Star Trek Collectibles - A Ferengi's Guide!
by Simon Plumbe
As a Star Trek fan, you can't have failed to notice the ridiculously vast array of merchandise that is available for fans, ranging from inexpensive comics and novels right up to £1,000 chess sets. Most people tend to buy merchandise just because it's something that appeals to them, but there are an increasing number of opportunities available to fans to make a large amount of money by making careful investments in Star Trek collectibles.
Over the years, I have seen items command ludicrous prices for things that cost mere pence when they were first released, but how do you know what is going to be worth a fortune and what is worth nothing more than a handful of Tribbles?
In this regularly updated guide, while I won't be telling you everything you need to know (I do have to keep a few secrets!), I'll try and point you in the right direction following trends set over the years. To make things easier to read, I'll break the guide down into types of merchandise...
Buyers Guide Tips
One aspect to this guide is a series of mini-tips on hot new merchandise to look out for, or information on items that are currently trading well. Naturally, one of the big developments in recent years is the change in value of McCoy related merchandise follwing the sad loss of DeForest Kelley in 1999. Merchandise has started to sell at a phenomenal rate across the country with many stores reporting complete sell-outs of all of their McCoy related products. If you are looking for anything in particular at the moment, be prepared to pay much higher prices than you would have a couple of months ago.
Probably the most sought after will be autographed items (just be careful that you get a genuine autograph - see the photo to give you an idea what to look out for) with signed photos being worth somewhere between £100 and £150. Action figures should also be high on the collectors lists, especially the Playmates and Mego figures. Trading cards won't really be affected other than the Classic Trek autograph series. Before DeForest passed away, the McCoy autograph cards were worth about £100 each because of their limited availability, so I would imagine that these would now be worth over £200 each.
Books, comics, and other pieces of merchandise should not have their prices affected too much, but there will be a lot of Trek fans wanting to buy merchandise to remember DeForest by, so they will be in much shorter supply. So far, I have not seen any dealers artificially increase the prices of non-autographed or limited items, so you should be okay for a while.
Signed photos are becoming more and more sought after by fans, wanting to have something that little bit more special of their favourite character/actor on the show. Signed photos however, unlike many other collectibles, are unique in that the value of the photos fluctuate depending on the country in which you live, how you get hold of them and who your favourite actor is!!
First, in the States, photos are not as expensive as they are in the UK. At most of the professional conventions run by Creation, photos of many of the cast can be purchased for around $15 each. Although the cast do attend American cons, there is usually no way you can get personally signed photos as autograph sessions rarely take place (understandably considering the size of the conventions), and this is a cheap alternative. Because of the sheer number of Creation conventions held every year, it isn't too difficult for most American Trekkers to get the photos they are after, although one or two of the cast (including the late DeForest Kelley who stopped signing autographs a few years before his death) are known to be reluctant to sign autographs so these are harder to find.
Second, again available in the states or through dealers that import merchandise are the range of signed plaques produced on behalf of Starlog Press. Each framed plaque has a full colour photo of one of the cast and is signed as part of a limited edition series. These are really for the true collector only as these are very expensive costing well in excess of $100 each. Still, that's not as bad as the FULL Classic Trek cast plaque that retails for around $500!!
Following this, there are a large number of dedicated autograph dealers who charge reasonable prices for signed photos, but this can be nightmare to deal with if you are relatively to autograph collecting. Despite there being plenty of reputable dealers, there are many that don't think twice about selling forged autographs, and in some cases, it has been known for autograph dealers to simply sign photos themselves to meet their customer's demand.
The last option is to try writing to the cast member in question. This is never a quick option (in some cases taking over a year before you can get a response) and even then you are not guaranteed to hear from the actor/actress in question. I wrote to Brent Spiner some years ago and never heard anything and I have heard other people have had little or no response to letters addressed to Michael Dorn. With saying that, I also know people who have had quick responses from both actors so you must bear in mind that there is a chance that you won't get a reply.
In the UK (and throughout Europe and the rest of the world for that matter), things are very different. Of course, the option is still there to write to the cast although you must remember to enclose a self-addressed envelope and a couple of International Reply Coupons, but even then, sadly you're not guaranteed a reply. That leaves you with just four basic choices.
