Thursday, December 27, 2012

Klingons!! Part 2: Weapons Display

In an effort to get my stuff out of boxes and into the real world, I created this display for my screen-used Klingon weaponry. I made it from an old piece of slatboard which I then painted and weathered to get that "used Klingon" feel. It is directly lit from a ceiling mounted spotlight. I'm thinking about adding some title cards to each piece.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Complete Guide to Starfleet Style OR Everything you ever wanted to know about TOS movie uniforms!

To say that I like the uniforms from the TOS movie era is a bit of an understatement. I don't simply like them – I'm fascinated with them. Absorbed. Beguiled. Enthralled. In short: I dig 'em!

Which is why I've been so focussed on adding a full compliment of those uniforms to my screen-used collection. To that end I've been able to land almost every version of Starfleet uniform as seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan through Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.



Here's the list:

1. The Class-A Officer's Maroon. This is the pinnacle of Trek uniform for me. I'm fortunate enough to have both male (Spock's!) and female (Rand's) versions.

2. The Officer's Maroon Bomber Jacket. A variant of the standard Maroon, the Bomber was only worn by three characters: Captain Kirk, Scotty and Starfleet Commander Morrow.  My version is a Scotty as seen in Star Trek III and is a very rare piece.

3. The Officer's Vest. Another variant of the standard Maroon, a Vest version was only worn by three characters: Kirk, Scotty and Saavik. Mine is a Saavik from Star Trek III and is made of leather.

4. The Engineering Radiation Suit. Seen throughout the film sires, the distinctive Rad Suit came to represent Scotty's department. The Rad suit is not so much a uniform as it is a protective suit, meant to shield Scotty and his Engineers from any harmful radiation in the ship's warp core. Mine is a variant worn by one of the Starfleet Assassins in Star Trek VI.

5. The Crewman Jumpsuit. Also maroon in color, the Jumpsuit was worn by enlisted personnel throughout the Enterprise.

6. Sickbay Scrubs. First seen in Wrath of Khan, McCoy and his staff wore their distinctive white uniforms while on duty in Sickbay. My version is a standard female nurse.

I did say I had "almost every version" of uniform. The only significant version I'm missing is the maroon suit worn by security personnel. While I hope to land one some day, for now I'll have to settle for being security-less.

In the near future I'll be featuring each style of uniform in individual Blog installments, giving some insight about the design, accessories and history of each. It will be scintillating reading for every fan of Starfleet couture!

LLAP

Don

Star Trek Into Darkness Teaser Poster Released

Say what you will about J.J. Abrams (and I do) he seldom goes in expected directions. Those directions might ultimately make no freakin' sense, but you didn't see it coming, that's for sure. That's again the case with the newest Trek production "Star Trek Into Darkness" and it's newly released teaser poster, seen below.



JJ is notoriously tight with details about his movies and I have no problem with that. The more I know ahead of time, the less I have to discover at the theater so I want to be surprised. And at first glance, the new teaser certainly doesn't give much away while it also is a far cry from Treks past. It shows ominous destruction of a an unnamed city with a dark figure poised at the center seemingly surveying his handiwork, all of which comes together to form a jagged, war-torn Starfleet delta symbol. Nice work, in my opinion. It does what a teaser should do – tease us with questions while giving no answers. What city is it? What planet? Who's the guy? What the heck is going on? Perfect.

Except there's one problem. When the poster is seen on its own, it tells little. But when combined with Paramount's official plot synopsis, I think there's little doubt to Trek fans who the guy is and what the basis of the film is. If you don't know what I'm talking about then you're probably not a fan of the original Star Trek series, the basis for these new films. Based on the synopsis and this poster, there's only one person it CAN be, and it sure ain't Khan. And you know who I'm talkin' about. Here's the synopsis:

“When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis."

So the cat is (sort of) out of the bag. I was bound to find out who the antagonist was before I was the film. After all, it won't be out for 6 months and I'm sure that piece of info will be in the mainstream long before opening day. But that's as far as I want to know. I was not a fan of the last movie and I'm not really expecting much from this one. But I want to give it the greatest chance to sway me that I can give, so I'll watch for spoilers and stay away until May.

And then we'll see if trekking Into Darkness is a good thing or not. At least the poster doesn't have any lens flares!

LLAP

Don

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Klingons!!! Part 1: Gorkon and his General

 NOTE: My wife broke her leg in October so I've been away for a while. But she's on the mend so I'm back. Thanks for reading.

Klingons are synonymous with Star Trek. They were Trek's original "interstellar badguys" and were first seen in the 1967 original series episode "Errand of Mercy". They didn't look much like the Klingons we've come to know, but their basic qualities were firmly established – they were a warlike race who advanced themselves by conquest, the antithesis to the peaceful Federation. The Klingons were greatly expanded upon and better defined in the movie era, and by Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, we were given our first glimpse of Klingon society. Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise were thrown into an interstellar conspiracy that held the future of the Federation and Klingon Empire in its grasp. Star Trek VI was the last of the TOS movies and was a finale of sorts – a send-off of the original cast and a turning over of the reigns to The Next Generation. And it's one of my favorites.

Director Nick Meyers wanted to see a different side of the Klingons. Up to then, they were the one-note evil-doers and Meyers was determined to show them as more that just cardboard cutouts. To that end, his story featured the assassination of the Klingon head of state, Chancellor Gorkon and embroiled our Starfleet heroes in the turmoil of intrigue. For the first time, we saw the Klingons as a true race and society, not just a snarling antagonist needed to fill a plot line. Star Trek VI would cast the die for the portrayal of Klingons from then on.

At the center of the story was Chancellor Gorkon and his chief of staff, General Chang, as well as Gorkon's daughter, Azetbur, and several generals who rounded out the Klingon inner circle.

