Tuesday, November 26, 2013

STATE OF THE HOBBY: LIARS AND BULLIES AND EGOS, OH MY!

I've been called a "hater" by some in the Star Trek collecting world, and, strangely enough, it's not something to which I take exception. I AM a hater. I hate unchecked arrogance. I hate dishonesty, bullying, and deceit. I hate self-aggrandizement, "authorities" who aren't, and prop sellers who sell fakes (the recent Premiere Props auction comes to mind).

In short: I hate stupidity. That's what it all comes down to, after all. So many of those that try to deceive think they are the smartest people in the room, when it's painfully obvious to the rest of the world that they aren't. Nothing is more pathetic than someone too dumb to know how dumb they are.

But the one positive aspect of being so clueless is that they can't hide it, which is great for the rest of us. After all, how are you going to know who the crappy people are unless they speak up and show us just how crappy they are? Thanks, clueless people, we appreciate it.

The Star Trek collecting community is much like any other group – everybody talks to everybody else. So when someone does something underhanded – be it a company or an individual – the word gets around, especially when they do it over and over. Liars are always caught because it's hard for them to remember all the lies (honest people never have that problem, obviously). And egotistic boasters, well – the louder they beat their own drum, the more distasteful they become. People that give only so they can be recognized for it are sadly too self-absorbed to know that charity should go unstated. The more you talk about it, the less charitable the act becomes. You bought a house for your girlfriend? Please, tell us about it yet again. We can't get enough.

The collecting world is a microcosm of the real world, filled with every type of person imaginable – most good, others not so much. The tough thing is that – whether on-line or in the real world – it can take time to discover the true nature of people. You don't really know who your friends are until something is at stake. There will be those that have your back, and those that will turn their backs on you. The former are invaluable, the later aren't worth knowing.

This is a hobby, and as such it's supposed to be FUN. But that doesn't mean when people act badly it should be ignored – that only emboldens them to keep doing what they're doing. Bad behavior should be pointed out and slapped down whenever possible. And if you don't think lying, rampant egotism and bullying represent bad behavior, then you might want to look at your own character.

I've created a forum for screen-used collectors – The Star Trek Prop Room – that's free of those qualities, as any decent place should be. The members are passionate about collecting, while being honest, decent people. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Amazingly, there's been some people who recently approached me about membership who have been very vocal supporters of those that lie and bully. They helped create the monster for their own personal gain, and now want to escape it by coming to me, the man for whom they expressed nothing but disdain while hiding behind the walls of a private forum/fiefdom. But out in the light of day, they are too small, too petty – they are not welcome. They need to stay with the dictator they helped create. If you've sold your soul to the devil for toys or access or to prop up your own frail ego, you need not come knocking.

I don't put myself up as some paragon of virtue. I have the same (or more) personal foibles to which all of us are susceptible. But there's a difference between being imperfectly human, and being conniving, deceitful and self-centered. And I'm not talking about honest differences of opinions, by the way.

So am I hater?You bet.

And I'm good with that.

LLAP,

Don

Friday, November 22, 2013

PREMIERE PROPS KLINGON TRICORDER: UNFORTUNATELY JUST A REPLICA

Premiere's photo of their so-called prop
The saga of Premiere Props' seeming inability to get things right continues. They are offering a Star Trek Klingon Tricorder which they claim was "used in numerous episodes of TNG and DS9", according to its description. 

Except it wasn't. The piece is a replica created by Rich Coyle, a propmaker who worked on various productions, including Star Trek V and VI, during which he made tricorders like these for production. Those pieces were never used, but he used his experience with them to create a series of replica versions. He didn't sell them as fakes – they were acknowledged copies. 

But once replicas get out into the collector pool, they take on a life of their own. When going from owner to owner, sometimes a piece's origin gets exaggerated – or flat out lied about – and we get replicas being passed off as real, production-made pieces.

But Premiere Props has been touting its new authenticity initiative wherein (supposedly) each piece is subjected to the rigors of a review by what they call "A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props in the movie & TV memorabilia business". This is the body that has "authenticated" this replica as the real deal. Which means that, as collectors, we should give no credence to any of Premiere's claims of doing true authentication. 