First, you can try and purchase one of the plaques on import (one especially worth considering is a still from "Unification" signed by Leonard Nimoy and Brent Spiner which sells for around £150), but other than that, your only real chance is to hope that the cast member you are interested in attends a convention in your respective country and that you get the chance to get an autograph yourself. The only problem with this is that a number of the cast simply don't travel outside of the US for cons, even less so as most UK cons are not run for profit and are therefore restricted to a small guest budget.
The final option is for those of you who, again attend conventions on a regular basis. Most of the larger conventions have charity auctions and in most of these you can find signed photos of the cast up for grabs. Be warned though that photos such as these are NOT cheap - think about it, you are bidding against fans of a particular actor who desperately want the photo!!! Still, if you are ever in the States and you bid for these photos, the chances are that the prices will be far less than in Europe because of the availability of such items.
To give you an idea of what sort of prices these photos will fetch a few examples are:- Brent Spiner £80), Patrick Stewart (£80), Jeri Ryan (£50), Terry Farrell (£40), Leonard Nimoy (£60), Walter Koenig (£30), William Shatner (£60), DeForest Kelly (£100+). Minor cast members and guest stars are likely to fetch less, but as a general rule if you get these photos for less than these prices, you've done well!
Again, autographs are available from dealers, but the same problems face UK fans as they do in the States, and generally prices do seem to be significantly higher. I can't stress enough that if you do choose this option, make sure that you know what the signature looks like before you part with your money and check for authenticity.
Obviously, signed photos hold more value for some fans than others. For example, I hold my Brent Spiner photo in higher regard than a non-Data fan would and my Shatner photo more than... well, more than most other Trekkers so it would seem these days! Also, if any of the actors have died, then it's usually safe to say that the autographs would almost double in price immediately. If you ever see Gene Roddenberry's autograph up for grabs and you have the money available... buy it!!! (Just make sure you're getting the genuine article - there ARE forgeries of different cast autographs going around!!)
Star Trek trading cards have been around almost as long as the series itself. However, as collectibles, their values fluctuate wildly. As with all trading cards, they hold their value best when retained as a complete set, although some individual cards can be worth a reasonable amount, especially with the more recent releases from Skybox. Some of the earlier cards are now fairly difficult to get hold of, but despite this, the majority aren't too expensive.
The main exception to this is the first ever 72 card set released by Leaf in 1967, the full set currently being valued at around £1,500!! Following on from this was Topps' first set released in 1976 which has a price of around £225 for 88 cards. Other than this, most sets should cost you more than between £20 for the more recent sets and £70 for the 30 card Star Trek II set.
However, the big money in cards as far as Trek is concerned started in 1991 when Skybox (who were known as Impel at the time) released their 25th Anniversary series. While the whole set of 310 cards is only valued at around £20, there were four limited hologram cards produced and these can fetch about £15 - £20 each!
Since then, Skybox have released card sets at an alarming rate, although they do seem to keep their values pretty well. It is just the hologram/foil/autograph cards that you'll have trouble tracking down. Basically, the sets can all be found for around £10 - £15 each, but be prepared to pay anything up to around £60 for some of the special cards, such as the Gold hologram from the first TNG set (worth about £25 as opposed to around £10 for the standard holograms), and the animated "skymotion" cards which feature animations from the show... but these tend to weigh in at an astonishing £60 each.
Since then, starting with their recent series covering all the seasons of Classic Trek, and subsequently Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Star Trek: Insurrection, as well as the basic cards in more recent sets, Skybox have produced several levels of chase cards in their sets ranging from easy-to-obtain subsets to the ridiculously rare autographed cards. As their name implies, these cards that have been included in the more recent sets, feature autographs of the cast and are limited to an average of ONE card per BOX! Minor cast members and guest actors tend to be relatively inexpensive (valued at around £30 each), ranging up to the major cast which are worth well over £100 a card - far more than autographed photos because of the limited availability.
Be warned, if you are interested in getting a complete set of these cards, the best chance will be from a dedicated trading card dealer and a set will set you back well over £1,500 but with over 30 autographs, it may just be worth the money. The only major drawback is that there are currently so many sets of Star Trek trading cards featuring autographs that I can't see many fans affording them all!
