As time passes, the narrative of the Space Race is shifting to the achievements of the individual astronauts and engineers who made these incredible things happen.
Recent biopics have focused on the human element, from the African-American female mathematicians who worked out the flight trajectories (Hidden Figures) to the men who clambered into the cockpit (First Man). As the first man in orbit, Yuri Gagarin is likely to be in high demand in the future. Here’s what makes him uniquely valuable.
He died young
It’s impossible to say exactly how many autographs Gagarin signed in his lifetime.
But the figure was capped following his untimely death in 1968 at the age of 34, just seven years after his pioneering mission. Like the first astronauts in the US he was first and foremost a test pilot - an incredibly dangerous job.
The upshot of this is his signature is almost certain to be rarer than that of fellow pioneer Neil Armstrong, the most valuable signer from the US space race. Armstrong lived to be 82, even though he stopped signing a decade before his death.
Rare outside Russia
When he returned to Earth, Gagarin went on a world tour of Europe, Canada, Japan and Egypt. His good looks and charisma made him a hit wherever he went (although America was noticeably absent from the itinerary).
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
After the trip he returned to Russia, then behind the Iron Curtain. This short window makes his signature rare in the West.
Another reason for the low values (relative to his achievements) is the tastes of US collectors. America has always been the biggest market for space memorabilia and most have little interest in items associated with Russian achievements. It makes sense. Most grew up during the Cold War.
But younger generations tend not to have the same hangups. They see the space race in a broader context. Soviet memorabilia from this time also has a kitsch value which may contribute to rising value.
Demand has grown over the past decade
The most prized Gagarin autograph is the KNIGA cover, produced by Russia’s trade agency in 1964. That’s because its authenticity is assured.
(Image: Chaucer Auctions)
The agency produced a set number, all of which were signed, so the risks of forgeries are minimal. They’re also visually attractive, printed in a similar style to the insurance covers NASA released during the Apollo and Mercury years. They sell for upwards of $700 today.
Signed photographs are relatively affordable as they’re more common. Genuine specimens sell for around $500.
Another sought after instance of Gagarin’s autograph can be found in his book, Road to the Stars, published in the USSR in 1961. To give you an idea of how demand is growing, 10 years ago mint copies were selling for around $300. Today that same copy would cost you about $1,000.
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