First-ever 'Man on the Moon' photography UK auction launches at Bloomsbury

There's nothing like a big anniversary to get buyers interested in bidding for the world's rarest collectibles at auction.

Bloomsbury Auctions is the latest firm to embrace this trend with its upcoming sale which marks the 50th Anniversary of manned space flight, the UK's first sale of rare vintage NASA photographs

"We are thrilled to be holding Britain's first specialist sale of photographs showing how man landed on the Moon," said Sarah Wheeler, Bloomsbury Auctions' Photographs specialist. 

"What we are offering at Bloomsbury on November 3 are historic artefacts - rare, iconic vintage photographs taken by the astronauts themselves and printed within days of their return to Earth, and very different from today's downloadable images."

Neil Armstrong Portrait of Buzz Aldrin
Bids are opening at £7,000 for this iconic photograph of Buzz Aldrin
by Neil Armstrong (it's estimated at £8,000-10,000)

All the photographs are vintage and the majority are in colour with estimates ranging from £200-£800 each for the 'standard' 20 x 25 cm (8" x 10") and £2,000-£10,000 for the rare large-format prints.

Steven Dick, chief historian of NASA, succinctly summed up the importance of these photographs: "The astronauts brought back two treasures from their extraordinary journey: samples of moon rock and their photographs."

'Impressive to mankind'

This year is the 50th anniversary of manned space flight. On 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin's Vostock spacecraft orbited the Earth for the first time and three weeks later, Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 became America's first man in space. 

"No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish," said President John F Kennedy addressing Congress in 1961.

Within little more than a decade NASA had met President Kennedy's challenge and landed not one, but 12 men on the moon and returned them all safely to Earth.

This remarkable private collection of photographs put together with care and discrimination by Victor Martin-Malburet, provides dramatic visual evidence of the extraordinary achievements of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes.

'I'm not coming in!'

To begin with, NASA was slow to realise the importance of photography both for documentation and for publicity. But on February 20, 1962 John Glenn took the first photographs from space. 

He had bought himself a 35mm camera and had persuaded engineers to modify it for use with his bulky pressurised spacesuit, so that he could record the first Earth orbital flight from the Cape. 

The watershed came in June 1965 with Jim McDivitt's stunning colour photographs of his partner Ed White, the first American astronaut to walk in space, floating freely above the earth: "It's fun', he told Mission Control, "I'm not coming in!" (Lot 14, estimated at £600-800.)

These images captured the world's imagination, they marked a turning point in the role played by space photography and the popular view of manned space exploration.

This collection of photographs offers a magnificent field of investigation midway between science and art.

'Insatiable curiosity'

As we previously reported, Lot 163 is the first colour photograph of the Earth from space: a rare large format vintage print expected to fetch between £10,000-15,000. It shows north and south America, part of Africa, Europe and part of the Greenland ice cap, while Antarctica is covered by cloud.  

The first colour photograph of the entire disc of the Earth ATS-III satellite

Bloomsbury is selling the first colour photograph of the entire
disc of the Earth

In recent years Victor Martin-Malburet has done much to increase awareness of this half-forgotten photographic heritage. The collection for sale at Bloomsbury Auctions has been exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris and at the Musée d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole. 

"At an early age I realised that these images had a real magic to them, a poetic dimension as well as historical, political and scientific value," said Martin-Malburet.

These hauntingly beautiful images are, as Buzz Aldrin remarked, "A symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown." What's more, signed copies of such photographs - like the above Neil Armstrong portrait of Buzz Aldrin, signed by Buzz, which we currently have for sale - have steadily grown in value over the past decade according to the PFC40 Autograph Index.

The Exploration of Space. Vintage NASA Photographs: The Collection of Victor Martin-Malburet auctions on Thursday November 3 in London.

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