Anniversary of moon landing sparks more collectibles!

Recently, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, (July 20, 1969) and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon brought back some really cool memories. At that time, many of us talked at school about the latest space adventures. I memorized the names of the astronauts as if I was reciting the names of U.S. presidents in history.

Americans took President’s Kennedy’s word literally when he said that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the 1970s. Growing up in St. Louis, I kept especially close tabs on the space race, because Alan Shepard, one of the original astronauts, was also from the St. Louis area.

And the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin did fulfill President Kennedy’s prophecy with the most famous space mission ever, culminating on July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong set forth on the moon.

But Armstrong was not alone on the moon. Other items touched the surface of the moon as well. And collectors were quickly to pick up on that. Neil Armstrong even brought flags to the moon, but not on it. Astronaut Wally Schirra’s college class ring flew with him into space. Buzz Aldrin’s gloves were inside his spacesuit when he landed on the moon.

And then of course there was a zippered bag containing moon dust, which was stamped with the words “Lunar Sample Return.” Armstrong had packed the bag with moon rocks.

Armstrong’s bag of rocks set forth a controversy, as NASA accidentally sold the bag to a private collector in 2014. Due to an error in the NASA system, the bag was confused with another space bag from a later lunar landing.  It was sold for $995 at an auction. Ironically, the winning bidder knew that the bag of rocks had been used during a space flight, but was unsure as to which one. NASA officials refused to return the bag to her, claiming that the rocks “belong to the American people.” And the controversy escalated.  

The Federal judge ruled in favor of the lady who had bought the bag. The judge said that the bag should never have been put up for auction, but he had no authority to reverse the transaction.  NASA returned the bag of rocks in 2017 to the high bidder.

The judge’s decision opened the door for other space items to be sold at auction. And there were many. Keep in mind that each of the following items had something to do with the moon expeditions. The winning bids of the items may surprise you.

•  $275,000 – A flag that traveled with Armstrong to the moon.

•  $275,000 – A piece of the Wright Flyer airplane that traveled with Armstrong to the moon.

•  $275,000 – A medal honoring the three astronauts who died in the 1967 Apollo I fire.

•  $109,000 – A flight suit worn during the Gemini space program by Armstrong.

•  $18,950 – An envelope signed by the three Apollo 11 crew members that they took to the moon.

And my personal favorite item went for $11,875. That is of a Newsweek magazine with Armstrong on the cover and was delivered to his house. It still includes the address label.

NASA collectibles were everywhere, and included signed posters, signed baseballs, shot glasses, buttons, keychains, and even mugs. Kids growing up at that time could not get enough. Space missions captivated the public. Most space collectibles are affordable. For example, a NASA patch was first introduced in 1959. There are now a variety of patches, including ones associated with the flights of Mercury, Gemini, Skylab, and Apollo. Lunar meteorites are also available, which means that they originated on the moon. They can be purchased for about $100 or so.

And then, of course, there is the story of Gary George. George was a former NASA intern who was at the right place at the right time. In the 1970s he bought a box of 2-inch reel-to-reel tapes at a government surplus sale. He bought the tapes for $218. He later discovered that he was the sole owner of the original Apollo 11 film footage. He had originally not known what he had bought, and had planned to sell the box of tapes to television studios for recording use. Then his father noticed that three tapes were labeled “Apollo 11 EVA”, and dated July 20, 1969. Then Gary George knew he had some valuable items. He held onto the tapes for another ten years. Then he approached Sotheby’s auction house.  The rest is, what they say, history. Literally.

The reel-to-reels were auctioned for a whopping $1.8 million.

As a Frank Sinatra fan, I wonder if his rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” was played by the Apollo 11 crew.  My mind is only space wandering.  That’s all, my friends.

Jeff Figler has authored more than 700 published articles about collecting. He is a certified professional appraiser and one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles. His latest book, “The Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia” has been #1 on Amazon. He can be reached at info@jefffigler.com.