Gorkon, wonderfully played by actor David Warner, was presented as a peacemaker, a Klingon who was actually willing to make true peace with his long-time enemy, the Federation. I don't think that it's accidental that Gorkon has a passing resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. Warner played Gorkon with gravitas and dignity, becoming a true martyr for the cause of peace, not unlike the 16th President. Appropriately, his costume set a new style tone for Klingons. For Gorkon and Azetbur, gone were the all-gray warrior costumes that Klingons had been wearing since the first film. In their place were striking scarlet and gray ensembles – regal-looking garb befitting their high-placed station. Even the generals got a bit of an upgrade – still gray, but with all-new tailoring. Evidently, vinyl is highly prized on the Klingon homeworld, cuz these babies are full of it.

When a Gorkon costume came up for auction several years ago, I was determined to have it. Luckily, I was able to prevail, and my Gorkon is one of the highlights of my collection. I was recently able to add the costume of one of his aides – the one who who crudely stuffed his mouth at the state dinner. Both pieces are in excellent condition and feature internal costuming tags.

The Gorkon can be screen-matched to his death scene and features the "phaser hole" and small remnants of the pink Klingon "blood".

The Gorkon features a beautiful metal belt buckle, quilted details, the definitive horned Klingon boot, and chain-embedded shoulder piece. The costume is super-clean, displays beautifully and stands as a superlative example of the movie-era costume design.



Gorkon's General features quilted details, detailed pants, shoulder and waist chains and Klingon boots. Many of these gray Klingon uniforms were extensively reused over the years in the later Trek incarnations – Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise – but this one escaped that fate for some reason. It is as clean as the last day of shooting for Star Trek VI and stands as an excellent example of movie Klingon.





I'll be showing more Klingon pieces in the future. Thanks for reading. Qapla' !

LLAP

Don Hillenbrand

Monday, October 22, 2012

Amazing Star Trek TOS Poster

This amazing poster is from Dusty Abell and condenses the original series down to one single, highly detailed image. Check it out and you'll find EVERY significant (and some not so significant) characters from the entire run of the series. A big tip of the hat to Mr. Abell!

You can find a larger version here.
You can find the key to all the characters here.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Myth of Propworx

There used to be a prop and costume reseller called Propworx which was run by a guy named Alec Peters. Mr. Peters fancied himself to be quite the entrepreneur. He had only started collecting screen-used props and costumes in 2006 when Christie's had their big "40 Years of Star Trek" auction, but in 2009 he decided that he would show the world just how the prop business should be run by creating Propworx.

Fast forward to August of 2012 and Propworx files for bankruptcy. And not just any form of bankruptcy either. There was no "restructuring" to allow for repayment of debts or anything like that. Propworx underwent Chapter 7 – liquidation. How surprising then, that a mere two months later we are told that Propworx is back! Did they repay their creditors? No. They owed $401,466 to various creditors including MGM which was Propworx's customer for the Stargate auctions (MGM produced the various Stargate incarnations). And they didn't repay a cent. The bankruptcy court was under the impression that Propworx had no assets and so could not repay anything. The bankruptcy was settled on October 1.

So lots of people were surprised when, just one week later, Propworx was apparently selling props again. Here's what was sent around by Alec Peters to potential buyers:

"We have new BSG, Star Trek, Stargate, Iron Man and Hulk items up on eBay.

http://www.ebay.com/sch/linnear/m.html?item=120996676872&pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item1c2bf6c508&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2562

Or check out seller name Linnear.

There are 50 items this week and we have at least two more weeks of auctions! We had a bunch of new consignments come in recently and are cleaning out some of my personal collection. Dean is now working part time with me to clear out the warehouse and get auction items up. He can be reached at dean@propworx.com.

Thanks for all your support!

Alec Peters"

So just a week previously, Propworx had no assets. Then, as if by magic, one week later they do. That's amazing.

But no more amazing than Propworx itself. Here's what Mr. Peters had to say when Propworx closed:

"While we have done some great work, and the Battlestar auctions remain the pinnacle of that type of studio event auction, it is time to move on. And I really have no interest in just buying or selling props like The Prop Store or Screen Used (who both do an awesome job) or doing eBay auctions like VIP (which also does good work and I have recommended to studios). Our specialty was always event auctions accompanied by the best auction catalogs ever."

Propworx auctions are the pinnacle? I bet MGM would disagree with that, as would all of Propworx's other creditors. And that's where the myth comes in.

Ask yourself this: how successful would you consider yourself to be if you had $400,000 of other people's money that you agreed to pay, then didn't? Is that ANYONE'S idea of success? Yes – Alec Peters'. In his posts about Propworx there were many boasts about how they redefined the business and had great catalogs and such. But there's not one single word about the $400,000 that he was able to magically make disappear via bankruptcy court. There were no apologies to the companies he victimized nor any concern whatsoever about how PW's bankruptcy would affect those creditors. If you bought something from Propworx and had a positive experience, that's great. But you should know that it was at someone else's expense. That Stargate prop you got? It might not have ever been paid for – your money may have gone straight into Alec's pocket.

Here's another post from Peters accepting accolades for his work:

"Thank you all for the kind words! Propworx was an auction house that we built and did the things that we as collectors wanted to see. Thus the awesome catalogs, the state of the art COA's, the holograms, etc. "

That, in a nutshell, was what was important to the PW experience: pretty catalogs and COAs with holograms. Not spending money responsibly and fulfilling their contractual obligations to customers like MGM. Nope. Their attitude appears to be "we owe MGM and other creditors hundreds of thousands of dollars? Who cares? We have catalogs and holograms."  All hat, no cattle.

Is that YOUR idea of success? Is that what entrepreneurialism is about? Not in my opinion.

And THAT is the myth of Propworx. I've been in business for 20 years and I can tell you that success claimed at the expense of others is not success at all. It's pillaging. It's recklessness. But it's not success.

Not in this writer's opinion, anyway.

