser Pistol has gone to auction over the past decade or so. It was first offered by Profiles (small world) in 2013 with an estimate of $80,000-120,000. While it was not complete, it was definitely the real deal and the only one to have surfaced in years! What would it sell for?

It didn't. It received NO bids at the level of the reserve of $80,000, despite being the first piece to surface in years. Interestingly, while Profiles claimed it could be screen-matched to several episodes, the truth was that I could only match it to one. Still a great thing, but it's worth noting that the one episode it could be matched to put the piece in the hands of a ship's Security Guard, not Kirk or Spock.

Flash-forward a couple of years and this same piece surfaced in a Propworx auction, this time with a much lower estimate of $40,000 - $60,000. The result, though was the same – no sale.

And now, here we are in 2018. Why would anyone expect buyers to pay $125,000 for a piece that had a similar cousin not sell at $50,000 with buyer's premium? What's the difference?

Well, to be fair, this is a better version, in my opinion. It is complete where the earlier version was missing details on the top of the Phaser 1. Here's the current piece on top with the earlier version below. Note the the top crescent details are missing completely as is the control on the rear.

It's worth noting, though, that the earlier version seems to have its original paint while the current one has obviously been repainted. Complete beats original paint in my book, but it's safe to say that both had their pros and cons.

So are those missing pieces worth a $75,000 difference? Doubtful. So what would make it worth that difference?

Spock, pure and simple.

If it were Spock's it may well be worth it. In fact, with a great screen-match, I'd say it's likely to sell! But what have we seen on this alleged screen-match? Nothing. The auction catalog cites "The Paradise Syndrome" and shows this screen-grab from that episode:

Cool! So if we blow this up we get the screen-match right? It's interesting that Profiles did not actually do that for us – show a blow-up that proves the screen-match claim. No matter – I'll do it for them. Here's the phaser from that scene when we blow it up:

And this where everything falls apart. Where is this screen-match, exactly? The shot is soft in focus which makes it impossible to see details, even with Blu-Ray. So what are the distinguishing characteristics that make the auction piece and this piece the same? Any details seen on the auction piece are simply not present here. Am I wrong?

If so, show me. Show the world. Prove what you say beyond a shadow of a doubt. I don't think that is possible but I've been wrong before. So just show me! WHERE IS THIS MATCH THAT YOU CLAIM TO HAVE MADE?

For what it's worth, THIS is what a screen-match looks like:

This is from the Phaser Rifle auction I mentioned earlier. The blue shot was the auction piece laid over top of a great PR shot of Shatner holding the rifle. Forget the color – that's just lighting. Look instead at the three call-outs. Those are scratches and dings that the piece endured before the PR shoot. Perhaps they happened during actual episode shooting since it was in very intense action-oriented scenes. Notice how those same marks are present on the auction piece. These are details that can effectively be used to make the case that the two match.

For the kind of money that is at stake, THIS is the only kind of visual evidence that should be acceptable to make the Spock claim, in my opinion. Big claims require big proof!

"So who the hell is this guy?" many are undoubtedly asking. "Does he think he's the Prop Police?"

Not at all. I'm simply someone who thinks our hobby should be driven by critical thinking and not fuzzy, unprovable claims. If you think that is unreasonable, that tells us more about you than me. And please keep in mind that several of my compatriots have attempted to match this to any episode. No joy.

For the record, I would LOVE for Profiles and/or the consignor Jason Joiner to be able to put this piece in Spock's hands! That can only be a wonderful thing, after all. Those of us who are passionate about these classic pieces are thrilled whenever a heretofore unknown piece surfaces, especially when associated with a main character. We were positively giddy about the Phaser Rifle, for instance, and the photo proof sealed the deal for us.

Was this Phaser used by Nimoy? I have no idea. It sure might have been but I can't prove it one way or the other and, in my opinion, no one else can either. And that's the point. MAYBE doesn't cut it when there is so much money on the line.

So to Profiles and Mr. Joiner I say this: prove me wrong. Please! Show us incontrovertible, clear, specific proof that puts this in our hero's hands and I will be your biggest booster! I will shout that news from the rooftops because it would be awesome! But all I see is an attempt to use an iffy claim to boost a sale. Am I wrong?

I actually hope so. All you have to do is show us the money shot. Prove your claim and justify your story.

Show me. Show us all.

LLAP

Don

Thursday, December 6, 2018

ANOTHER ORIGINAL SERIES PHASER HITS THE AUCTION BLOCK, SO ONCE AGAIN WE HAVE TO ASK THE BIG QUESTION: IS IT REAL?