To collect them, if you are just after the cards, then check out dealers or go to conventions where you shouldn't have any trouble in buying pre-sorted sets. However, if you want the special cards, it may be worth buying the cards by the box - you usually get a full set, along with a few of the special cards as well! I was fortunate enough when I bought a box of Classic Trek season two cards to get not the one guaranteed autographed card but TWO! Considering the fact that the box cost me £50, and the autographed cards are worth about £60, I think I got a pretty good deal!
For some time now, The Franklin Mint have been releasing a series of Star Trek items that can be best described as "luxury" items for the typical Trekker. Where most merchandise manufacturers try to produce items that most fans can afford, the cheapest Franklin Mint item I have ever encountered retailed for £145! Unlike other companies, the merchandise made by Franklin Mint is really pieces of art rather than models or traditional merchandise and should be considered as such. Their replicas of Star Trek ships and their other pieces, are designed by be put on display, not to be used as toys and that is reflected not only by the price, but by the craftsmanship and materials used.
One thing you must consider with Franklin Mint is that, while most of their pieces are VERY good, there are one or two items that I have seen that are disappointing. If possible, try to find someone who already has one so you can take a look before you buy! As well as this, most Franklin Mint products tend to stay at their original value. While the pieces are only advertised for short periods of time, in most cases they are re-advertised extensively over a period of time. Out of all of the items I have purchased, there are only three that have been limited editions restricted to a one-off production run. If you are looking for items to increase in value, these are the ones to go for and it is very rare to see any other products discontinued.
As I said, their products aren't cheap, but the better pieces (such as the Classic Trek Tankard, some of the Pewter ships, and the 25th Anniversary Silver Medal) do make excellent focal points to a room - it's just that they'd make more money if they dropped the prices! As a guide, the ship replicas are generally all worth considering, as are their medals/insignias, but I would advise you all to steer clear of any chess sets! Neither the Classic Trek or TNG chess set is worth the £1,000 asking price, you'll soon regret parting with your money for them and you'll find it near impossible to re-sell them at anything close to what you paid.
Probably the most popular form of Star Trek merchandise available to buy in the UK is videos. From a collector's point of view, most Trek videos are easily available at their original retail prices years after they were first released (or less than that in many cases). Even the boxed sets of the movies and episodes which were heralded as being collectors items are still fairly easy to find in most high street video outlets. In fact, with Star Trek videos, if you shop around you can actually buy most of the titles significantly cheaper than the RRP and you will often find dealers running special promotions with tapes on offer for £7.99 or less.
However, with the re-release of Classic Trek and TNG on VHS, there are some fans eager to track down the original releases and could create a mini collector's boom for these cassettes. Most fans are just interested in the episodes and are not concerned about the packaging. This also applies to the release of Trek in the US. If you have an NTSC compatible video, and are interested in a new slant on the packaging then they provide a nice curiosity piece for your collection, but otherwise they are expensive for what they offer.
As for the US DVD releases... these are superb! While each disc for Classic Trek only contains two episodes, the quality is absolutely stunning, the discs feature the original episode trailers, and offer some Trek trivia in the sleeve notes. For the other shows, the UK box sets will be identical to their US counterparts so there is little difference in which version you buy. The only real difference I would say for non-Classic Trek releases is in terms of the movies - Insurrection was released to buy in the US a full two months before the UK VHS rental edition was released and significantly earlier than the DVD.
Back to VHS, however, and most of you will have seen the special collectors editions of "Emissary", and "All Good Things...". Both were produced with limited production runs and in the case of the TNG cassette, sold out very quickly. Each is also numbered, so if you can find a low number, all the better. Although the tapes originally sold for £19.99 each, an "Emissary" special edition (number 10) fetched £100 at an auction not long after its release and at the Generations convention three copies of "All Good Things..." were auctioned (numbers 14, 24 and 33) and fetched £70, £60 and £60 respectively. While the "Emissary" cassette can still be bought for it's normal retail price with a little bit of hunting around (due to CIC overestimating its market appeal), the TNG video is very difficult to buy, and if you do see a copy, don't expect to pay less than £100. The best thing to do if you want this is to scour the small ads in your local papers - I was able to pick up a TNG Collectors Edition tape well after it's release and disappearance from the general marketplace for just £15!!!
In short, if any more collectors edition videos are released, buy them as soon as you can, and if possible order them in advance to secure your copy. Just don't bother with any box sets!