LLAP

Don Hillenbrand

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hangin' with the Galileo Part 3: Mikey and me

This past summer when I had the amazing opportunity to see the Galileo shuttlecraft up close and personal, I was not alone. One of my oldest friends, Mike Myers, accompanied me. Mike and I go way back to our college days which means we've known each other for more than thirty years. And, while Mike is not a Star Trek collector like me, he is definitely a Star Trek FAN, just like me. We both got the bug when we watched the original broadcasts of The Original Series as kids (very young kids!). The first time I saw his room at home, his walls were covered with things like Mo Udall posters (look it up, youngsters) and (much to my delight) Star Trek posters! Point of interest: I think some were of the "black light" variety (look it up, youngsters). From that moment on, Star Trek would be one of our mutual passions. Mike and I and another friend went and saw Gene Roddenberry speak at the Richfield Coliseum during the summer of 1979 and he and two other friends (hey, Keith and John!) braved a snow storm in December of '79 to see the opening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Yeah, it wasn't great, but it was the only Trek in town! We saw it 2 more times that weekend, i think.



Over the years we wandered in and out of each others' lives, but we always stayed firm Trek fans. Our take on the various shows and movies are almost identical (love "Wrath of Khan" –  "Enterprise", not so much). So it was only fitting that when the Galileo's location became known and was put up for auction, we would both get to see her in all her world-weary glory.

As luck would have it, Mike and I have always lived within 20 minutes of the Galileo's various locations since it came to Ohio. Countless times, both of us passed by the boat storage facility in which it was finally stored, having no idea of the treasures held within. So when the auction was announced, Mike was the first person I called.

For some reason, it was difficult to get permission to see the Galileo. You would have thought that the seller would have welcomed potential buyers (and I certainly was one, if only in my head) but weeks went by after the auction was announced but no permission was forthcoming. Finally a call came from the auctioneers who were doing the sale – a showing was finally arranged for THAT DAY. I put aside whatever trivialities I had on my desk and called Mike to tell him of the news. He anxiously confirmed that he'd be there.

It was a very hot June afternoon (in the 90's!) in Ohio when I pulled into the boat storage facility. I got there before Mike (he is "time-challenged", ie: he'll be late to his own funeral) and found the auctioneer rep who then took me and the Galileo's owner over to the storage barn that held my quarry. Still no Mike, though. As I walked into the warehouse-sized structure, I was instantly in awe of what I saw. Yes, she had seen better days and she was currently stripped of her accoutrements (engines, doors, etc) but there she was – the Galileo that I had seen over and over in Trek reruns. The Galileo that I had built a model of in the 70's (I still have it though it's much the worse for wear – not unlike the actual Galileo, I guess). There she stood set off by herself in an open part of the building and I walked up to her literally in awe. I stood there for a few seconds taking it all in. "Holy crap". I thought – "it's actually the real deal! It's actually the Galileo!" I took a breath and moved closer.

And that's when her condition overwhelmed me – she looked like absolute crap. Yes, she was the Galileo of my dreams, but she was also forty-plus years removed from her glory and she showed it. Over the years I had read everything I could find about the Galileo. About how she had been unceremoniously stored outside in the California sun, seen time at an RV yard, and had been hauled across country to end up in my back yard. I had read about "restorations" and repaints, and of course I had seen the on-line shots of her that had shown her current dilapidated state. But pictures did not prepare me for what I saw in person.

If Galileo had ever been "restored" it showed no sign of it now. I had hoped that what I had seen in the photos was a Galileo that was being prepped for primer and so naturally would have a lot of surface stuff going on. But it could not have been farther from that. The exterior shell was covered in rough, weathered plywood and masonite as well as flaking fiberglass and red bondo. It was a mess, period. But it was still the Galileo, for better or for worse, so my emotions were stretched simultaneously between euphoria and despair.

I went to the door opening and peered inside the shabby ship. She didn't look much better on the inside, though it wasn't the total disaster of the outside. I tentatively climbed aboard to look around when I heard a familiar voice from outside – Mike had finally arrived. I poked my head out to greet him. :He had a huge smile on his face and simply said "This is amazing"!

And he was right. Whatever her condition, it was amazing that this piece of Star Trek history even existed at all, let alone in our neighborhood.

Mike and I then spent the next half hour or so crawling all over the old girl, looking into every nook and cranny, trying to understand how the door mechanism used to work (still haven't figured that out), checking out the roof (replaced), the impulse engine bay (empty), and every surface possible. We were like kids in a candy shop with the Galileo being the ultimate lollipop. We couldn't get enough! I took tons of pictures as we made our inspection, wanting to preserve the experience not just in memory but pixels as well. All too soon, our time was up. We couldn't come up with any more excuses to linger with Galileo any longer. Reluctantly, we thanked the owner and the auction rep and slowly walked away from a legend. I grabbed one last glance at the shabby hero and took one last photo as we reached the exit.

While I can share those photos with the world, the experience itself is more elusive. This is my attempt to share some small part of my adventure with my friend Mike on that excellent, hot afternoon in June. I wish all Trek fans could have the same, in-person experience. Mike and I will remember it for the rest of our lives.

Mikey got it right. It was amazing!

LLAP

Don

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hangin' With the Galileo Pt 2: What's new, what's not

Welcome back to the Galileo story. As told in an earlier Blog entry, I had the amazing opportunity to check out the ultimate Original Series Star Trek prop: the Galileo shuttlecraft. I inspected the old girl prior to her being auctioned off in July.

Since the Galileo had undergone two ill-fated restorations, there were many questions concerning what exactly was original and what was not. I’ve compiled a visual guide that will demonstrate exactly what’s what. Here’s an overview of the replaced areas:

All interior wood framework
Entire starboard side
Entire roof
Entire floor
Large chunk of port side

With that in mind, here’s some exterior shots showing what original masonite sheathing is still intact. Keep in mind that it’s in such lousy shape that I don’t know if it can be saved. But it is original, nonetheless.




Here’s shots of the interior with areas called out. The two different plywood tones are due to age between restorations:






Finally, here's a shot of the entire starboard interior, created from 2 shots. It shows the number of ribs and the way the steel frame carries the structure.
So that's it for now. Hope you enjoyed the tour!

See Part 3 HERE

LLAP

Don

Monday, September 24, 2012

Collecting 101: Setting the sale price or “You want HOW much?!?”

