Each decade after the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing seems to bring out more collectors and higher prices for vintage photographs from America's Space program. Both Christies and Sotheby's have in the past had very successful space memorabilia sales, but recently the trend is for sales exclusively devoted to vintage NASA photography.
This latest sale, in London, has the distinction of achieving solid prices for the best images, preferably in the very rare large sizes.
The entire sale was from the collection of Parisian dealer and collector Victor Martin-Malburet. European collectors have been the most prevalent at these auctions in the past ten years with a few very successful sales held in Paris. The take including buyer's premium was £291,000 or about $460,000. Seventy-seven percent of the 297 lots were sold, not including after-sales.
The curating of this auction was modest, going for large format prints when available, as opposed to standard issue 8x10 inch prints. The vast majority of the photographs were in the smaller sizes, and the sale was devoid of any of the important photographic artifacts from the space missions such as the NASA/US Geological Survey Surveyor Mission mosaics, which were from the 1965-66 Lunar Orbiter mission to map the moon for an eventual moon landing, or any of the very rare but critically important Lunar Landmark Map books with vintage photographs that were used both in training and flown in missions in order to orient the astronauts to the lunar terrain as they were descending to, and skimming, the lunar surface looking for a landing site.
The top lot was the famous Apollo 11 portrait of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon with the Lunar Module and fellow Astronaut Neil Armstrong both reflected in his visor. It was a 16 x 20 inch chromogenic print. The final bid including premium was £26,840 or just over $42,000, against an estimate of £ 8,000-10,000. Next in line for high-price realized honor was lot 164, the famous Apollo 8 Earthrise image used on a postage stamp of our good Earth rising over the lunar horizon, Christmas Eve, 1968. It brought £18,300 or about $29,000 against an estimate of £10,000-15,000. A smaller version appeared as lot 99 and brought £12,200 or $19,200 against an estimate of £1,000-1,500 (6th highest sales price in this auction). The third highest lot was estimated at £750-1,000 but brought a whopping £17,100 or $30,000.
Despite some exorbitant prices, there were many bargains to be had in the $1,000-2,000 range, as vintage NASA photography appears to be getting its due as cultural, scientific and historical remnants of the 1960's.
(Editor's Note: Several of the dealers on I Photo Central have NASA images for sale, including Gad Edery in Paris, Charles Schwartz in NYC and Contemporary Works/Vintage Works. Some can be found at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/result_list.php/32/NASA/0.)
Howard Schickler is a collector, curator and former New York gallerist. He is currently working on film and interactive media projects with his company Exulto Media Inc., which is based in Sarasota, FL. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.