Saturday, June 29, 2013

ORIGINAL SERIES PHASER PROP TO BE AUCTIONED OFF – REAL OR FAKE?

When a Star Trek phaser from the original series (TOS) hits the market, it's incredibly exciting to collectors like me. That's why I went a little nuts when I saw the new Profiles In History Hollywood Auction 56 catalog which features a TOS Phaser in all its glory. Unfortunately, as with all things TOS, the first question is "is it real?" Why? Because there are far more fake TOS pieces out there than real ones. Especially phasers. The TOS Star Trek phaser may well be the most replicated/faked prop in history. So with that in mind, the number one issue becomes authentication. If the piece can't be authenticated, it won't be recognized as real.

Photo page from Profiles catalog
Let me interject something here. I do not profess to be an expert about TOS props. I do know a lot thanks to there being so much information out there with which to learn from. But, for instance, I've never had the opportunity to actually handle a real TOS phaser, tricorder, or communicator prop, unlike some more informed people. And that's a big, big deal. So I rely on lots of people who know a lot more than I. The best sources for all things regarding Star Trek TOS props are the Trek Prop Zone (a Board for enthusiasts) and Herocomm (an informational site). These 2 sites represent more information than one person could ever assimilate, and I highly recommend them.

It's interesting to note that the consignor of the Phaser, a collector named Gerald Gurian, is not as enthusiastic about these sites as I am. These sites are all about facts and ONLY facts. Supposition is all well and good, but at the end of the day "consistent with" does NOT mean "it is". And, in my opinion (as well as many others) a number of Mr. Gurian's claims regarding some of his props are specious, to say the least. He swears they're real, others (more informed, in my opinion) swear they aren't.

The other issue with this auction is that I think Profiles really sucks at authenticating items in their auctions. They are motivated by profit to make things sound as good as possible, even when they aren't. Profiles has famously had 2 different catalogs that featured fake items on their covers. They ended up not selling the items due to the uproar, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that THEY FEATURED FAKES ON THE COVER!

So when this new Phaser (which Profile's has attached to Mr. Gurian) came to my attention, I was somewhat skeptical. OK, I was REALLY skeptical. Here's what the Profiles auction says about the Phaser, in part:

Description page from Profiles catalog
"This fiberglass mid-grade pistol phaser is perhaps the most extensively researched TOS prop that we have ever auctioned, with all of its major features and numerous subtle contours in its design painstakingly screen-matched to several late 2nd and 3rd season The Original Series episodes including “Assignment: Earth”, “Spock’s Brain”, “Plato’s Stepchildren” and “The Cloud Minders”. In particular, a tiny mold flaw/ridge line deviation in the rear in appearance was matched on-screen in “Spock’s Brain”; the integrated “one piece” handle and main body construction of the pistol component of this prop was matched on-screen in “The Cloud Minders”; and the design of the hand-grip section with an elongated central groove extending along the entire length of the handle was matched on-screen in “Plato’s Stepchildren”. The uniquely patterned silver foil material on top of the permanently affixed hand phaser unit has been photo matched to the foil on the Greg Jein TOS Hero Type 2 Phaser and is another key element of authentication. And most significantly, the presence of both a uniquely contoured scratch line and a small blemish formed by excess paint on the front face of the pistol body slightly above the silver nozzle, as well as the relative locations of the grooved regions on the silver nozzle ring, precisely match those evident on a screen capture from “Assignment: Earth” (first airdate: Mar. 29, 1968), which directly establishes the on-screen use of this prop in that highly memorable The Original Series time-travel episode."

Now let's start with the broad strokes. First of all, if all these claims are true, I'm pretty sure this would be the single most identified prop in Star Trek history. After all, they claim that it can be identified ("screen-matched") as being used in four specific episodes. That's unheard of! I know of no other prop that could meet that claim. Alas, this one doesn't either. Like the saying goes – there's good news and bad news.

Here's the good news: after doing a bit of research, I think this is a real Star Trek TOS Phaser prop that can actually be screen-matched to a specific use.

The bad news is that it can only really be screen-matched once. One episode. Period.

In the scheme of things, that ain't bad. One match is enough to authenticate it. The rest is just gilding the lily, IMO. And while I might not be an expert on these props, I am an expert at photo analysis as I do photo manipulation for a living.