Let me begin this story by first saying that it is my firm belief that collectors have the right to get whatever amount they can for their property. Like any property, they can give it away or ask a million for it.

So with that said, let’s begin with a recent auction on Ebay. A seller has this listed:

ADMIRAL KIRK GREY COSTUME FROM THE MOTION PICTURE


This is a Class C uniform, one of the many, MANY uniform variants made for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The seller shows the Western Costume labels and identifies this as coming from a “cutted” scene, which I can only assume means a cut or deleted scene. While this may be true, the seller gives no proof of this “cutted” scene and I’ve never seen a single image of Shatner wearing this thing. And it’s a good thing, because in my opinion this style was one of the sillier uniforms made for TMP. If the Class A (2-part) uniforms were pajamas, this style was “lounge wear”. Thankfully it is only seen on screen being worn by Sulu at the beginning of the film. I’ve also seen an unused version of this style that was made for McCoy.

So this is an unused piece. And here’s my definition of “unused” – if it’s not on-screen, it is therefore unused in the film. I don’t care about things made but never shown. I have no doubt that this is a real, made-for-Shatner costume. But this is a lesser style piece made for a lesser film (TMP usually comes in near the bottom on most Trek fans lists – including mine) and never actually made it into the movie.

So we have an unused piece in what I think is the least desirable style possible. In my opinion, the Shatner tags are the only thing that gives this piece ANY real value. Without them, this is worth a few hundred dollars, I think. With the tags, on a good day to the right collector, this might fetch $2-3,000, max, and I think I’m being kind.

But the seller wants $14,000!!  Actual, screen-used TMP Shatner pieces haven’t gone for anywhere near that amount, but this guy thinks he’s hit a gold mine for some reason. While anything is possible (there’s a sucker born every minute) I think 14 grand is not just pie-in-the-sky, but is literally one in a million. If I were a betting man, I’d give odds that this piece would never sell at this price, under any conditions. It’s a silly, uninformed number that the seller plastered on it to see if someone is dumb enough to go for. I don’t see it happening during the current geologic epoch.

There’s another piece on Ebay that falls into this same category. Someone has been trying to sell this for a looooong time:

1970s "Mr Spock" Ears Worn By Leonard Nimoy in the 1979 "Star Trek" The Movie

This seller wants $22,000!! Why is that unreasonable? Because there must have been DOZENS of these made for EVERY movie, which does not equate to being some ultra rare piece of Star Trek history. For the record, Nimoy-worn latex ears seldom fetch more than a few thousand dollars. They would be a nice addition to anyone’s Trek collection, IMO, but these are not so rare that they command 22 grand. No way, no how.

If these sellers want to actually sell these pieces, they need to first of all do a little research and understand just what it is they are selling. And secondly, they need to adjust their prices to reflect the real world. As it stands, these two are the very definition of “pie-in-the-sky” pricing and as such will never sell, in this writer’s opinion.

LLAP

Don Hillenbrand

Monday, September 17, 2012

ANNOUNCING: The Star Trek Prop Room – The new Board for collectors of Screen used props and costumes

If you’re a screen-used Star Trek collector, you’re invited to join a new online experience – The Star Trek Prop Room.

Here’s The Prop Room’s Mission Statement:

“The Prop Room is for passionate screen-used Star Trek collectors who value fun, ideas, and integrity. It’s a place for open exchange about our favorite hobby between like-minded collectors – whether just beginning or life-long enthusiasts. It is no one person’s property but is a product of its membership – always moving forward, always respectful, and always responsive – a true community.”

We want members who will actively participate, not lurkers. That said, participation can be at any level you are comfortable with. But the key idea here is “participate”.  Members have a lot of knowledge, a lot of insight and we help each other on a regular basis. Please note that there is no anonymity in The Prop Room – all member candidates must give their full name when contacting me.

If this sounds appealing to you, please drop me a line and join the fun. Every new member is a chance at making a better community for everyone. Consider joining us.

Contact me at neoworx2001@gmail.com

The Board can be found at:

startrekproproom.com

LLAP

Don

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SyFy's "Collection Intervention" OR what my life could have been

Once upon a time, Star Trek was the hottest property in the universe. This was an ancient time called "the nineties" and it was the heyday of Star Trek collecting. All the cool toys that we always wanted were suddenly EVERYWHERE! Phasers and action figures and statues and key chains and plates and trading cards and costumes and model kits and videos and replicas and pewter stuff and infinitely more – and a crap-load of that stuff ended up in my house!

Flash-forward to now and the new SyFy show "Collection Intervention". This is a "reality" show which of course means there's a script but it's not done by actors. The show features two different stories in every episode. I've only seen one episode so far, but I think I get the drift.

Here's the deal – this is not a show I ever need to see again. It's predictable, plain and simple. Person has overwhelmingly large collection of "stuff" and is forced to come to terms with the fact that it's not normal/healthy to have such a deep connection to "stuff".

That said, I can TOTALLY RELATE to the poor schlubs that are featured. I used to be one of them. As I said earlier, my house (or at least my basement) was over-run with Star Trek stuff at one time. My particular fetish (like tens of thousands of other Trek fans) was the Playmates line of toys. When they hit the shelves they also hit my heart like a bolt out of the blue and from that time on, practically anything they released, I bought. And I LOVED it! Every incarnation of Star Trek was eventually covered which gave us hundreds of action figures and dozens of accessories and playsets. Fun in a box!

My wife, a long-suffering woman, would try not to acknowledge the generally rising tide of plastic that began as a trickle then became a steady stream, and eventually a deluge. She tried to accept my fetish (there's no other word for it) with humor and grace. She had no idea about the particulars – she never really cared all that much about Star Trek one way or the other. She couldn't relate to the idea that if one Picard in Starfleet uniform is good, FIVE must be better! Or TEN! Or...

