The Holy Grail of a Neil Armstrong Autograph: One Man's Quest

Which living person has the world's most sought-after autograph? Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. A Houstonian has written a book about it.

Anthony Pizzitola is a vice-president of the Universal Autograph Collector's Club and he's written Neil Armstrong: The Quest For His Autograph. He says Armstrong's signature has the highest value of anyone alive, and no one's even close in second place.

The notoriously private Armstrong used to sign regularly at charity golf events, where giving autographs is pretty much considered part of the gig.

But in 2003, he suddenly decided to not sign anything again -- not requests from people who chance into him in public, not at any events, not requests that come through the mail.

"People say it's because he was irritated that the autographs were being sold on eBay, but I think that's only part of it," Pizzitola says. "I think what happened was that in the early '90s he lost both parents within six months of each other, he had a heart attack, his wife divorced him and he remarried. With all these earthshaking, if you will, events, he just decided to shut it down.

Armstrong has rejected requests from Nancy Pelosi and the widow of Apollo 1 fire victim Ed White, he says.

Pizzitola admits it's Armstrong's right to do so, but he's peeved. "If you have a ten-year-old or an Eagle Scout and his hero is Neil Armstrong and you want an autograph, he won't do it," he says. "[NASA's] Gene Kranz has said signing autographs is part of an obligation they have. These guys are American heroes."

Today a Neil Armstrong autograph is worth anywhere from $2,500 to $5,500 depending on its condition.

Many astronauts are selling their autographs online these days. Armstrong's Apollo 11 crewmate Buzz Aldrin sells his for $500. (If you have an item already signed by Armstrong and third crew member Michael Collins, Aldrin's price goes up to $1,000. It's worth it, because the item would be worth $8,000, Pizzitola says.)

Pizzitola has gotten ten autographs from Armstrong in person before the astronaut began refusing requests; he has another 60 in his collection.

Armstrong's ban means the market has become flooded with forgeries or autopen signatures, which are basically worthless.

Experts detected one of the best forgeries only because the signature, on a photo of Armstrong on the moon, partly covered his American flag patch, and Armstrong had long said he would never sign in a way that could do that.

One of the most expensive Armstrong signatures came on a $10.61 check he wrote that was dated July 16, 1969, the day Apollo 11 lifted off. It was sold at auction for $27, 525.

You'd think, by the way, that any waiter or clerk who ever had to have Armstrong sign a credit card would find a way to keep that sucker, but Pizzitola says such things only rarely show up in the market.

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