Tuesday, December 25, 2018


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

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

And then there's those engines:

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



Sunday, December 9, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spock, pure and simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show me. Show us all.



Thursday, December 6, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The forward emitter assembly

The forward top plate and window detail

The handle and trigger details

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

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

The ten-turn (rear knob thingy)

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

The details and nature of all metal parts

And on and on...

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

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

This is not one of those times.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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