Space, the Final Collecting Frontier: ‘Star Trek’ Toys and Memorabilia
The original television series “Star Trek” ran for only three seasons but had a much larger impact on pop culture.
The second half of the 1960s was a memorable time for American television programming. Audiences were introduced to numerous shows that would become revered classics, including “I Spy,” “Days of Our Lives,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Batman,” “Dark Shadows,” “Mission Impossible,” “Columbo,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Sesame Street.” Also premiering during this period was another program that, while not a ratings hit during its initial broadcast, would later go on to become an influential, worldwide cultural phenomenon with a huge, highly devoted fan base. That series was “Star Trek.”
Making its debut on Sept. 8, 1966, “Star Trek” followed the exploits of the crew of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise—led by the intrepid Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner)—during a five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Working alongside Kirk were the rational-minded half-human, half-Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the cynical, highly emotional chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Other major crew members consisting of chief engineer Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), helmsman Lt. Sulu (George Takei), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig).
Mego Corp. enjoyed great success with its line of “Star Trek” 8-inch action figures. These Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Klingon figures hit stores in 1975. Value: $75 each approx.
Paperback novels have been released for the original “Star Trek” TV show, animated series and feature films. These books are from the first three movies, and date from 1979-84.
Depicting an optimistic view of the future where humans and aliens attempted to coexist in peace, “Star Trek” was the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry, a former police officer-turner-writer and producer who contributed to such classic 1950s and ’60s television programs as “Have Gun-Will Travel” and “Highway Patrol” and helmed the critically acclaimed ’60s drama, “The Lieutenant.” Though he sold “Star Trek” to NBC executives as a western-adventure program set in outer space—a “Wagon Train to the stars”—Roddenberry aimed to elevate the series above other genre programming by imbuing it with a social commentary that many shows of the era lacked. Thus, many of the dilemmas presented on the series would be thinly-veiled representations of issues of the day, including, racism, sexism, the Vietnam War, political corruption and more. Also helping “Star Trek” to stand out from other programs of its time was an ethnically diverse cast and its depiction of women as highly capable, valuable members of the ship’s crew.
Despite an initial change in cast members (an original pilot episode featuring actor Jeffrey Hunter in the lead role of Capt. Christopher Pike and actress Majel Barrett as the first officer, Number One, was rejected by NBC) and the looming threat of cancellation due to low ratings (delayed once through the efforts of a letter writing campaign orchestrated by loyal fans to network executives), “Star Trek” would air for three seasons until June 1969.
The proliferation of large-scale science-fiction fan conventions in the early 1970s and the creation of a mind-boggling array of merchandise would help propel “Star Trek” into the franchise that it is today—one that to date, includes five spin-off series and 12 motion pictures, including the newly released blockbuster “Star Trek Into Darkness,” directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Captain Kirk and Commander Spock, respectively.
“Star Trek” has been adapted into comic book form by Western Publishing (Gold Key), Marvel and DC. Shown are issues from Gold Key (Oct.1978) and Marvel (Oct.1981).
Topps Chewing Gum Inc. released a line of trading cards for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1979. Value: $5 a pack, approx.
As far as merchandise goes, with perhaps the exception of “Star Wars,” no other television or film series has spawned as much merchandise as “Star Trek.” Over the years, thousands of items have been produced including: pins, badges, posters, greeting cards, calendars, coffee mugs, shot glasses, Halloween costumes, rubber Spock ears, collector’s plates, key chains, bobblehead figures, plush toys, T-shirts, bedding, watches, jewelry, record albums, Christmas tree ornaments, ceramic cookie jars and even a telephone shaped in the image of the U.S.S. Enterprise. As such, this article is only a very brief look at some of the collectibles derived from the original TV show, its spinoff 1973-74 animated program and series of motion pictures featuring the original television cast members.
One of the first “Star Trek” items to be marketed was a nicely detailed plastic model kit of the U.S.S. Enterprise, released by hobby company Aluminum Metal Toys (AMT) in 1966. Featuring decals and a base on which to display the model, the kit was also equipped with battery-operated lighting component. A great success for the company, the kit was issued in a retooled version two years later with a more elaborate lighting system and in a different-sized box and AMT (which had assisted in the creation of some miniature ships and props for the TV series) would go on to manufacture several other Star Trek-themed model kits. A Klingon Battle Cruiser was put out in 1968; later, kits of Mr. Spock, the Galileo shuttlecraft, Romulan Bird of Prey, K-7 Space Station, a diorama of the Enterprise Command Bridge (featuring miniature figurines), a three-pack of smaller-scale “snap together” ships and an Exploration Set that included build-your-own versions of the crew’s phaser weapon, tricorder and communicator would be released during the early to mid-1970s.
Many of these kits would be reissued several times over the years in boxes with revised artwork, and the lighting feature would be removed from the Enterprise model in the mid-1970s. As the kits were produced in such large quantities, many are still fairly easy to come by nowadays; at present, original 1966 editions of the Enterprise fetch between $70-$80 in complete, boxed condition, while the various ’70s-issued versions can be found for around half that amount or less.
