Raiders of the Lost Ark Fertility Idols In The Marketplace (“The Danziger Collection”, “Elstree Film Studios”)
January 23, 2009 by Jason DeBord
In November 2007, a “fertility idol” attributed to Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a Certificate of Authenticity issued by Nick Harrison of “Elstree Film Studios” as part of the “Danziger Collection”, was listed for sale on eBay as “an original” that was “used in the production”. A second, different fertility idol was listed on eBay yesterday with the same paperwork and provenance. Given the number of replica idols in the marketplace, questions surrounding these props in general, and outstanding questions about the status of the “Danziger Collection” COAs (authenticity of pieces and effect of guarantee), the purpose of this article is to compile and archive related information.
January 2009 Elstree Raiders of the Lost Ark eBay Auction – Fertility Idol
Below is an archive of the current “fertility idol” auction (January 2009):
eBay Seller: extraordinary-things
Auction Title: “Indiana Jones Raiders Production Used Fertility Idol“
Auction Subtitle: “Purchased at Elstree Studios 25+ years ago COA Included“
Noted Source/Provenance: “Certified by Elstree Film Studios”
eBay Item #: 110340368104
End Date: 02/01/09
Auction Result: Currently Active, Starting Bid $9.99, Unstated Reserve
Full Auction Archive: “Indiana Jones Raiders Production Used Fertility Idol”
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – Production Used Fertility Idol Prop!!
Certified by Elstree Film Studios
The original certificate of authenticity from Elstree Film Studios is included with the Fertility Idol (see photos below). The certificate reads as follows:
“This is to certify that this “Fertility Idol” is an original from the art department of Elstree Film Studios, used in the production of the Indiana Jones Movie starring Harrison Ford
“Raiders of the Lost Ark”
The certificate is signed by Nick Harrison (N. Harrison) and has the following additional information:
The Danziger Collection
Elstree Film Studios
Special Effects Supervisor and Licensed Film Archivist
I purchased this idol in 1982 directly from Elstree Studios in London England for the princely sum (back then) of $900. It has been sitting in my office for over 25 years.
This idol does not have a super high gloss gold shine as seen by many of the prop replica fertility idols seen for sale. I was told at the time of purchase that much of the luster had been lost through handling and wear during production and post production (see photos). I was also told at the time of purchase that this was a stunt idol, used for distant and action shots and not closeup shots.
The idol is made of resin and weighs 3 pounds 11 ounces and is approximately 8 inches high.
While there is a reserve on this auction it is substantially below the prices of similar auctions listed below.
Here are some historic results from other Ark fertility idol auctions:
Heritiage Auctions October 9, 2003 – Golden Fertility Idol from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1980) – Golden Fertility Idol created for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1980). Appears in the opening sequence of Indiana Jones raiding the Hovitos Temple. Several identical idols were created for use in this sequence, it is not known if this one was actually screen used -Sold for: $7,506.00.
Julien’s Auctions – West Hollywood – June 17, 2006 – Lot 159 : RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK GOLD FERTILITY IDOL – Sold for $9,900
November 2007 Elstree Raiders of the Lost Ark eBay Auction – Fertility Idol
Below is an archive of a previous “fertility idol” auction (November 2007):
eBay Seller: fxcreation
Auction Title: “Indiana Jones ORIGINAL IDOL !! movie prop“
Noted Source/Provenance: Certificate of Authenticity – “Elstree Film Studios”
End Date: 01/12/07, 11/17/07
Auction Result: Starting Bids of $8,500.00 and $5,500.00 – both auctions ended with no bids
Full Auction Archive: “Indiana Jones ORIGINAL IDOL !! movie prop”
Here is it !! VERY RARE prop for real Indy fan or movie prop collector, one of the most iconic prop of the indy film serie !
production used Fertility IDOL from ” RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ”
It is the very first idol made of the definitive design for the openning temple sequence, it is the prototype. But S.Spielberg decided it was better look as a “treasure” if it was gold !
pretty heavy, full resin. some original paint scratch. There is a pic of it in the skywalker ranch archives . was display in glass boxe from a free smoke home. Comes with a certificate of authenticity.
payment via bank account transfer only ! shipping in secure boxe $35 dont miss it !!!
Comparing Elstree / “Danziger Collection” Fertility Idols
Below is a direct comparison of the two “Danziger Collection” / “Elstree Film Studios” Certificates of Authenticity signed by Nick Harrison:
Certificate of Authenticity Text:
Certificate of Authenticity
This certificate is valid only if the gold seal is impressed and N. Harrison signs the certificate.
This is to certify that this “Fertility Idol” is an original from the art department at Elstree Film Studios, used in the production of the Indiana Jones movie starting Harrison Ford “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
The Danziger Collection
Elstree Film Studios
Special Effects Supervisor and Licensed Film Archivist
Note the only difference appears to be the serial number assigned to the documents (as emphasized in bold red):
- 2007 Auction: 03166447-770/IJR/NJH
- 2009 Auction: 03166447-768/IJR/NJH
Both documents are undated.
