Pair face jail for 'stealing' Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong's autograph

Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon. Over in the US, two men celebrated the occasion with a court appearance, after attempting to sell an official government document bearing Armstrong's signature for profit.

Neil Armstrong remains the world's most valuable living signature. According to the industry's leading PFC40 autograph index, compiled by Paul Fraser Collectibles, the value of an Armstrong signed photo has appreciated from £550 to £5,500 in 10 years - a rise of 900%.

It's unlikely that Thomas Chapman, 50, a Customs and Border Protection Technician at Logan International Airport, knew these exact figures. But when Neil Armstrong one day passed through Logan airport and filled out a Customs Declaration form, Chapman knew that it could be worth a lot.

Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong is the world's rarest living signature

According to US newspaper The Boston Globe, Armstrong, 79, was returning from visiting troops overseas. Due to bad weather his flight was diverted to Boston from New York's John F Kennedy airport, where a replacement bus to the Big Apple awaited the passengers.

Officials said it was while Armstrong boarded the bus that Chapman, helping the passengers with their bags, collected the Customs Declaration document from the former astronaut. Then, rather than filing it with the US Department of Homeland Security as is procedure, Chapman pocketed it.

The Boston Globe reports that the technician brought the document to his friend Paul Brickman, 50, of Chelsea, the very next day. With an opportunity for profit in mind, the pair then took the document to a third party who listed it with a private online auction house.

Bids opened at $200, before rising to $1,026... Surely enough, the signature was accruing value. That is, until a bidder contacted the auction house with a question: should they really be selling an official government document?

This comb and sissors used to cut Armstrong's hair -
25 strands of which are included - could sell on the
market for tens of thousands of dollars

That question was more-than answered in the courtroom, yesterday, as Chapman and Brickman face charges of stealing and conveying an official record of the United States. Both will go before a federal grand jury, with each potentially facing up-to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In 2005, Armstrong was the subject of another 'collectibles-orientated' theft - albeit of a more personal nature. Back then, he discovered that his hometown barber was selling off-cuts of his hair for as much as $3,000.

Consequently, in May of that year, Armstrong became involved in a legal battle with barber Marx Sizemore of Lebanon, Ohio. The former astronaut threatened legal action unless the hair was returned, or the sale proceeds donated to charity.  

But it's amazing what can crop up on the collectibles markets. Half a decade later, the very comb and scissors used by Sizemore to cut Armstrong's hair - along with 25 off-cuts of the Moonwalker's hair - are currently for sale to collectors.

Needless to say, the hair of important and iconic individuals can be very valuable. The hairs of Charles Dickens and Marilyn Monroe have appeared on the markets in recent years and, recently, a single strand of Elvis Presley's hair recently sold for £1,055 ($1,750) at auction.


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