I've owned a Klingon Tricorder replica for many years, so I knew something was up as soon as I saw Premiere's offering. Since the two matched, it meant one of two things: either theirs was a replica, or mine was real! While it was an exciting prospect, I originally acquired my piece from Star Trek propmaker Ed Miarecki, a name well-known to Trek prop collectors. Though he didn't make the piece, Ed would have certainly known the difference between a production piece and a replica. When I recently contacted him about it, he told me that he was under the impression that it was originally made by Rich Coyle, but wasn't sure of that. So I did some additional digging and confirmed that was, indeed, the case. Here's what to look for:

Klingon Symbols on front, right panel. They aren't actual Klingon symbols, just approximations. Their design, size and placement are unique to Coyle pieces. It's one of the easy-to-see "tells".


Klingon Symbols on the back. Same as above.


Here's side-by-side shots of Premiere's with mine. Don't let the variations in paint fool you – that can change from piece to piece. It's the construction details that matter. Mine lights up so the screen is white. The Premiere version does not.


Note that the Premiere version seems to be different at the top on either side of the center piece. But in actuality, it's just missing the caps that go there. You can clearly see the holes where the screws are missing.

Tricorder from Profiles auction

 
Inside the piece, I would hazard a guess that it is etched with a numeral, which Coyle put in to the ones he painted (though I'm not sure he painted this one so it might not be present). 

I only know of one generally-accepted version of a screen-used Klingon Tricorder. It sold last year at Profiles for a tidy sum (right). As you can see by the photo, it has none of the Klingon inscriptions that appear on mine and the Premiere piece. The back is also void of those symbols. It's also heavily sprayed with brown paint, a style favored by the DS9 propmakers.

So here's the deal. If Premiere can offer some actual proof that their version was used in a production, I'm all for it. After all, that would mean that mine might be production-used as well. It would be incredibly self-serving for me to promote that idea (and I can think of a couple of collectors who would do just that!), but the facts simply don't support it. And by the way, by "proof", I mean showing this EXACT piece in an actor's hand, not some anonymous piece in a blurry screen shot.

Premiere offers this screen shot as proof of... something.
This is one of those pieces that's tough to authenticate because there's simply no good screen images available, nor are there any shots of these in PR shots or anything like that. So, to authenticate one of these, it's all about details (do they match the known screen-used versions) and provenance (how did it get from the studio to its present owner). Premiere offers NO specifics about either aspect. Instead they show a dark, low-resolution shot that shows one of these pieces in an actor's hand, as if that proves something. It doesn't.

Premiere's much vaunted panel of experts and MPDNA program have definitely let them – and us – down in this case. It makes you wonder just who is on that panel, or whether or not they even exist. The best that can be said about them if they DO exist is that they are apparently incompetent.

So far as I can tell, it's all about lip-service, not true, knowledgeable evaluation. 

LLAP

Don

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CAVEAT EMPTOR: PREMIERE PROPS' NEW INITIATIVE IS ALL HAT, NO CATTLE

ADDENDUM: The Klingon Tricorder mentioned below is now known to be a REPLICA piece made by Rich Coyle and not a screen-used piece as the auction states. Premiere Props has been notified by me of this fact.

Premiere Props, an auction company that specializes in entertainment memorabilia auctions, has an auction coming up this weekend. Unfortunately, Premiere has had many problems in the past with the basic authenticity of some of the items they offered. Back in June, 2013, for instance, Premiere offered a number of Star Trek props including several that were identified as authentic original series Star Trek props from the 1960's.

An auction that featured a SINGLE original series prop would have been amazing to collectors like me. But that auction had an amazing six pieces including a Phaser 1, Phaser 2, Tricorder, Communicator, Tribble and Stylus. If real, the mix would have brought well in excess of $100,000! Perhaps a quarter million!

Except they weren't real. Far from it. They were obvious fakes to those in the know and were subsequently pulled from the auction or sold as (and I'm not kidding) "original fakes".