Below is a comparison of the auction photos from the two auctions of the two different idols:
Comparing with Replica Copies
Replica copies/castings are very common, and below is a comparison between the two “Danziger Collection” idols (RIGHT and LEFT) with one of those replicas (CENTER):
Comparing With Screencaps, Publicity Photos, The Prop Store Collection Idol
There are high resolution photos and information about the fertility idol that is a part of the “Prop Store Collection” which can be found on their website:
Below is the text about the piece from the PropStore.com website:
The Golden Fertility Idol from the memorable opening scenes of the Steven Spielberg classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. This incredible prop is one of the most famous props of modern cinema and just like Dr. Jones, collectors the world over have searched for it.
This is one of two Idol props taken to Kauai, Hawaii for location filming. The exterior scenes filmed there show Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) diving out of the temple entrance, and then forfeiting the Idol to Belloq (played by Paul Freeman), who proudly shows it to the native Hovitos. This version of the prop features static eyes, the brown glass eyes are permanently fixed into the head and do not move. All of the Idol props used in Raiders had brown glass eyes, and at least one mechanical version was built in which the eyes could move left to right. The original intent was for the eyes to follow Indy around the room as he approached the alter, but most of these scenes were cut from the film. The eyes can be seen scanning from side to side for just an instant in the final version of the film.
The Idol is hollow, cast in a thin fibreglass, and was originally gold plated through a vacuum-metalizing process. It shows its age today, there are cracks on the side and much of the original gold has flaked off of the face. The plating is still present around the sides and back.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most successful films of all time, spawning three sequels and a spin off TV series. It was released in 1981 to huge box office receipts and critical acclaim. It was nominated for eight Oscars of which four were won. It is as popular today with new audiences as it was the day it was premiered, the opening notes of the theme tune still give goosebumps to your average thirtysomething.
Whenever the idol is moved – you must remember to replace it with a bag of sand!
Below are the photos of the prop as seen on the PropStore.com website:
Note that the sculpt of the two “Danziger Collection” idols offered for sale on eBay and the replica version differ from the one seen on the Prop Store website (which has glass eyes):
This is most noticeable in that the “Danziger Collection” idols and the replicas have a more pronounced “frown” (with the corners of the mouth being more exaggerated), in addition to lacking the glass eyes.
However, there is a photo of a fertility idol in the book, From Star Wars to Indiana Jones – The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives, which more closely resembles the “Danziger Collection” and replica idols.
The following photo appears on page 127:
Note that this prop has the pronounced frown and the non-glass eyes, like the “Danziger Collection” idols and the many replicas in the marketplace.
Below is another side-by-side comparison including this …Best of Lucasfilm Archives version:
On page 126 of the …Best of the Lucasfilm Archives book, it states:
The idol prop itself, built by the production art department in England, was inspired by Inca and pre-Columbian art. The female figure was designed with a horrific countenance to heighten the suspense as Indy cautiously approaches the golden relic. When Spielberg sketched an image of the idol he scribbled the note: “statue seems to be watching, cursing his every step.”
Perhaps I can clear some of this up…and allow all of you to further this debate.
The two idols in the archives ARE original. One has glass eyes, one doesn’t. They are hollow fiberglass castings. The one with the glass eyes has a detachable back, with the seam running along the hairline and the back ridge. It has the bar inside as shown in the pics already posted, as well as the magnetic “latching” mechanism.
When I first started at the archives in 1988, the glass eye version (GE) was in similar condition to the one pictured in the Prop Store images. It was broken as well…as a matter of fact, had someone shown me those photos out of context, I would say they were taken in the late 80s of the GE Idol in the archives.
In 1993, Hata International launched an exhibit in Japan of many of the items in the archives. It wasn’t limited to Star Wars; it included Indiana Jones, Willow, Tucker…and even Howard the Duck. As part of that exhibit, they paid for an extensive restoration effort for about 200 items. By that point in time, many things were quite neglected. The two idols were restored then.
For the restoration, both were stripped of the remaining gold plating (it looked like vacuum-metalizing to me); the broken bits were glued back together, and everything sanded smooth to make it look good…perhaps too good. It did look much too clean and not like the original once it came back from the VM, in my opinion.
The Lucasfilm Archive book that has been published was actually the exhibit catalog, written originally in Japanese. Since the two idols, C-3P0 and the Ark were out being VM’d at the time, we couldn’t photograph them for the catalog. Hence, there is no photo of 3P0 in the book; a photo of the second damaged, non-restored Ark; and a photo of a casting of the Idol spray painted gold. This Idol was actually a present to Mr. Hata for organizing the exhibit.