These 12-inch “Star Trek The Motion Picture” Kirk and Spock figures were released by Mego Corp. in 1979. Several other characters were produced, as was a 3 ¾-inch line.
This set of three “Star Trek” Micro Machines miniature ships was released by Lewis Galoob Toys Inc. in 1992. Value: $10 approx.
In 1967, popular toy manufacturer Remco released a number of Star Trek-themed products. The company marketed several weapons, including a Tracer Scope gun, which resembled a metallic rifle and was capable of shooting miniature plastic discs; a Tracer Gun, which looked like a 1960s-styled ray gun and could also shoot the same discs; and a Rocket Pistol, which could fire both caps and a toy grenade. A bizarre-looking bright yellow plastic Astro Helmet, an Astro Tank, with accompanying plastic figurines and a Flying Saucer (which was just a yellow Frisbee-like disc with an illustrated sticker of Mr. Spock on it) were also released that year. Vintage 1960s Remco merchandise has long been very collectible and values can range from around $75-$100 for a mint saucer, $200-$275 for a complete Rocket Pistol, and several hundred dollars for the helmet and tank.
Also released in 1967 was a Star Trek board game from the Ideal Toy Company which, according to the toy’s box art, was “an adventurous game that orbits the earth and the planets beyond!” Featuring a colorful board and playing pieces, the game’s box featured a fantastic illustrated image of Kirk, Spock and Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise. The first Star Trek board game to be marketed, it was also the only one to be produced during show’s original broadcast. Depending on condition, a well-played with example can be bought for less than $20, while near mint specimens can sell from upwards of $100 or more.
Other products to hit stores in 1967 included a set of 72 black-and-white photo trading cards from Leaf and a comic book line from Western Publishing. Published under both the Western and subsidiary Gold Key labels, the line would last for 12 years and be comprised of 61 issues. The first nine issues would feature photo covers of stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, while the subsequent ones would have either painted or line illustrated covers. Comic book values vary widely, but early photo cover issues in very fine, near mint or mint condition can command hundreds of dollars apiece.
These 4-inch non-articulated figurines of Lt. Uhura, Kirk, Spock and Lt. Scott were manufactured by Hamilton Gifts and released for the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek” in 1991.
The following year would also see the release of vintage Star Trek collectibles, including a Movie Viewer from Chemtoy Corporation, which allowed users to use strips of film to see black-and-white illustrated comic book-like images; a set of binoculars and a Flashlight Ray Gun put out by Larami in 1968; a Mr. Spock Halloween costume by Ben Cooper; a beautifully illustrated metal dome-shaped lunchbox and thermos set by Aladdin; and the first “Star Trek” novel, “Mission to Horatius,”and a hardcover children’s book published by Whitman Books. While some items, like the movie viewer and hardcover novel, can be easily picked up for $20 or less, others, like the lunchbox are significantly pricier to acquire. In fact, vintage 1968 lunchboxes and thermos sets have been known to fetch close to $1,000 apiece when found in lightly used or near mint condition.
Although “Star Trek” had been cancelled in 1969, the series had 79 episodes under its belt—enough for it to go into syndication, and it would be in reruns that the program would became incredibly popular with viewers, many of whom had missed the show during its original broadcast. The success of the series in syndication, plus the arrival of the Saturday morning cartoon, “Star Trek: The Animated Series” (which aired from 1973-74 and featured the voices of the original TV cast) helped to make “Star Trek” a popular license for many manufactures. Scores of products would be marketed during the mid-1970s, but some of the most memorable items would be the toys released by Mego Corporation, Azrak-Hamway International (AHI) and its subsidiary, Remco.
Mego, a company who had achieved success with a popular line of DC and Marvel superhero action figures, released its first series of Star Trek toys in 1974. Comprised of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Scotty, Dr. McCoy and the villainous Klingon, the eight-inch-tall figures featured highly detailed head sculpts that closely resembled the actors from the series, and the toys were dressed in colorful fabric costumes that came complete with miniature accessories like phasers, tricorders and communicators. A sixth figure, Lt. Uhura, was added to the lineup the following year, and along with a change to the packaging artwork, the joints in the figures were switched from metal to plastic. A playset/carry case of the Enterprise’s bridge (which included Captain Kirk’s chair and a Transporter to allow figures to “disappear” and “reappear” again) was released, as was a second playset, “Mission to Gamma VI.”
This plastic model of the U.S.S. Enterprise spacecraft (complete with lights) was the re-tooled second edition released by AMT in 1968.
