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 & 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 the 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 meant for public ownership, acquiring provenance might be a difficult task. A Certificate of Authenticity (C.O.A.) is another measure of authentication, but this should be provided by a reputable & qualified source. A C.O.A. is only as good as the party that provides it! Remember, since prototypes were never meant for public ownership, C.O.A.s are not issued upon creation of the prototype.
Prototype Phases of Development
Take time to learn the preproduction process. Since conceptual items are often hand-made, they are the easiest to fake or replicate. Having some type of provenance in this phase is strongly recommended!
The second easiest things to fake are hardcopies and silicone molds. It is relatively inexpensive to create molds and pour resin castings that appear to be real. Real hardcopies will typically be slightly larger and more detail than the production item. Poor detail and similar sizing to production are red flags when collecting hardcopies. Also note that a hardcopy will never have copyright markings. Another thing to consider is that a hardcopy can be recreated from a real hardcopy relatively easy. This is done by making a silicone mold off the hardcopy or using original molds to pour a fresh resin cast. Therefore provenance is highly recommended for hardcopies.
First shots, also known as test shots are more difficult to fake as they are made of injection molded plastic much like the production version. This process requires expensive machinery and requires special tooling of steel molds. Early first shots are available without copyrights and/or peg hole markings. Test shots that are in non-production colors and/or don't have these copyright markings are not only more desirable, but are more likely to be real. Test shots in production color with copyrights could be simply an unpainted figure or worst, a paint washed figure. Paint washing is a process where chemicals are used to dissolve the paint on the figure. This is relatively easy to do on the limbs and they are made with a higher vinyl content and the plastic is more chemically resistant to this. Torsos are usually made of PVC and are likely to suffer mild chemical attack when exposed to these chemicals. The result is lack of detail.
Bootlegs are mass-produced non-licensed figures. These are usually made of injection molded plastic and the quality is usually much less than the original. There are a couple of high quality bootleggers that focus specifically on replicated prototypes. While their work is truly amazing, they focus primarily on vintage prototypes. The red flags are the high availability and low price point.
This is a paint washed Darth Maul figure. A chemical was used to remove paint from the head to expose the injection molded plastic. The figure looks like a test shot. Since some test shots have copyright markings, this could easily pass. The chemical used to remove the paint from the lightsaber, caused some detail loss around the hilt. This is a red flag that there may have been foul play. 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.
These figures were cast from original production figures, using silicone-molds. The figures are made of a resin and is more brittle compared to injection molded plastic. Metal pins were used in the Anakins to join the limbs together to mimic hardcopies. The red flags here are the fact that hardcopies are usually cast in one color. Since test shots are tooled to function like a production figure, they wouldn't use any type of pins for the limbs. Additionally hardcopies are generated directly from the final wax sculpt. Therefore they will be identical is size and detail when compared to the wax sculpt. First shots are generated from injection molding machines. The plastic in the injection mold process has a given shrink rate. Therefore injection molded figures should be slightly smaller and less detail when compared to a hardcopy.
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, which gives us the first red flag. Even if presented as a hardcopy, which are made of resin, this figure wouldn't have copyright markings on the bottom of the feet. Another red flag.
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 point where the resin entered the mold. Air entrapment is very common when dealing with resin. Even if presented as a hardcopy, which are made of resin, this figure has the same physical size as its production counterpart. Production figures are made from an injection mold process. There is some slight shrinkage to the plastic parts when 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.