Well, if you are a part of the Star Trek prop collecting community, you probably know about the Profiles in History auction this Thursday/Friday. There are 33 lots in this auction, including a Uhura costume from TOS and 29 props from various shows and movies.
I visited the Profiles in History offices in Calabasas, CA last Thursday with Brett Jones, the man behind Federation Surplus and an authority on Star Trek Props. Brett is well regarded as the # 1 maker of Replica Star Trek props around the prop collecting community. All he does is Star Trek props and he has handled hundreds of originals over the years.
When we visited Profiles, we were greeted by Brian Chanes, who manages the Star Trek pieces in each Profiles auction (amongst other things). He took the time to show us each prop and chatted about the process. Now remember, these guys have almost 1,300 items in their auction! As you know by reading my blog, I was bothered by the misleading description on the TR-116 (lot 1225).
I am also displeased that the DS9 Phaser Rifle was listed as being used in “Change of Heart” as it clearly was not. Those rifles had attached straps that this one does not (among other things that are not correct).
In addition, the metal Bat’Leth is attributed to Worf, with no proof of that whatsoever.
Well, it turns out that Profiles basically lets the consignor write the description, according to Brian, and they don’t do much fact checking. I have offered Brian the services of the Forum group (especially Jorg) for the future, offering to provide him with accurate descriptions and screencaps if he gives us the photos in advance. Let’s hope he is more interested in accuracy that IAW, who has been offered the same service many times and turned us down.
Now, after reviewing all the items, Brett and I had issue with a bunch. So I contacted Michael Moore, of HMS Studios, the prop house that worked on much of TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise (year one) and the movies from Generations Forward. Michael has worked at many different prop houses, including ISS and Propr Effects and worked on Star Trek for 16 years. He is quite the authority on the props over this time span. He is primarily responsible for authenticating Star Trek items for Profiles.
I spent 3 hours on the phone with Michael last night and learned a ton, including the fact that he rejected a number items from the auction.
This whole process has been very enlightening for me. Brett has been teaching me a ton about Star Trek props. And after spending 3 hours on the phone with Michael Moore, I got a real in depth understanding of how much variation there is in these items. A few things that it is important to understand:
1) Five different prop houses made props for the various Star Trek TV series starting with TNG; ISS, Propr Effects, Make Up Effects Lab, HMS and one other. In addition, the shop at Paramount would make items from time to time.
2) Multiple shops were working on different shows at any given time.
3) The same props were often made by different prop houses and each had different molds (though sometimes off the same master).
4) How props were finished depends on who was finishing them. Sometimes different shop workers finished the same prop at different times, resulting in different finishes.
So Mike explained a lot of the things that we saw that gave us pause. He simply has a broader population of props that he has seen and knows a lot of the variations between shops. (Did you know that there were SIX different Cardassian Phaser molds?). He also still has a lot of the original props in his shop.
So let’s review the types of props you see in these auctions:
SCREEN USED This prop was made for the production and used on screen. You have to either have rock solid provenance (Christie’s and IAW are not good for this) or preferably it matches up perfectly with screen caps. This is a VERY high standard and hard to meet on 95% of all props don’t meet it.
PRODUCTION MADE Where most props fall. This simply means the prop was made by the prop house for use in a production and shipped to the set. Many props here were in fact screen used, but you can’t prove it.
OUT OF THE ORIGINAL MOLDS So, the prop shop still has the molds and pours you a casting. Maybe they even paint it. Maybe a guy who worked in the shop took the molds with him and does the same. Not made for the production, so it falls here. Still cool, but not made for the production.
OK, so that being said, let’s start with some great props that are in this auction and which are pretty solid provenance wise:
Lot 1218: The Geordi Visor This was made by Bear Burge and Michael Moore and HMS and is pretty sharp. It is a stunt piece and yet in good shape. No questions on this one, it would be awesome in any collection!
Lot 1224: The Klingon Bat’Leth This appears original as well. Michael says it has the correct leather wrapping and it is the correct color, which he says is hard to match. A nice piece, they didn’t make a ton of metal ones, because they didn’t want to injure the actors and used rubber ones often. HOWEVER, there is no proof this was ever used by Worf, and so I think one needs to be very careful here. Buy it because it is a metal Bat ‘Leth and thus rare, not because you think it belonged to Worf.
Lot 1219: Cricket Phaser There is a rare Next Gen Cricket Phaser. You don’t see these often, and this is a nice one. Some are painted lighter, but Michael says the dark paint is correct.
Lot 1228: Engineering Diagnostic Tool. According to Jorg, this is the flux coupler that Garak killed Amaro with in the DS9 episode”Empok Nor”. This is made of rubber as it was meant to stab someone! Mike Moore made teh original himself.
Lot 1238: The Cardassian Tricorder. A beautiful piece with working lights. Mike says that this was one of the later ones made later in DS9. Probably explains the perfect condition.