RECORD: Hunt Auctions Sets a Record with Roberto Clemente’s 1967 Silver Bat Award

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What you see: A National League Championship Silver Bat award, given to Roberto Clemente in 1967. Hunt Auctions sold it in July 2017, during the All-Star festivities in Miami, for $420,000–a record for a silver bat award at auction.

Who was Roberto Clemente? He was a Puerto Rican right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He won the Gold Glove every year from 1961 through 1972, won the National League batting title four times, and played in two World Series. When Clemente died in a plane crash on the last day of 1972, the stewards of the Baseball Hall of Fame changed the rules to allow any player who has been dead for at least six months to gain eligibility to enter. Clemente was chosen for the hall within months of the change, becoming the first player with Latin and Caribbean heritage to earn the honor. He was 38 when he died.

How often do these silver bat awards come to auction? “It’s extremely rare for one to come to auction, especially one from someone of Clemente’s stature,” says Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions, who notes that he’s handled about 10 of the awards over the last 25 years. “They’re inherently scarce.”

This is a full-size bat? And it’s made from solid sterling silver? Yes and yes. The 1967 Clemente silver bat weighs 55.6 Troy ounces, which equates to 3.8 pounds–more than twice as much as a standard wooden Louisville Slugger, which weighs 1.6 pounds. “It’s heavy,” Hunt says, laughing. “It’s a very, very significant presentational piece, which it should be. It was given to some of the greatest athletes in the world. You don’t want to hand them something that’s any less than the quality level you’d expect.”

Clemente earned four silver bats during his career, in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967. Where are the other three? The 1964 bat was sold alongside the 1967 bat in the July 2017 auction. They were subsequent lots–569 and 570. The Clemente family has the third silver bat, and the fourth, which Clemente gave to Pirates manager Joe Brown, was later sold and is now in private hands.

So the 1964 and the 1967 Clemente silver bats both came to market for the first time in the July 2017 Hunt Auctions sale? Yes. Both came directly from the Clemente family, both in the same good condition, both had the same estimate ($100,000 to $200,000). The only difference between the bats was the dates.

The 1964 silver bat fetched $260,000, and the 1967 silver bat sold for $420,000. Why did the 1967 bat do so much better?1967, statistically, is Roberto Clemente’s finest year as a hitter,” Hunt says. “That’s why this is considered the best one, and why it brought the most money.”

This set a record for any silver bat award at auction. What makes this achievement such a big deal? “To give you a sense of the significance, Mickey Mantle is one of the benchmarks, he’s on the Mount Rushmore of baseball, and it wasn’t even close. The Clemente bat sold for at least $100,000 more,” Hunt says. (Mantle’s 1956 silver bat sold for $270,000 in 2003.)

When did you know you had a record? How long do you think it will stand? “When the hammer came down, I was confident it was a record, but I had to check to make sure,” he says. “The number of players on the level of Ted Williams, Clemente, and Mantle, who won silver bats and can eclipse the Clemente bat… it’s tiny. There’s a handful [of comparable silver bats] out there, and I mean a scant handful, less than [the fingers on]one hand, that might have a chance.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Hunt Auctions.

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RECORD! Eldred’s Sets a New World Record for Scrimshaw

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

 

What you see: A scrimshaw whale’s tooth by Edward Burdett, made in the early 1830s and inscribed, in block letters, “Engraved by Edward Burdett of Nantucket Onboard the Ship William Tell.” It shows a scene of the William Tell capturing a whale while another ship, the George and Susan, floats nearby. On the back, it shows another whaleship, the William Thomson, sailing near a coastline. Eldred’s sold it in July 2017 for $456,000, an auction record for any piece of scrimshaw.

 

Who was Edward Burdett? He was a Nantucket native and whaleman who was among the earliest to take up scrimshaw–carving or engraving images into the teeth or jawbones of whales. He ranks among the best scrimshanders to practice the art. He’s believed to have made between 20 and 30 pieces, and signed about six. He died while serving as a first officer aboard the Nantucket whale ship Montano. While his team chased a harpooned whale, Burdett became tangled in the line and was pulled overboard. His body was never found. He was 27 years old.

 

How many pieces of scrimshaw have sold for six figures at auction? “About 11, all in the 21st century. But if there’s 10 over six figures, there’s another 10 that are unreported,” says Bill Bourne, vice president and head of the marine art department at Eldred’s. “Some auction houses just don’t report scrimshaw sales to sites.”

