Auction Buying for Dummies: Spacelopnik Edition
Over the past couple days, Christie’s was having an online-only auction for a massive collection of original vintage photo prints produced in-house by NASA from the Mercury missions to the Apollo program. And I mean massive collection, I believe it was 2400 prints organized into 700 lots. And buddy, these things are cool as balls.
(This is usually the part where I’d link to my story about the three different occasions I called to put a deposit on a Maserati 4200, just to be told on three different occasions the car sold a few hours ago. But, you know, Spanfucker.)
So, since I apparently can’t have a Maserati, I decided to dust off my monocle and fake mustache to do my best cosplay as a person with disposable income in a pandemic, bite the bullet, and try to do the unthinkable: buy something for myself, just for the sake of enjoying it.
Since this was such a huge auction, it was apparent almost immediately it would be a process. I spent hours reviewing estimates, learning the provenance of these prints in general, looking up framing suggestions and costs, basically arming myself to be informed, since I never considered these even existed in the first place until I was ready to buy one.
I opened probably 100 tabs and started triaging. By how much I wanted them, then rearranged by lot number, then again by when they were ending. I registered for a Christie’s account, even calling them to verify my identity.
(This seems like a good opportunity to point out that while the auction staff is exceedingly friendly by any metric regardless of your financial situation, their jobs by necessity remind you of how very poor you are. In this case, it was when they asked me if I would be requesting approval to bid over 100,000£.)
I learned about VAT, hammer fees, LDL insurance, fine art shipping charges, duty and customs fees, and that state sales tax comes on the whole of services they provide the winning bidders (ugh). So really, a dollar bid costs about $1.50. Since this was in London the £ —> $ conversion comes in too. Delightful. But despite my dwindling buying power I pushed on undeterred.
I got my fiancée involved since she’d have to look at anything we won too. She preferred full color portraits of Earth, and oddly, “giant moon rocks”. I was drawn to the spacewalks and Gemini docking photos in orbit, but especially the lunar rovers (bc cars on the moon, perfection).
The day (well, pre-day) arrived when lots were starting to hammer, starting bright and early at 4:30 EST (thanks London). Fortunately I was able to defer that all the way to 5:30 when the lots I wanted started to close.
I did my best to set expectations. Win or lose, it was really an amazing chance to look with a renewed sense of wonder at all these photos that spoke the history of the space program. I largely “got over” rockets when I was a teen, and certainly don’t set my watch to SpaceX launches, but it was nice to be a kid again and appreciate these awesome feats of engineering and science. And it was a great chance to see these heroic monoliths in a new light: as people - people with fears and anxieties, and their own sense of wonder in their own accomplishments.
I also channeled a good colleague of mine, who in an earlier life was extensively involved in the early 20th century American furniture market (among a great deal of other collection interests). And his advice to me during my Maserati sagas was told of his own experience. Whenever he and his love interest would go up to the Litchfield Hills or Berkshires for an auction, if they won a lot, they’d go back to their hotel and celebrate their new purchase with a bottle of champagne. And if they came back empty-handed, they’d head back to the hotel, and open a bottle of champagne to celebrate all the money they saved.
With the auction in the books, here’s the final stats:
11 bids on 7 lots
5 runner-ups (I found out on a call with my colleague this called “being the underbidder” in auction terms)
1 bottle of champagne.
I should note: I was not the runner up / underbidder on any of the pictures in this article. I was the runner up / underbidder on all the pictures in this article
Also if someone can tell me how to get an image on the topic list that would be good
ClassicDatsunDebate last edited by
@notsomethingstructural the icon that looks like four squares, then upload the image you want as the thumbnail. It doesn’t work like Kinja...the thumbnail image is it’s own thing.
@ClassicDatsunDebate thanks! I had figured it was a flag on one of the photos and couldn’t figure out how to set it
@notsomethingstructural I was aware of this auction but struggled to understand what was driving the high cost of many of the photos. I assume that it was that they were produced as near as possible from the original negatives and shortly after the missions were complete. Is that it? Many are available via other avenues at NASA.
ClassicDatsunDebate last edited by
@notsomethingstructural what a great read! Too bad you didn’t get a win, but as Lemmy says... “ the chase is better than the catch”. Plus champagne!
I understand the allure of auctions but I’ve never been a fan of that type of transaction.
phenotyp last edited by
I’ve tried a few times to bid on some John Berkey paintings. It’s so tempting when you see the initial bid, then so disheartening when they actually come up to the block and the bids jump by several thousand percent.
@f86sabre yeah, my understanding is some were produced from original negatives (which were in fuckin space!!!) and the rest were produced from one of 5 copies that NASA made with the originals being archived in cold storage almost immediately and never used for prints. A lot of the images are available digitally for free, but ultimately you’re paying for the age and patina, the provenance, and the in-house stuff at the time went onto archival-grade Kodak fiber paper instead of regular glossy stock. As I recall/understand the archival-grade prints were not made available to the general public and were usually ordered by research facilities.
@classicdatsundebate I’m not either, but this one has enough cool lots that it swayed me to jumping in. I was open to a lot of options, it wasn’t one exact thing I was chasing after.
@notsomethingstructural cool. Makes sense.
I have to be really careful around space auctions. If I didn’t have to adult it would be a different story.
@phenotyp Christie’s was fairly good with their estimates, a lot of middle of the road stuff went at or below the low estimate, but they severely misjudged what people would want and some of the more photogenic stuff went thousands past the high estimate. Ultimately this is stuff people are gonna hang on their wall, so a well-composed and presented photo of Saturn V at sunset went for like $4k over the high estimate, but rare and unreleased photos of guys at the moon base that were maybe out of focus or poorly cropped went at or below the low estimate despite being orders of magnitude rarer.
@f86sabre lol look at my breakdown and you’ll see you’re not the only one who had to be careful. 5 runner ups! One saving grace is it was 100£ increments, so if you were outbid it was about $375 (after fees/premiums) over your last bid to get back on top. That’s a lot for “....yeah fuck it one more”
Even with this being over I’m relieved I have very little “woulda coulda shoulda”. I could really only afford to win one lot and I don’t think I would have played my hand much differently. I wish I put one more bid on the hurricane photo but will forgive myself since it was the first lot I was seriously interested in to close.
There was also one lot of like 9 photos, 3 of which were good enough to frame, that I would have bid on if I didn’t screw up when the lot ended. I went to check if the bid had changed thinking there was still 10 mins left, but it had already closed at the last bid I saw it at. I wish I didn’t fuck that up, because I would have thrown at least one bid in so I could say I was runner up in 6 auctions.
But aside from that, no real regrets on what I bid and how I approached it. Which is good!
@notsomethingstructural If you are looking to scratch your Apollo / NASA itch check out Lunar Replicas. I picked up one of their Apollo flight jackets and the thing was gorgeous.
@f86sabre sweet! I’ll have to check that out