Neil Armstrong autograph study

by Steve Zarelli, Zarelli Space Authentication

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Neil Armstrong is one of the most desirable autographs of any 20th century figure. While many dealers describe his autograph as rare, it is hardly true. Neil Armstrong signed autographs freely for over 30 years -- in-person and through-the-mail.  At the height of his fame in the 70s, it is reported he received hundreds of autograph requests per week and signed them all (but usually one per "customer" as he used to say). I estimate there are tens of thousands (if not more) Armstrong autographs in circulation.

So, why is his autograph so expensive? The answer is simple. Despite the fact there are so many in circulation, demand is higher still. Neil Armstrong is truly a global figure with global demand. Interest in Neil Armstrong's autograph extends beyond just space collectors and crosses in to historical and general autograph collectors worldwide. There are very few figures who enjoy global demand that cuts across cultures, language and borders -- and Neil Armstrong is among those few.

Authenticating Neil Armstrong autographs

Neil Armstrong poses an authentication challenge because his autograph changed significantly between the early 60s and mid-90s when he stopped signing autographs.

There is no short cut to becoming expert is assessing Neil Armstrong Autographs. I have been studying space autographs for nearly 20 years, and as any credible authenticator will tell you, it is a continuous learning process.

Authentication notes: 

  • Signatures should be signed quickly and confidently with no hesitation.
  • Size and placement matter: Armstrong consistently signed certain poses in the same area. As was revealed over 10 years ago, Neil Armstrong did not sign over the flag on his space suit. Be wary of examples that deviate from typical signing areas.
  • In almost 20 years of studying Neil Armstrong autographs, I think I may have seen one or two signed in silver or gold paint pen that I considered authentic. While it is likely authentic signatures exist in this format, they are exceedingly uncommon. Use great caution with any example signed in silver or gold paint pen. To the contrary, I have seen a great many forgeries signed in silver or gold. 
  • Personalizations do not make the item automatically authentic - I have seen forgeries with personalizations. 
  • Don't place great importance on "stories." I have seen many flat out fakes that were allegedly obtained by "NASA workers" or "in-person on the golf course." Forgers and distributors of forgeries don't hesitate to use stories to move their product.

In this study, I will present a number of verified exemplars that show his signature styles over the years. Hopefully, it provides you with a good general overview. For a more comprehensive study with many exemplars, I recommend, Neil Armstrong: The Quest for his Autograph. This book was commissioned by the UACC  and I contributed a chapter.

Pre-NASA Neil Armstrong autographs

Early pre-NASA examples feature a complete and more detailed signature. Clearly during this time frame, Armstrong was not being deluged with autograph requests. 

Neil Armstrong signed X-15 postal cover - early 1960s

Neil Armstrong signed X-15 postal cover - early 1960s

Signed program, March 1962

Signed program, March 1962

Neil Armstrong signed card - early 1960s

Neil Armstrong signed card - early 1960s

Gemini era Neil Armstrong autographs

Once he joined NASA, demand for Neil Armstrong's autograph increased and he began using an abbreviated version of his last name.

Neil Armstrong - Gemini era signed photo

Neil Armstrong - Gemini era signed photo

Gemini era signed photo

Gemini era signed photo

Neil Armstrong - Gemini era signed photo

Neil Armstrong - Gemini era signed photo

Neil Armstrong - signed tracking station postal cover, 1965

Neil Armstrong - signed tracking station postal cover, 1965

Apollo era through mid-1980s Neil Armstrong autographs

Armstrong's signature became even more abbreviated as he drew closer to Apollo 11. While there is a good deal of variation from 1969 through the mid-80s, he maintained essentially the same signature style. To many collectors, this is the most recognizable Neil Armstrong signature style - tall and lean. 

