Bonhams sale offers items that have been to the moon and back
April 18, 2015 12:00 AM
The full space suit of American astronaut Kenneth Bowersox, who returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster grounded the other shuttles
By David Templeton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It sparked imaginations when rockets blasted off and spacecraft orbited Earth and the moon before astronauts landed and walked on the lunar surface, Cassandra Hatton said.
The profundity of that human achievement explains the international interest in Bonhams’ seventh-annual Space History Sale scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the prestigious auction house on Madison Avenue in New York City.
The sale will offer 232 space collectibles, including the full space suit of American astronaut Kenneth Bowersox, who returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster grounded the other shuttles.
Perhaps rarer is a life-support-system strap, complete with moon dust, that astronaut Alan Bean wore during two moonwalks and decided to keep before his spacesuit was shipped to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Sale items include space equipment, supplies, documents, rocket models, autographed photographs and prints. Drawing top attention are items from Mr. Bean’s collection, because he was the fourth astronaut to walk on the moon. They include his favorite space meal of spaghetti and meat sauce inside original containers (estimated price of $50,000 to $80,000), his biomedical harness ($60,000 to $80,000), various pens and pencils he used in the lander and on the moon (up to $50,000 each) and a lunar module water dispenser ($60,000 to $90,000).
His engraved 18K-gold Omega speedmaster professional chronograph wristwatch is one of only 30 that were made and given to Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and 28 astronauts of that era ($40,000 to $60,000.)
But perhaps the most expensive item will be the Gemini 4 full checklist used during the first U.S. spacewalk 50 years ago, with price estimates upward to $120,000. It details the many tasks and procedures astronauts James McDivitt and Edward White had to complete before, during and after Mr. White’s historic spacewalk on June 3, 1965. It even bears an astronaut blood stain, caused when one of them had a fingernail pulled out inside the space glove when they had trouble closing the hatch after the spacewalk.
Ms. Hatton, a senior specialist at Bonhams, said there’s a hierarchy in value for collectors based on how far the item traveled from Earth, its provenance and historical importance.
“If it left Earth’s surface, its x-amount. If it went on a lunar orbit, the amount is higher. If it lands on the moon, it’s even more, and if it went onto the lunar surface and came in contact with lunar dust, that’s primo,” she said, noting her goal to provide items for collectors of all interests and levels. “This really is an international sale. Space history and the history of science transcends cultural boundaries and age, so we’ll have people bidding from the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas.”
Robert Pearlman, owner and founder of collectSpace.com, said Bonhams annual auction offers “high-end museum quality” items that attract collectors, even if prices typically are “skewed to the higher side.” Bonhams sales are known for offering astronaut-owned items.
“Anything that’s been to the moon and on an astronaut on the surface of the moon is what most collectors identify as the Holy Grail of collection,” he said. Collectibles from the space shuttle era are his specialty. “I’ll be watching the auction that day, and I may be bidding.”
Eric Fischer of Hampton, editor of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh and a space exploration enthusiast, owns a few collectibles, including a coin-shaped stamped aluminum artifact made from leftover aluminum used to construct the Apollo 11 lunar lander, which was used in the first moon landing.
If he had the money, he said, he’d be buying.
“They’ve gathered an impressive batch of collectibles,” he said. “My interest would be any components that actually flew on an Apollo mission. One item in particular is the piece of a strap that’s coated in moon dust.
‘‘When I see some of these items, I think back to the days when they were alive and well in a NASA or contractor lab, surrounded by engineers in bunny suits, being checked with oscilloscopes and cameras,” Mr. Fischer said. ‘‘Now they are handled like household items discovered in grandma’s attic.”
The sale website is www.bonhams.com/auctions/22386/
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578.
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