It’s fifty years since the first manned landing on the Moon and there’s a galaxy of space memorabilia out there for collectologists to explore.
Blast-off for Apollo 11 celebrations
2019 marks five decades since Neil Armstrong took that “small step” onto the Moon. I remember being transfixed by the grainy TV pictures beamed live back to Earth. It was hard to believe, as a fourteen-year-old, what I was seeing.
The countdown to the anniversary has begun with feature articles, TV documentaries and exhibitions, everywhere. For collectors, the question is what kind of Apollo 11 Moon landing items are still out there?
Memorabilia associated with the Moon landings fall into two types.
Type one is equipment, documents, clothing, astronaut’s personal items which have been to the Moon.
Type two are general artefacts created after the successful missions.
Most of the material in Type 1 is outside the orbit of most collectors. In fact, the bulk of it has gravitated to museums and institutions.
Among Type 2 artefacts are books and photographs but occasionally T-shirts or napkins or monographed material signed by the astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, during the triumphant world tour after the mission.
These items are quite common, sought-after and sure to maintain value.
Bag rocketed in price from £800 to £1.5million
Artefacts directly associated with Apollo 11 often become the stuff of legend.
The first bag used by Neil Armstrong to collect that first Moon rock ended up the centre of a legal tussle.
After the mission Nasa, the space agency, loaned the bag to a space museum in Kansas.
When the museum’s curator resigned in 2002, it was discovered that many artefacts including the Moon rock bag had disappeared. A year later it turned up in the museum curators’ garage. In the criminal trial which, followed the curator was convicted of theft and fraud. The story then gets a twist.
Better than the winning the lottery
The re-discovered bag was sent back to Nasa who checked it against an inventory and concluded that there had been an administrative mix-up, and it was not the actual bag Armstrong used on the Moon mission. The Moon rock bag was not the genuine Moon rock bag at all.
Nasa then put the returned bag up for auction and it was bought by a lawyer for about £800, ($1,000). The lawyer, Nancy Carlson, decided to send the bag to the Space Centre at Houston to test its authenticity. The test found that the bag contained genuine Moon dust.
The only explanation was that it was indeed the bag that the first man on the Moon used to collect the first Moon rock to be returned to Earth. Nancy must have thought she had won the lottery.
There was a lengthy legal battle which went in Nancy’s favour. Later in 2017, she put it up for auction raising a cool £1.5 million, much of which went in donations to various charities.
Nasa officials were displeased. They put out a statement after the court settlement. “This artefact, we believe, belongs to the American people and should be on display for the public, which is where it was before all of these unfortunate events occurred.”
Apollo 11 inspired brooch
It never went to the Moon, but a commemorative gold brooch that belonged to Neil Armstrong’s wife Janet, went on sale only last month for £150,000.
The 18-carat gold piece was one of three presented to Armstrong and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins after their historic mission.
A fourth brooch was presented to Rose Kennedy, mother of the late President John F. Kennedy.
The brooch is shaped to resemble the lunar surface, with a design based on the Moon’s craters. Janet wore the brooch, when she met the Queen and a young Prince Andrew.
Items linked directly to the mission rarely come up for sale but recently, a Nasa checklist which did travel to the surface of the Moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin sold at auction in New York for £50,000 ($62,500).
Neil’s sign-off for added value
In retirement Neil Armstrong decided to stop signing autographs. He became disillusioned when he discovered that they were being sold on-line and that many were forgeries. Not surprisingly his decision served to increase the value of the genuine Armstrong monikers.
People often forget the third astronaut on the first mission to the Moon. Michael Collins remained in orbit round the Moon as Armstrong and Aldrin strutted their stuff.
Collins wrote a book telling the story the first Moon landing from his perspective. The book Carrying the Fire became a best-seller and is regarded by critics as the best book written by any astronaut.
It was released recently to coincide with the 50th anniversary, but look out for earlier autographed copies. They are currently worth around £500.
Missing Moon rock
Factoid:382 kilos of Moon rock were brought back to Earth from six successful Apollo Moon missions.
The most recent sale of a piece of Moon rock was at Sotheby’s in New York last November.
The sample came from an early seventies unmanned mission to the Moon by the Soviet Union. It sold for £700,000.
Factoid: The Apollo missions gathered 370 pieces of Moon rock which, on the instructions of President Nixon, distributed to the nations of the world. Today 184 of these are regarded as lost, stolen or unaccounted for.
If you’re interested…
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