This is an update to the 2013 version of this same article. As with that 2013 feature, this one is prompted by another Bonhams auction offering for a fertility idol attributed to use in Raiders of the Lost Ark , this one referencing back to one of their older auctions in 2005. Due to public interest in discussing iconic props from the Indiana Jones films, and confusion in the marketplace with regards to the provenance and authentication of such pieces, I thought it appropriate to update my ongoing series of articles on the topic with the new information and photos (see: Raiders of the Lost Ark Fertility Idols In The Marketplace).
With the 2013 article, I had noted that the latest sale at that time marked the second fertility idol listed for public auction by Bonhams. Since their latest “TCM Presents… There’s No Place Like Hollywood” auction lists one that references a prior sale in 2005, that would make three distinct idols sold over four auction events.
As there have been a number of examples of such pieces offered for sale in the marketplace in the past that have raised questions due to discrepancies with what is known about those used in the production and/or seen on screen, I’ve felt that it is important to document and archive such pieces in an effort to maintain a record of such pieces circulating in the marketplace. While I’ve published a number of articles related to the topic, a good point of entry would be the first such article written in 2009: “Raiders of the Lost Ark Fertility Idols In The Marketplace (“The Danziger Collection”, “Elstree Film Studios”)“.
The latest offering is Lot 327 “A fertility idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark” as part of the Bonham’s Auction 22196:
Below is an archive of this listing:
Per the Bonhams auction listing:
“Inscribed and signed on the underside of the base in black ink, “‘Raiders of The Lost Ark’ / 1981 / R. ‘Doc’ Fuller / SPFX.” Rodney Fuller was credited as an effects technician on Raiders of the Lost Ark and has worked in special effects on dozens of films since, including Dune (1984), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Prometheus (2012), and World War Z (2013).
Provenance: Bonhams Knightsbridge, Rock & Film Memorabilia, April 27, 2005, lot 247.”
Below is an image of the idol from the auction listing:
In the past, the Original Prop Blog has published a number of articles about fertility idols attributed to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the varying styles with comparisons to what is seen on screen in the film (see Raiders of the Lost Ark Fertility Idols In The Marketplace).
Below is an updated image compilation which now includes the latest unique example from the upcoming Bonhams auction (far right):
I have never seen a still from the film or publicity photo that was shot at a time contemporary with the production of the film showing a a fertility idol with the pronounced “frown” as seen in all examples of my photo compilation above, apart from “The Prop Store Collection” example (read and see details further below), which has features consistent with what is known about the originals, that none of those other examples have (i.e. being hollow, having separate eyes, the material that it is made out of, etc.). The past and current Bonhams offering features the “frown”, as did the example sold by the auction house a few years ago, which realized $24,400 (including buyer premium).
Below is some additional information on the topic from my 2009 article on the subject…
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 the commonly found 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 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:
Jason De Bord