Welcome! As part of its ongoing mission to document the Art and Production History of Star Trek, this site will present technical articles on Star Trek prop and costume authentication - focusing on The Original Series - with detailed photos and episode screenshots to complement the information presented; as well as feature pictorials to showcase Star Trek memorabilia in private & public collections, present rare Behind The Scenes TOS imagery & discuss other topics.
Gerald Gurian is a 40+ year collector of screen used Star Trek memorabilia and a passionate fan of TOS
- Star Trek TOS At Auction Part I - Gurian Collection Highlights - Greg Jein TOS Hero Type II Phaser
-Authenticating a TOS Communicator -6 Myths About Star Trek Prop Design -Star Trek 3rd Season Command Tunic
- Design Features of TOS Tricorders -Star Trek Props At National Air & Space - TOS Leatherette Tricorder
- TOS Federation Sciences Dress -Desilu Studio TOS Prop Fabrication - Unreleased Allen/Gurian Prop Photos
- The Beautiful Women of TOS Part I -TOS U.S.S. Enterprise 11' Filming Model - Captain Kirk's Chair from TOS
- Spock Ears -TOS Control Panels & Displays - Mr. Spock's Science Station
- TOS Soundstage at Desilu -TOS Shatner Romulan Pants - The Beautiful Women of TOS Pt. II
- TOS Galileo Shuttlecraft -Greg Jein TOS Cage Laser Pistol - TOS 3rd Season Midgrade Type II Phaser
- Dr. McCoy's Sickbay on TOS -TOS Balok Puppet Head - Captain Kirk "Mirror, Mirror" Tunic
- Greg Jein TOS Hero Tricorder -1992 Smithsonian TOS Cast Video - TOS 1st Season Command Tunic
- TOS "Where No Man" Silver Contact Lenses -TOS Special Effects: The Transporter - The Art of Matt Jefferies
- TOS "Space Seed" Gold Mesh Jumpsuit -Gorn Costume from "Arena" - Rare TOS Behind-the-Scenes Videos
- TOS Stunt Type II Phaser -1993 Bill Theiss Estate Auction - TOS Shatner Command Dress Tunic
- TOS Elasian Royal Guard Tunic -TOS Finnegan Silver "Shore Leave" Tunic - TOS Science Officer Tunic "The Cage"
- TOS Shatner Early 1st Season Command Tunic -William Shatner TOS Tunics At Auction - TOS Shatner Late 1st Season Command Tunic

Sunday, March 16, 2008

6 Myths About Star Trek Prop Designs Over The Years

A number of misconceptions have existed at different points in time about what characteristics were present on authentic Star Trek hand props. Those who have been collecting for decades will undoubtedly recognize a few of these assertions, once considered as "gospel" - and sometimes accepted as fact because they were remarks that were attributed to respected experts or actual TOS production crew members. I shall list the myth below and then show a TOS episode screenshot that dispels it!

1. Black and White Phasers were never used in Star Trek TOS. In fact, as many novice collectors now realize, Black and Whites did appear in a handful of episodes at the start of Season One (during the first 2 months of production) - but did not stand out well on film in the opinion of the directors, and were repainted to the familiar bluish-grey and black scheme. The Star Trek phaser prop was designed and constructed by TOS Art Director Matt Jefferies and his brother John Jefferies, a production designer. The repainting of the black & whites was performed by famous prop artist Wah Ming Chang, who is sometimes mistakenly credited with the design of the phaser.

2. All Tricorders had 3 blue colored jewels on their control panels to simulate indicator lights. This myth became popular when it was observed that one or more authentic Tricorders which were on public display at Star Trek conventions in the 1980's (as part of major collections) had 3 blue jewels. In fact, 3 blue jewelled Tricorders did exist (and sometimes the all blue color scheme was thought to be a means of designating the device as a "Sciences" Tricorder); but other Tricorders certainly appeared in TOS episodes with different and seemingly random jewel color schemes. The screenshot below is from "Day of the Dove"

3. The viewscreen embedded in tricorders was always designed the same size according to a fixed aspect ratio, which was that used in a typical 1960's television set. In fact, I have documented several different aspect ratios on Tricorder screens. A few are presented below.

4. There were never any Leatherette Tricorders in Star Trek, a myth circulating for many years that was recently given enhanced credibility by a well known prop maker in a technical article for the Star Trek Communicator magazine, based on the recollections of one of the TOS production crew members. Some screenshots that serve to dispel the myth ...

5. All communicators featured brass antenna plates with prepunched holes. This myth was advanced in the fan community and also forwarded by respected auction house staff; and might have arisen based on different fabrication techniques used by Wah Chang and the Desilu prop department. In the following screenshots from "Friday Child" and "Omega Glory", manually punched antenna meshes are clearly visible. Noted propmaker Richard Coyle mentions on his site that a number of new brass antennas were fabricated by the Desilu prop department for communicators in the 3rd season.

6. Only 10 Communicators were used in Star Trek and they were all created by Wah Chang. This particularly damaging myth has been spread by a very well known fan-created website called HeroComm, that is often applauded for its "excellent" research. While paperwork from Wah Chang has been found that does document a single sale of 10 communicators to the Desilu Star Trek office; it is extremely naive to assume that no other communicators were created since no other paperwork is known to exist. HeroComm displays the following composite photo on their site of the 10 "known" authentic communicators:

And they further go on to emphatically state "This does not rule out the possibility that a few extra communicators were made by the Desilu prop department during the show's production. The studio made some tricorders and phasers, so why not some comms, right? We are confident that none were, simply because none extra were needed. More than enough of Wah's ten comms made it to all the way through to the end of the show, and with their impossibly tight budget, it is hard to imagine anything being done that absolutely didn't need to be. Also no photo evidence whatsoever, be it screen caps or other vintage pics, even remotely suggests with any certainty others being made." This is an extremely resolute, unwavering assertion. Here is an actual screengrab of how it appears on their site ...

The following TOS episode screenshot from "I, Mudd" easily disproves the myth. Here is an 11th communicator, a fragile stunt version constructed by the Desilu prop department, being crushed by the female android ...

Without a doubt, additional pieces of similar construction would have been on hand on the soundstage even while the above scene was being filmed; so that a new piece could be crushed if the actors had to repeat the scene for any reason, such as a forgotten line of script or just to try again for improved stage presence. If the first piece was crushed in a take that could not be used on screen, the Star Trek office would not want to have to interrupt filming or change the shooting schedule because another crushable hand prop was not available.
I believe the following screenshot from "Return to Tomorrow" shows another "new" communicator, number 12, or 13? It has an extremely oversized aluminum midplate underneath its plastic shell, that seems to protrude several times further than the midplates of the Wah Chang built props.

In my opinion, HeroComm has made numerous errors and used improper analytical techniques in preparing much of the information posted on their website -- especially regarding the true design characteristics of authentic communicators and how to discern forgeries. I will dedicate a separate article to a review of their other misguided assertions. If information is simply not available or unclear on a particular matter of interest; then one does a disservice to the fan community by resolutely asserting a false point and spreading misinformation.
Anyway, I hope this post has served to dispel some of the myths currently in circulation on TOS props!