For well over a decade Legends Memorabilia has been delighting film and television fans and historians by providing them with access to items from the past: rare collectibles, costumes, props and autographs.
Legends is responsible for maintaining the vast archive of Stargate collectibles itself. The company’s founder, Paul Brown, gave GateWorld some of his time at this year’s Gatecon to discuss his personal journey into both entertainment and historical memorabilia, what Legends currently offers, and what lies ahead.
We talk about the process of acquiring and cataloging new costumes and property from the Stargate production offices, the rampant spread of inauthentic merchandise, and Paul’s personal involvement with Richard Dean Anderson’s charities.
GateWorld’s interview with Paul Brown runs 24 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe now to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read. I’m here with Mr. Paul Brown, owner and founder of Legends Memorabilia. Paul, you have the largest collection of Stargate memorabilia known to exist. Are you a fan? [Laughter]
Paul Brown: Absolutely. I couldn’t be doing this job that we’re doing with our company with Stargate unless we were a fan of the show. Not only a fan of the show but a fan of the people involved in the show, and that is the underlying joy that I have in the show. The quality of the people that we’ve got to know in doing this job. And that extends to the cast, crew, all the way through to the fans. It’s not just a commodity business to me. It’s a people business, and I enjoy it because of the people.
GW: When did you first approach them saying, “This is something that I’d like to get involved with with you guys,” or did they approach you?
PB: Actually it all began in the closure of The Outer Limits. MGM were wrapping The Outer Limits. We had recently undertaken a fairly small X-Files online auction. This is back in the days when online sales of memorabilia barely existed. We’ve been doing this for about 14 years now. When we did the X-Files project, in terms of timing, that would have to be about eight or nine years ago now.
MGM were wrapping Outer Limits. They had everything set up for a set dec sale. We went down to visit them and told them what we felt we could do for the memorabilia industry, and rather than sell this off in a big flea market, “Could we not just take this to the memorabilia industry?”
GW: That must have turned their heads!
PB: It got their attention! The next thing I knew I was being asked to come down to MGM in Los Angeles to meet the various executives down there. Ever since that moment we’ve been handling the asset sales of many of their productions.
What they were doing is they would offer us a production that’s concluded, and if we felt it was something we wanted to work with then we’d work with it. Mostly we would say no, because we don’t like to do sales of contemporary production props and costumes. We need things that are unique, gadgety. Sci-fi related is definitely the theme we like. Period related.
We did “Wind Talkers,” which is a John Wu production, through MGM with Nicholas Cage, Christian Slater, Adam Beach. And of course it had a lot of period pieces, and it really attracted the attention of not only film memorabilia people but also military collectors, too. Most of what we had from that inventory was, in fact, authentic memorabilia.
GW: Paul, when it boils down to it, what is the goal of Legends? What did you originally set out to do with it? What has it evolved to, if at all?
PB: To bring home the dreams of the people. These fans of Stargate, in particular, are the most dedicated fans of any series, or show, or production, I have ever dealt with in my life.
GW: Really? That’s saying something. You’ve done a lot.
PB: And I would say the Stargate fan is absolutely the most committed and dedicated, and as we’ve seen here this weekend, the most generous fan you’ll find. Our objective all along was to try to help them live their dream a little more by bringing home the things that they like so much that meant so much to them.
The everyday person wouldn’t understand why Amanda Tapping might handle something. “Why would that be so special?” And yet the fans of Stargate, anything that Amanda or Richard or Chris or Michael, Don, anything the cast members touch, to them is very special.
And to somebody who idolizes the show as much as they do, to have something that they can hold in their hand, and then see it on screen and know it’s only one — there’s only one in the world, it’s not a replica, this is the original one that was used or worn — to them that is very special.
We’ve gone to great lengths to try to ensure that we make things affordable for people, that anybody can afford something in Stargate. We don’t only put things out for auctions. Sometimes the auctions go a little nuts in the prices — we know that — but we try to do things very competitively in terms of the shopping dollar, and we allow them to buy things at a really good price.
We feel that what our objectives are is to bridge the gap between them in their living room, what they see on the screen, and the studio. And if we can go through that transition by giving them a prop or a costume then [we’re] helping them to fulfill their dream, of how they feel about Stargate.
GW: And they also themselves feel a little bit more connected to the show than before. I mean, you’re letting them own a piece of history.