Let's take episodes mentioned one at a time. Here's a comparison of the Profiles Phaser (left) and the phaser in "The Cloud Minders" that Profiles claims is a screen-match.
So what, exactly is a "screen-match"? To put it simply, it's when a prop can be positively identified as being used in a film or TV show through identifying distinct markings, unique to that piece alone. So while Profiles points out that the two pieces have the same "hand phaser shape" or "high ridge accent line", I don't get too excited. After all, those features would show up in every phaser of this type that was ever made. These matching details certainly help make the case that this is an actual TOS prop and not a copy. But the "Cloud Minders" image is of such poor quality that a specific screen match is simply not possible. As a matter of fact, it might not even be the same type of phaser prop – it might be a rubber "stunt" – I just can't tell. There are no DISTINCT, UNIQUE DETAILS to merit calling this a screen-match.

So let's move on to the "Plato's Stepchildren" version (bottom):
Again, because of the lack of detail in the screen cap and with no evidence of unique flaws or features, there can be no screen-matching. The two are certainly consistent to each other, but that only supports the idea that this is a real prop, not that it is THIS real prop as shown in the episode.

Next up is "Spock's Brain":

Unlike our first two examples, this screen capture is nice and clear. But unfortunately there are still no distinct features that we can concretely say are exclusive to the two versions shown. Interestingly, Profiles claims a screen match because "In particular, a tiny mold flaw/ridge line deviation in the rear in appearance was matched on-screen in “Spock’s Brain”" That's faulty logic, unfortunately. We can't know that a flaw in the mold is unique to a given piece without showing other examples of it NOT appearing. Since these phasers were probably all made with the same mold, there's no reason to think that they don't all have the same details, flawed or otherwise. And with no other distinct details to go on, I call this a non-match. It MIGHT be the same, but there's no way to prove it.

So finally we come to the "Assignment Earth" version and here's where things get interesting. Check it out:
Finally we have an angle that shows enough key detail as to ascertain specificity. And look at all the matching details! The crack on the front of the main body is so organic and specific in nature that it's unthinkable that it isn't a match. The Plate Overlap, Chip and Glue Squeeze areas all help make the case as well, but the Crack is the single most important piece of evidence.
Nozzle details appear to be correct though slightly rotated.
Is it possible that this is a fake? Absolutely, and I'd be irresponsible if I said otherwise. But given the photo evidence, is it LIKELY to be a fake? I say no, it's not. In this case, I believe Mr. Gurian got it right. I still don't think there's more than one episode that is screen-matched. But one is enough when the details are so specific.

If I were interested in pursuing this piece – and with an $80,000 starting price there's no way in hell that I would be – I'd want a real expert – someone who has handled other specimens – to check this out. I'll bet it would pass inspection with flying colors.

Is this worth the $80,000-$120,000 estimate that Profiles gives it? That's for the market to decide, but personally I can't imagine spending that kind of money on something I can't live in. We'll see if this goes or not. Keep in mind that just a few months ago a TOS Phaser Rifle went for almost a quarter million bucks. This isn't in that league, of course (that was a one-of-a-kind) but anything can happen.

ADDENDUM: After the auction took place and this item didn't sell, the consignor had a few choice words for me. Read about that HERE

LLAP

Don


Thursday, June 27, 2013

CLAPPER OF THE WEEK: "CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER"!

This week's Clapper shot is from the classic episode "City on the Edge of Forever", one of the greates episodes ever made, IMO. Time travel, ancient civilizations, Joan Collins – what's not to love? This scene features one of the coolest Star Trek creations ever – The Guardian of Forever! Awesome!