Since I can confirm two versions of the idol exist, I think it still leaves the door open to debate as to whether or not the Hawaiian scenes has eyes or not. It was always my opinion that it didn’t, and I don’t think those screen grabs are conclusive evidence that there are glass eyes in there. The eyes are ill fitting in the one in the archives; there’s tiny gaps between the eyes and the lids. I don’t see that same fit in the Hawaii scene, nor is there much evidence of the seam line to get those eyes in there. There does appear to be a pupil, but that could’ve been painted on. Given my experience with 3P0 and the reflective issues the gold VM creates, it could be some odd reflection, but it wouldn’t be consistent. My opinion is that they’re gold eyes with painted pupils…but that’s my opinion.
Let the debate continue…
Similar information is published at TheRaider.net (see “The George Lucas Exhibition“):
The George Lucas Exhibition
When: From July 1993 till September 1994
In early 1992, long before the Magic of Myth exhibition, Hata International, a Japanese company which sponsored many traveling art exhibitions throughout Japan, approached Lucasfilm about organizing an exhibit. Lucasfilm quickly seized the opportunity to treat the Japanese people to a behind-the-scenes look at the imaginative world of George Lucas. In the exhibition, which ran from July 1993 till September 1994, tens of thousands of people saw first hand the puppets, figures, props, costumes, storyboards and artwork from all the previous Lucasfilm projects, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Willow, American Graffiti.
Several of the props, in order to be part of the exhibition, had to be restored because they had structural damage. Don Bies who was in charge of the restoration process explained the reasons, “The warehouse that originally housed the pieces was just that, a warehouse that had no insulation, no heat, no air conditioning. So, it went through extremes in temperature. That probably speeded up the decay in some things. Plus, this stuff gets beaten up while they’re shooting the films, and when they were done they just put it in the warehouse.” Besides, when a film crew is on location in the middle of a shoot, in Hawaii, hustling to get one last take before it rains, or in Tunisia, enduring the desert heat, preserving model, props and costumes for prosperity is not a priority. Among the many props that went through refurbishing were the Imperial Speeder Bike, a miniature Land Speeder, C-3PO’s armor, the miniature mine cars and figures from Temple of Doom and the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders.
– Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine #19 – article Welcome to George Lucas Exhibition, by Pamela E. Roller
Also included on page 124 is a storyboard sequence, which shows that the idol with socketed eyes that feature pupils:
The more recent reference work, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones (see OPB Book Review), while a great resource, unfortunately it does not include many details about the idol.
Included is the photo below (page 67) with the following caption (page 66):
Ford, Slocombe, and Spielberg. “The idol in the opening sequence was very much based on a real Inca fertility figure,” says Norman Reynolds. “But I modified it so it could better fit in one’s hand. I thought the head should really be the point of interest, so I made the lower body small and sculpted a large head.”
Note that Spielberg has a remote control in the photo above – presumably to control the eyes. There are additional photos archived below which depict an idol with functional eyes, which may relate to the remote.
Below is another photo of Spielberg with an idol from page 69:
Note that this version also has the separate glass eyes inset into the prop.
Another good point of reference is a discussion/debate on the Replica Prop Forum last year – see Original Golden Idol from Raiders here… – which has a lot of good information and stills/photos.
Below is some of the visual collateral from that topic which is of interest (note in all cases that the idol depicted on screen or in behind the scenes, one can identify the glass eyes inset).
These are high definition (1920×808) screencaps from one of the exterior scenes on Kauai:
Below are some “behind the scenes” interior shots:
These shots show the mechanical version of the prop:
State of the “Danziger Collection” Certificate of Authenticity?
As noted as recently as last month, with regards to a lightsaber that continues to be marketed as “original” which includes a similar “Dazinger Collection” COA (see Another “Original” Luke Skywalker Lightsaber Offered For Sale), the value of this authentication and current status and redeemability of the guarantee has been unclear since the business, Elstree Props, was sold by Paul Harrison (brother of Nick Harrison, who passed in 1999, and is signatory on these COAs), to Steve Wickenden last year (see Elstree Props, New Ownership, Announcement On Redesigned Website & Elstree Props “100% Unconditional Guarantee” Update).
Outstanding Questions, Further Reading & Discussion
Obviously, there are a lot of outstanding questions about these pieces, related to provenance and authenticity, use in production, different designs, different colors and materials, the use of eyes inset into the prop, different shooting locations in different countries, originals of replicas in the marketplace, any distinctions, etc.
Relevant discussions can be found at:
- Club Obi Wan: Aztec/Inca Idol? | Archives Idol confirmation from LFL archivist. | Original Golden Idol Prop Photos | Golden idol question
- Replica Prop Forum: Original Golden Idol from Raiders here…
- Movie Prop Forum: Indiana-Jones-Raiders-Production-Used-Fertility-Idol
- Original Prop Community: Raiders of the Lost Ark Fertility Idols
If anyone has any further information or opinions on these pieces, please publish your own Reader Comment below, participate in the related topic on the Original Prop Community forum, or contact me.
Jason De Bord