PB: That’s about right. And some of it is very special. You talk about the history. One of the joys I have … I started this whole business because I’m a great fan of historical documents. It all started with me owning a Charles Dickens letter many years ago. I love historical documents.
One of the joys I’ve had is filtering through the things that we receive from the studio over the years. Recently, only two weeks ago, I came across something that was just, to me, a wonderful piece of history. I mention history because you mention history. It was an original, used call sheet from day one of “Children of the Gods.” The very first call sheet of the very first day of the series.
I looked at that piece of paper. It was all kind of crumpled and wrinkled up. It had been folded in and out a few times. I thought, “My goodness. This is a piece of paper history!”
GW: This needs to be framed.
PB: Exactly! And it’s going to be. Absolutely. Along with the Charles Dickens and the other great pieces of paper memorabilia I think are special. One day we’ll make sure that that gets on somebody’s wall and it’ll be very special. Right now it’s something I want to hang on to, because yes I am a Stargate fan. To me it is rather special. It’s difficult being a collector and a fan.
GW: Yeah, especially because you have all these.
PB: Exactly, so we have to be somewhat selective. It’s a joy to work with because the quality of the product is so good. Costume, props, I mean, second to none.
GW: You essentially have all this stuff in the back yard. Is there anything from the library of Stargate that you, yourself, has said, “I want that!” Or do you basically turn it all around?
PB: No, not really, not really. I really appreciate it all. If there is one thing it’s probably that piece of paper I just spoke about, that original call sheet, because I’m a paper collector. I love antique documents and historical documents from various fields. So I would say I’d lean towards that as one thing I would be sorry to see go.
The rest of it, I’m not disappointed to see it go because I know it’s going to good homes, generally.
GW: So a series, or a season, of Stargate ends, this stuff comes to your door, I guess in a semi truck. What begins the task of bringing it into your archive? I imagine you photograph it and catalogue.
PB: Yeah, it’s a very intense process that we have to go through. We have to get the inventory, and then sort it out, and determine, “What is it? Where was it used? What episode did it come from? How was it used?” Then we photograph it and then we write a description on it, and do whatever research we can, because it’s very important that when we give this product to the fan, that the fan does indeed have as much background as they can.
However, that’s quite an easy task for us, because if we get stuck and can’t find something, we just simply let the fans know, “We don’t know what this is! Can you tell us what this is?”
Thanks to Kate Ritter’s wonderful book, that’s been very helpful as a bit of a compendium of information for us as well. We enjoy doing the research. That’s a lot of fun doing that, too. But we do try to get as much information as we can.
And then when it’s all done and nicely packaged up then we’ll put it up for sale. Either direct sale or an auction. And then we handle all the shipping, and when all is said and done we give the revenue to the studio that’s it. And we take a commission for doing that.
It’s a turn-key project that we do. It doesn’t cost the studio anything. We just take care of it for them. We take care of all elements. Obviously storage, insurance, shipping, payment.
GW: What percentage of the items you receive have already been catalogued? Are some studios good about telling you what it is or are some things just not tagged at all?
PB: Oh, no. I would say Stargate [is] very good in terms of tagging. Let’s talk about costumes, first of all. The costume department is second to none. They’re astounding at how well they document things and how well they bag things and tag things. [There is] never a mystery, unless you’re dealing with “extra” costumes. We did receive a very large number of extras costumes, and we didn’t quite know what they were. There was a lot of research on those. The main costumes are very well identified.
Props [are] pretty-much the same thing. Sometimes we do get boxes of miscellaneous props. But in general the props are well identified and usually catalogued, boxed by episode as well. So it’s not that difficult. It’s a lot of fun actually going [and] watching the episodes, once you’ve got the props in front of you, to actually try to catalogue them.
To us we have to find out specifically, was it really seen on screen. Was it a hero prop?
GW: Yes, that’s important!
PB: Exactly. We can’t represent something on our certificates as being seen on screen if it in fact wasn’t seen on screen. So we have to be a little bit careful. We can’t take anything for granted. Every single prop, whether it was a little, insignificant-seeming item or is a very high-profile prop, they all get the same treatment from us. The same amount of time and research we put into it.
And it’s a quality of that kind of intense background which gives value to this very valuable little thing. I say “very valuable,” not in terms of dollars, but valuable in terms of emotional value to whoever’s going to finally own it.
I think it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we do strengthen the value of this by giving them the hard facts as we can find them, as to what they now have, and what they’ve purchased.
