A Collection of a Lifetime
Renee Austin’s legendary archive of Star Trek collectibles will soon be available to the next generation of superfans
When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry revolutionized television in 1966 by boldly taking viewers where no one had gone before, his vision of the future left a profound and lasting impression on college student Renee Austin.
“She loved what Roddenberry had to say,” says Ariana Gibbs, who is Renee’s youngest daughter. “The show was one of the forerunners of equality for both women and minorities, and she loved that about it. She grew up in a different era and liked the idea of women having the opportunity to do what they wanted to do.”
Renee was a student at Oakland University in suburban Detroit when the crew of the Starship Enterprise embarked on its maiden voyage to explore strange new worlds. She and a group of her friends were instantly hooked on the series and made it a point to never miss an episode. In the days before DVR and VHS, that meant Thursday nights from 8:30-9:30 p.m. were sacred.
“They couldn’t record it, so if you missed it, you missed it,” says Ariana. “Nobody would accept any date on Thursday nights until after Star Trek was over. They would get ready to go out, watch the show, and then leave. Some of her friends would get upset with her but she’d just say, ‘I’ll catch up with you.’”
Renee, who would go on to teach elementary school for more than two decades until a cancer diagnosis forced early retirement, was not only one of the series’ first fans – she also became an avid, meticulous, and somewhat renowned collector of Star Trek merchandise. And when Renee passed away in 2010 at age 63, she left behind a trove of spectacular memorabilia amassed over the course of more than 40 years – truly a collection of a lifetime.
And after 12 years in storage, items from Renee’s collection with be available to fans this summer through VIP Fan Auctions.
Set Phasers to Stun
Many of the pieces Renee acquired over the years (and carefully documented with maintained photos and certifications) are one-of-a-kind props and other unique mementos that range from personal gifts such as DeForest Kelly’s cast jacket from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
to rare finds such as Odo’s bucket from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Renee also took special joy, however, in obscure collectibles ranging from Star Trek cereal to band-aids
to action figures that ended up in the wrong packaging.
“She always thought it was funny to find figures that had the wrong hands on the wrong bodies, or the wrong uniforms or weapons – or she would find, like, Wesley Crusher in Deanna Troi packaging,” says Ariana, who recalls her mother leaving school to make weekly missions to stores as new shipments of toys were scheduled to arrive. “They would actually discount them, so she’d buy [the factory error figures] just for the fun of it, but those ended up being worth the most money.”
“Renee was a hoarder in the best possible way,” says Mark Pattison, a family friend, and avid autograph collector who brought Renee to her first Star Trek convention and accompanied her to many more throughout the 1990s. “She had a passion for science fiction – especially Star Trek – and when she collected something, it stayed in her collection.”
Russ Miller, a retired middle school teacher from Hastings, Mich., also joined Renee in attending conventions from Detroit to Chicago to Atlanta for more than a decade into the early 2000s.
“I would usually drive, and she would buy lunch,” Russ recalls. “We started out just getting autographs of stars, and then we started to get into more of the collectible stuff. The things she was able to secure way outshined mine, though – she had a lot of the really nice stuff that I couldn’t afford.”
“When I first realized she was a big-time Star Trek fan, she was collecting memorabilia through the mail – plates and other licensed stuff,” adds Mark.
Russ says that Renee’s many years of attending Star Trek conventions allowed her to develop a network of high-level sources with access to rare Star Trek items and props with proof of their authenticity. This network allowed Renee to secure many of the iconic items that will be included in the auction event.
“She picked up stuff that I’ve never seen anywhere else,” he says. “She loved that stuff, and it rubbed off on me. She was a good friend, and we had a lot of fun. I miss her. Renee and I were both educators who kind of grew up with Star Trek. We liked the idea of a better future where people could just get along.”
‘The ears make all the difference’
As a teacher, Renee would weave her love of science fiction into the classroom – most notably incorporating
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home into her lessons on ocean conservation.
“She loved the humanity of it,” says Ariana. “She loved that there was a future where we didn’t destroy our planet. She was a huge conservationist and loved whales, so when Star Trek IV: The
Voyage Home came out, that was her favorite movie because it directly relates to the idea that when you lose the whales, you lose the planet. In a roundabout way, she always would use that in her lesson on conservation.”
It’s also the movie that produced the crown jewel of her collection: Spock’s ears from Star Trek IV. The ears have been carefully preserved
within a beautiful display case for many years.
“Those were the hardest things for me to part with,” says Ariana. “I wasn’t going to sell them because those
were her favorite items in the collection.”
“The Spock ears really stood out,” adds Russ. “I always remember the Spock ears – that was a very cool thing.”
Growing up in a home in which Star Trek was a constant presence had both quirks and perks. Ariana says her mom took control of the TV whenever there was a new Star Trek episode and seeing any new Star Trek movie on opening night was a mandatory family activity.
Holidays were also special. Christmas, for example, traditionally featured a starship-themed tree and Kirk and Picard nutcrackers. For Halloween, costume choices were limited.
“It was not, ‘What do you want to be?’ but ‘What captain do you want to be?’” Ariana says with a laugh.
Renee would often volunteer at conventions in the 1990s and 2000s, where she spent a lot of time with Star Trek: The Next Generation legends like Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner, to name a few. And when Star Trek cast members came to the area for appearances, it was like seeing old friends.
“She would be their assistant for the day, and they would pay her by signing several items for her for free, so that’s kind of how she got a lot of her stuff,” says Ariana. “I almost died the day I walked up to Brent Spiner with my kids, and he said, ‘Is this Elvis and Zoey?’ I literally fell on the floor because Data knew my kids’ names. That’s the type of stuff that you never forget.”
Opening the Vault
The collection itself is amazing, and when VIP Fan Auctions opens it to the public this summer, Ariana hopes it will make a lot of fans happy.
“That’s what I’m excited about,” Ariana says. “This stuff has been sitting in a dark room for 12 years because I just didn’t have the ability to get these things into the hands of people who would appreciate it.”
After initially listing some pieces of the collection online to gauge interest, Ariana says she hoped to find a community of interested fans but ended up feeling like a target for dealers looking to turn a quick profit. That changed when she contacted Illinois-based VIP Fan Auctions.
“The whole crew that came out was so nice and welcoming – and they knew so much about it,” Ariana says of VIP’s consignment team. “I was like, finally somebody who knows something about it and appreciates it. I felt like they were people who, if they’d met my mom, they would have been friends.”
Ultimately, the decision to offer the menagerie that Renee amassed over 40 years and thousands of miles was to share the joy it provided her for so many years.
“It’s difficult because she loved it and I loved her – therefore, I love the collection,” says Ariana. “But I know that in her heart, she would just love that somebody’s going to appreciate all of this as much as she did. My mom would have wanted other people to enjoy it.”
Based on the quality, distinctiveness, and sheer size of Renee’s collection, that mission will undoubtedly be accomplished.
Fans are welcome to preview a number of the auction items at Hollywood Palms Theater in Naperville, IL from 6 pm – 9 pm on July 19, 2022. Fans can also view the auction catalog, register to bid, and sign-up for auction updates at https://vipfanauctions.com/star-trek-auction/.
More information is also available by following VIP Fan Auctions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Vimeo, and YouTube.