 

This piece is fresh to market–never auctioned before. Fakes have been an issue with scrimshaw, as they have been in every collecting field. How do you know this is by Burdett? “As far as scrimshaw goes, I have a really good background in it,” Bourne says, noting that his father founded the maritime collectibles field in 1963 and he literally grew up in it. In addition, the consigner drove to New Bedford in May 2012, where a scrimshaw symposium was being held, and had the leading experts look it over. “The tooth itself, and the work done on the tooth is unmistakably his hand,” he says.

 

You described the Burdett scrimshaw as “a masterpiece.” What makes it a masterpiece? “The tooth just has everything,” he says. “He uses the whole surface of the tooth, and it has the smallest of details. The William Tell has a wonderful blowing flag. On the obverse side, in the central mast of the William Thomson, there’s a watch–a man up there. And there’s a shoreline with a lighthouse with a rooster weathervane. Not many teeth have everything, like this. They might have a whaleship with a flag, but just the ship–no land, no whaling scene.”

 

How did the auction go, and what was it like as you approached the old auction record for scrimshaw? “I was the auctioneer. I started at $100,000 and five or six hands went up instantly and drove it to $210,000 to $220,000. It came down to two people,” Bourne says. “I focused on the two bidders at that point. I kept it at $10,000 raises. Both bidders were pretty firm in going after it. Until it hit $380,000, there wasn’t any hesitation at all. When you’ve got two bidders like that, you don’t look at anyone else. You focus on those two bidders. The underbidder dropped out, I looked around the room, bang, and a round of applause. It was over in four minutes. It was a lot of fun. It was wonderful to see active bidding throughout the whole auction and on this tooth. It was like being back in 1985.”

 

How long do you think the record will last? “It’s so hard to tell. I’m not aware of something that could come up and challenge it,” he says. “All it takes is another piece coming out of a blanket box in Connecticut, or a few 45 to 50-year-old collectors coming in with unlimited funds.”

 

What else makes this Burdett scrimshaw special? “I’ve seen spectacular pieces at my dad’s, and here, and at other auction houses. If you google ‘antique scrimshaw,’ put in ‘Edward Burdett’ and you look at what’s there, you’ll realize this is something special compared to the others,” Bourne says. “Novice collectors can see this is something special compared to the others. When you look at this tooth, you can see that it’s a cut above.”

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

 

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RECORD: A Game-Worn 1920 Babe Ruth Jersey Hit a Grand Slam at SCP Auctions in 2012

Babe Ruth Jersey

What you see: A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

How rare are game-worn Babe Ruth baseball uniforms? “If you count them all, it’s ten. If you’re talking Yankees, it’s less than half a dozen,” says SCP Vice President Dan Imler, adding that SCP has handled five of the ten.

Ruth was recognized as a superstar in his time. Why weren’t more game-worn Babe Ruth uniforms saved, even as mementoes? “In his era, even the Yankees were fairly frugal,” he says. “It was typical to issue only two home uniforms and two road uniforms for the entire season, and they were considered to be disposable. [Once the season was over,] they would send them to the minor leagues as a cost-saving measure. That’s how a lot of [pre-1970 game-worn baseball uniforms] come to market–a player in the minors is issued a major-league jersey and doesn’t go on to a career, but he keeps his jersey.”

I understand that SCP Auctions uncovered some information that made the jersey even more valuable? “There was an undiscovered element to the jersey,” Imler says. “Before it came to us, we knew it was a Babe Ruth Yankees road uniform in all-original condition, but it was not dated until it reached us. We were able to date it to 1920, which elevated it quite a bit.”

How did you pinpoint the jersey’s date to 1920? “Through photo-matching. Also, it has cut sleeves [shorter sleeves than standard issue]. We were able to find images of Ruth with cut sleeves from that period,” he says.

Your colleague, SCP President David Kohler, called the Ruth road jersey “The finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history.” Do you agree? “I absolutely agree with that. It’s arguably the finest piece of baseball memorabilia to surface anywhere,” Imler says. “You have to start with Ruth. Ruth is on a level all his own. When it comes to baseball memorabilia, he is the king. There’s nothing more coveted than a jersey or a uniform he work on his back in the most critical period of baseball history. Any Ruth uniform would be paramount, but he wore it in the earliest part of his career, when he transformed and resurrected the game. It checks all the boxes. It has everything you could ask for.”

Well, maybe not everything. Would it have sold for even more if it was a home jersey–if it had the famous Yankees pinstripes? “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone looked at it as if it was lacking anything,” he says. “I don’t think anyone was wanting more from it.”

SCP estimated the jersey at $2 million and up. Was it difficult to arrive at that estimate?  “Any sports object in seven figures is very uncommon. Multiple seven figures is very rare territory,” he says. “It was a lofty estimate at the time, but the market spoke and it sold for more than double that estimate. It validated the quality we believed it possessed.”

