The definitive source for information on collecting screen-used Star Trek props and costumes

Star Trek The Internet's premier source for information on collecting Star Trek props and costumes, as well as coverage of all major Star Trek auctions from the famous 2006 Christie's Star Trek auction, through the It's A Wrap Star Trek auctions on eBay and the Propworx Star Trek auctions. Star Trek Props is the best source for information of collecting original, screen-used props & costumes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Collecting Original Star Trek Props - Article

My second article for was just published and I reprint it here. Most of this I have covered before, but it was meant as a primer for fans. I hope you enjoy it!

By Alec Peters
October 22, 2010
The world of collecting Star Trek props and costumes was a small and expensive one prior to the big Christie’s Star Trek auction in October, 2006. That auction, sanctioned by Paramount and held in New York City at the world famous Christie’s Auction House, opened up the shadowy world of collecting screen-used props and costumes to Star Trek fans worldwide.
I say “shadowy” because before the Christie’s auction, much of the Star Trek props and costumes in circulation where not legally obtained from Paramount. Poor security, insider theft and lax handling had resulted in props and costumes leaking out from Paramount over the years. Outside of the Bob Justman, Matt Jeffries and Bill Theiss auctions, all of which saw those legends sell off their personal Star Trek collections, much of what had previously been sold at auction or directly from insiders was basically stolen property with no legitimate provenance.
So what is “provenance”? Well, let’s get to some key terms you need to know before dipping your toe in the water of collecting Star Trek props and costumes.
Provenance is the history of an item. It is the trail of ownership that traces its history back to the production. So, with the Christie’s auction, the provenance is Paramount Studios, who was the owner of all of the Star Trek assets. And any subsequent owner need only show that the item was sold at Christie’s to prove the item’s provenance.
Certificate of Authenticity is a document that traces the item’s provenance and shows where the item came from. A “COA” that merely states who you bought it from, even with the buyer’s guarantee it is authentic, isn’t worth anything. It must state how the item came from the production or trace the provenance.
So, now that you know about some basic terms that are important to understand what is authentic, let’s discuss how you describe a prop or costume.
There are two main classifications of original props and costumes:
Production Made
Almost all props fall into this category. This term refers to any original prop or costume that was specifically made for a production. The prop or costume may or may not have been seen on-screen. Sometimes, it is simply that there is no way to prove that it is. Most collectors are perfectly happy with this category of item (I certainly am, and I have a big collection!)
Screen Used
A prop or costume is identified as “Screen Used” if it either is noted that way from the prop or costume shop in the item’s tagging, or can be screen matched (see below). This is a very high level of verification that is needed, and 98% of all props and costumes can never meet this level. Sometimes we know an item is screen used because it is the only item made, and therefore we know it is the one on screen. Other times the item is tagged specifically as the “hero” item and we know that the prop master has identified it as the one used on screen. And sometimes we can screen match the item and that is verification.
There are also two qualifiers that give more information on the nature of the prop or costume:
Hero Prop
A “hero” prop is a prop that has been identified as being directly used in the show, usually for a specific scene or a specific episode. “Hero” props are generally of higher quality, durability and functionality. They often feature finer details, as such props may be meant for—or have been used in—close-ups. In Star Trek, typically a “Hero” prop was the light-up version with working parts. Often however, a “Hero” prop is merely the version that was actually filmed. There may be eight copies prepared for a scene, but only one was used, and thus this is the “hero.” For example, on Battlestar Galactica, “Hero” simply meant the one used on screen. At Propworx, items marked “Hero” have typically undergone verification, which includes referencing to behind-the-scenes materials (continuity books) and screen-matching the item, or finding the item specifically marked “hero” from the prop shop or costume department.
Stunt Version
A “stunt” version of a prop is typically a low-quality version of a “Hero” or detailed prop so that the “Hero” version is neither destroyed nor causes harm to the people involved with the stunt. Stunt versions of props are typically made of rubber. Stunt versions of costumes will be the same quality, though specifically marked “stunt.” They may be old versions of the costume, used by the main actor and then given for use by the stunt actor, or they may be new versions, specifically tailored for a stunt actor.
Now knowing this, the only other thing you really need to understand is:
Screen Matched
The process of matching a prop or costume to what is seen on-screen, ensuring that it is exactly the same item as seen on screen. This means looking for specific identifying marks such as specific bends in paper or pitting and scratching in a prop, or fabric patterns or markings in a costume. The process requires a DVD player (preferably Blu-ray) and patience as you need to look carefully for identifying marks that will positively identify the item in your possession as the one on screen.
Ok, so now that you know all the basics, where do you get the stuff?
Well, there were two main sources for Star Trek props and costumes. The first was the Christie’s Star Trek auction, where 1,000 lots of props, costumes and set pieces were sold. After this, Paramount sold everything that was left through a company called It’s A Wrap, which sold close to 15,000 items over two years on eBay and through direct sales. As mentioned previously, the Bob Justman, Matt Jeffries and Bill Theiss auctions all had many great Star Trek items. Propworx recently held a Star Trek auction that had items from Doug Drexler, Mike and Denise Okuda, and Rick Sternbach, all members of the Star Trek art department for many years.
So, with all these items out there, a robust secondary market exists, through both eBay and the Propworx Star Trek auction, which is now an annual event. You can find items from $100 to $10,000. Everything from original TOS costumes to phaser rifles. The key is to always ask about the provenance. If it isn’t from Christie’s (where there were no COA’s, but you should demand an invoice, which every purchaser got), It’s A Wrap or one of the other auctions I have mentioned, you need to be VERY careful. And the best way to know is to join the Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Forum, where over 1,000 collectors share information and help each other out. The Star Trek prop forum is, without doubt, the biggest and best prop forum on the Internet. Members are very friendly and get together each year at the Las Vegas Star Trek convention to share their hobby.
And of course, you may want to read my blog, Star Trek Props, which has loads of information from my time in the hobby, from the Christie’s auction to the present.
Next time, I’ll go into specifics on how to start identifying your interests and building a collection.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Replicas You SHOULD Own