Phaser Prop at SDCC / Photo courtesy Bleeding Cool News
At this year's San Diego Comic-Con, the auction house Profiles In History created some buzz with its sneak preview of upcoming auction offerings. One of the biggest of buzz-worthy items was touted to be an original Phaser prop from Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).

Now any time a previously-unknown TOS piece sees the light of day, it's a cause for equal parts of celebration and caution. We celebrate because any additional TOS pieces are exciting for those of us who are fans of what we think is the greatest sc-fi weapon of all. But caution must be used because, frankly, most "authentic TOS pieces" that come to light are simply not authentic. Usually, the fakes are copies are easily debunked and exposed for what they are. But every once in while, a piece comes along that maybe, just maybe, could be the real deal.

Is that the case with the new Profiles piece? Let's take a look. Here are shots from the Profiles auction listing (click for larger images):

At a glance we can see that this is what is known as a "Mid-Grade" phaser prop. TOS used four different levels of phaser props:

The Heroes – made with a high level of detail and featured some moving parts. These were meant to stand up to close-ups to give a heightened sense of realism. These were expensive to make and so were never put at risk in a scene. Here's a Hero Phaser held by Ben Finney in "Court Martial". Note that all the silvery-looking stuff is actual metal, unlike some p[arts on the auction piece:


The Mid-Grades – made from the same molds as the Heroes but finished without as much detail. For example, while the Heroes had metal fins in the back, a Mid-Grade's fins were simply a molded detail and hit with silver paint. These were the real workhorses of the phaser props and are by far the version seen most throughout the show. They were easier to make and thus more disposable. Note that the rear fins shown here are simply painted as is the center rail of the Phaser 1:


The Vacuum-Formed – known as "Crapazoids" due to their low level of finish and detail, these were strictly background pieces that might be in a given Redshirt's hand during a landing party. So cheap in materials and cost that DeForest Kelley referred to them as "$1.98 Specials". Here's a version also used in "Court Martial". Note that all the details are simply painted and the overall detail is very soft. This piece is about to get slapped out of Finney's hand and, so as not to damage a Hero, a Crapazoid is used instead.


Rubber Stunts – used when Kirk and company needed to roll around in the dirt without breaking something. There's no good shots because they are simply never seen clearly. Here's one tied on to Spock's side:

So the auction piece definitely seems to fall into the Mid-Grade level of Phaser. Here's some additional shots that can help make a determination:





The way we determine if a given piece is genuine or not is a two-fold process. First we look at the history (or provenance) of the piece. Ideally we want to understand how a piece got from the Star Trek Paramount production in 1969 to the Profiles auction. According to Profiles, this piece has been in the possession of the family of one Ted Leonard, a former executive at Paramount and a friend of Star Trek Art Director Matt Jefferies. The piece was sold to the consignor by Leonard's widow.

Nice story. This is where a lot of people stop. Which means this is where a lot of people get in trouble. Because, as nice as this story is, can it be proven? After all, without proof, it's just a story.

"But Don," you're saying, "they wouldn't lie about something like this, would they?!?" The short answer is YES! Yes they would! For one hundred thousand dollars, you better have more than just a story!!

Am I calling the consignor a liar? I am not. But maybe they were told a lie. Or maybe Mrs. Leonard was lied to. Maybe Mr. Leonard got mixed up. Maybe, maybe, maybe...

With that many maybe's we have to rely on the piece to stand on its own merits. It must be compared to the known surviving Mid-Grades and a determination must be made as to whether or not it measures up or not.

As mentioned in earlier Blog stories, I am part of a research team that has worked toward defining as many facts as possible about the various TOS props. This process was first started by the group at HeroComm.com, as they took on defining and debunking everything possible about the Trek Communicators. It was then expanded to include HeroPhaser, and it is that research that I rely on to determine whether or not this piece passes muster. And I can say that it is my opinion (as well as many others) that this piece is indeed likely to be an original Phaser prop. I cannot say for sure, as only a hands-on examination would answer questions about size and materials. But going solely on the physical details, this piece matches known specimens in every key way.

Some have said the paint doesn't look right, and they would be correct – it doesn't. And what is with the red button sticking out of the body? That's not right, either.

Here's the deal. These pieces have had fifty years in which they could have been modified in any number of ways, including paint. So we have to look past such things and look at the actual details that define the physical aspects of the prop. We look at things like:

The forward emitter assembly

The forward top plate and window detail

The handle and trigger details

The contours of the entire piece, especially the body's sides

The Phaser 1 that sits on top – correct in every way?

The ten-turn (rear knob thingy)

The fins – are they the right size, number and position?