Clapper info: February 13, 1967/Scene 5A/Take 1 – this was to be used for adding special effects ("optical FX" is written at the bottm).
Image used with permission
LLAP,

Don

Friday, June 21, 2013

SCOTTY AND HIS CREATOR HEAD FOR THE FINAL FRONTIER

According to news agency Reuters, the remains of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, and actor James Doohan who played the irascible Scotty, will head for the final frontier – deep space – next year. Going along for the ride will be the remains of famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, author of "2001: A Space Odyssey", and Roddenberry's wife, Majel, who played Star Trek's Nurse Chapel.
Small amounts of the four's remains will be launched into deep space in November 2014 by the memorial spaceflight company Celestis.
"What's very cool about this is that it's science fiction meeting reality," Celestis spokeswoman Pazia Schonfeld said.
The remains will be placed on a spacecraft right out of Star Trek called a solar sail – powered by sunlight and made to withstand high temperatures –  and put into orbit around the sun, according to Celestis. The Sunjammer flight is set for liftoff from Cape Canaveral in November 2014. Clarke is  perhaps the most fitting person to ride on Sunjammer: he's the one who came up with the solar sail's name for a 1963 short story about a sun-yacht race. 
After separation from a Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the Sunjammer spacecraft will open up its sail and head for a position about 1.8 million miles (3 million kilometers) from Earth, propelled by the force of photons from the sun. The overall aim of the mission is to test solar-sail propulsion techniques as well as monitor solar weather.
Godspeed to all!
LLAP
Don

Friday, June 14, 2013

LOTS OF STAR TREK ITEMS IN THE NEW SCREENUSED AUCTION

Collectors of screen-used Star Trek props and costumes are in for a treat with the release of the latest ScreenUsed auction catalog which features almost 200 lots of Trek stuff ranging from The Original Series to Enterprise and everything in-between.

Most of the Star Trek items come from a single collector and friend of the Blog who has decided to thin her collection in a big way. Her loss can be your gain. There are some incredibly low starting prices that should be of help to anyone who wants to pick up some cool stuff, whether they are a seasoned collector or just starting out.

The offerings are especially heavy on Deep Space Nine materials and include props, costumes and set pieces. Most items originally came from the Christie's or It's A Wrap auctions so there's no concern about whether or not they're authentic pieces. ScreenUsed can tell you about particular pieces and their source.
So check out the auction catalog HERE and good luck!

LLAP,

Don

Thursday, June 13, 2013

CLAPPER OF THE WEEK: "SPOCK'S BRAIN"!

This week's Clapper shot is from that fine piece of – Trek – called "Spock's Brain", one of the worst episodes ever made, IMO, but it's great fun to watch because it's just so bad. Here's the key scene that we'll call "how Spock got his brain back". Great stuff. Great. Stuff.

Clapper info: July 12, 1968/Scene 84A/Take 1


LLAP,

Don

Monday, June 10, 2013

REWRITING HISTORY – MY DAYS WITH PARAMOUNT

Most people don't know it but I was the "Eighth Bridge Officer" back in the day. Here's one of my favorite shots from my last foray into the final frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That's my hand on Koenig's shoulder.

LLAP,

Don

Saturday, June 8, 2013

PREMIERE PROPS NOW OFFERING "AUTHENTIC FAKE" STAR TREK COMMUNICATOR

In yet another new twist on the ongoing problems with Premiere Props' Star Trek offerings, they are now offering the same Communicator prop that had originally been pulled. But now they are offering it as an authentic forgery.

I think my head just exploded.

It comes with a COA so it must be a real forgery rather than a fake forgery. Wait...what??

I have to hand it to Premiere – they're trying their best to make lemonade with the lemons they've been given. According to them there's a collector's market for these fakes, saying:

"Ironically, Mark English "reproductions" have become collectables in their own right."

This is news to me, so I'll be anxiously awaiting the outcome of this auction to see what a "real fake" goes for!

LLAP

Don

Thursday, June 6, 2013

PREMIERE PROPS PULLS $100K+ WORTH OF STAR TREK PIECES FROM AUCTION

Every Star Trek item featured on this PP postcard his been pulled.
After being contacted by several parties, Premiere Props has pulled all of the original series Star Trek items from its upcoming auction including:

Phaser 1
Phaser 2
Tricorder
Communicator
Uhura's Pen
Tribble

When these pieces were initially announced a few weeks ago, I was skeptical regarding their authenticity, to say the least (read about it here). Luckily, Premiere was contacted by THE experts on original series props, Herocomm.com, an organization with a mission statement that inclues the following:

"HeroComm is a free and open library of all knowledge that can be gathered on The Original Series Star Trek classic communicator prop. We endeavor through scientific rigor to sort fact from fiction, history from hearsay, and originals from fakes."

