Our Top Five... Pieces of Russian space memorabilia
Items connected to iconic Russian cosmonauts, like Gagarin, have skyrocketed in value recently...
American astronauts may have been the first people to land on the moon and win the 'space race', but we should not forget that for a long time Russia was the country that dominated astronomical exploration. During the 1950s, when these programmes were in their early stages, the Soviet Union was the country which took it the next level and started sending animals into orbit.
And of course, far more significantly, they were the first country to send a man into space, Yuri Gagarin. They may have lost out in the end to their Cold War enemies, but their role in pioneering space exploration will never be forgotten. For this reason, items connected to that time sell for high amounts and are very collectible. Here are our favourites…
5 Signed Yuri Gagarin photograph
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin changed history forever. For hundreds of years mankind had longed to travel into space - he made those dreams a reality. More than 50 years have now passed since that significant event, but if anything he is more famous now than ever.
As such, items connected to Gagarin are very valuable, matching the likes of American Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong. In 2008, Heritage sold this signed photo for $5,078.75.
This black and white image of Gagarin, looking determined and calm, despite the fact he was about to write his name into the history books, is also inscribed with a message.
It reads 'The wisdom of the [Communist] Party, the strength of Soviet people - all these helped us in difficult work of first space conquerors. Gagarin.' His patriotism towards his motherland means he is an icon in Russia, and will remain so forever. For this reason alone, Yuri Gagarin memorabilia will always be valuable.
4 Dzhanibekov Aleksandrovich's EVA spacesuit
Another important figure in the Soviet Union's space programmes, though not quite as iconic as Yuri Gagarin, is Aleksandrovich. He was originally born in Uzbekistan, but went to study in Russia's Leningrad University, after which he became an instructor in the Soviet Air force.
During the 1970s-80s is when he became famous however, for his five flights aboard various Soyuz spacecraft. During the missions, he had to perform two EVAs (extra-vehicular activities) outside of the craft.
Working in the bleakness of space clearly required an amazingly resilient suit, and that is what he got. His EVA spacesuit sold for $125,269 in 2009, easily beating its estimate.
The unique nature of the odd looking suit clearly makes it highly collectible for space enthusiasts, and as technology continues to improve, rarities like this will become even more scarce.
3 Yuri Gagarin's typescript from his first flight
This document was auctioned for $171,000 in April, 2011, and in it Gagarin gives the reader his own personal description of how Earth looks from space. The manuscript says 'The Earth has a very characteristic, very beautiful blue halo,... a smooth color transition from tender blue, to blue, to dark blue and purple, and then to the completely black color of the sky.'
This account gives us an impression of just how mesmerizing it would have been to become the first person to see our planet from space. Through this document we get an understanding of how it would have felt to achieve such feat. Few rare manuscripts are as poignant as this.
2 Alexei Leonov's Apollo-Soyuz suit
The space race really took off after Yuri Gagarin's pioneering flight, meaning memorabilia connected to him marks the beginning of the iconic period. Arguably this suit marks the end of it. Worn by Alexei Leonov in 1975, it signals the moment when America and Russia effectively called a truce, and began working together.
It is hugely significant then, as symbolically it marked a more friendly stance between the two massive countries. On July 17, 1975 their two spacecraft docked, and the commanders, Tom Stafford and Leonov, shook hands through the open hatch of the Soyuz.
This brilliant item was expected to sell for $100,000-150,000 last month at Bonhams, but collectors valued the item even more highly and it left the stage with a stunning final price of $242,000.
1 $2.9m Vostok 3KA-2 capsule
This incredible object, which itself looks like something from an alien planet, sold for $2.9m at Sotheby's earlier this year. Why such a high price for a big, metal ball?
What makes it so significant is that it in effect cleared the way for Gagarin's momentous flight, as it was sent into orbit just three weeks before his mission. If the dog aboard it, called Zvezdochka, had died, then it may have delayed Gagarin's launch and altered history.
But, the Vostok 3KA-2 completed a single orbit of the Earth on March 25 1961, and the dog was fine.
Russia went on to beat the Americans to sending a man into space, and so cemented their place in history, thanks to this capsule. For collectors who fancy something a little different, alternative investments like this are a great way of getting involved.
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Recent and related articles...
An extraordinary auction marks half a century since Gagarin pioneered human space travel
· Soviet capsule which scouted ahead of Gagarin could bring $10m at Sotheby's | 26 February 2011
Bearing a mannequin in place of a person, the 1961 craft cleared the path for the historic flight
· Fly me to the Moon... $150,000 Russian spacesuit lifts off at Bonhams | 22 February 2011
Historic and valuable mementos of the Space Race are going under the hammer in late Spring
· Our Top Five... Most unusual space collectibles | 16 February 2011
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· Time-chart from 'the longest space mission', Salyut 6, floats to $50,000 | 4 December 2010
An unusual piece from Edward Tufte's collection of rare books and manuscripts impressed in New York
Images: Sotheby's, Heritage, Hôtel Drouot