But soon after that fiasco, Premiere announced an initiative that sounded like it would address these problems in the future. They were going to start using an independent board of experts to authenticate materials before going to auction, thus ensuring that bidders would get what they wanted – real, authentic pieces.

On their YouTube video (found HERE), Premiere's rep stated, "It all comes down to authentication. People want to make sure that the prop that they are buying is real. We have a team of experts that have actually gone through, checked the provenance, researched it, screen-matched it and we have authenticated and made sure that that is the prop" (sic). He added, "Again with these items, sometime if could take, you know, an hour to authenticate them, sometimes it takes a matter of days, and sometimes, you know, for the higher end items it could take weeks of matching these items." He also spent a great deal of time describing something called "MovieProps DNA", which is nothing more than a fancy Certificate of Authenticity.

Sounds great, right? So who is this "team of experts", exactly? Premiere doesn't say. On their website's "Authenticity" section there's no mention of them nor any mention of the vaunted "MovieProps DNA" process. 

The only place you can find anything about authentication is in the listing for the various items. Here's an example from their current "Hollywood Auction Extravaganza XII":
________________________________

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Klingon Tricorder

Static Stunt Klingon Tricorder of cast-resin with paint details as used in numerous episodes of TNG and DS9. Approx. 8" x 4 1/2" with minor corner chipping from production use. This item has been authenticated and marked with new technology by MovieProps DNA to prevent against fraud and counterfeiting. A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props in the movie & TV memorabilia business has authenticated this item. This item now includes three levels of security: 1) DNA laced invisible ink – a 9-digit code laced with DNA ink is placed on an appropriate place of the prop/costume and can be only viewed using a high-frequency UV light. The chances of replicating the specific DNA sequence which is unique to MPDNA is 1 in 33 trillion. This DNA sequence is so secure it is admissible in a court of law.?? 2) Archival Microchip Encrypted Tag - a patented,  acid-free,  1"x 3" tag with an encrypted microchip is placed onto the Certificate of Authenticity. The microchip contained within the tag contains all of the pertinent information about the prop or costume. The tag is tamper proof and the microchip is encrypted,  making it impossible to duplicate.? 3) The certificate also has the 9-digit DNA invisible ink mark which must match the 9-digit invisible ink mark on the prop. This will ensure that it is a genuine prop issued by Premiere Props and authenticated by MPDNA.
________________________________
 
I know – it's a mouthful, but it illustrates my issues with the PP authentication initiative.

First: Authentication
Actual authentication is addressed thusly: "A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props in the movie & TV memorabilia business has authenticated this item." Again, who are these experts? We get a detailed overview of the whiz-bang COA thingy, but nothing on the most important aspect about any piece: authentication.

Confused by the lack of any detail, I sent the following e-mail to Premiere:

"I'm a little confused about the text that reads 'A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props in the movie & TV memorabilia business has authenticated this item.' Can you please elucidate on these people, please? Who are they and what's their expertise? Thank you."

Here's their reply:

"Hello,  Premiere Props has also authenticated this item but we have partnered, with a company called MovieProps DNA who have put their stamp on it to, authenticate it. You can visit their website to learn more about the company, and the experts www.moviepropsdna.com"


Great. So their answer to my very specific question was "go to this website". So I did. At the MPDNA website, I found a page labeled "Experts". Hot damn! Surely this would give me what I wanted. Alas, no. The "Experts" page lists one, single expert. Here's the write-up, in part:

"Daniel Strebin (Lead Expert) - has been a full-time collector,  restorer,  dealer,  archivist,  and professional appraiser of vintage original film posters, lobby cards, and stills for over 35 years,  under the business names Posterman and Folio Gallery. He has personally owned,  dealt,  or otherwise handled several hundred thousand examples of vintage film ephemera,  with an aggregate value of tens of millions of dollars,  and it is quite rare for him to confront a film artifact unfamiliar from his experience."

So, apparently, this one person – Daniel Strebin – represents the entirety of Premiere's authentication process, since it is the only person Premiere actually supplied to me. The line about "Premiere Props has also authenticated this item" means nothing. I asked for specifics, not fluff. And, unfortunately, Daniel Strebin doesn't seem to have any specific knowledge of the world of Star Trek, so his name lends no credence to the process.

