The Story of... Remembering the artist behind Apollo 11's collectibles

On the day Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins prepared to embark on their historic mission to the Moon's surface, one artist alone was granted the opportunity to spend time with them before the launch.

His name was Paul Calle, and he was the first artist chosen by NASA to document the United States' manned missions in space. Eventually, eight artists would be selected by the space agency, but only Calle was there from the beginning.

Born in Manhattan, New York, in 1928, Calle's background had included designing covers for The Saturday Evening Post and science fiction publications. It is likely that NASA hoped Calle's science fiction instincts would help to capture the public's imagination.

It was a shrewd move, especially considering Calle's contributions would be among the most visible - and therefore most representative - art depictions of the Space Race. He was no ordinary artist, but specialised in producing designs for postage stamps.

Calle's first work was a pair of complementary five-cent stamps issued in 1967 as part of the Accomplishments in Space Commemorative Issue.

Neil Armstrong, prior to his Apollo 11 take-off, as sketched by Paul Calle

The right stamp showed the Gemini 4 capsule with Earth's horizon as a backdrop, while the left depicted astronaut Ed White's first American spacewalk. Both were an imaginative and fitting testament to the pioneers of space.

As the achievements of America's astronauts reached new heights during the 1960s 'golden age' of space exploration, so too did Calle's artworks.

His best known stamp came in 1969, the Postal Service's "First Man on the Moon" 1969 10¢ stamp. The design depicts Neil Armstrong stepping from the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle onto the Moon's surface in July 21, 1969.

However, in line with US Postal Service criteria ruling that postage stamps can't honour living people, Armstrong isn't honoured specifically but rather "by portrayal".

And, while Calle's "First Man on the Moon" design exciting the public on Earth, a die proof of his design was also posted to an altogether more exotic location: the Moon, carried aboard Apollo 11 and cancelled by the astronauts while on the mission.

Calle's iconic  "First Man on the Moon" 1969 10¢ stamp

It was prior to mankind's first mission to the Moon that Calle had been given and unprecedented exclusive access to be with the astronauts on July 16, 1969. He accompanied Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins while they made their final preparations for the Apollo 11 mission.

Today, Calle's sketches are rightly regarded as historic artworks and their renown include being displayed at the National Air and Space Museum.

Among Calle's Apollo 11 sketches was this signed limited edition profile sketch of Neil Armstrong which later went under the hammer. Numbered 82/1,000 and autographed by Armstrong himself, the 18" x 23.5" sold for $3,884 at Heritage Auction Galleries.

Paul Calle died aged 82 on December 30, 2010, after suffering from Melanoma. However, the $3,884 sale of his artwork is testament to the ongoing regard his artworks command - and how the role he played in turning Apollo's astronauts into cultural icons is respected - among collectors.


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