Spock’s Ears: The Story of an Unexpected Donation

Visitors often ask Lilly Librarians where we get all of our wonderful treasures. Of course we began with a generous donation of over 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts from J.K. Lilly, Jr. Since his gift in the mid-1950s, we have acquired many fascinating, beautiful, and unexpected items through purchase and donation, and we’ve learned that you never know when someone you meet might have an interesting story to tell and item to add to the library’s collections.

This blog post tells the story of a recent and unexpected donation. Lilly Librarians Rebecca Baumann and Maureen Maryanski worked with other IU Librarians and Archivists to organize the Primary Source Immersion Grant Program, which kicked off in August with a three-day workshop for sixteen IU faculty members. Our keynote speaker for this series was Professor Ben Motz, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Instruction for IU’s Department of Psychological & Brain Science. Ben inspired teaching faculty and librarians with ideas about how brain science can be applied to concepts of active learning. When Ben discovered that the Lilly Library has a Star Trek collection (including the original scripts for Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, comic books, and the papers of IU alum and Trek producer Jeri Taylor), he realized that he had something in his own collection that might find a new home among the Lilly Library’s treasures. Ben explains:

“Even in elementary school, I was a big Star Trek fan.  Growing up I remember being anxious to watch episodes on Sunday evenings instead of playing outside.  So in 1992, as a gift for my sixth grade graduation, my parents (Barbara and David Motz) placed the winning bid on a pair of authentic Spock ears from Star Trek 6.  Leonard Nimoy was a member of our family’s synagogue, and had donated them as an auction item for a temple fundraiser; I think their winning bid was around $75 at the time, and it included a certificate of authenticity and a signed photo portrait of Nimoy.  For the last 17 years, I’ve kept them safe with all my other most prized childhood collectibles, but I’d always imagined that these ears should eventually be accessible to the public, under the care of people who would know how to preserve them.”

Ben Motz's donation of a pair of Spock's ears, worn by Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek VI, with signed photo.
Ben Motz’s donation of a pair of Spock’s ears, worn by Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek VI, with signed photo.

The original prospectus for Star Trek, dated March 11, 1964, is already part of the Lilly Library’s collections. It includes Gene Roddenberry’s initial description of the character of Spock, which is quite different from his final incarnation:

“The captain’s right-hand man, the working level commander of all the ship’s functions from manning the bridge to supervising the lowliest scrub detail. His name is “Mr. Spock.” And the first view of him can be almsot [sic] frightening—a face so heavy-lidded and satanic you might almost expect him to have a forked tail. Probably half Martian, he has a slightly reddish complexion and semi-pointed ears. But strangely—Mr. Spock’s quiet temperament is in dramatic contrast to his satanic look. Of all the crew aboard he is the nearest to Captain April’s [later changed to Captain Pike, then Captain Kirk] equal, physically and emotionally, as a commander of men. His primary weakness is an almost cat-like curiosity over anything the slightest ‘alien.'”

As Spock transformed from Martian to Vulcan, from red-skinned to green-blooded, and from catlike to logical, one thing remained: the pointed ears. As Ben Motz points out,

“There’s an interesting backstory about the popular and sociocultural significance of making someone look alien, which motivated Gene Roddenberry’s interest in Spock having pointy ears.  Leonard Nimoy was initially opposed to them, but they took on a life of their own in the series.  They provided a sort of sociological reference point, making the differences between different humans seem, relatively speaking, pretty minuscule.”

The IU campus recently welcomed George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek, and his powerful talk reminded us of Trek’s longstanding commitment to diversity, curiosity, and exploration—all values shared by Indiana University and the Lilly Library.

We love the story of Spock’s ears, we extend very warm gratitude to Professor Ben Motz for his kind donation, and we look forward to continuing to share all our Star Trek collections with fans on campus and around the world.

You can request Spock’s ears through our online request system.

Rebecca Baumann, Head of Public Services

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