While their specialty is TOS Communicators, they also know a lot about the other key TOS props. I can verify from first-hand knowledge that Herocomm lives up to it's mission. When I was working on verifying a TOS Klingon Disruptor, one of their members was a great help. Their process is ruthlessly fact-based and I gratefully endorse it.

Here's what Herocomm told me about their contact with Premiere (reproduced here with their permission). "ME" refers to "Mark English" a known forger of Star Trek props in the 70's and 80's:

"The full credit for pulling from sale what were obvious ME fakes goes to Daniel Levin at Premiere Props. When we initially informed his company of the forgery status of the communicator, he cordially reached out to us and got the information needed to satisfy himself, not just for the comm but the P1, P2 and tricorder. 

In asking for a few key tells, these were the things we pointed out to Dan:


COMMUNICATOR – excessively corroded antenna, mic grill the wrong material, moirĂ© pattern does not match any known undiscovered versions.

P1 – wrong shape (too narrow), the setting window not yellowed, the metal dial too shiny.

P2 – there is no reason for a black/white phaser to ever exist today. All would have been painted grey in Season One.

TRICORDER – no surviving tricorder would have the center compartment "computer disks” and moire as seen in “City on the Edge.” They were removed before Season 2 in Wah’s two and not replicated in the later fiberglass copies. Also rhinestones used instead of watch crowns or painted pin heads.

As it turns out, that batch of TOS props all came from a single owner, and Mr. Levin said they would be returned to that individual.

In fairness, it should be noted we Trek prop geeks take for granted our wealth of arcane knowledge. “Of course that’s a Mark English,” anyone here would say. But imagine being on the outside, where that name means nothing. Items that look good enough come in with a previously assigned CA, just like what happens every day with other prop collections, and, boom, on the sales block it goes. That that didn’t happen this time is a remarkable occurrence. This may very well be the first time ever a major house has cancelled the planned auction of alleged classic Star Trek props due to early fan intervention.

Simply, we were delighted to see action put behind Premiere Prop’s verbal commitment to offer only true genuine items, and we hope this marks a new era of mutual cooperation between auction houses and the many highly-qualified Internet-based experts out there."

While I also applaud PP's willingness to pull the items in question, it still leaves a huge credibility gap for PP going forward. If you're in the prop selling business, you'd have to live under a rock to not know at least the basics of Star Trek prop forgery – ie: that there's a TON of it – and spend at least a small bit of time authenticating such important (and expensive!!) items. It's not like there's a dearth of information out there with HC being at the top of that list. These items would have sold for far more than $100,000 had they been real, and that's something worth doing even the most basic of due diligence for. Beyond the TOS props, calling a yellow TNG uniform a "Data" without a sewn-in tag, or screen matching or solid provenance is also problematic. A real season 1-2 Data uniform could go well in excess of $5000. A no-name background goes for less than $1000.

I can't give Premiere much credit for pulling stuff that they could possibly get sued for later – that's business 101. Had they come to HC BEFORE they put the Trek stuff into their auction, I would applaud them loudly. But IMO, they put those items in there hoping that no one would raise to much fuss about them and they could make some easy cash. And you don't get a slap on the back for that.

I've been told that, because of this experience, Premiere will be instituting new steps to help ensure authenticity of items they sell in the future. Naturally, I think that's a good idea. I also think it's long overdue, though. Shouldn't authenticity be THE key component from day one for ANYONE selling original props and costumes? It should be, but alas, it isn't. Even the biggest, most prestigious of prop sellers, Christie's, recently offered some items that were obvious fakes. Profiles In History, a well-known auction house for movie props has repeatedly offered fakes, in some cases actually featuring them on the cover of their catalogs! On the flip side, Propstore of London does a great job of doing due diligence, so through their example we know it can be done.

Sometimes, debunking or authenticating a prop or costume can be difficult. But many times it can be done in just a few minutes. The Premiere stuff definitely falls into the "easier" category since there's so much information now available on the web.

I hope that Premiere will actually follow through with a new authentication policy. It would be a boon to the hobby and to collectors everywhere.

