The Smithsonian and "Star Trek"

By Richard A. Coyle

This is a rather disappointing story, as sadly the great American Smithsonian Institute is apparently unable or unwilling to get the correct information about the props that they display in some of their traveling shows.
The first I learned of this was from the official photographer of the city of Cleveland and a good friend Don, who also was involved with the Star Trek display in Cleveland's sciences museums a few years ago. In this particular display, they showed a Phaser one, a communicator, and a starship enterprise. The communicator was obviously a reproduction made by a gentleman who had changed his name to James T. Kirk, as there are many telltale signs, such as the small holes in the grill, the cadmium plating, the little metal knobs on the control plate, and the little brass perforated grill underneath the control plate. These details are all incorrect.

The Phaser one has even more glaring and easily provable mistakes. The power meter on the little clear lens is identical to the France Joseph technical manual version that is copyrighted 1975, right down to the font and the use of the "OL" in place of the number "10." This detail was not even in existence during the making of the TV show, and in fact was not created until two years after the show had gone off the air!

I do not have photographs of the enterprise model, but I understand it was very poorly detailed and obviously not a film used replica.
The next incident happened in my own hometown, when there was a Smithsonian display in Scottsdale, which I personally attended. The local news shows were making plugs about the traveling display, and how they had a classic pistol Phaser from the classic Star Trek show. There was also supposed to be a real Tucker automobile.
I took a day off and went to see the exhibit armed with my camera. They had several of the rare and fragile items in a special low light setting. Among these was supposed to be an original Abraham Lincoln top hat and one of Mrs. Lincoln's dresses. The low light conditions were to preserve these rare and delicate items, including the alleged Star Trek Phaser.
After waiting in line for a while, I finally was able to get close enough to look through the glass at the dimly lit display. There, I was astounded to see not an original classic Phaser, but a replica Phaser that had been made from the Franz Joseph Star Trek technical manual blueprints. It was rather disappointing to say the least; if the Smithsonian cannot authenticate props from a TV show that has lots of film footage and stills and many collectors readily available to consult, how in the world can one trust them to have a genuine Mr. Lincoln's hat or Mrs. Lincoln's dress? Add to my frustration that the Tucker car was set behind ropes in such a way that I could not see the rear of the car, I even became suspicious of this item; after all there were many replicas made for the film "Tucker," and they were powered by Volkswagen motors which are very easily recognized by their telltale muffler system, and since we could not walk around the car to see the rear or the interior, I was highly skeptical that this was the real thing.
I tried to notify the local news services of these glaring mistakes and inaccuracies, but to no avail. Later when I was pointed to the Smithsonian web site only to see the same incorrect Franz Joseph type Phaser photographed as part of their real collection, I again made an effort to contact them and point out the inaccuracies, and to question how they could get it so wrong.
Alas, to the best of my knowledge none of these errors have been corrected.

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