Second: Screen-matching
The PP video mentioned "screen-matching", the process by which a specific piece is found in use in a film or TV show. And let's be clear – screen-matching means finding that exact piece on screen – not one that simply resembles it, making screen-matching a very difficult proposition. Most props and costumes simply cannot be screen-matched. But according to their video, every piece has been screen-matched. This would be an incredible thing. And apparently, their idea of screen-matching the Klingon tricorder mentioned above is this:


 photo KlingonTric2_zpse593f309.jpg

The photos above are from the actual PP auction listing. I have not changed or resized them in any way. Apparently, the screen shot at the right is supposed to show the tricorder that they are selling, shown on the left. Strangely enough, the screen shot actually proves that they are NOT the same, despite the poor quality of the shot. The one they are selling has no corresponding white screen as shown in the screen shot. Also, the item for sale is of a style that  exactly matches a replica version that I bought from a Star Trek prop maker several years ago. What it does not match is other known examples of screen-used pieces. I have sent an e-mail to the replica maker asking for his insight.

Third: An over-emphasis on MovieProps DNA – it misses the point
When you look at the Tricorder's description, something becomes very obvious: ten percent of the text deals with the actual item's information, while the rest deals with the MPDNA stuff and a sentence dedicated to telling us about the mysterious authentication panel. Ninety percent deals with their DNA version of a certificate of authenticity while yielding NOTHING about the actual authentication itself!  What good is all this DNA crap if we can't be sure the piece is real to begin with? They've given no specific, verifiable information regarding authenticity at all. 

So, to bottom-line the situation, Premiere's solution to their past authentication errors is mentioning  "A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props" while giving zero proof that such a panel exists. And with Star Trek stuff, each sub-section of the franchise – TOS, TNG, DS9 – has their own intricacies. There's only a handful of people out there that could qualify as "expert", and if PP has those people, they should shout it from the rooftops.

So I'm calling "bull" on this whole scheme. When PP announced their panel of experts, I think collectors everywhere saw it as a positive sign. But it's all smoke and mirrors, with nothing of any substantive value. So the company that offered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fake Star Trek items has actually done absolutely nothing to regain the hobby's trust. Zippo.

If you're interested in anything Premiere has to offer, remember the headline: caveat emptor.

Beware, indeed!

LLAP

Don

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"THE DOUBLE-GUSSET POSTULATE" or "GILDING THE LILY WITH BULL"

In Summer of 2012, Profiles in History offered what they described as "William Shatner 'Capt. Kirk' Tunic from Star Trek: The Original Series". Among their claims was "match on overall tunic size to Shatner including double gussets on tunic sides (unique feature to Shatner tunics)".

The three seams can be clearly seen here on Kirk
Interestingly enough, a self-described Star Trek "authority" and the self-appointed king of Trek Collecting each stated on their blogs that "This tunic features a double gusset design; or the presence of three seam lines running from the armpit area down the torso on each side of the costume - a design characteristic that is considered by knowledgeable Star Trek experts to be only present on those TOS command tunics specifically tailored for wear by William Shatner. The double gussets on this tunic, as well as two photos in which this unique construction detail is visible on William Shatner in costume..." Sounds a lot like the auction info, right?

At the time I questioned this element's characterization as being exclusive to Shatner pieces. How, exactly was this established as a fact? How did these "knowledgeable Star Trek experts" know this to be true? And what proof was offered as to the veracity of this so-called "fact"? None, other than showing a couple of screen caps with Shatner wearing a shirt that displayed this gusset detail. I showed a screen cap of an identical shirt being worn by stuntman Paul Baxley. I was then called all sorts of nasty things by the aforementioned bloggers for having the gall to question their research. Almost like they had some sort of personal interest in the piece. Hmmm.

Since last summer, I have regularly been looking at various episodes of TOS for a variety of research reasons – phaser details, comms, sets, props, etc. And while doing this research, I started to notice something that I wasn't even looking for. I discovered that the "double gusset" detail that was so highly touted was not only NOT exclusive but was wide-spread. I saw it everywhere once I sarted looking for it! It is seen in the earliest episodes all the way through to the end of the series.