LLAP

Don

Monday, June 3, 2013

THE ULTIMATE SPOCK SCULPT – A TRUE PIECE OF ART

Jordu Schell with a certain Vulcan. Photo: Dennis Contreras
"Amazing" is a word that tends to be overused these days. But it's not hyperbole when used to describe the creations of Jordu Schell, sculptor of the truly amazing.

Fellow Trek fan and prop enthusiast Dennis Contraras attended this year's Monsterpalooza, the annual show for all things monstrous, where he found Jordu sharing some of his incredible work, including an uncanny bust of Star Trek's own Mr. Spock as seen in the original series. Dennis shared some photos on the TPZ Board and I was astounded when I saw them. The likeness was so lifelike that I assumed it had to be done from a life-cast or something. How else to explain the incredible level of accuracy and detail? But, no, I was mistaken. It was all talent. 

Check out these photos and judge for yourself. If it weren't for the truncated shoulders, you'd swear it was a photo of Nimoy himself!
I had the same reaction when I saw this Grand Moff Tarkin sculpt. It looks good enough to take a lightsaber to! You'd swear Peter Cushing was alive and well. 

In all my years of Trek fandom, I've never seen ANYTHING approach this level of accuracy. It came as no surprise then, when I discovered this incredibly talented guy has worked as a concept artist on some of the biggest films of all time including “Avatar”, “Men In Black”, “300”, “Hellboy”,  “Batman Returns” and "Cowboys and Aliens". Spock isn't the only offworlder he's worked on.
Schell Sculpture Studio is a full service sculpture and design facility that specializes in creature and character design, props, prototypes for toys and model kits, general special effects work, and creature design classes. Check out more cool stuff at chellstudio.com.

My thanks to Dennis Contraras for bringing Jordu's fantastic work to light.

LLAP

Don 

ORIGINAL STAR TREK ON WGA'S "TOP 101 SHOWS OF ALL TIME" LIST

Today, the Writer's Guild of America released their list of the top 101 TV shows of all time. On that list are such visionary shows as "The Sopranos", "Seinfeld", "Mad Men" and "Hill Street Blues". And coming in at number 33 – right between "Deadwood" and "Modern Family" – is the original "Star Trek".

Of course this comes as no surprise to a life-long Trek fan like me. Whenever people ask those that were involved with the original series what is was that set it apart, there's always one clear delineation – the writing. For modern viewers, every year that goes by means the sets become cheesier-looking, the costumes more outrageous and the aliens less exotic. But the writing endures.

"Star Trek" took TV writing where it had seldom been before – into relevance. Many of the stories were a reflection of what was happening in the turbulent 60's, including war, racial tensions, Communism, over-population, artificial intelligence, and abuse of power. "Star Trek" used its science fiction setting to put a spotlight on the society of the day, much like the earlier "Twilight Zone" (3rd on the WGA list) had done before, but in a more subtle way. After all, phasers and starships can't have anything to do with over-population, right? Of course, sometimes, the message hit us over the head, as with the cringe-worthy episode "The Way to Eden" with it's all too obvious story of counter-culture, or the (literal!) flag waver, "The Omega Glory".

"Spock's Brain" – a low point
Naturally, there were several episodes that were simply bad. "Spock's Brain" is usually identified as the single worst episode of "Star Trek", and while that is debatable – there's several awful ones – it demonstrates that not all classic "Trek" is golden. But the handful of lousy episodes demonstrate how good the vast majority of "Trek" must have been to still be recognized today as one of the best written shows (and frankly one of the best shows, PERIOD) to ever exist. It's worth noting that the WGA list includes only a few entries from the fifties and sixtes, which makes the inclusion of "Star Trek" all the more rarified.

It's younger sibling, "Star Trek: The Next Generation", came in at number 79 – an indicator of its overall quality as well.

"The Trouble With Tribbles" – a very high point
Long ago, "Star Trek" entered the pop culture lexicon with phrases like "warp speed", "live long and prosper" and the ubiquitous "beam me up, Scotty". Everyone knows what a phaser is and can identify the Enterprise and a tribble. Now the heart and soul of "Star Trek" – its superior writing – has also been recognized. It's only logical.

LLAP

Don