Collecting in the Star Trek Universe: the Old and the New

Captain Kirk and his die cast shuttle craft!
Captain Kirk and his die cast shuttle craft!

 

From a late 1960s television series canceled after three measly seasons, Star Trek has grown over the decades to include eleven full length feature films (counting the new J.J. Abram’s offering), multiple television series, and an audience of loyal “Trekkers” in some seventy-five nations around the planet. Many of those states, republics, provinces, and territories were swept by “Trek mania.” However, in recent years, the Trek franchise overextended itself, much like the world banking system, and suffered a warp core breach. The last TV series, “Enterprise,” was cancelled after four seasons and movie production ground to a halt … until J.J. Abram’s offering, Star Trek, which may well reestablish the series with a new stable of young actors and actresses bringing the original ship and crew back with an original twist that has added life and excitement we haven’t seen in years in Trek films.

            Along with the television shows and the movies over the years came a mountain of collectible merchandise vast enough to be detected on ship’s sensors light years away. These collectibles range from action figures and toys to models, books, and buttons. In the first half of the 1990s alone, Star Trek collectibles created over one billion dollars in total revenue. Over sixty-three million Star Trek books have been printed. The DVD selection is dauntingly vast. Now, with the new film out, they’re at it again, creating action figures and toys of all sorts, glasses, shirts, you name it.

            Collectible Star Trek objects and artifacts range from model kits, comic books, and action figures produced in the late 1960s and the mid-1970s to an almost endless array of materials from the 1990s.

            When considering where in the Star Trek universe to begin collecting, first narrow your scope. The very best advice is to collect items you will enjoy and leave their future value as collectibles up to fate. One point worth noting is that most truly valuable and collectible toys are toys that were actually played with by children back in the day and loved to death, leaving few behind in good condition. If you find a new item and the word “collectible” is emblazoned on the box, it probably isn’t.

            When working within a limited budget, decide which collectible categories interest you most and specialize in those. Whether you decide to collect action figures, toys, posters, or trading cards (to name a few), part of that decision will be determined by whether you are a fan of only one of the Star Trek series or of many.

            If unsure which of several collectibles lines most appeal to you, here are some guidelines concerning what makes a good collectible. Despite the previous statement as to future value, to many collectors today, collectibles are seen as more than keepsakes gathered for personal satisfaction; they are considered investments. As such, the best investments interest more than a single collecting group. Star Trek action figures fall into this category as they are of interest to Trekkers, science fiction collectors, television toy collectors, and others. The greater the numbers of collectors interested in a limited number of items, the greater the value of those items is likely to be.

            A good collectible is also one that has been (or is being) produced only in limited numbers. Plastic toys tend to make for safe investments. They are produced by skilled technicians working with expensive molds in a very competitive field. Toy manufacturers are required to change their product lines often to keep up with their competitors.

            Toy manufacturers such as Playmates are well aware of the fact that collectors are looking for limited runs of toys to collect. Playmates' Star Trek toys were numbered editions with new items to any given line added regularly as older items were discontinued.

            In the decades, a number of items officially licensed by Paramount have come to be recognized as top Star Trek collectibles. A sampling from each decade will give you an idea of what categories of collectibles you might like to aim for.

            In the 1960s, while Star Trek was airing on NBC, very few items were manufactured. Those few are now among the most valued and sought after by today's collectors. By year, they include the 1966 AMT model kit of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the first Star Trek collectible produced, the 1967 Leaf Star Trek trading cards (black and white cards, the originals are among the most valued trading cards ever produced), and the 1967 Gold Key Star Trek #1, the first Star Trek comic -- launching the Enterprise crew non-stop across over thirty years of adventuring in this format.

            In the 1970s, merchandisers realized the depth of interest among fans in the syndicated series and began producing items in earnest. The speed with which fans purchased this merchandise helped encourage Paramount to produce a Star Trek film. The majority of these items were introduced in 1975 and 1976. Included among them were the 1975 Ballantine Star Trek Blueprints, the first "official" designs of the Enterprise released by Paramount, the 1975 Mego action figures, the first in the Star Trek action figure line and favorites of many collectors, and the 1975 Mego U.S.S. Enterprise Action Playset (the bridge and transporter became the perfect backdrop for Mego’s figures). 

