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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Profiles in History Auction Part 3

OK, this installment of my review of the Profiles in History auction we discuss 3 Star Trek props that Brett Jones (of Federation Surplus) and I have some issues with. Now, this doesn't mean we think these are fake. It means we have questions that call the items authenticity into question for us. Everyone needs to decide for themselves if the provenance is adequate. And again, thanks to Michael Moore from HMS who did a bang-up job explaining how he authenticated many of these props.

One thing to remember in this auction, is that Michael, was not authenticating that anything was screen used. Michael was basically authenticating that the prop was production made to the best of his knowledge. He knows the tells to look for in these props. He and others, leave little clues, that they keep secret, to allow them to know in the future if a piece is authentic or not. When authenticating, Mike is looking to see if the prop came from the original molds, has the tells he knows about, was painted consistently with his experience, looks like the pieces his company produced, etc.

Now we know that this consignor used to work at Propr Effects. The consignor could easily have made extra casts out of the original molds, set them aside, and painted them later (the reason for the weathering). That happens in the industry. Mike would wind up authenticating them, because they were from the original molds and looked right. All the tells would be there.

Now this is all speculation. You have to make you own determination as to what you trust and if the provenance of a piece satisfies you. What I write here is the thought process of Brett Jones of Federation Surplus and myself. This in no way minimizes my high opinion of Michael Moore and his authenticating expertise. His opinion is the most important part of my overall determination.

When Brett and I previewed the props at the Profiles in History offices, there was one glaring problem we had with half a dozen of the pieces. They had been washed down with something the purpose of which was to make the prop look old and dull the paint. Now, Michael Moore of HMS Studios says this sometimes happened on set when a prop needed to look less shiney or more used. The problem Brett had with this explanation is that he has never seen a prop weathered this way and he has handled hundreds of Star Trek props. So assuming Michael is correct (and there is no reason not to, Mike knows his stuff) the problem is that this consignor had half a dozen pieces that looked this way, and that is not very likely. All of a sudden a collection shows up with half a dozen pieces so weathered, when pieces that look like that are rarely seen?

Maybe these pieces were recently cast and the weathering was applied so they all didn’t look brand new. The fact that so many pieces are weathered is a real problem in Brett’s and my opinion. Remember: you have to make up your own mind based on ALL the available information. What I write here is one piece of that.

OK, so there are 3 pieces that are suspect. That doesn't mean they are fake, it just means we have issues with them. It should be noted that two of these props Michael Moore didn't authenticate.


Lot 1219 Starfleet Phaser Rifles from First Contact

Well, first of all, according to Michael Moore, he did not authenticate this prop (Nor did he authenticate the DS9 Phaser Rifle). Now, in the props favor are that it has a retractable strap and a working scope. Both those things are tough to do.

However, there are a number of things that bothered Brett and I about this piece. Most notably the weathering we saw on this piece. The weathering on this gun had drip marks running from the top of the gun to the bottom. Michael says this makes sense, for if it was done on set, as was often done, it was given to a tech on the set, who would generally use a brush to paint things as aerosols were forbidden if there was a fire marshal present (because of flammability). Again, our problem is that we haven’t seen this before in any Phaser rifles and there are so many props so weathered in this auction.

The rifle also had a trigger that we have never seen before. According to Mike Moore, that trigger was only used on a couple of rifles (Mike stated that three different triggers were used when they did use triggers, which was the exception rather than the rule) and it is the same trigger on the Alien Phaser (Lot 1230). So a trigger that was the rarely used, and in this case was very sloppily applied, happens to be on two props in this guy’s collection.

The scope also has a plastic graphic that is NOT like any other we have seen. It is not one we have seen on any of the rifles from IAW or that Brett has worked on. That doesn’t mean it is fake, just another thing that is different. It also has a small triangle marking the front of the trigger guard that we haven’t seen before. Again, that is not proof in and of itself, but it is something to note.

