Welcome to the neighborhood


Gary Barth


Hola, fellow collectors. As I am relatively new to the prop collecting hobby, I'm sure I have a way to go before catching up with some of your collections. And while I add to my collection every month or so, I'm starting to realize that there are not only tricks to the trade, but very often tricksters within the trade. I'm sure I'm not the first one to get ripped off by some prop maker with a PO Box, nor am I the first to tell a horror story in this Online magazine but it's very important that people know what they're getting before they order it. This article is more for the newer, less experienced replica collectors as I'm sure you old dogs have weeded out the craftsmen from the crap peddlers.

Being a longtime fan of Sci-fi, and a person that loves cool looking props and special effects in general, I decided I wanted a piece of the movies I enjoyed so much. But after pricing some of the real props, I could see that my lack of disposable income would not allow me such treasures. I figured the next best route was to find replicas that would cost less (and many times look better than the original) and not leave me wondering whether the item I just purchased was an actual original, or whether the letter of authenticity that accompanied the item was just as fake as the item itself.

This was only a couple years back and while we didn't have any real good conventions in my area, replica prop ads were popping up in all the backs of sci-fi magazines, and for the most part the prices were fairly reasonable. In the beginning, I wasn't the stickler for accuracy that I am today, mostly out of ignorance for the hobby. Like most people that see a good looking ad, I was dazzled by the fact that I could obtain a light saber for $150. and accuracy never really came to mind. After making some friends in the industry, like Steve Dymszo and Ed Maggiani (SD Studios) they helped me identify small details that are very important when purchasing a replica. Hey, it may be a replica, but $300. is still $300, and in most cases, more than one prop maker is making the same item so if you look around a bit, you might not have to kick yourself later.

Over the last year, I've bought many props, some good, some not so good. You have to figure that this isn't the prop maker's main source of income so some of them tend to cut corners (seams and bubbles in the resin that will need sanding or filling, or crapping paint jobs that need to be redone). In some cases, it's not a big deal, especially if you like model making and you can do some of the repairs yourself. In most of those cases, the prop only cost around $60, and there were details on it I would want to change anyway.

My biggest horror story involves a prop maker in PA, who will remain nameless but I'm sure you've seen his ads in the back of most of the sci-fi mags (It's the one with around 25 beautifully done line art drawings of all his wares). I purchased his deluxe pulse rifle, the one with all the electronics and goodies to the tune of $650. The way he talked about this thing, you'd have thought he walked into James Cameron's house and took it of his wall. He assured me that it would be completed and shipped within 6 to 8 weeks. So, after 6 months (yes that's right, 6 months) and numerous phone calls, I received it¼..and it was the worst piece of sh_t, I have ever laid eyes on. The paint job was chipping, the shoulder stock had broken off, the battery cover wouldn't stay on, there were pock marks in the grenade launcher grip, the electronics didn't work (the thing ran on 6 nine volt bateries) and worst of all, everyone that saw it laughed their asses off. After arguing with this guy, and paying 30 dollars in shipping, I got my money back (less the $100 I told him he could keep if he gave me the rest of my money back without a hassle).

So, novice collectors, I know it's easy to get excited when you find a find a cool replica prop that's within your price range, but remember:

) Get pictures of the thing first, don't go off the word of a prop maker who tells you how cool his stuff is. What do you think he's going to tell you?

) Be careful about buying stuff mail order across state lines, it's a lot harder to get your money back. Know your manufacturer. If the guy only has a PO box, make sure he's got at least a phone number with it.

) Using a credit card will give you the power to reverse the sale via your bank, the time limit to do this after a sale is not the same with each bank so you should check before you order and call the bank before this time limit runs out if you do not recive your order or its a mess and you get no satisfaction from the dealer. The bank will then get

involved and check the facts and try to resolve the conflict.

) Not all prop makers with PO Boxes are bad (I use one myself for the props I sell). Give them a call and feel them out.

) Make sure this is something you can afford. Shipping an unwanted item back to a manufacturer can be expensive too.

) Be wary if you haven't received the item within the 4 to 8 weeks, especially if the manufacturer doesn't call you first with an explanation.

) Call around to other prop makers and ask about people's stuff. Most of the time, you'll get an honest opinion as many prop makers know each other and have each other's props in their collections.

) Be cautious of digital sound. It's not going to sound exactly like the original prop no matter what. A prop is limited to a small internal speaker, unlike the theater or your home surround system, you need to allow for this. This is important because digital sound usually costs more.

I'm sure there are a few other rules that I'm leaving out but they'll come out in later issues of this online mag. Remember, as long as the item makes you happy, then it was worth what you paid (no matter what your parents, wives, girlfriends or friends say. Your kids will generally agree with you).

I can be reached at

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