The details and nature of all metal parts

And on and on...

I'm not going to get into all the comparisons made for two reasons. First, it would make for a very looooong and boring story. And second, I don't want to reveal too much about what, exactly, we look for in a prop to determine authenticity. In the past there were many unscrupulous people who tried to pass replicas off as authentic. We don't want to aid that type of forger.

One more thing. The auction listing says this piece was screen-matched to Leonard Nimoy having used it in the episode "The Paradise Syndrome". For those who might not know, "screen-matching" is kind of the holy grail of prop collecting. It's incredibly difficult to do and is usually impossible. But every once in a while you get lucky and a screen match is possible.

This is not one of those times.

Screen-matching relies on two things. First the piece in question must have unique physical details that differentiate it from any other piece. Things like flaws, damage, chipped paint or spilled liquids can help with screen-matching. In the case of this piece it does have a couple of things that could form a unique set of characteristics – a "fingerprint", if you will. First, where the Phaser 1 meets the Phaser 2 body, toward the back, there's a big glob of what is probably glue. Amazingly, that kind of thing can actually be seen sometimes. The other detail is that the painted rail on the the Phaser 1 looks to be a bit low. If we combine those two elements, we might be able to find a screen-match.

Unfortunately, I said that screen-matching relies on two things. The second thing we need is a clear, high-resolution image with which to match. In short, that usually means a close-up. And there are zero close-ups of Spock's phaser in that episode. There's not even a decent medium shot that gives any meaningful information. Here's the best shot I could find of Spock's Phaser in the entire episode:


For my money, this tells us bupkis. It's just too soft to yield anything definitive. It could be the same piece but I just can't tell. I went through the episode scene-by-scene (and in some areas, frame-by-frame!) and this was the best I could find. If there's a better shot out there, by all means share it with me. I'd love to see it! But until I see that shot, I'm calling BS on the screen-match. No way, no how. I've looked through a number of other episodes as well in hopes of catching a glimpse. No joy.

But that does nothing to detract from what I think is likely to be an authentic piece. Screen-matching is always unlikely, after all. And this has all the hallmarks of the real deal.

Finally, I'd like to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the estimate. It is set at $100,000-$150,000. That ain't chump change. What that generally means is the the reserve – the lowest price at which the piece will sell – is set at $100,000. But, wait – that doesn't mean you have to be willing to pony up 100 grand to even think about owning this piece, oh no. What it means is that you have to be willing to go to $125,000! That's because as with all auctions, this piece has a "buyer's premium" which is an additional cost that ranges from 20-28%, depending on how you pay.

$125,000!

For that reason, I think of this estimate as a "Buy It Now" price rather than a real auction. After all, how many people on earth are rich enough to participate at this level? Not too damn many.

If this piece had a starting price of $50,000 (or less), there would be much more interest in it, in my opinion. It's my feeling that most lofty prices are met by the excitement of multiple bidders driving bids higher and higher in the emotion and excitement of the moment.

For example, a few years ago there was an auction for Kirk's one-of-a-kind Phaser Rifle as seen in "Where No Man Has Gone Before". It sold for a big $231,000! But the starting estimate was only $50,000. Would it have sold at all had the actual reserve been $231,000? We can't know but it's definitely less likely, in my opinion.

Add to that the fact that this is by no means a unique piece. There are at least five of these pieces out there and we have no idea how many were actually made back in the 60's, but it was probably at least ten and perhaps more. And the last version that was put up at auction didn't sell at all. Twice! It wasn't as nice as this but it didn't sell at half this price!

Bottom line is this: the seller has the right to ask whatever number they want. If you, as a buyer, feel that it's worth it, more power to you.

But I think that as a STARTING number, $125,000 is absurd. Your mileage may vary.

This piece goes on auction on December 13.  The on-line catalog is HERE.

LLAP

Don

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

PROP STORE OFFERS UP A TRUE STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES RARITY – THE KLINGON DISRUPTOR !

Over the fifty years of Star Trek, certain constants have come through: Starfleet uses Phasers and Klingons use Disruptors. Phasers are omnipresent, but where, exactly did these "Disruptor" things come from? And how did one end up in an auction some fifty years after they were first used?

The piece in question first appeared in the original series during Season 1's "Errand of Mercy". And they weren't called "Disruptors". They were simply called "Klingon Phasers" by Kirk, himself, no less. The props themselves, however, were modified props from an earlier episode, "A Taste of Armageddon", made from an alien weapon referred to as a "Sonic Disruptor". Here's what those original pieces looked like:


It's easy to see the origins of the Disruptor in this shot. These "Sonic Disruptors" had their fronts replaced and new details on the top were added to give us a new weapon – the Klingon Disruptor.

