Why Soviet space memorabilia investments could soon bring you rocketing returns
As Apollo collectibles reach high prices and interest in space travel rises, we look at an alternative...
It was today in 1988 that astronaut Abdul Ahad Mohmand became the first Afghan in space, following a 9 day stay at the Mir space station. Over twenty years on, Mir has now de-orbited but interest in space exploration remains as strong as it ever was.
This is in part, thanks to the wide range of memorabilia relating to the most famous US missions that date back to 1969 Apollo 11 and the "one small step for man," seen all around the world.
Yet it is easy to forget that it was in fact the beginning of the 1960s rather than the end, which signalled man's first foray into the unknown.
US history may not want us to remember it, but of course it was a Russian: Yuri Gagarin, that became the first man to enter space.
He successfully orbited the earth on April 12, 1961, almost eight years before Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins' achievements.
Yet it is US space collectibles which have seen the highest sale prices in recent years.
The navigational chart used by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to determine their exact position on the lunar surface sold for £142,000($218,000) at Bonhams in July 2009.
The sale set a new world record price for a piece of Space memorabilia.
And the market for Apollo memorabilia has seen similarly high prices across the board. Currently all of the top ten most valuable space pieces are valued at over £32,500 ($50,000).
With demand for these valuable collectibles ensuring high prices and good returns on an investment, the price of entry level NASA pieces is rising quickly.
And it's a strategy that is partly fuelled by recent developments in the world of space and aviation.
Earlier this year India's space agency announced their intentions to launch their first manned mission into space in 2016.
Similarly, China unveiled a long-term space launch plan which has seen them already orbit the moon, send men into space and land a probe on the lunar surface. They aim to have a man on the moon by 2017.
Allied to these developments, is the growing numbers of dollar millionaires reported in both India and China. According to figures published by Merrill Lynch, 2009 alone saw the figure for those millionaires living in India rise to 126,700, an increase of 51% in just 12 months. Whilst in China, the number is reportedly even greater with around 870,000 estimated.
These newly wealthy Indian and Chinese individuals have already begun to turn to investment grade collectibles as a way of hedging their wealth and investing with a view to making a profit.
With renewed interest in space exploration now filtering through to these nations, it would be foolish not to expect an increased level of investment in valuable space memorabilia.
And this is where Soviet space collectibles come in. Not only do they offer Indian and Chinese collectors an investment source that is closer to home, but also one that offers a relatively lower entry level price for those looking to start a collection.
Furthermore, in just eight months time April 12, 2011 will mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's mission. Back in 2009, US space collectibles witnessed an incredible surge of interest, following the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings.
You only have to compare the value of a signed photograph of Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong to see the potential.
A Soviet Newspaper, featuring a photograph of Gagarin and signed by the man himself sold for just £1,164 ($1,793) in September 2007.
According to the PFC40 autograph index, in 2000, a signed photograph of Neil Armstrong was valued at £550 ($850). Ten years on, the same piece can sell for £5,500 ($8,500). That's an increase of 900% in ten years.
And while Armstrong has effectively capped the market by refusing to sign more autographs, Gagarin died in 1968, thus capping the amount of signatures available from him.
Space memorabilia featuring all of the signatures of the Apollo 11 crew have also seen a rise in value since the 40th anniversary celebrations, according to the PFC40 autograph index.
In 2000, a signed photograph cost £2,000 ($3,000). Today it would be valued at £8,950 ($13,750) - a rise of 347.5%.
In an interesting comparison with these prices, one US auction house hosted the sale of four signed photographs from the early Soviet space missions.
The lot comprised of unique photographs of the famous Russian Space dogs first blasted into orbit. Featuring the signatures of Yuri Gagarin, Gherman Titov, Pavel Popovich, Andriyan Nikolayev, Pavel Belyayev, Alexey Leonov, and Vladimir Komarov, the lot sold for £2,327 ($3,585) in October 2008.
The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landings in 2009 saw renewed interest in various other US missions from the era. In Bonhams' July 2009 auction, the Falcon lunar module's Attitude Control joystick from Apollo 15 sold for £206,000 ($316,210) - the third highest price ever for a space collectible.
And recent auction results would suggest that a similar rise is already starting in Soviet space pieces. One classic example is the recent sale prices for unique Soviet space suits.
In September 2007, an original Russian Sokol spacesuit from 1973 sold at auction for £11,640 ($17,925).
Then in October 2009, a Russian Soyuz Flown Sokol KV-2 Pressurized Spacesuit came up for sale at an American auction with an estimated price of £6,500 ($10,000).
The suit was worn by Cosmonaut Musabayev who flew four missions during his career, in the early 1980s. It sold for £20,164 ($31,070). That's an increase of 210% on the estimate.
Yet it did not end there. In December 2009, a Paris auction witnessed the sale of an early Russian EVA space suit.
Carrying a pre-auction estimate of £54,000 - £62,000 ($83,000 - 95,000), the piece sold for an astonishing £73,190 ($112,350), in what was a world record price for a Soviet space collectible.
The value of Soviet space collectibles like this is certainly on the rise, but still has yet to reach the heights experience by US space memorabilia in the aftermath of their 40th anniversary celebrations.
In April 2010, a spacesuit worn during an early space mission on the shuttle Gemini sold for £121,500 ($187,200) against a pre-auction estimate of £66,000 ($100,000).
While currently, Buzz Aldrin's NASA training suit is available for £75,000 ($123,750).
The next twelve months are certainly looking an exciting prospect for collectors investing in space memorabilia.
The new interest from China and India in space exploration is sure to have a knock on effect on the market, as these newly wealthy investors begin to explore alternative investments like space collectibles.
Soviet space collectibles have seen steady growth in value over the last few years and the next decade could see even greater increases.
In less than a year, the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's first adventure into space is sure to bring increased interest in all things Russian and space related and this is interest that will come not only from newly wealthy Indian and Chinese investors, but also from western collectors.
The current western space collectibles market is valued at £2m ($3m) per annum and with a finite amount of pieces on the market; it's only a matter of time before these collectors turn their attention to Soviet pieces. Investing in these pieces now could see impressive returns over the next decade.
Watch this space.
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Images: Regency Superior auctions, Heritage, Bonhams