Investing in space memorabilia
Collecting space memorabilia has long been a popular hobby, but since the mid-1990s it has also become a popular area for investors. The limited nature of the memorabilia available, combined with the amazing stories of bravery and endeavour that surround it, means that the demand is always likely to outstrip the supply. These are the two most important factors for anyone investing in the area to consider.
Any items from mankind’s first tentative steps into the solar system should be considered important artefacts, which will have a high value and historical significance for future generations.
Most valuable investments
The most valuable and sought-after space memorabilia is that related to the Apollo missions which landed men on the moon, particularly Apollo 11. The most expensive item of space memorabilia ever sold is the map used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to navigate on the lunar surface, which sold in 2009 for $218,000.
Any items that were taken into space, known as ‘flown’ items, are also highly popular with collectors. Such is the limited number of these items that, in investing terms, they are certain to retain their value in the long term.
The autographs of moon-walkers are popular with investors, as there are only 12 men in history to have stepped on the moon’s surface. There have been no attempts to send astronauts back to the moon since the last mission of Apollo 17 in 1972, and with space agencies looking further afield to Mars and beyond it that figure looks set to remain for the near future.
Three of those men have passed away (Pete Conrad, Alan Shepard and James Irwin), and the youngest surviving moon-walker is Charles Duke at the age of 75. These few men truly are a dying breed, and as with other areas of collectibles when a famous figure passes away the value of their memorabilia can rise dramatically.
Neil Armstrong ceased signing autographs in 1994 and the value of his signature rose from £500 to £5,500 between 2000 to 2010, an increase in value of 900%. A signed photograph of Buzz Aldrin is currently valued at around £995, but is likely to increase in the future along with the signatures of all the pioneering astronauts of the 1960s and 70s.
Researching the markets
Research is vital for those investing in space memorabilia, as there are several types of item in which to invest. From crew patches and medallions to coins, stamps and first day covers, there are a large number of small items that have been into space.
The intricacies of every mission are so well-recorded, and the interviews with everyone involved so extensive, that it is easy to research almost any item you come across on the market. If the buyer claims it has been into space, the chances are you can verify this with a third-party source.
The larger items such as pieces of technical equipment or flight suits almost always come with detailed documentation, along with mechanical parts that appear on the market when space agencies decide to sell surplus items that are no longer useful.
Issues of authenticity
The central issue to consider when investing in space memorabilia are authenticity and provenance. The provenance of an item must be reasonable and verifiable; it should be reasonable that the seller would have been able to come into possession of the item they are selling, and their story should be verifiable via a third-party source.
According to space memorabilia expert and author Howard Weinberger:
“Every spacecraft part had a serial number — even the bolts. An artefact’s greatest value to the potential buyer is detailed and credible documentation.”
Investment-grade space memorabilia must always have an exceptional provenance and a guaranteed authenticity. If the seller is unwilling to explain how they obtained the item, or it seems unreasonable they would have it in the first place, it would be wise to carry out your own research on the item in question. There are number of organisations, clubs and societies which can offer knowledge and expertise on the subject to new collectors and first-time investors alike.
Main article: List of space memorabilia collectors clubs and societies
Where to buy investments
Space memorabilia can be bought from a number of different sources including specialist dealers, dedicated auctions, internet auctions and private sales.
Major auction houses such as Christie’s and Bonham’s have auctions concentrating on space memorabilia a couple of times a year, with much of the material offered coming directly from the personal collections of astronauts and technical crew. These items usually have a detailed provenance, which is invaluable for investment-grade memorabilia. The largest and most unique items usually appear at these auctions, due to their exceptional quality and high price.
There are also a number of companies which specialise in space memorabilia, selling items for every level of investor from the ground up. These can range from freeze-dried food from space missions to used heat tiles from space shuttles and ‘flown’ philatelic first day covers.