To look at Star Trek comics properly, I'll cover them over time as I can't do them justice straight away... To start things off, I think that a brief history lesson is in order... Star Trek comics have been around almost as long as the show itself, since Gold Key started publishing their 61 issue run between 1967 and 1979. That was followed in 1979 when Marvel picked up the licence for a brief 18 issue series starting with an adaptation of The Motion Picture (this adaptation was later released in the UK as a hardback A4 special).
Next came DC in 1984 with a 56-run series of Classic Trek which was augmented by a 6 issue TNG mini series in 1988 along with 3 annuals and a couple of specials. After a break of about 12 months, DC returned with ongoing series of both TNG and Classic Trek, complete with annuals, specials, movie adaptations and mini-series.
In 1993 Malibu acquired the rights to Deep Space Nine (and subsequently Voyager although this title never made it to the stores) for their ongoing series which ran concurrently with DC which saw a number of mini-series and a couple of one-shot specials. It was during this run that Marvel bought Malibu and re-established their links with Star Trek. Since then, the rights returned once more to Marvel for a couple of year, and is now back in the hands of DC with their subsidiary publisher Wildstorm, but for now, I'll just look at the Gold Key to Malibu era.
Generally, Star Trek comics tend to hold their price reasonably well, increasing only slightly, which is unusual considering the popularity of the titles. However, this has the advantage for collectors meaning that back issues are relatively inexpensive to buy when you are able to find them. There are a few exceptions to this, though and I'll cover these now and in the future.
First and obviously are the Gold Key titles. This sporadically released run lasted for 61 issues and while the stories and artwork were pretty terrible (one that springs to mind was one story that was written and illustrated by an Italian artist who had never even seen an episode of Star Trek!), the first issue is still worth several hundred pounds and most of the remainder of the series are worth between £15 and £30 each. Even though they aren't that great to read in comparison to the offerings from DC and Malibu (or even Marvel for that matter!), if you want something that will be worth holding onto, then try and track them down.
In terms of what to look out for specifically with the Gold Key run is the first issue. Two versions were produced - one with an artwork cover (quite valuable), and the rare photo cover edition that is pictured here. The latter is worth about £400 in mint condition and is the most valuable Star Trek comic available today (not counting autographed issues - even then, it would need to be signed by an entire series cast, the writer, artist, and a few other people to come close to this sort of figure)!
As for Marvel, the stories didn't fare much better than Gold Key and rapidly declined in the writing standards following the movie adaptation. One "classic" story featured Kirk being possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian King! Because of the poor quality, the value hasn't increased that much. In fact, the premiere edition can still be purchased for around £5 with subsequent issues hovering around the £3 price tag.
In all honesty, the Marvel comics are for completists only and should not be purchased if you want them for their collectible value or as something entertaining to read! The title suffered badly as a result of a fling that Marvel had at the time of getting involved in producing a significant number of film and TV tie-ins without necessarily resourcing the titles properly or finding writers familiar with the source material. The best comic writer in the world is useless to a licenced comic if they are not interested in the film or programme it is based on.
With the advent of Star Trek III, the rights transferred to DC comics who started their 56-issue Classic Trek run with, as with Marvel, an adaptation of the film itself. With generally good artwork and storylines, the series proved to be popular amongst collectors and fans and started several writers off on their Star Trek careers including prolific novelist Peter David. Artwork was also of a very high standard with work from Gordon Purcell, and plenty of cover illustrations from the superb Jerome Moore.
From a collector's point of view, the early issues are more expensive with the first few selling for around £10 each. However, if you are looking at getting a complete collection, most of the basic issues shouldn't cost more than about £3 each, with the exception of one or two of the annuals and special releases.
As well as covering Classic Trek, during this time a six-issue TNG mini series was released to coincide with the launch of the series. Premiering in 1988, the series made bold steps to introduce elements that the TV show never could because of budget constraints, but the series did little to inspire fans. Information to develop the comic was taken from a few photos, sample scripts and very little televised material and it showed. Still, it didn't stop the series rising in value considerably. Issue 1 is worth around £10, and the remaining five issues are worth between £5 and £8 each.
Strangely, after 56 issues and a number of annuals and specials for the original series, and the TNG mini-series, the series suddenly stopped...
