It was in the late 1980s, and I was browsing an autograph dealer’s catalog in a colleague’s law office. An 8 x 10 signed photo of Diana Ross was being sold for the same price as an 8 x 10 signed photo of Neil Armstrong. One of the two, I figured, was a bargain. I bought the Rocket Man.
Over the next few years, I acquired a number of documents and unique pieces of memorabilia signed by Armstrong or by the Apollo 11 crew. I stopped acquiring items in the early 90s. The memorabilia boom was in full swing, and astronauts’ signatures were hot. Prices were prohibitive. I bought some red wine, instead.
In the years that followed, Armstrong refused to sign his name whenever possible. He even stopped using autopen signatures, whenever he could. People say he was disgusted with the commerce in autographs, and with the ruses people used to acquire them. He could have had a million-dollar cottage industry just signing his name. He chose not to. Instead, his signature is rare, more valuable than any president’s, ranked as a collectible only few notches behind Shakespeare (#1)in value, some experts say, even before his death last week.
Diana Ross has been eclipsed by Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. There will be others. Their names will be forgotten in a generation or two. But Neil Alden Armstrong will always be the first man on the moon. Imagine “branding” Neil Armstrong. Imagine the endorsement deals!
He was the perfect choice to symbolize mankind’s most dramatic achievement since the wheel or the use of fire. His modesty, his humility and his disinterest in self-promotion distinguishes him from almost everyone else on the planet, including other moon-walking astronauts who have had paid “signings” and have even auctioned off their space suits and their flight-flown urine collection bags. How nice that Armstrong understood the significance of his life.
He will always be remembered for what he did. He should also get a nod for what he didn’t do.
Marc Garfinkle is a long-time friend of Rocket Matter. He is an attorney in New Jersey whose practice emphasizes defense of attorney disciplinary matters. He also offers professional education and skills training to lawyers, law students, law enforcement and other professionals.