Original Recordings of Apollo 11 Moon Landing That An Intern Bought for US$218 Now Sold for US$1.82m

On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, Sotheby’s offered a wide variety of materials from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions at its latest Space Exploration auction. The top lot of the sale was three original NASA videotape recordings of the lunar landings, which sold for US$1.82m.

Still image from footage

These original, first-Generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 Lunar EVA represent the earliest, sharpest, and most accurate surviving video images of man’s first steps on the moon. At a combined run time of 2 hours and 24 minutes, the tapes capture historic moments including Neil Armstrong’s declaration: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” marking the historic moment the first human set foot on another world.

For the past 43 years, the tapes resided in the collection of Gary George, who bought them for just over US$217 while working as an intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center in 1973. Yet, he had no idea what was documented on the tapes. George’s original idea was to sell them to a local TV station since the tapes could be re-recorded and a new reel of Ampex tape cost about $260 at that time.

George's father noticed the labels "APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [–3]" and "VR2000 525 Hi Band 15 ips" on the tapes and therefore stored them safely for the whole time. In 2008, George learnt that NASA was trying to locate its original videotapes of the Apollo 11 EVA., and played the tapes at DC Video, potentially for the first time since it was recorded.

Unfortunately, George and NASA did not come to an agreement as to what they should do with the tapes. The tapes were sent to Sotheby’s to go up for auction and sold for US$1.82m, more than 8,000 times the price George paid for when he was working as an intern at NASA.

Other notable lots of the sale include a unique collage of Apollo memorabilia that sold for US$225,000, more than four times its low estimate of US$50,000. The collage includes an autograph manuscript written by Buzz Aldrin, which is now believed to be the first autograph manuscript to be written on the lunar surface.

[Apollo 11]. Original, First-generation Nasa Videotape Recordings of The Apollo 11 Lunar Eva

Lot no.: 104
Provenance: The collection of Gary George
Estimate: US$1,000,000 - 2,000,000
Price realised: US$1,820,000

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Space Exploration
Date: 20 July 2019|11am (lots 1-103); 2pm (lots 104-219)                      
Sale total: US$5,517,000