Credit: RR Auction
Cartier's solid gold Lunar Module replica up for auction
A rare gold model of the Lunar Module "Eagle" used by the Apollo 11 astronauts to land on the moon is expected to reach over $150,000 at auction this week. The 6.25-inch-tall replica, made with 18-karat gold by French jeweler Cartier, is one of only three in existence.
The miniatures were first presented to the Apollo 11 astronauts -- Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins -- in October 1969, during a visit to Paris on an international goodwill tour. The item for sale had previously belonged to Aldrin, though he since sold the item and is not directly involved in the auction.
Neil Armstrong, the mission's commander, donated his to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, though it was stolen in July of this year and remains lost. The final model, originally presented to Michael Collins, is now part of Cartier's private collection, having been reacquired by the company for $55,000 at a 2003 auction.
Funded by donations
Cartier was commissioned to produce the models by French newspaper Le Figaro, which asked its readers for donations towards the production costs. The names of the donors are listed on microfilm rolls hidden inside each of the models.
The success of this unusual campaign is testament to France's enthusiasm for the moon landing, according to Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at Boston-based RR Auction, which is handling the sale.
"The fact that subscribers of a newspaper sent in contributions to make these gorgeous Cartier models shows you how much the French people admired these men," he said in an email interview.
Weighing 846 grams (about 1.8 pounds), the model is a detailed scale replica, complete with detachable ascent and descent stages. A number of pieces are missing however, including support posts, brackets and antennas.
The model's finish is also slightly tarnished, but RR Auction still expects the item to fetch at least $155,000 before the auction closes Thursday. Cartier has said that restoring the piece at its Paris facility is possible, and can be provided at the buyer's expense.
The gold model is up for sale alongside several other items from the Apollo 11 mission. Highlights include a page from the Lunar Module activation checklist, marked with annotations from Armstrong, and an American flag carried to the moon and signed by all three members of the crew.
Among over 200 other lots is a letter written by Aldrin in 1964, five years before the moon landing. In it, he predicts: "Our space program will stimulate the inventiveness of our scientists and engineers, the creativity of our scholars, the emotions of our artisans, the economy of our industry and nation, the imagination of our youth and the wisdom of our leaders."
A handwritten letter by Michael Collins is also on sale. The future Apollo 11 pilot writes: "The ultimate value of our lunar landing program cannot be outlined in detail at this time, just as it was impossible to foresee all the uses to which the Wright brothers' invention would be put."