Today Christie’s has withdrawn Lot 136 from their upcoming Sale #5446, a prop attributed to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and described as a “prototype Imperial Stormtrooper’s helmet“. There has been ongoing public debate and controversy over movie prop Stormtrooper helmets trading for sale in the marketplace for years, and some of this debate and discussion intersected the legal battles between Lucasfilm and Andrew Ainsworth. In the auction description, Andrew Ainsworth was named as the source of provenance for the prop withdrawn from the current Christie’s sale.
By way of background, Original Prop Blog published two articles specifically about “prototype” Stormtrooper helmets in 2008:
- Star Wars “Prototype” Stormtrooper Helmets (June 24, 2008)
- Star Wars “Prototype” Stormtrooper Helmets Update: High Court Ruling Excerpts on LFL v. SDS Case (August 1, 2008)
As a great deal of information was presented in both 2008 articles, I would recommend reading those prior to the rest of this new article.
Below is the description and details of the lot now withdrawn from the current Christie’s auction (see www.christies.com):
Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977
A prototype Imperial Stormtrooper’s helmet, the unfinished helmet of white vacu-formed plastic with black rubber brow trim and simulated vents, the vents and mouth later painted, made for the 1977 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm production Star Wars: A New Hope; accompanied by a document concerning the provenance from Andrew Ainsworth
Star Wars Costume Designer, John Mollo, asked Andrew Ainsworth of Shepperton Design Studios to work on the film after discovering that they had the equipment needed to make the specialised vacuform plastic. To this end, with a frenetic deadline, they worked around the clock in their design studio from March – June, 1976 whilst filming was being carried out at Pinewood Studios. At that time, the huge success of Star Wars had not been anticipated and the making of the costumes was very much a process of trial and error.
According to Andrew Ainsworth, this is one of approximately five prototype helmets that were made when Shepperton Design Studios were experimenting with white vacuform plastic to make the first Stormtrooper helmets in 1976. They initially made six helmets out of khaki-coloured plastic and when they realised that design was not entirely satisfactory, they then made these prototypes to experiment with the different material. The serrated edge at the back of this helmet was abandoned for the following batch of helmets as it was too difficult to mould.
According to the vendor, he purchased this helmet at Shepperton Design Studios, Twickenham in 1977.
£3,000 – £5,000
($5,085 – $8,475)
Below is the single image used to promote the sale:
Unfortunately, no image of the back of the helmet was provided, which would help in comparing and contrasting with other helmets that have been circulating in the marketplace and described as “prototypes”.
Nate D Sanders also put up another, different “prototype” Stormtrooper helmet up for sale in one of their own memorabilia auctions earlier this year. This piece failed to meet it’s opening bid of $7,500 when put up for auction in March (March 2014 Auction Lot #266), and has since been listed for sale on eBay with a $15,000 “Buy It Now” price (currently eBay Item #181371041731).
Below is the description and details of the lot that failed to sell at the Nate D. Sanders auction in March:
Helmet from ”Star Wars: A New Hope” in 1977, signed by its designer. Unfinished Imperial Stormtrooper helmet is one of approximately six prototypes made of a specialized vacu-formed plastic. Features black rubber details, simulated vents and one clear plastic ”bubble” eyepiece. Helmet by Andrew Ainsworth, who signs the inside in black felt tip, was crafted at Ainsworth’s Shepperton Design Studios in early 1976, while other portions of George Lucas’ epic film were shot at Pinewood Studios. White helmet features a ribbed edge at the back, a design element that was ultimately omitted due to its difficulty to produce. Measures 12” in height and 12” in diameter. Light fingerprint smudges, occasional abrasions to finish and minor cracking to right temple and jaw area. Accompanied by a black and white photograph of a stack of Stormtrooper helmets at Shepperton Design Studio and an LOA by Ainsworth. Originally lot 217 in the Film and Entertainment auction by Christie’s, held in South Kensington on 17 December 2002.
Below are images used to promote the sale (click each for full resolution):
As mentioned in past articles, the Stormtrooper armor and helmet were based on original designs and artwork by Ralph McQuarrie. Andrew Ainsworth and his Shepperton Design Studios were contracted to manufacture the Stormtrooper armor and helmets, as well as other helmets worn by other characters in the original Star Wars film (excluding Darth Vader).
Per the Star Wars Helmet Archive, the original receipts show that 56 Stormtrooper helmets were manufactured – 50 stunt helmets (made of HDPE painted white) and 6 hero helmets (made of white ABS). There are many more details about the development of these helmets, differences between hero and stunt, and other information, which is better presented on Jez’s site linked above.
Mr. Ainsworth’s work in the Star Wars franchise was limited to the first film released in 1977.
One of the more interesting developments to leak out of the UK court case between LucasFilm and Andrew Ainsworth is in regards to the argument over the original sculpt based on the Ralph McQuarrie conceptual artwork.
Here are samples of the designs created by Ralph McQuarrie, who came up with the overall appearance of the Stormtroopers for the first film:
The following images were released on some of the prop replica discussion forums. These show two helmet sculpts which were not originated with Andrew Ainsworth, but, as I understand it, Liz Moore, and (as it’s been reported) predated Ainsworth’s work on the film. The example on the left is very close in appearance to the final Stormtrooper helmet design.
As far as I can discern, the first one of these helmets offered for sale was through Christie’s auction house, with Andrew Ainsworth as consignor. Nate D. Sanders claims in it’s current offering that it’s helmet is one and the same, but their is not enough detail in the 2002 Christie’s image to confirm if it is a match. The letter that is presented in the Nate D. Sanders auction makes no mention of the Christie’s sale.
Christie’s December 2002
Venue: Christie’s (London, South Kensington)
Sale: 9538 “Film and Entertainment”
Auction Date: December 17, 2002
Web Archive: Christies.com
Price Realized: $7,122.00
Star Wars, 1977
SALE 9538, 17 December 2002 FILM AND ENTERTAINMENT
Star Wars, 1977
A prop Imperial Stormtrooper’s helmet, the unfinished helmet of white painted vacu-formed plastic with black rubber details, simulated vents and clear plastic eyepieces (one missing) — made for the 1977 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm production Star Wars; accompanied by a black and white photograph of a group of Stormtrooper helmets and a corresponding black and white still (printed later), both — 8x10in. (20.3×25.4cm.); and a letter concerning the provenance (4)
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer’s premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
The following four lots are the property of Andrew Ainsworth who set up Shepperton Design Studios in 1974, the company responsible for the production of all the helmets and armour (with the exception of Darth Vader) used in Star Wars, 1977.
See footnote to lot 214.
The accompanying photograph shows a group of Stormtrooper helmets stacked up outside Shepperton Design Studios in Twickenham, London. The helmets are stacked on top of sheets of uncut plastic Stormtrooper body armour.
Photographs courtesy of B.F.I. Collections/Lucasfilm and Shepperton Design Studios.
END OF SALE
Additional examples of more “prototype” Stormtrooper helmets offered/sold in the past can be found in the historic Original Prop Blog article: CLICK HERE
As referenced in my “UPDATE” article (CLICK HERE), the High Court in England made statements regarding “prototype” stormtrooper helmets.
In any event, it is interesting to see these helmets continue to be offered for sale in the marketplace, but perhaps the reception for these pieces is continuing to evolve as more information and questions come forth.
Jason De Bord