I have posted before on this subject. Although Mr. Cowing maybe a very intelligent individual on subjects devoted to space, he appears to be ignorant of the space collector’s motives in obtaining space memorabilia. I challenge him to view the work done by collectors to protect and restore space artifacts. I also challenge him to meet me at the basement of the NASM to see what is lying there slowly deteriorating away.
I wrote the post listed below in response to his prior collector bashing. It is probably a good time to post it again.
“As a collector of flown space artifacts as well as a collector of maritime artifacts, I tend to disagree with Mr. Cowing.
The owner of any object received as a gift has the right to do with it as he pleases. I guess it could be called the American Way or Capitalism at it’s best. I do agree though that the sale of a presentation artifact given to you as a gift is tacky. It’s still the owner’s choice as it is Mr. Cowing’s choice to disagree with the sale of that item.
I also disagree with Mr. Cowing about the matter of whether the astronauts should sell flown artifacts to the general public instead of gifting them to museums or educational institutions. My main reason for disagreement is from what I have seen in various maritime, space, aviation and science museums. I have been inside their vaults and they have one thing in common and that is a fair amount of excess material that will never see the light of day. Now I admit there maybe a few exceptions, but in general, this is true.
As an example, it broke my heart to find Chesley Bonestell’s mural of the lunar surface that hung at the Boston Museum of Science during the 1960’s had been ripped off the museum’s wall, transferred to the NASM and is currently deteriorating in a storage area. I have been told the mural cannot be restored.
Based upon my research either on site or via the web, most of these artifacts are already duplicated in the major air and space museums here in this country. A tour of the NASM facilities and the their website, as an example, will show many of the items sold over the years to have duplicates at the museum. So where will the excess artifacts go?
There is only so much display space that a museum has, so why not allow items that were planned for disposal by NASA be sold?
The argument of preventing the private sale of space artifacts reminds me of the marine archeologist’s argument against the private salvaging marine artifacts from wrecks such as the Titanic, Andrea Doria or other countless shipwrecks in the oceans of the world.
Marine Archaeologists rail against the private or commercial salvage of any shipwreck as a loss to the public of valuable historical items. Unfortunately, by the time, archeologists get the time and money to document these wrecks they will be gone. The example of the private salvage of the Andrea Doria artifacts brings history and substance to an event that is slowly fading with each new generation.
Professional archaeologists have yet to visit the site of the Andrea Doria. The ship is quickly turning into a “whaleback” as the superstructure collapsed after fifty years of chemical and mechanical weathering on the wreck. This is just one minor example. I could quote many major ones if time were to permit.
Mr. Cowing has publically stated his distaste toward the private sale of space artifacts by the astronauts. Should they be given over to museums? Will the museums restore and display them for the public? Does the astronaut have the right to sell these items? Since I have talked about what I have seen in the bowels of museums, I feel I have already answered the aforementioned questions.
So let’s talk about the astronauts and their sales of their private collections.
During a meeting in 2000, NASA, the NASM, the OIG and high-ranking officials from other space and aviation museums met to discuss the matter of the private sale of space artifacts by astronauts. Their own conclusion was that with the exception of spacesuits and stolen items, the sale of items deemed disposable by NASA was all right.
Such items were artifacts that would have been left on the surface of the moon at the time of LM liftoff or presentation material. Examples such as personal items from the astronaut’s PPK bag, maps, charts, checklists, PLSS fragments, medallions and flags were sited as allowable for sale.
Astronauts have made personal decisions concerning their collections of material. Some have donated their entire collection to a particular museum, some of sold or given away everything and some have done a combination of both practices. The astronauts shouldn’t be faulted for attempting to cash in on the current market for space artifacts. The market is there and has been pretty good for the astronauts since the big boom of 1999.
Which leads us to the collectors.
Are collectors demons for buying the private material and do they hoard it away from the public? Are collectors the last stop before the artifact deteriorates to dust? Do collectors help keep artifacts in the public eye that may lie buried in a museum vault or astronaut’s basement?
While museums tend to store much excess material, collectors with the help of the Internet have begun to display more of the artifacts that may be left hidden from public view in a museum or astronaut’s home.
I, for an example, have begun to restore, create provenance and display both on the Internet and in my home many pieces of my space artifact collection. There are many other excellent examples of artifact display on the Internet.
I use many of the artifacts during lectures on the race to the moon in various local schools. By allowing the school kids to touch and hold artifacts that touched the lunar surface, they get a much better understanding of exactly just what this country accomplished during the Apollo missions.
My home has become a museum in itself. It is many a time that people will get the “nickel tour” of the house. So people are getting the chance in many instances to see, touch and hold artifacts that would be sealed under glass or possibly stored away from view.
As for restoration and protection, I, as well as many other collectors have been working hard to restore, protect or save artifacts from deterioration and destruction. Whether it has been the archival sealing of an artifact in UV protected neutral Mylar or completely restoring a famous painting that was allowed to sit in a garage for 20 years, we collectors have been working to maintain our artifacts for the long term. Which is good, because most of these items have been sitting in a basement, garage or storage facility for 35 years or more.
As for a loss to the museums, many collectors offer their collections on loan to any museum. I know of three examples where collectors have either offered to donate their collections or loan their collections to a local museum. The effort has been met with mixed results. Only one such offer was accepted, but after much effort by the collector. This collector’s story is in the Collectspace reference archives.
There is one space artifact collector, who has started his own museums for space artifacts and rare manuscripts. He maintains seven such manuscript libraries in California, New York, Washington DC and South Carolina all at his own expense.
The future holds much promise for the space collecting market. I also believe that several of these artifact collections are destined for museums in the short-term future upon the death of the collector as gifts and donations. In the long term (100 plus years), many of these artifacts will find their way to museums and institutions as many rare books have done since the dawn of the printed page.
How many of these rare items would be thrown out or cast aside by succeeding generations, if not for their purchase by interested collectors? The space artifact collector has been a boon to the preservation and maintenance of these artifacts and will continue to be in the future.”
As you can see, Mr. Cowing, collectors of space artifacts do have a place in this world as do collectors of art, rare books and many other pieces of historic nature and value.
As an amateur space historian, I find Mr. Cowing’s comments remind me of JFK’s science advisor Dr. Jerome Weisner and his negative comments about the manned space program in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
We now know how out of touch Dr. Weisner was with the future of manned space travel. Maybe it is time for Mr. Cowing to get in step with the times and find out what collectors really do with these valuable artifacts.
Lawrence L. McGlynn
A Tribute to Apollo