Apollo 11 insurance cover, 1969

Apollo 11 insurance cover, 1969

White space suit portrait, June 1971

White space suit portrait, June 1971

Typed letter, 1972

Typed letter, 1972

Signed program, 1972

Signed program, 1972

Signed program, 1979

Signed program, 1979

Signed book

Signed book

Typed letter, 1984

Typed letter, 1984

Late 1980s and after Neil Armstrong autographs

By the late 80s, Neil Armstrong was tired of signing autographs and it showed. His autograph became much less carefully applied and inconsistent. In many cases, the signatures almost appear to have been "slapped" on. You may still see glimmers of the "tall and lean" look of the classic autograph style, but for the most part, it has been replaced by signatures with a more squat and block-ish appearance. 

In my experience, authentic 1990s era signatures are often incorrectly labeled unauthentic by those with only a cursory knowledge of Armstrong's signature.

Signed portrait, 1989

Signed portrait, 1989

Signed photo, early 90s

Signed photo, early 90s

Signed photo, 1992

Signed photo, 1992

Flight Test Historical Foundation signed photo, 1993

Flight Test Historical Foundation signed photo, 1993

Navy to the Moon print, 1993

Navy to the Moon print, 1993

Victory lithograph, 1994

Victory lithograph, 1994

Signed photo, 1994

Signed photo, 1994

Signed portrait, 1996

Signed portrait, 1996

Neil Armstrong Autopens and secretarial signatures

Autopens
NASA used seven Armstrong Autopen patterns, which have been published widely. For the purposes of this study I am not going to replicate that which is found in many other places. I recommend the Astronaut Autopen Guide as a good resource.

Secretarial/Proxy signatures
Neil Armstrong did not authorize a secretary to sign for him. However, there was a period in 1969/1970 when proxy signed signatures were being sent from NASA.

Robert Pearlman, editor of CollectSPACE reports in 2013, "I spoke with the Apollo 11 crew's secretaries [several years ago] and they each said they never signed an autograph. They were forthcoming on other topics, so I don't think this was a case of their having a faulty memory or trying to hide something."

There has been speculation on why proxy signatures were sent instead of using an Autopen machine -- perhaps an Autopen machine broke or they were so deluged with requests after Apollo 11 that the standard workflow was bypassed and someone took it upon themselves to sign requests. No one knows for sure, but proxy signatures were undoubtedly emanating from NASA for a short period.

Additionally, at a 2005 NovaSpace private signing, Mike Collins claimed that when the Apollo 11 crew was on world tour shortly after the flight, a member of their entourage became very skilled at forging all three signatures and he signed some of them in lieu of the crew.

Apollo 11 secretarial signatures on NASA letterhead, February 1970

Apollo 11 secretarial signatures on NASA letterhead, February 1970

Apollo 11 secretarial signatures with secretarial dedication.

Apollo 11 secretarial signatures with secretarial dedication.

Neil Armstrong forgeries

Neil Armstrong's signature is commonly forged and one I would classify as high-risk. Forgeries range from cartoonishly misshapen to deceptive. In my experience, the forgeries keep getting better as the high value of Armstrong's autograph is sure to attract more skilled forgers.

I won't feature obviously bad hall-of-shame worthy exemplars, rather here are some known fake styles that have appeared over the years.

Style distributed from southeast U.S. in late 90s/early 2000s

Style distributed from southeast U.S. in late 90s/early 2000s

Southeast U.S. style forgery

Southeast U.S. style forgery

German forgery, late 90s/early 2000s

German forgery, late 90s/early 2000s

German forgery

German forgery

German forgery

German forgery

Common forgery style from late 90s/early 2000s. Source unknown.

Common forgery style from late 90s/early 2000s. Source unknown.

Common fake style, source unknown

Common fake style, source unknown

Spanish forgery, 2011

Spanish forgery, 2011

Spanish forgery, 2011

Spanish forgery, 2011

The work of an active east coast forger

The work of an active east coast forger

Personalized forgery

Personalized forgery

Active UK forger, 2012 - present

Active UK forger, 2012 - present

Active UK forger, 2012 - present

Active UK forger, 2012 - present

Forgery on a Belgian stamp block

Forgery on a Belgian stamp block

Comically bad Operation Bullpen forgery distributed by the convicted Stan's Sports

Comically bad Operation Bullpen forgery distributed by the convicted Stan's Sports