In the late nineties, as Star Trek enthusiasm began to fade in the media, my collection was COLOSSAL. By that time I had picked up Star Trek items going back to the very first item ever licensed and produced – the original AMT model kit of the USS Enterprise, still mint in its original box (MIB for the initiated). I also had every Mego figure, Remco playset and Thermos lunchbox ever produced.

To paraphrase one of my favorite Trek episodes "It was glorious!"

Or so I thought. But then something happened. I have no idea what the moment of epiphany was, or even if there was one at all. But I remember looking over my multitude of plastic storage bins and finally asking myself The Question: "What the hell am I doing with all of this?"

I know that seems like a basic question but frankly, I had never really asked it before. I had set out to accumulate stuff for one basic reason – I wanted it. But why? It's not like I sat around playing with my treasures. Heaven forbid they should be removed from their perfect boxes! So what was the point?

And that in a nutshell is the question that "Collection Intervention" poses to their subjects. They want them to stop and ask themselves why they have 30,000 comic books when they couldn't possibly ever read them all again. What is their need to have box after box after box of Transformers?

The simple answer is the same for all of us: our collections fill a need. Maybe it stems from a childhood memory of using comic books to escape abusive parents, or a deep desire to connect with a simpler, more basic time of out lives. Who knows? It's different for everyone.

For me, Star Trek has always represented an amazing future. Not perfect, but incredible! A place where mankind has set aside the pettiness of dogmatic differences and says "we'll have no more of that". A place where the human race spans the stars and looks into every corner of creation. For a kid that grew up with the Space Race of the 60's, Boldly Go really sums it up nicely.

So how do thousands of pieces of painted plastic help to fulfill that longing to touch the future? In the same way we touch anything – we copy what we enjoy. We wear it, hold it, talk about it and hoard it. We fill our lives – and our basements – with it. All in hopes of touching the creator. Hey, that sounds familiar.

But when collecting becomes obsession, acquiring stuff becomes rote. We do it through muscle memory, because that's what we do, not because it gives us some deep, life-affirming enjoyment.And when I realized that's where I was, I stopped and thought. And thought. And thought. And I finally decided that this wasn't what I wanted to be defined by.

And then I began to sell off my collection practically overnight. I had multiple sets of things so it took years. You can't quickly get rid of stuff that you spent decades accumulating. And even after all this time, I'm still not totally done, though the little that remains are stragglers that I simply haven't cleared out yet.

Of course, I've replaced one form of collecting with another. Out is the memorabilia and in are props and costumes. But I can honestly say that I now collect in a fundamentally different way. I have to really want a piece – it has to match my focus and my passion. Anything that doesn't do that is not worth my time and money.

And I really, really enjoy my collection in a way I never used to by having pieces around me and on display. The days of hiding stuff in plastic bins are over, thankfully. And while I love every piece in my collection, I know that it in no way defines me. Like any collection, they're toys, they're fun and we love having them in our lives. But they don't love us back or actually give us anything that we don't imbue them with. Their power is all in our heads, and as such they need to be treated accordingly – as something we want, but can live just fine without.

Happy collecting.

LLAP

Don Hillenbrand

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Going out on a limb: My (Production Made?) Star Trek Original Series Klingon Disruptor Prop


Almost four years ago, I bought what was purported to be an ACTUAL production made Klingon Disruptor off of Ebay. I knew it was incredibly unlikely that it was real. Fortunately, I might be wrong. Here’s the story about this small piece of Star Trek history.



To begin with, I always use the scientific method whenever I’m researching a piece. I form a hypothesis and try to prove (or disprove) that hypothesis through research. If something comes along that challenges the hypothesis, I evaluate it and change the hypothesis as needed. What I DON’T do is ignore anything that tends to disprove my theory while accepting only those facts that support it. That’s not scientific – that’s fraudulent.

In this case, I gathered every piece of information I could find about the original Disruptors. Unfortunately, there’s very little out there which was a problem. Nevertheless, I took all the info I could find and combined it all for analysis. What I ended up with was enough evidence to identify my piece as authentic. At least I thought so. But I knew that my own personal bias might influence things. I needed critical eyes to review my findings and tell me whether or not I was full of crap. Unlike some “authorities” I felt that if my evidence didn’t stand up to review, it was no good to begin with. Big claims need big evidence – and they need to stand the light of day.

To that end I asked several Star Trek prop aficionados to review my findings and comment on them. I asked them to be as tough, skeptical and blunt as possible. While they gave me some additional information concerning the Disruptor, they all independently came to a similar conclusion. This group included:

Michael Moore of HMS props (http://www.hms-studios.com/artistlist.html)
Mike has made and handled countless Star Trek props, including TOS Disruptors (specifically mine at one point in the past). He was nice enough to share not only his wide knowledge but also these photos from 1971: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41111968@N00/sets/72157630755652248/

Michael Perlman, a long-time TOS prop enthusiast who has worked with HeroComm, the site dedicated to studying and analyzing TOS Communicators. Mike has also handled confirmed TOS props including comms, phasers and tricorders.

William Fink, self-taught Star Trek prop guru and born skeptic. I specifically chose Bill because of his healthy skepticism of extreme claims, as well as his deep knowledge of all things related to Star Trek props.

Chris Bunce, collector of screen-used props and costumes and editor of Borg.com. Chris was not brought in for his expertise on TOS props – he has none. Rather, Chris was brought on for his critical thinking. He is a thorough researcher and analyst and is as skeptical as they come about wild claims. In terms of fair disclosure, Chris is a friend of mine but I insisted that he not cut me any slack. In this case, I needed a friend who could be as brutally honest as possible, not a “yes” man. As a result, he was a tougher sell than the other reviewers and that’s as it should be.

I wish to thank these gentlemen (and several others who wished to stay anonymous) for their participation in this project. Most didn’t know me from Adam when I approached them, but they nevertheless gave their time and expertise and I greatly appreciate both. I also had a number of fellow collectors critically review the info from their own points of view for additional input.