These props made their debut along with the Klingons themselves in "Errand of Mercy". We can see them on various character's belts and sometimes in their hands.


In one scene we can see a squad of eight Klingons marching through the frame. All have Disruptors on their belts (as they move we can see all eight) so we know that at least that many were made.


These same pistols showed up in three more episodes. Here's one in "Friday's Child":


Next, five of them showed up in "Day of the Dove":


And finally, here's some being used by the Romulans in "The Enterprise Incident":


After that, they were never seen again. Where did they go? Well, at least one went with a Desilu executive named Renshaw after shooting wrapped. We know this because his family eventually auctioned it off years later. It was in pretty bad shape because he had given it to his kids who did what kids do – they played with it! Keep in mind that back then these items had no real value. Star Trek was simply another canceled TV series that would never be heard from again and so the props were disposable in the studio's minds. Here's a shot of the Renshaw from its auction catalog:

You can see that it was pretty chewed up. But the fact that such a spindly prop survived at all is amazing! The various metal parts on the emitter can unscrew so it's astonishing that they are intact. You can also see that the body is made of wood. It's worth noting that the auction piece has a wood body as well. Another specimen was also sold at auction, this time from the estate of Matt Jefferies, the heralded art director of the original series. There could be no better provenance for a piece than that. Here's the auction shot:


Note that while this is in better shape than the Renshaw, it still shows some wear on the handle. The rest looks pretty good, though.

And now we come to the auction piece which I'll simply refer to as the Comisar:
So if this is an original piece, why is it in such good shape? It looks practically new! This can be explained in two words: Phase Two.

In the mid-seventies, Paramount took note that their cancelled show was doing huge business in syndication. Since Star Trek was suddenly a success, the studio guys got a bright idea – let's bring it back! And so, Star Trek: Phase II was born. While that production would feature an updated Enterprise (inside and out), it was decided to keep the design of the costumes and props, a decision that would save tons of money. To that end, Paramount rounded up anything still in storage from the original Star Trek, most of which was in the form of costumes. But a few props remained, most notably, some of the Klingon Disruptors. Since those survivors were undoubtedly in "used" condition, they were freshened up with new paint and new foil on the forward fins.

It was in the middle of pre-production of Phase II that Paramount abruptly switched directions, pulling the plug on the project in favor of making Star Trek: The Motion PicturePhase II became a largely forgotten footnote in the history of Star Trek.

Here's the catalog description:

"This wood prop was acquired from Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s property master Richard Rubin, who received it and other materials from Star Trek: The Original Series during pre-production on the Star Trek feature film. This and other props were refreshed by Rubin for potential use in the film, including fresh blue-grey paint, though the wood body exhibits still numerous chips and marks beneath the fresh paint indicative of use in The Original Series. Ultimately, the disruptor props from The Original Series were not utilized for filming on The Motion Picture. As a result of great care by Mr. Rubin’s family and after by the Comisar Collection, the weapon exhibits only minor signs of wear and is in excellent, production-used, vintage condition overall."

The one error in this text is the attribution to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's a natural mistake, however, given that all of the development for Phase II was rolled over into the production of The Motion Picture. The important take-away from this is that the piece came from the Star Trek production through prop master Dick Rubin, an idea supported by a number of other Original Series pieces that came through Mr. Rubin's hands. Again, these weren't seen as having any real value so it was not a big deal for the prop master to take them.

I want to make note of the fact that I have done a lot of research on these pieces over the years because I own another copy of Disruptor, one that Mr. Comisar had also gotten from Rubin and then sold to another collector. That story can be found here:  My Klingon Disruptor.

Here's some more great shots of the auction piece (click on them for larger versions):







You can see some of the original wear and distress on these close-ups. That is to be expected from a production-used piece. In fact, I would be worried if it wasn't there. This piece matches in every way all the details that are known about the original versions. It is not often that I say I have ZERO doubts about a piece, but this is one of those times. Its details, combined with its provenance, make this a classic piece worth having in a museum, let alone a private collection. These kinds of things don't come along often and I'm sure it will find a good home.

Prop Store has other fantastic Star Trek pieces in the auction so I urge you to check those out as well.  You'll find the auction details including a downloadable PDF and the on-line catalog at Prop Store's Comisar Auction. If you've always wanted a piece of Star Trek history, there's no better opportunity than now! Bidding is now open with the live auction taking place on December 1 at 10:00 am PST. 

Best of luck!

LLAP,

Don