            The Mego action figures stood 8” high. The high quality, posable figures wore cloth uniforms based on the original Star Trek series. The main characters from the series featured among the figures included Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Uhura, and Scotty. Among the aliens and villains depicted were the Klingons and Romulans (adversaries who appeared regularly to complicate the lives of the Enterprise crew), an Andorian, Cheron, Gorn, Keeper, and Mugato. Where the Neptunian came from is anybody’s guess as this imaginative creation never appeared on the series. Mego had originally designed figures for Chekov, Sulu, and Harry Mudd as well, but these never left the design table. However, it should be noted that while the figures were produced originally between 1975 and 1977, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and the Klingon were rereleased in 1979.

            In the 1980s, Star Trek movies continued and Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired. This gave fans more collectibles than ever before. Among them were Mego's Star Trek: The Motion Picture aliens of 1980. Aliens in action figures tend to become better collectibles than the main characters, as fewer of them are produced. The 1987 General Mills' U.S.S. Enterprise-D cereal premium was the first Next Generation collectible produced. This was quickly followed in 1988 by Galoob's Star Trek: The Next Generation 3 3/4” action figures. Galoob’s figures were similar in size to the hugely popular Star Wars figures offered by Kenner. However, the Star Trek figures had very limited detail and were not well articulated. Still, Galoob was the first licensee to produce Next Generation action figures. Their first series offered six figures: Captain Jean-Luc Picard, William Riker, Geordi LaForge, Lt. Worf, Tasha Yar, and Data. The company’s second series figures included a line of aliens, several starships and  role-playing accessories. The second series aliens were an Antican, a Ferengi, the omniscient and ever aggravating Q, and Selay. The starships included a die-cast Enterprise-D, a Ferengi Fighter, and the Galileo Shuttle. Galoob’s second series aliens are now very valuable.

            In the 1990s, Star Trek became a licensing super power. Notable 1990s collectibles include Hallmark’s 1991 U.S.S. Enterprise Christmas tree ornament, produced for Trek’s 25th Anniversary year. This is a wildly popular collectible. Playmates entered the scene as Star Trek’s major toy licensee of the 1990s in 1992, first offering a line of 4 1/2” high action figures and accessories, beginning with the crew of The Next Generation. Throughout the decade of the 1990s, Playmates offered Star Trek figures in varying sizes including the original 4 1/2”, 7”, 9” and 12” tall figures that would keep collectors scrambling. These figures covered each Star Trek television series and several of the movies. Playmates’ later exclusive figures, released in very limited editions beginning c. 1997, with specific figures marketed only to a single store chain, really kept collectors on their toes. Collectors will find greater numbers of Playmates figures portraying characters and aliens from The Next Generation and the original Star Trek television series than for either Deep Space 9 or Voyager.

            Along with their figures, Playmates also produced starships (Federation and alien vessels alike) and role-playing accessories (including phasers, tricorders, and communicators). It is interesting to compare the 1970s Mego action figures and accessories with Playmates’ offerings in the 1990s. The Mego toys are more obviously aimed at the children’s market while the 1990s Playmates lines are designed with a level of detail sure to satisfy the desires of adult collectors as well as younger fans. During the four year “Enterprise” TV series run, Art Asylum picked up the mantle Playmates set aside and created a detailed line of plastic action figures and a bridge set with the avid fan and collector in mind.

            Conversely, when collecting from the nearly innumerable Star Trek items available, objects which may be easily manufactured and cheaply reproduced in abundance are unlikely to become highly valued collectibles. Buttons, costume jewelry, patches, and tee shirts all tend to fall into this category.

            For more information on Star Trek collectibles, check out the book offerings at Schiffer Publishing, including the Trekker’s Guide To Collectibles, which I reviewed earlier. And, if you take no other advice, go see the new movie! Whether you’re a fan who grew up with the original series in the 1960s or someone new to the Trek world, you’ll have a blast.

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