The Story of... Apollo 15's changing legacy in the collectibles markets



In the past, Paul's advice on collecting has often mentioned spotting opportunities for passion, pleasure and profit where others don't. And the Apollo 15 Moon mission, which blasted-off this week in history, July 26, 1971, presents plenty of these opportunities...

Unlike Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's first-ever steps on the Moon with Apollo 11, Apollo 15 doesn't appeal to the public's obsession with 'firsts' (be it the first Moonwalker, the first transatlantic flight and so on).

Apollo 15's significant legacy will remain obscure if you're not an ardent space enthusiast. Because of this, the markets offer plenty of opportunities for you to buy pieces of man's ninth Moon mission without the saleroom, or online, bidding battles that often greet Apollo 11 memorabilia.

In fact, Apollo 15 was itself a mission of many 'firsts'. Commander David R. Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin actually embarked on NASA's first-ever "J Mission", a long duration stay on the Moon which allowed a greater focus on science than ever before.

It was also the first mission where the iconic Lunar Roving Vehicle was used, and the first to land not in a lunar mare (large plains created by ancient volcanic eruptions) but rather the valley of Hadley rille. With the Lunar Rover, Scott and Irwin went farther than any human before them.

And Command Module pilot, Alfred Worden, was certainly no sitting duck. As he orbited the Moon alone, he studied the lunar surface with a panoramic camera and gamma ray spectrometer. This was another Apollo first, allowing a better-than-ever understanding of the Moon's environment.


Needless to say, Apollo 15 is among the most underappreciated episodes in mankind's achievements - a fact that will surely change as history is revised. But, for now, the good news is that you can buy your own pieces of Apollo 15's history without breaking the bank.

In April of this year, a Michigan flag flown to the Moon and back on board Apollo 15 in 1971 (its three crew were each alumni of the University of Michigan) sold for $2,150 at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. It was inscribed by Worden: "Flown on Apollo 15 - Al Worden CMP."

Scandal in space

Yet there could be another reason why Apollo 15 remains underappreciated in the great canon of American achievements. When the mission blasted-off to the Moon in1971, there was a secret stashed aboard the command module.

The stash would result in several Apollo astronauts becoming the subjects of disciplinary action by NASA... All because of 398 commemorative postage stamp covers which were carried aboard CSM Endeavour.

The crew planned to sell the valuable covers to a German stamp dealer, Hermann Sieger, after returning to Earth. While it sounds covert, the Apollo 15 crew weren't the first to attempt this - and NASA had actually turned a blind eye to similar arrangements in previous space flights.

Apollo 15 flown cover
This controversial space-flown cover is rather valued on today's markets...

NASA deemed Scott, Worden and Irwin were deemed an embarrassment to NASA and the Apollo program - even when it later emerged that the astronaut's profits would have been used to set-up trust funds for their children, an arrangement which was in no way illegal.

However, NASA's double-standards were exposed when, a decade later in 1983, the crew of Apollo 15 successfully filed a lawsuit against the government for the return of their 298 unauthorised covers.

The good news for collectors is that a bit of scandal never hurts the markets... In fact, quite the opposite. In November 2010, one of the 298 unauthorised covers appeared for sale priced at $10,995.

The eyes have it

Meanwhile, even thought Scott, Worden and Irwin aren't household names like Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin it doesn't mean that the Apollo 15 crew can't rival them on the auction block. Sometimes a item is just too much for bidders to resist...

Like this actual piece of flight control equipment used to control Apollo 15's landing, which is today one of the most expensive pieces of space memorabilia. It was sold at Bonhams in an 11 x 9½ by five inches wooden case for £206,000 (just under $337,000).

The Falcon lunar module's Attitude Control joystick from Apollo 15 (£206,000)
Apollo 15's Attitude Control joystick outmanoeuvred Apollo 11 at auction...

Compared to the $85,000 the same piece sold for at an auction by Aurora in 2005, that's an impressive growth in value. Even more impressive, is that its value beat an Apollo 11 Command Module Rotation Control Handle which sold for $79,750, also at Aurora.

It just goes to show that, with Apollo 15, the opportunities are there for you to collect history without impeding your finances.


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