What factors drove the record price? “It was the best of the best in every category,” Imler says. “It was Babe Ruth. The quality was off the charts. It was completely original. It was from the most pivotal point in his career. And the fact that so few Ruth-worn jerseys come up–it was a huge call to action for high-end clients. When an item like this presents itself, you never know when you’re going to get another shot.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “Certainly this same jersey, if it was ever offered again, would surpass the previous sale price. I could see the record being topped in the next five years if something comparable surfaced,” Imler says, adding that he is not aware of another item, aside from the jersey itself, that could beat the auction record.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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RECORD: A Lucie Rie Bowl from the Late 1970s Commands $212,500 at Phillips

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What you see: A flaring footed bowl made by Lucie Rie around 1978. It sold at Phillips New York in December 2016 for $212,500 against an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000–a record for the artist.

Who was Lucie Rie? She was an Austrian-born Jewish artist who moved to England in 1938 to escape the approach of the Nazis. There, she gained a reputation as a ceramicist, though she insisted on modestly calling herself a potter. She died in 1995 at the age of 93, a few years after she retired.

How early does this shape show up in her work? “It appears much earlier, but we associate this bowl form with the late 70s and early 80s,” says Cordelia Lembo, a design specialist at Phillips. “There was no particular exhibit or moment in 1978. The late 70s and early 80s were an important time for her. When you think about it, it’s still so impressive she developed her career in this way at that age.”

How does this bowl show off Rie’s strengths as an artist? “What sets Rie apart from her contemporaries is her ability to create pottery that speaks to larger themes,” she says. “It’s a truly incredible work. You can see it in the photo, but with this bowl in particular, you’re able to understand it when you hold it in your hand.”

How does it feel to hold it in your hands? “It’s a soft matte. Not like sandpaper,” Lembo says. “It’s extraordinarily lightweight and extremely delicate. You can feel its fragility. You understand the level of skill she would have needed to create such a delicate vessel.”

The blue-on-white motif brings to mind Asian ceramics and European ones, too. “The bowl is certainly in dialogue with the tradition of blue and white ceramics in the U.K., Japan, and China,” she says. “This is a worldwide ceramic type that she speaks to in a refined and simplified manner.”

Did Rie intend the bowl to be a functional object, or is it purely aesthetic? “It has a matte glaze, but you want to be careful what you put in it,” Lembo says. “She was able to distinguish between functional works and very special, often unique pieces. You could use them in a tea ceremony, but it wasn’t necessarily the intention.”

Were you surprised when this piece set a new auction record for Rie? “We were very curious to see how it would perform,” she says. “Because it was early in the auction–it was the fourth lot–it was a great way to begin the sale.”

The auction record for Rie has broken four times in the last two years, with three of the records taking place at Phillips. A unique piece in the December 2016 sale fell $13,000 short of breaking the record a second time in the same auction. To what do you attribute the rising interest in Rie’s work? “Ceramics are a subject of great interest at the moment. The secondary market and gallery shows are broadening interest in ceramic artists,” she says. “We were lucky to offer real masterpieces by Lucie Rie. There are a group of educated buyers who are able to pursue them when they arise.”

Given how volatile the Rie auction record has been, how long do you think this one will stand? “The flaring footed bowl was an exceptional example of the artist’s output, so I think it will hold the title for a bit. However, it is always exciting to see what consignments appear on the horizon for upcoming seasons and to see what lots appeal most to collectors,” Lembo says. “We are delighted to have seen such a strong market for Lucie Rie’s work and are optimistic that the demand for her highest quality pieces will continue to rise.”

What else makes this piece stand out? “I personally love Lucie Rie. I’ve been an admirer of her work for so long. This piece is just extraordinary. It’s striking in person. Its minimalist quality really speaks to Lucie Rie’s ability.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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RECORD! John Lennon’s Long-Lost 1962 Gibson Commands $2.4 Million at Julien’s

Lennon Guitar

What you see: A 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar, owned and used by John Lennon. Julien’s Auctions sold it in November 2015 for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

 

How rare are John Lennon-owned and -played guitars? “They’re very rare, and it’s especially rare for them to come to market. Yoko would have most of them, and he gave very few away,” says Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, who notes that the house has handled four Lennon guitars in the last 15 years. “This particular guitar was a lost guitar. There was intrigue about it. He and George Harrison bought two together in 1961. It cost $165 for each, and it took Lennon a whole year to pay his off.”

