Published: April 3, 2018
Space. The exploration of this final frontier has created a collecting category with wide-ranging appeal that is constantly expanding with technological discoveries and breakthroughs. Sotheby’s launched regular sales of space memorabilia in July 2017, with sales led by Cassandra Hatton, who in 2016 joined Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department as a vice president and senior specialist. Hatton brings with her extensive credentials, having developed the category at Bonhams. Now, with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing rapidly approaching, we wanted to get her projections on the trajectory of the field.
You recently launched space sales at Sotheby’s. Were there surprises from your inaugural sale that you think forecast trends for this collecting category?
While we were confident in our offerings going into the salesroom for our Space Exploration sale, we were delighted that so many of our expectations were exceeded. Numerous lots far exceeding their estimates, with several signed photographs selling for between 10 to 15 times their high estimates, a painting by Chelsey Bonestell for more than 12 times its high estimate and the Apollo 13 flight plan more than six times its high estimate.
Is there an area in this collecting category you think is showing recent improvements / strengths?
Part of what I find so exciting about this category is that it encompasses such a wide variety of material, from mission artifacts to photography and original artwork, to books, maps and more – and we are seeing strong interest in all of these categories. The results allude to the ever-growing appetite for this material, not only from longtime collectors in this category, but also from those who have collected in more traditional categories, such as contemporary and Modern art, books and manuscripts, and photography.
What would you most like to do as the head of that sale?
I have very carefully studied how this category has developed since it was first introduced to the auction world in the early 1990s. I can see that the passion for the material has always been there, but growth in the category had never been nearly as strong as I thought it could be. My goal for this category has always been to elevate it beyond what some people might call “memorabilia.” The property is culturally and historically significant, and appealing to a broad array of collectors, so it was clear to me that the property was not the issue, but rather how it was being handled and presented. My approach to handling this material is very much informed by my background in rare books and manuscripts, and I treat objects in the space category with the same respect and academic rigor that I would a manuscript by Charles Darwin or a first edition of Copernicus. This I think has, and will continue to be, key in moving this category forward.
What are collectors of space memorabilia particularly interested in?
There is not just one area of interest, as the category encompasses such a wide array of material. That being said, among the more traditional collectors in this category, there is a hierarchy to the value of artifacts; something that was used in training is less valuable than something that was flown on a mission; of those items that were flown, those that landed on the moon are more desired that those that stayed in the command module; and those items that actually went out onto the lunar surface with the astronauts are the most coveted of all. Once that distinction has been established, there is also the added layer of the name of the astronaut and the mission in which they were involved in.
Are there challenges in offering space memorabilia that readers might be surprised to know about?
There are a myriad of laws, both federal and international, that govern the sale of many of the items in this category. Working closely with our legal department, we conduct hours of research, reviewing primary documentation and provenance paperwork to ensure that we are adhering to the law. It’s not the most glamorous aspect of the job, but it’s incredibly interesting and gratifying when all of the pieces come together.
The 50th anniversary of the moon landing is coming up. Do you have any plans to commemorate that?
We do! It is still in the works, but it will definitely be a celebration befitting the occasion.
-Madelia Hickman Ring
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