Inside a Million Dollar Auction of Rare Space Memorabilia
Are you in the market for 15 gilded astronaut hand molds?
Bids coming in over the phone at Bonhams New York’s Space History sale. Image: Jackson Krule/Motherboard
A vintage 1950s full-scale lab model of Sputnik 1, one of only four made. Checklists, manuals, and equipment that flew with Apollo astronauts to the surface of the Moon. A collection of 15 NASA astronaut hand casts, originally used to tailor-make spacesuit gloves, mounted on plaques and decoratively gilded.
These were some of the most memorable lots sold off at Bonhams New York's Space History Sale on Wednesday, an event timed to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing. The auction included nearly 300 items, many of which sparked spirited bidding wars from buyers in the room, on the phone, and online.
The scale model of Sputnik, for instance, ended up selling for a whopping $269,000, roughly 20 times higher than its estimated worth, while the hand molds sold as one lot for $155,000, about 10 times what they had been projected to go for.
Plenty of more modest items, like rare photographs, maps, astronaut mementos, and spaceflight equipment, were met with offers in the hundreds or low thousands of dollars. One of my personal favorites in that price range was the Mir space station's "Merkurii" Control Panel which sold for $2,500.
In total, the auction earned a cool $1,315,063. "This was a truly meteoric result for the Space History sale," said Cassandra Hatton, director of Bonhams' history of science and technology department, in a statement.
"The demand for these relics of the space race continues to be really strong. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are still very much household names—evidently, everything they touched turns to gold. The pieces from the Soviet space missions are also steeped with history and drama, so it's exciting to see the market flourishing across the board."
Scroll down for a highlight reel of the sale's prodigious collection of space memorabilia.
This piece of beta cloth flew with the Apollo 11 crew to the Moon, and is signed by all three astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. It sold for $110,000.
The pictured spacesuit was worn by veteran NASA astronaut Don Pettit during his tumultuous 2003 descent from the International Space Station, in the Soyuz TMA-1 vehicle.
Pettit's suit sold for $155,000.
The Mercury 7 are pictured here in the thick of survival training in the Nevada desert. Taken in 1960 and signed by six of the seven members of NASA's first group of astronauts, the picture sold for $13,750.
This Snoopy Astronaut doll, made in 1969, is a nod to NASA's use of the beloved Peanuts character as a mascot and "spokesperson" for the Manned Flight Awareness (MFA) Program. It's signed by Apollo 10 commander Thomas Stafford. It sold for $2,125.
This multivolume compendium of images taken by NASA Ranger spacecraft sold for $3,125.
Bids for this celestial globe flown with the manned Soyuz 18 mission in 1975 topped out at $25,000, lower than the projected $30,000.
This lunar chart is signed by one member representing each two-person Apollo Moon landing crew: Buzz Aldrin for Apollo 11, Alan Bean for Apollo 12, Edgar Mitchell for Apollo 14, Dave Scott for Apollo 15, Charles Duke for Apollo 16, and Gene Cernan for Apollo 17. It sold for $37,500.
This copy of the flight plan for Apollo 13, a mission that notoriously did not go according to plan, is signed by crew member Fred Haise. It was bought for $3,125.
A copy of the famous "Earthrise" picture taken by Apollo 8, signed by all three crew members, went for $1,750.
"Moonshot," a 1958 illustration by artist Allan Todd, depicts astronauts on the lunar surface. It sold for $6,000.
This flight simulation chair was used during the early years of the Space Shuttle program to train astronauts in remote operations and docking maneuvers. It sold for $4,750.
This large vintage model of the Soyuz rocket was made during the heat of the space race, and was auctioned for $10,000.