GW: You have items, you said, like miscellaneous boxes of things. Do you have the DVDs on hand or someone with experience who knows where everything is that can say, “I have an idea of where it is and I want to check an episode out.”
PB: Pretty well. My staff are pretty well, Angie and Julie — two of my daughters — we’re a family company. Angie and Julie are two of my daughters, are very, very good on this. Over the years they’ve seen enough Stargate episodes to have a pretty good idea.
Plus we have a handful of core, really good fans who are friends of ours who are really good. If we do find ourselves stuck we simply take an image of something, send them the image, and usually within a couple of hours we’ve got a good answer to where it was used. Or “Try this episode.” Or “It was used in such and such an episode.”
There are some of these fans out there who really are walking encyclopedias. They’re wonderful. Sometimes they really surprise me. We have some of the most obscure looking things that mean absolutely nothing to us. Haven’t got a clue what it is. I’ll bang an image off to somebody, one of these fans, and they’ll be back, “Oh yeah, that’s such and such a thing.” And sure enough, they’re right on the money. It’s great.
GW: Do you ever encounter something, a prop or a costume, where you cannot figure out what it is. “I just don’t know what that is.”
PB: Yeah. Very rarely. We’ve got a couple of things from Stargate in which that has happened. In particular, a necklace. There was a particular necklace. It’s got all kinds of very ornate alien language. We can’t for the life of us find out where it was used. Nor can any of the fans. Yet it came to us in Stargate boxes.
GW: Miscellaneous necklace?
PB: It might have been something that got chucked in there, that “One day this might be good for an episode of Stargate.” It could’ve come from something else.
GW: Ah, OK. Never on screen necessarily.
PB: Possibly. And we did get some things from the movie, “Stargate the movie” as well, which were intermixed. So we have to be careful there. Whether it’s something that came from that particular inventory, we don’t know. But it’s the one mystery nobody’s been able to solve.
GW: So you do have items from “Stargate” as well. So when MGM acquired the license they picked up the props?
PB: When they started “Children of the Gods,” the TV series, the studio did in fact send up some inventory from Los Angeles from the movie, a residual. It wasn’t a lot. But there were several boxes anyway. Over the years we’ve received a few bits and pieces. Not a lot of material, but some interesting little bits and pieces.
But interestingly enough, they’ve never really been of significant sales value or never of any great interest to the fans. We’ve found that the fans are fans of the TV series, not so much the movie.
GW: I heard that the Stargate was rotting in the box in a desert, from the movie, and that they used that for sections of the mold. That would’ve been something to have.
PB: Well I think they used that to create the mold, and thereby generate a new software program that then allowed them to replicate the full gate again. So yeah, there is a program out there somewhere. In fact, we had access to that program when we manufactured our miniature Stargate. It’s an exact replica of the Stargate taken from the very same software that was used to create the full gate.
GW: How many million laser scans were used? Etchings? I have it sitting on my desk at home!
PB: I don’t know the numbers but it’s huge. We’ve just done a miniature death glider. That took 72 hours of computer engineering time and 120 hours, approximately, of CNC engineering movements — scans, if you will. A hundred twenty hours of work. But then the actual number, movements the cutting head took, many, many millions. I won’t throw the number out because I’m not sure of it. The staggering number of millions. A hundred and twenty hours of work is incredible.
GW: What items do you have coming down the pike that you may be able to hint about? I was thrilled when you came out with the eye of Ra amulet. It was the replica from “Moebius,” but also looked like the one from the film, because some of them didn’t. What do you have coming? Are other replicas in the works?
PB: In a word, nothing. We haven’t announced this, but I can tell you that we have relinquished our replica license with MGM. We decided not to renew our license for the replica prop program. We ran it for three years and we made, I think, 26 different items in the line. Zat guns, staff weapons and so forth. And quite frankly it was not an economically viable project for our company.
It was somewhat of a distraction because we spent so much time doing product research, product development, into getting a licensed item onto the marketplace. Unless you’re really selling that licensed product in very large quantities, a licensing program is not necessarily a very economic project to do.
We don’t sell zat guns by the thousands. In the hundreds, but not in the thousands. And really a licensing program, to recoup the immense costs and royalties that you have to pay, you’ve got to have numbers, and the numbers weren’t there. So we have reluctantly decided that we’re going to not renew our license. We’re not moving forward with any more replica items from the studio.
GW: Well, economics aside, as a fan who loves the franchise and owns six or seven of these things in his house, I’m certainly glad that you did it for as long as you did.