So, overall I am not thrilled with this rifle. I need one of these for my collection, and I wouldn’t bid on this. Plus the starting bid is way too high. Phaser rifles like this have been going on the $1,500-2,300 range. This one starts at $ 3,000 when you figure in the Buyer's Premium. Way too high.

Lot 1234 Starfleet Phaser Rifles with illuminating scope

Again, according to Michael Moore, he did not authenticate this prop. We discussed it at length. These rifles were first made by and then Propr Effects for TNG and then HMS for DS9. So there are bound to be variations.

Brett and I have a bunch of issues with this prop, not the least of which is that it was clearly NOT used in “Change of Heart”. In that episode the Phaser rifles that Worf and Jadzia used had attached straps throughout the episode. That the consignor (who according to Profiles wrote the description) incorrectly stated this rifle was from that particular episode, is the first red flag.

In addition, none of the colors match what we have seen in the past. The rifle is way too bright. Rather than the typical Plasticoat 7173 with 7179 highlights, this rifle is a bright silver with black highlights in the rear and no highlights on the front section. Furthermore, the button pattern on the top looks wrong.

Now, in its favor, it has as rubber scope up front, which is unusual. Knock offs are rarely made in rubber. Usually they are resin. Mike Moore also pointed out the melted plastic reflective bulb housing, which he jokingly said is typical in their props because the guy who handles the lighting always uses cheap reflectors.

Now I need one of these for my collection, but I simply am not interested in this one. Too many questions, and way too high a starting price. $ 3,600 with buyer's premium is way too high.

Lot 1227 Jem’Hadar Pistol from DS9

OK, this one is a mess. When I first saw the catalog, this was the highest item on my list. Then we examined it at the Preview and it looked awful. Now, I will say that Michael Moore authenticated this piece. I went over our concerns with Michael and he explained a bunch of them. However, it is the piece I most disagreed with Michael on. Now remember, I am no expert, and while Brett knows more about these props than anyone I had met before Michael, Mike is the acknowledged expert here. So you have to make your own decisions when reading my reviews.

OK, so the first thing we noticed was the extremely crappy paint job. It was painted flat black, which is really unusual for these props, though Michael said they were made by both Propr Effects and HMS. (Mike took the master with him from Propr, so they should be the same). If you look on the HMS web site, which is a remarkable resource, you will see some good Jem’Hadar pistols.

Besides the flat black paint, this pistol was weathered the way the First Contact Rifle and some other items were. Again, a lot of items from this one collector being weathered. Also, the finish was really crappy. This is certainly not an HMS piece, for as Mike said, they have pretty high standards for what they deliver to Star Trek, which Mike said, has higher standards than any other show in the first place.

Now, most bothersome, was the concave surfaces on the handle and the body. This is very unusual for a resin piece. Not so rare for a rubber piece, where it will happen from shrinkage. In this case, it almost looks like someone recast a rubber piece that had spooned out and so the master they made had the same problem. Just doesn’t make much sense. Now Mike did say that molds will often absorb some of the polyurethane from the resin and that over time this will cause the mold to spoon like this. Is that the case here? Hard to say.


Well, there you go. I think I have tried to give you a balanced view of these pieces. When bidding on these items, three other things you should keep in mind:

1) Bad descriptions – The TR-116, the Starfleet DS9 Phaser Rifle, the Trill Phaser….all wrong. If you want the correct facts, check out the thread on the Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Forum where Jorg shows the correct descriptions and actual screencaps of each piece.

2) High opening bids – With the advent of the IAW auctions, we now know what the actual prices on many of these items should be. Do your own research by using Bp’s Star Trek Auction Archive. My feeling is that the Phaser Rifles and Jem’Hadar pistol are overpriced considering potential issues, and the Phaser rifles would be even if they were 100% authenticated.

3) Provenance – This is the single most important factor when collecting props and costumes. Where did the items come from? What is the story of how they were acquired? What was the chain of ownership?

Thanks a ton to Michael Moore for spending 3 hours on the phone with me. He really went above and beyond for the hobby!

Feel free to ask me questions on the forum!


Alec

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