The tangible objects associated with sf that are sought by collectors fall into three categories. First are authentic artefacts from the genre's past, such as old pulp Magazines, Fanzines, Comic books, rare books, manuscripts, original cover paintings (see Illustration), vintage Toys, and film props, costumes, screenplays, animation cells, posters, and Cinema lobby cards. Second are cheap pieces of sf merchandise designed to appeal to fans, such as t-shirts, coffee cups, watches, calendars, notebooks, and pencil holders; in today's marketplace, these most commonly feature Superheroes. Finally, some new pieces are especially crafted to become "collectors' items", such as commemorative plates, ceramic figurines, limited-edition prints by renowned artists, and trading cards; some of these can also be used in Games (see Collectible Card Game, Collectible Miniatures Game). A few of these objects, like prints, may actually accrue in value; others, such as commemorative plates, typically do not. In the past, one usually acquired such materials from booths at sf Conventions; today, they are available from innumerable online booksellers, artists, and auction sites like eBay.
These objects can be of interest for various reasons. Predictably, when Hugo Gernsback first noticed and discussed the emergence of sf merchandise in a 1953 Science-Fiction Plus editorial, "The Science-Fiction Industry", he extolled such items primarily as valuable educational material for young people, though few would endorse that opinion today. Pieces like original cover paintings and film props can be valued simply as home decorations. Fans may desire to be recognized for the size and quality of their collections, and whether deliberately acquired for that purpose or not, these possessions can always be sold to provide needed income. Scholars have obvious reasons to seek out and examine the manuscripts and first publications of noted authors, including elusive pieces in Fanzines. Older artefacts may be deemed of sufficient historical value to be displayed in museums; thus, the set of the Enterprise bridge in the original Star Trek (1966-1969) series and other Star Trek items, such as models of the Enterprise, were acquired by and displayed at the US government's Smithsonian Institution, and many similar objects can now be viewed at Switzerland's La Maison D'ailleurs, Seattle's Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, and Washington DC's Museum of Science Fiction. The works of a few sf artists have been deemed worthy additions to art museums; for example, New York's Museum of Modern Art includes several paintings by Richard M Powers. Some objects may be productively examined as unintentional commentaries on the sf works they are modeled on, as Gary Westfahl has argued is the case with Star Trek merchandise. More broadly, even if they are not as imaginative or stimulating as sf literature, film, television, and Videogames, these items are inarguably elements of the sf universe and thus merit some attention, if only as a measure of the genre's enormous impact on popular culture as a whole. [GW]
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