As is common in TV production, Shatner's shirts were probably recycled for use by other actors – stuntmen, background extras, guest actors, etc. But, in my opinion, that doesn't address the number of times the detail is clearly seen on so many gold uniform shirts, including regulars Takei and Koenig who would have undoubtedly had their own shirts created exclusively for them. Shirts that clearly show the telltale three seams.

Beyond the gold shirts, the three seams can clearly be seen on Nimoy's blue shirt, Scotty's red shirt and on tons of extra's pieces of all colors. The three seams is in no way shape or form a little-used, "Shatner-exclusive" detail. In short, it's EVERYWHERE! I have cited the episodes from which the images were pulled so anyone can duplicate my findings. And I show only a small fraction of appearances.



If people want to make up stuff for whatever reason, I couldn't care less, providing they don't put it out into the world to mislead. But when these so-called "knowledgeable Star Trek experts" declare something to be fact without doing even the most basic of research to either prove or disprove the theory, they show their true colors – it's all about self-interest and they'll ignore things that don't support their POV. This is a continuing theme with some people.

Why is it so hard for so many people to be circumspect in these types of cases? If you think something is so, state your case as to why you feel that way, offer proof (in this case show the detail is EXCLUSIVE only to Shatner uniforms), and let people make up their own minds. Conveniently, the proponents of the "gusset postulate" showed only shots of Shatner wearing the detail while totally ignoring the fact that the detail IS IN NO WAY EXCLUSIVE TO SHATNER PIECES. This was either shoddy research or an attempt to deliberately mislead, I have no idea which. I still feel the shirt was a real Kirk shirt, but this detail should have never been used to support that idea. It's flat-out wrong.

So the next time some self-appointed expert wants to blow smoke, remember caveat emptor and trust no one. Not even me. Do your own thinking, do your own research, and reach your own conclusions.

LLAP

Don

Friday, November 15, 2013

THERE'S A NEW AUCTION HOUSE IN TOWN – THANKFULLY!

Blacksparrow Auctions is having their biggest name auction to date: The Hunger Games Costume Auction on November 16. What the heck is Blacksparrow Auctions? They are the newest auction house in the industry, having begun earlier this year. They have so far concentrated on the entertainment industry for the most part, with auctions like "The Monsterpalooza Charity Auction"and "The Hollywood Collection: Photographs and Autographs".

But with "The Hunger Games", Blacksparrow is raising its bar. The popular book and movie series is a huge name for a newcomer to have, and it looks like they've made quite an effort to play with the big boys. The auction's catalog can only be called beautiful, with top-notch, large images of every piece dominating each page. It's deceptively simple-looking.

So why am I writing about this auction that has nothing to do with Star Trek? Because the president of Blacksparrow is a gentleman named Fong Sam, a man well-known in collecting circles. Before starting Blacksparrow, Fong Sam worked at Profiles In History, the well-known auction juggernaut which is the subject of the SyFy show "Hollywood Treasure". Fong was seen in several episodes. And while I'm no real fan of Profiles (see some of my earlier writings for details) I am a fan of Fong Sam. While at Profiles he was the ONE AND ONLY person that I ever dealt with who was not only competent, but friendly and incredibly helpful. He returned my calls, he found my missing item (it had been "lost" for some 5 weeks!) and shipped it to me overnight for free. Now THAT is service. No one else at Profiles was remotely helpful, despite  numerous calls and e-mails. Only Fong came through for me.

In an industry rife with incompetence, dishonesty and down-right stupidity (Premiere Auctions, anyone?) I think there's definitely room for a new player like Blacksparrow. With Fong Sam's reputation as a service-oriented professional, I'll certainly give him the benefit of the doubt in these early days. If you're a "Hunger Games" fan, I doubt that you'll be disappointed. If Blacksparrow ever does a Star Trek auction, I'll definitely be there!