 

Your colleague, Darren Julien, describes this as a “Holy Grail Beatles instrument.” What makes it a Holy Grail Beatles instrument? “Because it came to John at a very important time, at an early stage of the Beatles,” Nolan says. “Paul and John were going to each others’ homes to write songs. Such important songs were written on it. Then it disappeared at a show and no one knew where it ended up. Lennon never saw it again.”

 

How did Lennon’s guitar go missing? “What probably happened was–this was during some Christmas concerts in 1963 in the U.K. The Beatles were one of the acts performing. It was Christmas, and there was alcohol and other drugs involved. It could have been a completely innocent mistake, picked up by another band,” he says, adding that Lennon filed a police report when he realized his guitar was gone.

 

How do we know that Lennon used this instrument to write All My Loving, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Please, Please Me, and other Beatles hits? “We know when those songs were written, and we know John had this particular guitar,” he says. “He was a young guy. He didn’t have a massive amount of guitars [then]. He didn’t have endorsements from Fender and Gibson. And we have [period] photos from the living room of Paul.”

 

How did the consigner, John McCaw, end up with the guitar? Somehow it found its way to San Diego, where McCaw bought it in 1967 for $220. “He got 47 years of absolute enjoyment from it,” Nolan says. “He taught his kids to play guitar on it. He had no idea what it was. To see him standing in that massively crowded auction room, and to see the guitar go higher and higher–it was a life-changing event for him. He retired soon after, and he’s enjoying life.”

 

What was it like to be in that sale room when the Lennon guitar reached the block? “We hoped it would be the guitar to break one million. That was our goal. When it broke two million, we were on the floor,” he says. “There was a frenzy of bidding. It was a moving moment, emotional for us and for John McCaw, to set the world record. I wish we could have those every day.”

 

How long do you think the record is going to stand? “I think it’s going to be a long time. It’s hard to think of a guitar that could smash that record,” he says. “The Bob Dylan guitar was a very historically important guitar, and it sold for $965,000. The John Lennon guitar sold for $2.4 million. It’ll be a long time before the record breaks.”

 

How does the guitar play? “It plays really well,” he says. “John McCaw himself played it at the exhibition [before the sale]. It’s a really nice guitar, in excellent condition.”

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

 

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RECORD: R. Crumb’s Original Cover Art for His Best-Selling Fritz the Cat Book Commands $717,000 at Heritage

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What you see: R. Crumb’s original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000–a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

Who is R. Crumb? He is an American artist who led the underground comix movement. He co-founded Zap Comix and created one of the counterculture’s most enduring images with his Keep On Truckin’ single-page comic, which appeared in the first issue of Zap. Much of Crumb’s output is proudly NSFW, so Google at your own risk. In 2009, he published a graphic novel based on the Biblical Book of Genesis. He will turn 74 on August 30.

How rare are original pieces of Crumb comic art at auction? “We sell a lot of it. There’s been kind of a boom lately,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions. “Crumb has always been a staple of what we offer in our Comic and Comic Art sales, but we’ve never had the wealth and breadth up and down the line with what we’ve had in the last year and a half.”

This work by R. Crumb is the most valuable original comic art ever sold at auction, beating a 1990 cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #328 and a 1974 page from an Incredible Hulk comic that shows the debut of Wolverine. What’s the significance of that? “Put it this way. If you want to buy a Picasso pen-and-ink drawing, $717,000 will get you a really good pen-and-ink drawing,” he says. “You certainly could buy a more expensive Picasso drawing, but this is right there.”

Why has Crumb bested the more traditional superhero comic book artists? “What’s special about Crumb is he’s transcendental. He’s transcended his given media,” Jaster says. “There’s no comic book artist I can think of who’s had as many museum shows and international shows as he has. Crumb has been relevant ever since the hippie days and he’s never gone out of style.”

How long do you think these records will stand? “The original comic book art one, maybe not too long. Comic book art is incredibly popular,” he says. “Those two $657,000 sales were as pleasant a surprise as the Crumb art was. There are scores of things more desirable than them out there. It’s just a matter of them coming to the market. There’s probably an amazing thing out there that will get five or ten million, if it exists. As far as breaking the record for Crumb, I know the cover art for the Cheap Thrills record album is out there. The first Keep on Truckin’ or the cover of Zap Comics #1, a very small distribution comic, are the things that could sell for more.”

What else makes this piece of original Crumb comic book art special? “There’s some irony here in that Crumb is known for pushing the envelope with his subject matter and political views, but Fritz and his girlfriend are quite demure. It’s PG-13 for Crumb, who is known for adult material. It’s kind of a sweet thing,” he says. “And the book, Fritz the Cat, moved Crumb up in importance to be maybe the most famous cartoonist of his generation. It catapulted him from the guy who does sleazy, objectionable stuff to a guy who was really important, and this was the piece that did that.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Graham Nash’s collection of original Crumb comic artworks is up for bid in Heritage Auction’s Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction in Dallas from August 10 to 12, 2018.

