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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 18:46 GMT
The 'holy grail' of autographs

By Brady Haran
BBC News Online

Neil Armstrong (l) and Buzz Aldrin in 1999
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are still popular
When Neil Armstrong planted his left foot in the lunar dust, his name was destined to live forever.

But could he have imagined that, 35 years later, people would pay small fortunes to have that name scrawled on a photo or piece of paper?

An authentic Armstrong autograph is one of the most sought-after items in the lucrative "astro-autograph" industry.

In fact, signatures from any of the dozen men who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972 are popular with collectors.

While Armstrong refuses to sign these days, his colleague on the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin, regularly commands at least 150 ($280) for a signed photo.

Aldrin signs a book
Buzz Aldrin charges hundreds of dollars to sign

Kim Poor, who manages Novaspace Galleries in Arizona, has made a successful business from people's fascination with the Apollo missions.

He has arrangements with several astronauts, including Aldrin, and sells their signatures on famous photos.

Mr Poor says: "Collecting autographs is a hobby, and like all hobbies there are various levels of financial commitment."

He says people desire Apollo autographs for nostalgic reasons and an "ersatz connection" with the astronauts.

Mr Poor, an acclaimed space artist, made his connection with the astronauts at an art show in Houston.

He met Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean, now an artist himself, and started acting as a vendor for Bean's artwork and autographs.

Moon landing sites
1. Apollo 11, Sea of Tranquillity
2. Apollo 12, Ocean of Storms
3. Apollo 14, Fra Mauro
4. Apollo 15, Hadley-Apennine
5. Apollo 16, Descartes H'lands
6. Apollo 17, Taurus-Littrow

Mr Poor now sells the autographs of various astronauts, including six of the 12 moonwalkers (one from each lunar landing mission).

In the UK, memorabilia specialists Sportizus also sell plenty of space memorabilia.

Manager of the chain's Nottingham branch, Mike McGee, says: "People have that fascination because space, and especially the moon, is a place so few people will ever get to visit.

"There is always high demand, and Neil Armstrong remains the holy grail of space autographs."

A high-quality signature from Armstrong could be worth up to 3,500 ($6,600), Mr McGee said.

Last month US president George W Bush announced plans to send humans back to the moon, and eventually to Mars.

Neil Armstrong signature
To the untrained eye, genuine autographs are hard to spot
Many fakes are sold
Certificates of authenticity are no guarantee
Experts say buyers should take their time and research

But will an increased membership of the "moonwalkers' club" make Apollo autographs less valuable.

Mr McGee thinks not, saying: "Those 12 guys will always be the pioneers."

Mr Poor agrees, saying: "Have advances in aviation made Charles Lindbergh or the Wright brothers any less admired?"

And what price on the autograph of Earth's first Mars explorer?

Mr Poor says: "It depends on if he comes back, but there's only one time for leaving Earth for the first time."

If an autograph is not enough, die-hard fanatics can buy items which were actually carried onboard by Apollo astronauts.

Small cloth patches or miniature flags carried on missions by astronauts can sell for about 5,300 ($10,000) each.

At prices like that, perhaps the multi-billion dollar programme to return to the moon could be subsidised by memorabilia sales.

Bush unveils Moon and Mars plans
15 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature
The real autograph man
10 Oct 02  |  UK News
The legacy of Apollo
14 Dec 02  |  Science/Nature

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