Several figures of the show’s various alien characters, including the Mugato, Keeper, Neptunian, Gorn, Cheron (played by actor Frank Gorshin on the show), Andorian and Romulan were also later produced, but in lower quantities than the previously-released Enterprise crew. While values for common figures like Kirk, Spock and the Klingon can hover around $60-$75 each when found in mint condition, several of the much rarer (and highly sought-after) alien figures have been known to command hundreds of dollars apiece when found unopened in their original bubble card packages. In additional to the figures and playsets, Mego also manufactured a Communicator-shaped walkie-talkie set, a Command Communications Console and a Super Phaser II Target Game.
A manufacturer of inexpensive toys and novelties, Azrak-Hamway International, Inc., also produced a number of popular and sometimes bizarre Star Trek-themed toys during the mid-1970s. Though the company put out more traditional toys like the Phaser Ray Gun, which was essentially a flashlight with a clicking sound effect and a Phaser Saucer Gun, which shot out plastic discs, it also released more unusual items like parachuting figures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, a water gun in the shape of the Enterprise and a model of the Enterprise with miniature helicopter-like blades that could be launched into the sky. As all of the toys were packaged on flimsy, easily damaged bubble cards, mint condition specimens are more difficult to come by. Remco (which had been bought out by AHI in 1974) marketed a Utility Belt set in 1976 which included a phaser (capable of shooting small discs), a tricorder and communicator, as well as an individually sold phaser that featured sound and light effects.
Other Star Trek-related products to make it to stores around this time included: a board game released by Hasbro in 1974; book and record sets put out by Peter Pan/Power Records in 1975; a set of trading cards by Topps Chewing Gum Inc. in 1976; various puzzles and coloring and activity books printed by Whitman; and a number of novels and “FotoNovels”—a type of comic book that employed photos instead of traditional comic art—published in the late ’70s by Bantam Books.
With the incredible box-office success of “Star Wars” in 1977, science-fiction was hotter than ever in the late 1970s, and production on a long-planned “Star Trek” project was finally given the green light by Paramount. When “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” hit movie screens in 1979, a multitude of new items were produced, including 3 ¾-inch and 12-inch-sized figures from Mego (unfortunately, the plastic used for the 12-inch figures has degraded over time, resulting in many dolls having gray-colored faces); trading cards from Topps; a comic book line from Marvel; puzzles from Larami; a soundtrack album of composer Jerry Goldsmith’s score from Columbia Records; a set of Viewmaster reels from GAF; a paperback tie-in novel from Pocket Books; children’s spoken-word record sets from Peter Pan Records; color and activity books from Western Publishing/Merrigold Press; 12-inch plush dolls of Kirk and Spock from Knickerbocker; and a plastic model kit of the new, refitted movie-style U.S.S. Enterprise and Klingon Cruiser from AMT.
This 10-inch Captain Kirk vinyl figure was released by Applause Inc. in 1994 to tie in with that year’s film, “Star Trek: Generations.”
This 3 ¾-inch tall Mr. Spock (in the image of actor Zachary Quinto) was released by Playmates in 2009 for the release of the J. J. Abrams-directed film.
Subsequent “Star Trek” films led to the release of other merchandise throughout the years, including a plastic model kit ship by AMT for “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”; a set of 3 3/4-inch figures by ERTL for “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”; and miniature die-cast model ships of the Enterprise and Klingon Bird of Prey by ERTL for “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” For the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek” in 1991, a wide array of items was released, including reissues of previous AMT model kits and a line of 10-inch vinyl figures with bases by Applause.
Since then, a steady stream of Star Trek collectibles have continued to be marketed including miniature Micro Machines space vehicles by Galoob; action figures, battery-operated miniature space vessels, tricorders, communicators and phasers by Playmates; a Star Trek-themed set of Barbie and Ken dolls from Mattel; miniature Minimates block figures from Diamond Select Toys/Art Asylum; die-cast Hot Wheels ships from Mattel; reproductions of 8-inch Mego figures (including characters that had never been made, such as Sulu, Chekov and the villainous Khan) from EMCE Toys; and a salt and pepper shaker set in the shape of the Enterprise and Galileo shuttlecraft by Westland Giftware. With the release of 2009’s reboot film, a new collection of merchandise was released bearing the likenesses as Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and even Leonard Nimoy, who appeared as an older version of the Spock character. And this year’s sequel has spawned several new collectibles including comic books, construction toys and miniature die-cast model spacecraft.
Despite a relatively short original run on television, “Star Trek” has had a long lasting impact on our pop culture landscape. An early testament of the show’s growing influence could be seen in the decision by NASA to call its prototype version of the Space Shuttle (unveiled in 1976) the “Enterprise,” after loyal viewers wrote in to recommend the name. Generations of fans—sometimes affectionately referred to as “Trekkies” and “Trekkers”—have watched Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov grow older together over the years in their voyages aboard the Starship Enterprise.
Though it features colorful costumes, fantastical technology, exotic locales and strange looking aliens and creatures, at the heart of “Star Trek” is its depiction of a future in which those from different backgrounds will learn to live and work together in harmony. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why the show continues to endure to this day.
James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.
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