Back in October 2006, I watched Christie's, Inc. auction off the remnants of the Star Trek franchise, the cultural icon that helped launch many a career in science (and science journalism). Will J. J. Abrams' rebooting of the franchise—the DVD and Blu-ray versions will be released on Tuesday—have the same effect as the original? Certainly, some of the old rules are gone—for instance, Abrams has taken liberties with the time line in ways the old Star Trek never did. (Remember why Kirk had to let Edith Keeler, the woman he loved, die?)
I wouldn't bother re-posting this blog except for our switch to a new host and server in 2007. Although we were happy to see the old clunky system go, its demise effectively took all the earlier Sci Am blogs (and comments!) with it, leaving users to get that 404 error message when following links back to our past posts.
So a lot of the interesting discussion that went with this blog is now sadly lost. But at least, now I can ask those who put in winning bids: What did you do with your items? —P.Y.
Well, success at least for Christie's and Paramount--not so for working joes like me who didn't have $5,500 to spend on a set of "genuine" Klingon bat'leth swords. On the 40th anniversary of the original Star Trek series, Paramount Pictures, the owner of the franchise, has decided to sell off the props, costumes and models from all the series and the movies through Christie's in New York City. The auction house has 1,000 lots to sell off in three days—and based on the first day's efforts, it greatly underestimated what some people are willing to pay.
Like many others, I had hoped that bidders would arrive in costume, but only a few did, and they represented "hu-mons." A Jean-Luc Picard look-alike in an early season Next Generation outfit showed up, as well as Mr. Spock from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, in an original series costume. Avery Brooks, aka Capt. Benjamin Sisko, made an appearance, but 21st century street clothes. Large models of the Enterprise-A and Enterprise-D dominated the front of the room.
The crowd may have dressed tamely, but it was ready to pay. The auction board flickered in perpetual motion as dollars changed along with the equivalent in euros, British pounds, Hong Kong dollars and Japanese yen (what, no quatloos?). Picard's Enterprise-E captain's chair, estimated to sell for $7,000-$8,000, went for $52,000. Two prop wine bottles of "Chateau Picard," estimated to go for $500 to $700, sold for $5,500. "That's probably a record for empty wine bottles," the auctioneer quipped. The sale prices so exceeded the estimated price that absentee bidders—those who place a maximum and hope for the best—hardly stood a chance: I counted only two successful absentee bids in the first 124 lots.
I personally wanted some weapons—I thought about the four Vulcan lirpas (the giant blade-bludgeon Q-tips used by Kirk and Spock in a fight to the death), which went for $4,800. But I really wanted the set of five bat'leth swords, and I gave up when I got into a war with a telephone bidder. At least it was a lot cheaper than Worf's isomagnetic disintegrator rifle, which went for $16,000 and doesn't really work—and if it did, I wouldn't know what it would do. Sounds cool, though.
Some notable items and sale prices, along with original estimates in parentheses:
-Borg alcove: $8,000 ($700)
-Borg mannequin: $9,000 ($800)
-Worf's Klingon baldric sash: $3,200 ($300)
-Six Romulan Senate chairs: $1,900 ($800)
-Type 2 phaser from Star Trek: Nemesis: $3,200 ($1,200)
-17-inch tall latex-foam statue of Zephraim Cochrane: $5,500 ($500)
-Captain Picard's black-and-grey uniform: $15,000 ($8,000)
-Borg cube model, 30 inches across (the small one): $80,000 ($1,500)
-Enterprise-E model: $110,000 ($12,000)
The high bids made me wonder just why people were willing to pay thousands of dollars for cast resin and foam. Do fans need to redecorate their homes? (No jokes about living in parents' basement, please—these buyers can afford their own places.) Is it to try to turn a quick profit by re-selling items on Ebay? Is it pure nostalgia? Is it a belief that their purchases will have value one or two generations from now?
I admit to rooting for the last reason. More often than not, Star Trek represented what is best about humans, what people can achieve with rational thinking, tolerant views and a commitment to science. Those values, I hope, will not go out of style.
Images courtesy of Philip Yam