Well, most of my collecting friends will tell you I don't collect replicas. But there are exceptions. The TOS Master Replicas versions are the best in the business. I own all four that they produced for Star Trek TOS; the Phaser, Communicator, Tricorder and Klingon Disruptor. They all are made of metal and plastic (the Phaser is really heavy.....just like you would expect a real Phaser to be) and incredibly detailed. There have simply never been anything close, and they even light up and make sound.

Plus, they are beautifully presented on impressive bases with clear plexi cases. So they display very well.

I remember having these on my mantle in Atlanta and after a dinner party for three couple I knew, we all were drinking in my TV room and the guys started taking the props down and playing with them, amazed at how detailed they were and how they were just like one might expect the real thing to be. Of course one of the wives said "Can you boys put down the toys and sit down!" We were having too much fun.

You can find these on eBay, search "Master Replicas" and "Star Trek". The Phaser will set you back about $ 1,000, being the most popular of the lot. There are also William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy autograph versions, but that just means you get a plate with their autograph. Not so impressive, save your money as they cost more.

The Communicator is in the $ 400-500 range. And the Tricorder is in the $ 500-600 range.

I highly recommend them as they really are the pinnacle of Star Trek collecting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to destroy a good costume

Well, Miami Sci Fi has never been a favorite of mine. Their prices are outrageous and they have tried to cause problems for me in the past when I brought their issues to light here on this blog. They are also banned from the Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Forum.

Well, now they have shown how little they know about screen used props & costumes by getting the Robert Picardo Emergency Command Hologram costume that was originally acquired from IAW signed by Bob Picardo in big black Sharpie! You can see their eBay listing here.

As most collectors know, this only destroys the value of the item. You NEVER get a real prop or costume signed. Get a replica signed, that is cool, but not the real thing.

So this costume, which sold for $ 2,469 from IAW, and which Miami Sci Fi wanted $ 5,000 for, they have now marked down to $ 2,999.99 and I doubt anyone will buy it at this price. I always liked this costume and episode and would have bought it for $ 3,000. I was the under bidder in the IAW auction originally! But signed as it is, I wouldn't be interested in it at any price.

Take this as a lesson prop collectors! NEVER get your items signed. An autograph only diminishes the value of a real prop or costume.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Overpriced Quark at Screen Used

First let me say I like the guys at Screen Used. They and Prop Store of London are the two big players in direct sale movie props. But when you take consignments from customers and set the price at whatever the consignor wants, you get people who set unrealistic prices and it makes the company look bad.

This is the problem with asking $ 7500 for a Quark costume that typically sells for $ 2,000 (the highest IAW ever got for a Quark is $ 2,126). It is just insane. You can see it here. Ultimately, the only person who would pay that is some poor Star Trek fan who doesn't know better. And then he will find out he got taken and it will sour him on the hobby.

There needs to be a point where a consignment prop store like Screen Used knows the value of a prop or costume and prices it accordingly. Frankly, if this consignor asked me to offer this costume at anything over $ 3,000, I would say no thanks. It just isn't worth it.

I just dealt with this with a Star Trek Prop Forum member who bought costumes from Miami Sci Fi at outrageous prices and is now trying to sell them. He now knows he overpaid but what can he do?

Now before anyone gives me the "Well he should have done his homework" line, let me tell you that always pisses me off. You hear that from long time prop collectors. No one wants to share any info. It is every man for himself. Exactly how do you do homework when you don't know anything about the hobby?

It is the duty of EVERYONE in this hobby to protect newbies, share information and look out for each other. That is what this blog has helped do, that is what everyone on the Star Trek Forum does for each other all the time (and why it is the best group of people in the prop hobby).

So, while I like the guys at Screen Used, I got to say this costume at this price is just ridiculous. And just so you have a point of reference, Captain's costumes go around $ 5,000.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Colin Warde update

So I am trying to get a bunch of blogs up this week. To start I want to let those of you who dealt with It's a Wrap that Colin Warde, the one guy at IAW who really went out of his way for us collectors, that he is doing well and living in Oklahoma. He now has a son, who is about 1 year old. I spoke with Colin the other day and he sounded very happy.

There is actually a growing film business in Oklahoma (seems every state wants a a bite of that apple!) and Colin is keeping busy doing a lot of different things for different publications.

If you are on Facebook, you can say hi to Colin at his page. We all owe Colin a debt of thanks, as Colin kept many of us from going crazy dealing with the total lack of communication from anyone else. Colin would spend an hour on the phone with you talking about Star Trek, and he was always available to help solve a problem.

We wish Colin continued good fortune!