PROTOTYPE COLLECTING: REAL VS. FAKE
Prototype collecting can be a fun hobby, but there are some things that you can do to protect yourself from being burned in the process. This guide will help provide some fundamentals is helping you learn how to collect preproduction items in the safest way possible.
Research and Provenance
The first thing you should do is research the known legitimate prototypes that have surfaced. This website can be used as a guide for many of the modern Star Wars prototypes. You will also want to research the people that you buy or trade with. I would also recommend networking with other prototype collectors on forums and social media groups. Not only you can make good connections, but you can also share your items to validate its authenticity.
Check to see if there is any provenance of the item you are looking to acquire. Provenance is the record of ownership that can be used to help authenticate or qualify the prototype. Since prototypes were never developed for public ownership, acquiring provenance might be a difficult task. A Certificate of Authenticity (COA) is another measure of authentication, but this should be provided by a reputable & qualified source. A COA is only as good as the party that provides it! Since prototypes were never meant for public ownership, you cannot expect a COA to be provided. Prototypes that have been graded by a third-party service, doesn't automatically make them legit. While there is usually some authentication performed, it is not guaranteed.
Prototype Development Process
Take time to learn the development process of an action figure. Since conceptual items are often hand-made, they are the easiest to fake or replicate. Having some type of provenance is strongly recommended for conceptual items!
The second easiest things to fake are hardcopies and silicone molds. General resin casting is relatively easy and inexpensive. For this reason, toy sculptors use this method to quickly generate a highly detailed 1:1 ratio copy of their sculpt.
Here are some tips when authenticating hardcopies:
Hardcopies are slightly larger and show finer detail than their injected molded counterparts.
Standard resin colors have changed throughout the years. Compare resin colors of other know hardcopies within the same era.
Hardcopies will not have copyright markings.
Hardcopies will likely not have any peg holes, except Deco Masters that were used at Toy Fairs.
Beware of new recasts being made of real hardcopies in which will appear to be the same size and detail as the original. Research your source.
Injection molded first shots or test shots are relatively difficult to fake as this process requires expensive machinery and requires special tooling of steel molds. Beware of paint washed fakes. This is where a chemical was used to remove the paint of a production figure. These fakes will often show old paint within the cracks and crevices of the surface. Some chemicals are too harsh on the plastics in which can result in "chemical attack" and deterioration of the surface resulting in detail loss or sticky to the touch. This is often found on the harder less pliable plastics, such as torsos.
Here are some tips when authenticating injection molded test shots:
First shots (test shots) are made of injection molded plastic and not resin. They will feel similar to a production figure.
Early first shots that are of non-production colors and/or lacking peg holes or copyright markings are generally more desirable to collectors.
For production color test shots, beware of paint washed fakes. Look for signs of old paint and deterioration.
Beware of recurring figures for sale. While many legitimate test shots are made in quantities for the development process, there are some high-quality preproduction fakes made.
If you have a questionable Star Wars prototype figure, feel free to post photos here. Experts in the hobby will offer their opinions to help qualify if it appears to be real, questionable or fake.
Paint Washed Fake
This is a paint-washed Darth Maul figure. A chemical was used on a production figure to remove paint from the head to reveal the bare injection molded plastic. At a quick glance, the figure may appear to be a test shot. However, there are tiny specks of pain in some of the crevices. The chemical used to remove the paint from the lightsaber, caused some detail loss around the hilt. If a test shot appears to be production colors and has copyrights, then make sure you research the seller and/or make sure the item has some type of provenance or guarantee.
Fake Test Shot
This is an extremely detailed resin copy of a Darth Maul action figure. It appears to be made to look like a test shot figure with the multicolor design and copyright markings. However, test shots are not made of resin. Even if presented as a hardcopy in which are made of resin, this figure shouldn't have copyright markings on the bottom of the feet. Peg holes normally aren't present unless used for event displays such as Toy Fairs and other conventions.
The figure on the left is a translucent resin copy of the Darth Maul holographic production figure on the right. This item was advertised as a prototype figure. It doesn't fit the test shot category as it is made of resin, even though it appears to look very much like an injection molded figure. The biggest red flag is the casting bubble found in the base of the figure. This is the pouring point where the resin entered the mold. Air entrapment is very common when resin casting. Even if presented as a hardcopy in which is made of resin, this figure has the same physical size as its production counterpart. Production figures are made from an injection mold process in which will experience some slight shrinkage compared to the original sculpt or hardcopy. Additionally, there is usually some loss in detail. In this example, the resin figure is identical in both size and detail, indicating that it was simply cast from a production figure.
These figures were resin cast from original production figures, using silicone molds. The resin is more brittle compared to injection molded plastic. Metal pins were used in the Anakin figure to connect the limbs together and mimic a hardcopy. The concerning points are that traditional hardcopies are typically cast in one color, except if there is a flexible component. Also, when compared to their production counterparts, there is no size difference. A hardcopy will likely be slightly larger than its injection molded cousin. Even if these were presented as test shots, they wouldn't utilize pinned joints.
Other Known Fake Prototypes
Click on the photo for a detailed description.