Until 1989 when DC re-launch both Classic Trek and TNG as ongoing series with Classic Trek being penned by Howard Weinstein and TNG by Michael Jan Friedman. Notable guest authors included Bill Mumy (Will Robinson in "Lost In Space" and Lennier in "Babylon 5"), John de Lancie (Q), George Takei and even Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski!! This was a superb series which seemed likely to go on forever until all DC Star Trek titles suddenly stopped without warning after about 80 issues! Early issues have increased in value significantly (with this being the best quality yet for a Star Trek series), and some of the specials are worth a few pounds too!
As with DC's first run, the early issues are worth about £10 each. One or two to look out for include the first Classic Trek annual that was co-written by George Takei, and the first TNG anuual, written by John de Lancie. The latter is of particular note because this comic had a faulty production run which resulted in many copies shipping with pages stuck together. On the outside, they look fine, but getting a perfect copy is not as easy as it sounds... it took me several months after a friend accidentally tore my first copy... and then repaired it with sellotape!!
Malibu then joined the ranks of Trek publishers in 1993 when they managed to grab the rights to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from under the noses of DC. A regular series was launched not long after the show premiered in the States spanning just over 30 basic issues and specials, running in parallel with DC's Classic Trek and TNG titles, and proved to be very popular with the fans. The production quality seemed to be far greater than that of DC, with the comic being computer-coloured and printed on glossy paper. But not only did it look good, but the stories were well written as well. Realising that they were onto a hit, a number of one-shot specials and mini-series have also been released as well as a couple of limited edition versions of some of their titles, and promo titles released through American comic magazines as free giveaways.
The only disappointment with Malibu was that, following their buyout by Marvel, the paper quality dropped somewhat and the release and availability of the title seems rather erratic. In the past, Marvel had a rather elitist distribution system preventing some of their non-Trek titles even reaching UK shores. It is also believed that there may have been other factors involved which resulted in the final three issues and two specials not really getting to reach the UK in any significant numbers (which I can't mention here for legal reasons!).
As well as that, Malibu were supposed to have released an ongoing series of Star Trek: Voyager comics back in January '95, although this failed to materialise. No explanation was given at the time, although it seems clear that Paramount started to open negotiations with Marvel to take over all the Star Trek comic licences.
In terms of pricing on Malibu releases, these tend to be quite low for the majority of issues with the basic run still commanding about £2 - £3 a copy. The exceptions here are some of the mini-series, the one shot titles, and the last few that didn't get proper UK distribution which can fetch around £6 a comic. Where high value comics come into play for Malibu is in the special limited edition versions of normal comics. Malibu have released a large number of collector's editions of their comics, all of which seem to be doing very well in terms of either holding their value or increasing in value. For their first issue of DS9, there, are to my knowledge, at least 4 different versions available. A standard copy with cover art by Star Trek regular Jerome Moore, a photo cover version, a black cover edition with a line-art drawing of the station embossed on the cover - worth around £15 - and a gold foil cover featuring a single colour version of Jerome Moore's cover, again worth about £15.
Next is the extremely hard to find special edition of the first issue of their "Hearts And Minds" mini-series. The first issue had two covers - normal art and a special hologram cover. When I purchased it, the hologram cover was around £10, but I haven't actually seen one since - very scarce! As well as this, Malibu have produced a few other special editions (including special signed editions of their Celebrity Series where they have had Trek actors actually writing the comics and signing a limited number) and photo covers which seem to be doing fairly well price wise, even if they are quite expensive to buy initially.
They also experimented with a series of gold foil-embossed cover variants on a few titles, most notably on the TNG/DS9 crossover that was produced in conjunction with DC. For this four issue series, issue one of Malibu's half of the series was released as a standard edition, and with the show's logos at the top in gold foil. The extra value for this foil? Would you believe each foil-embossed issue originally retailed for around £17!! As you can imagine, even buying the issues as they were released proved expensive when collecting Malibu Trek comics.
That pretty much sums up the first few companies that got their hands on the Star Trek licence, but following DC/Malibu and their departure from the Star Trek scene, there are still another two to follow and I'll go into those next time. As well as this, over the years there have been signed copies of many of the Star Trek comics in circulation - some signed as part of special "signed and numbered" runs, and others signed at comic marts and conventions by the writers and artists. I'll try to cover these in as much detail as I can in the future.