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SOLD! The Apollo 13 Flight Plan Gets $275,000 at Sotheby’s–More Than Six Times Its High Estimate

9759 Apollo 13 Flight Plan, 4 (lot 140)

Update: The Apollo 13 flown flight plan sold for $275,000–more than six times its high estimate.

What you see: A page from the flight plan used during the Apollo 13 lunar mission. Sotheby’s estimates it at $30,000 to $40,000.

What was Apollo 13?  It was a 1970 moon voyage that never made it to the moon. An oxygen tank exploded 56 hours after liftoff, transforming the lunar mission into a rescue mission. The wounded vessel returned to Earth after four tense and terrifying days. The crew of three drank little, ate less, and slept even less than that. They arrived home on April 17, 1970, alive but collectively 31 and a half pounds lighter. The tale of Apollo 13 might be best known through the 1995 Academy Award-winning film that stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton.

Astronaut Fred Haise inscribed the flight plan to “Bob.” Who is Bob? He is Robert “Bob” Lindsey, the lead flight planner for Apollo 13. “This plan contained all the steps they had to follow to get into space. Lindsey figured out everything that needed to be done. Of course, the spacecraft did not comply,” says Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s. “Though they didn’t make it to the moon, Lindsey was instrumental in getting them out there, and instrumental in getting them back.” His descendants consigned the flight plan to Sotheby’s.

Wait, so there was only one flight plan aboard Apollo 13? Was it a NASA tradition for Apollo crews to give the flown flight plan to the lead flight planner when they got back to Earth? “Yes, this is it,” Hatton says of the document, and adds that giving the flight plan to the lead planner was not routine: “It was just something the Apollo 13 crew decided to do as an extra thank-you to the people who saved their lives.”

Does the flight plan contain handwritten notes from the astronauts after the oxygen tank exploded? Yes. The flight plan covers the voyage from liftoff to the point when astronauts Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell, and Haise abandoned the command module for the lunar lander, which they used as a lifeboat. The document also contains notes in red ink from Ken Mattingly, the original Apollo 13 command module pilot. He was removed from the crew days before the launch after fellow astronaut Charlie Duke unwittingly exposed him to German measles. Swigert replaced Mattingly.

What notes show the reaction to the explosion? Page 3-38 corresponds to the time of the accident. Lovell, the mission commander, crossed out the typewritten plans and wrote new ones, which include leaving the main vessel for the lunar module (LM). Lovell observed the need to “insure proper 02 concentration in LM.” Maintaining oxygen levels in the LM did pose a challenge. NASA engineers later had to teach the astronauts to jerry-rig a carbon dioxide filter that would work in the LM with parts that the astronauts had on hand.

How do we know which astronaut wrote which notes? Hatton referenced the air-to-ground transcript that NASA took for Apollo 13. By matching the transcript against the flight plan, she was able to identify each author. “If you take the time to go through it and read it, page by page, and compare it to the transcript, it solidifies our perception of them as being heroes,” she says. “‘Ok, we have no heat, no water, no food, and we can’t get any sleep, but we’re not going to panic and we’re going to get home.’ My heart was pounding. It’s an incredible thing.”

Why are there cartoons in the flight plan? NASA asked Johnson Space Centre artist Barbara Matelski to sketch caricatures of the crew in the flight plan before the launch as a jokey surprise for them to discover as they leafed through its pages. Shown here is the caricature of Swigert, who takes a ribbing over his political ambitions. He won the House of Representatives race for Colorado’s 6th district in November 1982, but died of bone cancer before he could be sworn in. He was 51 when he passed away. Lovell is now 89, Haise is 83, and Mattingly is 81.

The flight plan’s presale estimate is $30,000 to $40,000. Isn’t that kind of low? “The estimate is very, very conservative. It is. I’m confident it will far exceed its estimate,” she says, adding that its closest analog is a document that was embroiled in controversy. In 2011, Lovell consigned the flown LM Apollo 13 checklist–which takes over where this flight plan leaves off–to auction. It sold for $388,375, but the transaction was voided when NASA objected. President Barack Obama subsequently signed a law that gives clear title to memorabilia received by astronauts during the course of their work with the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs. “It’s interesting to see what the impact of the new law will be,” she says. “It’s very clear about who the title lays with, so bidders can have confidence in this.”

How to bid: The flown Apollo 13 flight plan is lot 140 in Sotheby’s Space Exploration auction in New York, scheduled for–of course–July 20, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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