An Introduction

I obtained this item in 2008 from a seller named Robert Miller, a collector living in Pennsylvania, now deceased. The background that he supplied with the piece is as follows:

“This is an original prop Klingon Disrupter used in the original 1966-1968 Star Trek T.V. series. This original prop Klingon Disrupter was acquired via a private sale from a collector who originally purchased it at auction from Camdem House Auctioneers in Los Angeles, CA. When I purchased the Disrupter I had it authenticated by Hollywood prop/minature builder and Star Trek collector Greg Jein. All of the metal parts are made of machined, polished aluminum attached to the main body and painted a two tone gray. This item will come with my lifetime guarantee of authenticity.”

When asked about the Jein Authentication, he said this:

“I don't have his authentication in writing. He has been kind enough to look at all of my original Star Trek props and costumes for the last 18-20 years, I never asked him to put anything in writing. Never intended to sell any of my items and his word was good enough for me.

I acquired the Klingon Disrupter from Fuller French, a well known collector/seller who had one of the largest private authentic original SciFi prop/costume collections in the country (and probably the largest private prop weapon collection).”

I realize that any attribution of a prop to the original series is highly unlikely. Many people actually think they possess a TOS piece in good faith, when in fact they were unknowingly swindled. Because of that, I asked the seller for good photos. What I saw convinced me that there was at least a chance that this was an actual prop. I still knew it was unlikely, but I decided it was worth a shot providing I didn’t have to pay huge money for it. I realized that most collectors would immediately dismiss the claims as the usual “prop hype” that always accompany these pieces. I took the plunge and won it for around $1500. 

TOS Fakes

Now, let’s address the “Mark English” issue. As many know, Mark English (ME) was a person (or persons) who created a number of TOS fake props that were so convincing that even the Smithsonian included some of them in a display in the 90’s. Well-versed prop collectors, including Greg Jein himself, were fooled by these amazing fakes. ME was known for making the Big Three – phasers, tricorders and communicators. This is only natural given that those are the signature, iconic pieces from Star Trek and they would be in the highest demand and yield the greatest financial return. Most of these pieces were apparently sold at the various conventions that proliferated throughout the 80’s and 90’s as Star Trek hit its highest level of popularity. By the time the Internet came along, most of the damage was apparently done. The Mark English fakes were in the collector pool and the owners had no idea they were fakes. It was not until true, confirmed TOS pieces were analyzed that the fakes were identified.

Now, having said all that, here’s something that surprised me: there’s no record of there ever being a Mark English Disruptor. I can’t say for certain that there weren’t any, of course. But you can search all the forums and the web to your heart’s content, and you won’t find a mention of one single fake Disruptor. There are certainly known replicas, but none that were ever passed off as real as far as I can ascertain. And none of those replicas could ever pass muster.

As I said, the Big Three were the moneymakers. So my supposition is that the Disruptor was ignored because it was tougher to make and would not be as popular.

Also, I have the original catalog listing from 1991 in which this item was sold. I have included a scan here of the color shot that clearly identifies it as the one I own through the small rubs and tells. So this item was definitely built prior to 1991. That means the builder would have had to rely on very scarce reference. Here’s why.

The Klingon Disruptor only appeared in 4 TOS episodes:

Errand of Mercy (The Organians) Eight Disruptors are shown in one scene

Friday’s Child  (The Julie Newmar Ep) One is shown

Day of the Dove (glowy alien) Five are seen.

The Enterprise Incident (Romulans using Klingon stuff) Two are shown.

In these four episodes, the Disruptor is never seen in a decent close-up. Usually they are simply belt-hangers seen on various character uniforms and not in use at all. The few times they are actually drawn, we never get a good shot. I was a huge TOS fan and I didn’t realize what they actually looked like until many years after I originally saw them on-screen. In fact, for years, the only decent reference for the disruptor was a black and white shot in the book “The Making of Star Trek”. Unfortunately, the photo is so badly outlined that key details are entirely missing. If anyone made a replica based on that photo it would now stick out like a sore thumb.  There are no reference images of the piece in the Star Trek Technical Manual from 1975.


Unlicensed Marco Enterprises replica circa mid 80's.

Several fairly accurate replicas were licensed and manufactured, but none prior to 1991. 

If you do a Google search for reference, very little comes up. Most of the images are of the known replicas and the few auctions that sold an original one. There are some shots of the “Jeffries” Disruptor at the Smithsonian, but those were taken after 1991.

So this leads to this question: how could an extremely accurate replica be made prior to 1991? The only way I can see it being done is the same way the licensed replicas were created – by using a production-made piece as reference. While this is possible, it begs the question of how would the forger get his hands on one? All the known pieces can be traced back to those working on the production. So how would one get to a forger? It’s possible, but is it likely?

The production-made prop

The Klingon Disruptors were created for "Errand of Mercy" and based on Eminiar pistol props made for an earlier episode, “A Taste of Armageddon”. In that story, 6 alien pistols are shown. While similar to the later Klingon version, they were not exactly the same. Whether or not these props were actually converted for use as Klingon weapons or if they were simply a start for the design is not specifically known. The basic handle and body shape are similar but not the same so much modification would have been needed.

 3 Eminiar pistols from “A Taste of Armageddon”

The Eminiar pistols had handles and bodies that were painted gray with an aluminum structure added to the front. On the Klingon pistols, the front structure was replaced with all new aluminum detail and metallic accents were added to the top on sides.

Unfortunately, they only had 6 of the Eminiar pistols (that we know of) and needed at least 8 of the Klingon design (and possibly more). So even if they reused the Eminiar pieces, they still would not have enough. So how would they go about making additional pistols? Note that at least one Eminiar pistol has survived intact and can be seen in the book "The Art of Star Trek".

It should be noted that the only two Disruptors that have most recently been auctioned were both partially made of wood. Originally, I thought my specimen was also made of wood. It had the feel and weight of wood as well as sanding marks that were consistent with wood. In an effort to confirm this, I drilled a small hole in the underside of main body (I know, sacrilege!), expecting to see wood shavings. Instead I got white plastic shavings of some type and discovered that the handle and body were hollow. I was surprised and disappointed. After all, the only two Disruptors I knew of were made of wood. This was a major blow to my hopes of authenticity. But then I read the following on the TPZ prop forum:

“I’m very skeptical about all the disruptors having been wood. That doesn’t make sense. There were a lot of complex curves and lines and it makes no sense to have folks doing all those by hand. Maybe the wooden one 'authenticated' was the master or an ME. I’ve heard of more FAKE wooden TOS props then authentic wooden TOS props.”

