For Star Trek collectors, this auction had a few items of interest including original series Spock and McCoy tunics from 1967 as well as one of the last pieces ever worn by Spock on-screen – a winter parka from the 2009 Star Trek film. And as great as those 48-year-old pieces were, it's the parka that is at the center of my story.
Here's the piece in question:
|Photo: Profiles in History|
1621. Leonard Nimoy “Spock” parka and gloves from Star Trek. (Paramount, 2009) Original knee-length futuristic parka. Constructed of gray leather with matching fleece lining. Faux fur lines the unique fly-trap cuffs and quartered collar, which is reinforced by rigid substructure allowing the wearer to fold the collar segments up to form a helmet shaped hood using unique magnetic catches. Featuring Velcro front closure and integral aluminum belt hooks at the hip of the garment. Retaining internal bias label, with typewritten, “Costume design by Michael Kaplan” with handwritten, “Stunt”. Accompanied by Spock’s unique gray leather gloves with faux snakeskin accents. Worn by Leonard Nimoy as “Spock” during the majority of his screen time in the film when marooned on Delta Vega. Originally donated by Director J. J. Abrams and family to benefit the Children’s Defense Fund and Student Veterans of America. (estimate) $15,000 - $20,000
Sounds cool, right? A chance to own one of the last pieces of wardrobe ever worn by the late Leonard Nimoy in his legendary role as Spock. It's any Spock collector's dream piece. And, sure enough, one lucky Star Trek won the piece with a bid of $16,000 which actually means they paid about $19,000 because of a "buyer's premium" that gets added to every win. So the winner paid $19,000 for a Leonard Nimoy Spock piece!
Or did they? Because there's something very wrong with the description. It says:
"Worn by Leonard Nimoy as “Spock” during the majority of his screen time in the film when marooned on Delta Vega." And, of course, the item's actual title states:
"Leonard Nimoy “Spock” parka and gloves from Star Trek"
So this piece was was specifically used by Nimoy in the movie, right? But hold on because the listing also says this:
"Retaining internal bias label, with typewritten, “Costume design by Michael Kaplan” with handwritten, “Stunt” "
This is nothing new to collectors of movie wardrobe, of course. Internal labels can be found regularly in many pieces and are used to keep track of the multiple, identical versions of a given costume piece. This parka, for instance, probably had at least three copies – two for use by Mr. Nimoy and at least one for use by a stuntman. Hence the handwritten "Stunt" on the label which designates this parka for use by a stunt double. But a stunt double is definitely NOT Leonard Nimoy.
Now, this gets a little tricky so bear with me.
So the label says "Stunt", but the description says "Leonard Nimoy" and these would normally be two contradictory claims. A "Stunt" wouldn't be worn by the star, but a star's coat might become a stunt version after the star is done. But the label doesn't say "Leonard Nimoy" as would a piece of wardrobe made for Nimoy that would later be used for stunt work. It ONLY says "Stunt". Which – based on how such things are done with wardrobe – probably means that this piece was assigned exclusively as a stunt piece and was never worn by Mr. Nimoy. If it was for Nimoy's use it would say "Nimoy" or nothing at all. But it would NOT say "stunt"!
But if there's even a chance it was worn by Nimoy, how would you prove it? By doing what is called "screen-matching" – finding small unique details – a flaw, a tear, a stain, a pattern – something that is unlikely to be (or impossible to be) replicated on another copy– and matching those details to versions actually seen on screen. I have to tell you that, while screen-matching is possible, it's really REALLY difficult to do because usually there's just not enough detail captured on film to allow for it. You need super-sharp, high resolution images to see the kinds of details needed and that's usually just not possible. And even when it is possible, there's no match because there are always multiple versions of a piece and it's just dumb luck when yours is the one on-screen.
But, as luck would have it, it just might be possible to do it with a Spock parka because it has several things going for it:
1. It has a grain pattern which, like a fingerprint, would be unique to each copy
2. It's a medium color which means details stand out better than on light or dark colors
3. Nimoy has several close-ups while wearing a parka, and close-ups are the only thing that work
So with all that going for it, it might be possible to take the catalog image (which is nice and sharp) and screen captures from the film (which are also pretty sharp) and compare them. And that's what I assumed the seller of the coat had done. They had a stunt piece that they thought might be a Nimoy piece so they researched it and – bam! – they found a match!
Except that they didn't. How do I know? Because I did a comparison myself in Photoshop using every close-up in the film and came up with nothing. In every case, each coat Nimoy wears in the film itself looks different from the version sold. I can find a number of details on the auction piece that should translate to at least one of the screen uses, but I found NO MATCHES at all.
Let me put in a sidebar here regarding my own experience with screen-prop/costume comparison: I've done a lot of it over the years. I'm a professional graphic designer so I know all the tricks there are to getting detail out of an image and how to find things that can't normally be seen. But keep in mind that the vast number of times one tries to screen-match something, the screen-match tells us that the items DON'T match far more often than they DO match. As I said earlier, it's really hard and really unlikely. (For more about screen-matching go HERE).
In this case, without a solid, proof-positive screen match of several specific, totally unique details, I can't see how anyone could, in good conscience, call this a piece that was definitely worn by Leonard Nimoy.
Here are my conclusions:
1. 99% of the time when something is labeled a stunt, it's just that: a stunt
2. To prove star use, some specific, provable link has to be made to said star – a scene from the film or a PR photo of the star with the piece in question are really the only ways to establish such proof.
3. No proof was offered by the seller or by Profiles and I, myself, cannot find anything remotely worthy of being called a screen-match. To the contrary, the evidence points to specific non-matches.
It should be noted that the seller, an experienced Star Trek collector, is seasoned enough to know that a claim of use by Nimoy without specific proof of that claim, was questionable at best. And yet, he put the item up for sale at Profiles anyway. Did Profiles take it upon themselves to call the piece a Nimoy without the seller's knowledge or consent? If so, the seller – known to his fellow collectors – had weeks between the release of the Profiles catalog and the actual auction to clear things up. But he said nothing publicly so he tacitly approved of their description through his silence.
And as a result, someone is now the proud owner of the most expensive Spock stunt piece of wardrobe ever sold on the open market. $19,000!! Easily triple (or maybe quadruple) what a stunt-only piece would have fetched!
Well done, Mr. Consignor.
Well done, Profiles in History.
Caveat emptor, indeed.
NOTE: Please see my next article for some additional information requested by the consignor of the piece in question.
If anyone can offer real proof that this piece is indeed a true Nimoy piece, by all means, please contact me. All I'm ever after are the facts and if I've missed something, I want to know. But it needs to be incontrovertible proof, please!