PB: Thank you, it’s very gratifying to hear that. We know a lot of fans that we’ve mentioned this to are very disappointed. We think the quality of what we have done has been very good. We’ve enhanced the value of the show in terms of the artifacts that people want to own.
This show deserved the kind of quality products that we gave them, and we put a lot of good effort into all of the products that we did manufacture. There was nothing tacky in what we did. We think it was pretty classy. Right down the packaging. And that was important.
Yeah, I’d love to see it continue, but it’s not an economically viable program for us, and we do need to be focused on the other things that we do. Our company is a diverse company in other areas of memorabilia, and that is something we need to get back to doing. We’ve really put a lot of other projects on the back-burner in the last few years because of Stargate. We’ve been so heavily engrossed in Stargate.
But now, of course, I’m also heavily engaged with doing things with Richard Dean Anderson in particular. I can’t be making replica props and doing things with Richard and things like this as well. These are things I’ve got to allocate my time, where is it best spent.
My desire right now is to work with Richard on his charity program, which is what we’ve been doing very intensely for the last two, three years. As you know, over the last year or so we’ve brought Richard to two events now. As you’ve seen for yourself, at this event this weekend, he thoroughly enjoyed himself.
He and I are going to embark on a program where we’re going to now extend this program into further fund raising activities for the causes that he supports. He’s lending his name to these causes. My job now is “How do we best merchandise that and bring funds into those causes?” So I’m looking forward to doing it. As of next week we’re getting that program underway rather intensely.
GW: Wow. That’s fantastic. His signature is so hard to obtain. Did you approach him about this and show him how you wanted to do this? Did you get recommended to him?
PB: It was very interesting how that whole autograph project developed. Because we were so well known with the fans as being a supplier of props and costumes, and they knew that we were close to the studio and the cast, many fans would send us autographs and say, “Can you tell us, is that a real signature?” We also are in the autograph business as a company. We’ve been in the autograph business since 1995.
GW: Yeah, and that’s tricky, man.
PB: Yeah! And so often they would send us an image, and I’d look at something, and I’d know right away it’s a fake. This became rather prolific. One day I decided to go online and do some checking. I looked through the listings on eBay one day, and I was really staggered to see so many of the autographs I felt were not real.
So I came up with this program whereby, if the fans trust us, which they do, and they know us, why can we not bring the autographs to the fans through our company but not in a profit making sense. Let’s do a charity.
So I approached, first of all, Amanda Tapping. Amanda was wonderful. She loved the idea. She got me together with Chris [Judge] and Michael [Shanks], and then finally she got me together with Richard. When I met Richard, the day before I had gone on eBay and I had downloaded 12 autographs. I believed 11 of those 12 were not real. That was my suspicion.
GW: Wow. That’s substantial.
PB: I met with Richard, told him what I had discovered. He was quite shocked. I simply said, “Did you sign these?” He looked at all of them carefully and said, “Yeah, I think I signed that one but I didn’t sign those. Where did you get these?”
I told him the story. He said, “What do we do about that? How do we solve that?” I said, “Well, very simply. We’ll sell your autographs online. We’ll give them the certificate. We’ll donate 100 percent of the proceeds. One hundred percent will go to your charity, and the fans, I think, will be very comfortable that they’re getting the real thing.
GW: It’s pricey, but it’s authentic.
PB: Yep. Well, we let all the stars set their own prices for their autographs. Richard and I discussed it and we set it for 45 dollars. Right now you can go online and find dealers selling his autograph for 150, 200 dollars. They’re marking it up and that’s the kind of price they’re getting for it.
But that’s getting fewer and fewer. Most of the fans know they can come to us to get that autograph now. This past year our autograph activity with Richard Dean Anderson and his charities, and all the events we did with him for his charities for his autograph, exceeded 80 thousand dollars of donation revenue, which is wonderful.
GW: That’s extraordinary.
PB: So we’ve done a very good thing, I think, with his autographs. We’ve extended that into various other cast members as well. This whole charity thing has become a big part of my life, that’s for sure. And certainly with Richard. He’s such a joy to work with.
He and I have really hit it off well. I’m honored to say we’ve become friends. I think he respects what I do and he’s entrusted me to do something with his name, so that’s what I’m going to do. And we’re going to do it right, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it. And that’s the next phase of my life.
So no new replica props coming down the pipe, but some very interesting things concerning Richard Dean Anderson, which I think the fans are going to enjoy hearing about as time evolves anyway.