That made sense, especially since most of the other TOS props – phasers, communicators, etc – were not wood. And the poster was correct – the Disruptors have VERY intricate shapes, especially in the handle, which is not symmetrical and has some very subtle forms and edges (see photos). They COULD all be made of wood, but why would they? Casting and molding would have been far quicker and TV production was all about speed.

 This comparison shows the freeform nature of the handle. 

 Butt end of handle showing asymmetrical nature

So my supposition is that they made masters from wood, then made a casting and used that as a mold to create as many bodies as needed out of fiberglass or something similar. They created the “hero” versions of the Disruptors (with wood bodies – perhaps the prototypes?) with all metal accents. The “background” versions had the same aluminum “site” and “nozzle” because it would have been difficult to make them out of anything else at the time due to fragility. The rest of the metal detailing was done with metal foil, a common technique still in use today. It’s a quick, cheap way to make something look like metal. Thus, by using molds they could make as many additional bodies as needed.

This same technique that I am suggesting is apparently what was done for the Phase II production in the mid-seventies. They were going to use TOS-style Disruptors so they took an original and made a mold. And the Phase II model used the exact same mix of metal to molded as my piece, though with a totally different paint scheme. Here is a Profiles In History Auction (Hollywood 24) listing in which a Phase II Disruptor’s construction is explained:

Klingon Disruptor made for Star Trek: Phase II (Paramount, 1977) This TOS style Klingon Disruptor was made for Star Trek: Phase II, and is constructed of black-painted molded resin with an aluminum scope and aluminum barrel, as well as a metal clip attached to the port side. Measures approx. 13 inches long.

Phase II version

My version

So now let’s see how my version measures up – literally – to the known real props. All shape details match up to the 2 confirmed authentic specimens – the “Jeffries” and the  “Renshaw”. Renshaw was a Desilu executive who ended up with several items that he gave to his kids to play with. His Disruptor was pretty chewed up. Unfortunately there are no good high-rez photos on-line of these pieces. (I have the PDF’s of the auction catalogs, but they aren’t great. I’m working on getting hard copies of the catalogs themselves.) There is a third, the “Jein” that is shown in the book, "The Art of Star Trek". I used those shots as well as a shot of a fourth – John Azarian’s, a known sci-fi prop collector. All known specimens are consistent in size, shape and detail.

I also have a catalog scan from a 1997 Profiles auction that shows a virtual twin to mine, most notably the front “fin” texture. That auction specifically attributes the piece as coming from Dick Rubin who was Propmaster on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, who would have had direct access to TOS Disruptors since they were used for making Phase II versions, the direct precursor of TMP. The “Azarian” piece might be from that auction since Azarian’s collection comes from Profiles auctions in large part and they are definitely similar.


Angles vary from shot to shot which shows most significantly in the handles and top of main body. It also leads to random forshortening of certain shapes, depending on the specific angle. All shots except mine are low-rez.

Ignore colors – they were all shot under different lighting which yields random color. I don’t know how to reconcile the different fin textures. The Jefferies and Renshaw seem to be one style (hero?), while mine, Profiles and Azarian seem to be a second (BG?). The Jein is yet another (at least, I think it is).

I also compared it to some of the official replicas since they were supposed to have been made from an original and there is some very good photography that can be utilized.  I also used an MR replica (made years after mine) for measurement reference. Every dimension matches within a small fraction of an inch.


In the various photos you’ll see that the piece is not really molded or assembled all that carefully, ie: the aluminum front nozzle assembly is off-center, though the aluminum parts are meticulously machined. Part of the body is also off-center. The front nozzle assembly is actually pointing slightly upward due to poor fitting of parts between machined and molded pieces.The piece shows more wear and tear than the photos really show, which I guess is part of the magic of film-making – many flaws disappear on camera.

A detail that would be hard to replicate (and 2 different prop people pointed it out as a “real tell”) is how the front tip attaches to the “fin assembly”, and how the entire front structure connects to the main body. It’s why the fins are sometimes skewed out of true and are unknowable details unless you have an original on-hand. I will not disclose the nature of that detail here, but the reviewers were all privy to the information and concurred as to its veracity. The photos have been retouched to remove this “tell”. Nothing else has been adjusted.

As mentioned before, the handle shows some very delicate (yet specific), asymmetric forms and edges. These exactly match up to known pieces. When photos are taken at similar angles and superimposed over each other, you can see that sizing is totally consistent.

It’s worth noting that props are not mass produced items like toys are, especially back in the 60’s. They were made individually by hand and so no two are exactly alike. The known communicators all have specific, measureable differences. They are small but they are there. The same goes with phasers and virtually any Star Trek prop of which multiples were made. I mention this because I don’t know how to reconcile the different front “fin” textures. The Jefferies and Renshaw seem to be one style (hero?), while mine, Profiles and Azarian seem to be a second (BG?). The Jein is yet another (at least, I think it is). I got the following input from one collector:

“… it could be something as simple as the first 2 that were made were made from a certain small found item that could only get a pair out of each piece. When they made the rest they had to figure a slight difference would never show up on a 19" TV set because nobody ever thought about future technology and probably didn’t care.”

That’s pretty much my take as well.

As I see it, the key differences between “hero” and “background” are these:

1. The top form of the main body on which the “site” sits appears to be an aluminum add-on to the heroes. The BG versions have it molded in place with metal foil attached.

2. The “side rails” along the mail body seem to be molded metal partial cylinders that are attached to the sides and show a thickness. The BG pieces again use metal foil to achieve that look.

Unlike various Mark English pieces – Comms and Phasers, etc – my piece shows no inconsistencies in details, proportions or sizes.

