Think you got a Neil Armstrong autograph cheap?

This is the kind of Armstrong autograph that sells on the cheap -- a bad fake.

This is the kind of Armstrong autograph that sells on the cheap -- a bad fake.

Never say never, but the odds of winning an authentic Neil Armstrong or Apollo 11 signed item for way below market value in an auction format are exceedingly low. There are way too many collectors and dealers looking for Armstrong and Apollo 11 and trolling eBay 24/7. They are not going to miss an authentic Armstrong and let it go for way below market value.

If it is in auction format, and you got it on the cheap, chances are you didn’t outsmart everyone else. Chances are it sold on the cheap because it’s a fake.

You can get a deal on the rare occasion a seller significantly underprices an item and lists it as a Buy-It-Now. Then again… there are lots of trained eyes watching and you would have to hit it shortly after it’s listed.

If it’s a low-priced Buy-It-Now and it’s been sitting there for a while… yep…  chances are it’s a fake.

They both can't be right: Apollo 11 Reproduction Signed Photo

Here is a common reproduction signed photo of the Apollo 11 crew. The signatures are not live ink -- they are part of the photo. This was distributed in mass quantities by NASA to schools, libraries and other public institutions around the time of the mission. It exists in 8 x 10 and approximately 16 x 20 sizes.

This eBay seller is offering the reproduction signed photo for a $1,000 Buy It Now and states that he has had "a few experts check it out and verify it is authentic." 

Common Apollo 11 reproduction signed photo being advertised as authentic on eBay

Common Apollo 11 reproduction signed photo being advertised as authentic on eBay

This seller has another print of the same item with identical signatures, and he assures potential buyers that "his uncle got the signatures at a show in Florida."

Another Apollo 11 reproduction signed photo being advertised as authentic on eBay

Another Apollo 11 reproduction signed photo being advertised as authentic on eBay

Be wary of traced over signatures

There are many tricks in the forger's handbook, and a traced over signature is one of them. 

Here is how it works. 

  1. The forger gets a high resolution digital image of an authentically signed photo.
  2. Make a photo print of the authentically signed photo.
  3. Then, trace over the printed signature on the photo with a marker to give it the appearance of real ink of the photo.

This practice can be deceptive, but often you can see signs of hesitation or slowness as the forger is careful to cover the printed signature. In some cases, you can still see traces of the printed signature peeking out where the forger failed to completely cover the printed signature.

Here is an example of a print of an authentically signed photo that appears to have been traced over with Sharpie. The arrows point to areas where the forger did not completely cover the printed signature.

Arrows indicate areas where you can see hints of a printed signature below the traced signature that was added.

Arrows indicate areas where you can see hints of a printed signature below the traced signature that was added.

Harrison Schmitt: Increasing value and increasing risk of forgeries

It's been about 10 years since Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17, conducted a paid signing at NovaSpace, and he hasn't responded to mail requests either.

For many years, Schmitt would answer his mail. Before he stopped, he would sign once a year, usually around the holiday season. In December, you would hear reports of a sudden flurry of through-the-mail successes. Looks like Harrison Schmitt is working his way through the stack from this year was the conventional wisdom.

Harrison Schmitt signed NASA lithograph, early 1970s.

Harrison Schmitt signed NASA lithograph, early 1970s.

In the past few years, prices for Harrison Schmitt signed photos have skyrocketed. You can expect to pay $400 and up for unpersonalized examples. Prime examples on NASA glossies or lithos with nice inscriptions can fetch $600 or more.

In my estimation, you have a new generation of collectors in the past decade that were not around when he was signing freely through the mail. This influx of collectors have to pay for signed items on the secondary market... something prior generations of space collectors did not have to do.

With this increase in price comes a higher risk of relatively skilled fakes. In the past several months, I have seen several examples of somewhat deceptive forgeries... the likes of which we have not seen previously. 

As always, do your homework, caveat emptor and have fun collecting!