You'll find auction info a a flip-through catalog here:
The Hunger Games Costume Auction

And may the odds be ever in your favor!

LLAP,

Don

Friday, November 8, 2013

STARFLEET GUIDE TO STYLE: SPOCK'S SICKBAY JAMMIES FROM TMP

Who's a huge Spock fan? THIS guy. Spock is at the center of my Star Trek fascination, so naturally, he's at the center of my collection as well. As with any main character, the emphasis of my Spock-crush is with his uniforms – those iconic pieces that everybody recognizes. But those are by no means the only thing he ever wore on screen.

Which brings me to his "jammies", an outfit that Spock wears while a patient in Sickbay in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In a film literally stuffed with tons of new Starfleet costumes from designer Robert Fletcher, it came as no surprise that there would be specific pieces designed for Sickbay. These might just qualify as the strangest Spock costume (though there's his undies from Star Trek IV – more on that in a later story). The costume apparently represents the 23rd century equivalent to hospital gowns as Spock is not the only one wearing it – patients in other beds are wearing the same garb but with different color interiors.But here's the truly odd thing – Spock's also doubles for his thruster suit undergarments. It's impossible to know for sure since all we see is Spock's head through the helmet's visor. But as he loses consciousness, we can clearly see that he's got on something that is the same orange that we see in the sickbay scenes. Suddenly the tube details take on new meaning – are they are meant to regulate body temps in the Thruster Suit? It's only logical.

The costume consists of two pieces: a sleeveless top and matching pants. For some reason, the top has a hood. Does it get especially cold in Sickbay? I hope not as that would be especially odd given that the top is sleeveless, though we can see another patient with the hood up. Whatever the reason for it, the hood is integral to the piece, so it's there for good.

The costume is made with an all white cotton/polyester blend with vertical ribbed detail on the top. It features a striking orange interior. Is it that color to match his thruster suit? I think so, though just to complicate things, another patient can be seen who is apparently wearing an orange version identical to Spock's. So with that in mind, color's significance is not instantly understood in the con text of sickbay. I think it was simply using costume pieces to pull double duty.

After mind-melding with the alien machine V'Ger, Spock recovers in sickbay. Nimoy wears this during the pivotal emotional scene that changes the fate of the Enterprise and her crew.


Before the sickbay scene, we see Spock in an orange Thruster Suit outside Enterprise. He's wearing a garment under the suit that appears to be the same thing he's wearing in sickbay.

The look of the Thruster Suit helmet shot is very similar to the look of Mercury astronaut suits (NASA photo). Coincidence?
Other patients can be seen wearing similar costumes. One even seems to have an orange-lined hood like Spock's!
Additional versions were made for the film. Are they Thruster Suit undergarments or Sickbay togs? Apparently they're both!
Both top and pants feature clear (now yellowed) plastic tubing as a type of piping that is perhaps meant to regulate temperature or monitor the body's status. These tubes are sewn on and accented with small metallic clamp-type details. The intention of all these details is, of course, to present some sort of high-tech hospital gear, the functions of which are known only to the doctors and nurses of Sickbay. As the pièce de résistance, the costume features a sewn-in Western Costume tag that reads "LENARD NIMOY" (sic).

As Spock costumes, this isn't all that exciting, especially when compared to his uniforms and Vulcan robes. But to me, ANY Spock is a good Spock, and this piece was worn in THE pivotal scene in the first film so it's definitely got some coolness to it. I'm very happy to have it in my collection.

LLAP,

Don

Monday, November 4, 2013

CLAPPER OF THE WEEK: "THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE"

This week's clapper comes from a true classic, "The Doomsday Machine". It's one of the few episodes that features another Federation Starship other than Enterpise, in this case the USS Constellation. It featured an excellent performance by guest star William Windom, one of TV's great character actors. The clapper shot shows Windom as Commodore Decker sitting in the center seat of the Enterprise bridge (filling in for the absent Captain Kirk) in one the tensest moments of the episode.Note Decker's chest patch is that of the Constellation. Apparently, only the Enterprise got a cool patch design!

Clapper info: June 21, 1967 (Season 2) / Scene 88A, take 1