One last thing: the paint on mine is hard as a rock. Paint thinner or turpentine can’t dent it. I tried on a small area.

Provenance

The seller told me he got this piece from a collector named “Fuller French”. After much research and a few phone calls to wrong people, I was finally able to catch up with Mr. French in Forth Worth, Texas. Not only does he exist, he was a major player in the sci-fi prop world of the 90’s, owning dozens of prop pistols – everything from “The Invaders” and “Planet of the Apes” to “Battlestar Galactica” and “V”. We spoke at length about his collecting days (he got out about 10 years ago) and specifically the Disruptor. He confirmed that he was the buyer from the 1991 Camden catalog and that he sold it to Robert Miller some 8-10 years later.

Most importantly, he told me that he later found out who the consignor was. He had made friends with fellow prop enthusiast James Comisar and discovered that Comisar was the consignor to Camden and that he originally got his piece from…

…Dick Rubin, propmaster of ST: TMP. The same source as the version later sold at Profiles in 1997.

Mr. French suggested I contact Mr. Comisar directly to confirm the story as he knew it. To that end, I have contacted him via e-mail. I got a reply from his assistant who said I’d be hearing from Mr. Comisar soon.

In case you don’t know of him, James Comisar runs “The Comisar Collection” which is described as “Museum Curators of Television Artifacts”. His site is at:

http://tvtour.org/

I have to confirm this information with Mr. Comisar to establish specific, concrete provenance.

Conclusions

Here’s what the various reviewers had to say:

“I have seen the disruptor you have and it is an original. I have held your disruptor in my hands in my shop as well as other original TOS disruptors.” – Mike Moore

“Well done and a pleasure to read. The only two companies that made replicas of the disruptor were based on some film stills from the show. They were both oversized.” – Mike Perlman

“In my sometimes humble opinion you have a real screen used or at least production made...and frankly pretty darn sure it would be screen used...why make it and not use it? – William Fink

“After comparing photos of the few known Klingon disruptors with this piece, reviewing the history of the piece via past sales, and scrutinizing the other assembled provenance data, I have little doubt that this is a rare example of only a handful of production props created for use by Klingons and Romulans in the original Star Trek series--a rare and important piece of Trek history that I would love to have in my collection. – Chris Bunce

Bottom line: all parties felt it was either highly likely or definitely genuine. The “likely” reviewer felt that the provenance needed to be totally defined before calling it genuine. I am currently attempting to do just that.

So that’s it. I welcome informed opinions about this piece either pro or con. I may or may not agree with it but I will definitely take any information under advisement and I will not insult anyone who happens to have a different point of view. My goal is the truth, whatever that is.

Thanks for reading.

LLAP

Don Hillenbrand

Thursday, August 2, 2012

When a Kirk Wrist Communicator isn’t necessarily a Kirk Wrist Communicator


When the recent Profiles In History auction catalogs came out, I did what I always do – eagerly looked to see if there was any Star Trek TOS or TOS movie stuff. As luck would have it, there was only one piece that fit my collecting profile – a wrist communicator from Star Trek: The Motion Picture that was attributed to Kirk. 


Now, I LOVE hero props that can actually be connected to the hero. I know that sounds strange, but frankly most heroes can’t be put into a specific actor’s hand, so this was an exciting prospect to me. The photo of the piece was great. I had no trouble believing it was a resin hero TMP wrist comm. But hold on a minute. The “Kirk” attribution was based solely on this:

 “Inside armband was written in light pen, “Kirk”. “

And then they showed a screen cap of Shatner as Kirk with a wrist comm. 


Which is all well and good, but the shot of Kirk that they used didn’t actually confirm that THIS piece was on his wrist since it wasn’t a close-up showing the face. Every main actor in the film had one of these on their wrist – they weren’t limited to Kirk. So how exactly does this screen cap prove anything? It doesn’t. So we have to go on a hand-written “Kirk”.

And in my opinion, that hand-written attribution is worth NOTHING. Zero. That could have been added at any time over the last 33 years since the piece was used. If someone wanted to sell you “the original Maltese Falcon” and insisted it was real because someone wrote “Bogart” on the bottom, would you believe it? If so, I’ve got a pretty black bird I’d like to sell to you.

That said, the shot of the actual prop being sold was very good. And I knew that they made tons of variants of these so that if I could find a Kirk screen cap that showed the face of the comm, I stood a good chance of confirming or debunking the claim.

That’s when I found out that even though the wrist comm was worn by Shatner throughout the film, there’s never a great shot of the prop. It’s simply a costume detail and never gets any screen time, a common thing with such a prop. But I was able to find one scene that had Shatner holding his hand up, and that told me everything I needed to know. Here are screen caps of that scene:


I rotated and blew up the best shot so that I could see the detail. I’ve made no other changes to this shot – anyone can pull this off their copy of the movie.

The piece is not in sharp focus, but even so it is obvious that this piece is NOT the one shown in the Profiles catalog. That one clearly shows the letter “Y” while the screen cap shows something blockier – an “S” perhaps? Also, the 2 ‘buttons” on the Profiles piece are blank and show no indication that they ever had anything on them, while the screen cap clearly shows some type of elongated bar on each button. Again, no match. And that was enough for me.

Profiles has a clear record of stretching the truth whenever it suits them, and turning a blind eye to anything that doesn’t help sell, sell, sell. They could have done exactly what I did, but they didn’t. That would have been inconvenient.

I can’t say for sure that the one they sold was not worn by Kirk at some point in the movie. But the only clear evidence that I could find says that, in those scenes at least, he definitely did NOT. And I don’t buy heroes based on flimsy evidence that anyone with a pen could manufacture in 5 seconds flat, and I don’t pay a premium for “maybe”. So I reluctantly passed on the piece.

The comm did sell and fetched more than $3000. I think that’s a lot for a “generic” wrist comm, but to each their own. 

As with all Profiles auctions, "caveat emptor".

LLAP

Don Hillenbrand