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Full Coverage: Armstrong and the 'flag test'

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Armstrong: "I don't write on the flag."

November 26, 2001 — In a letter sent in response to a collector's query, Neil Armstrong has confirmed he avoids the U.S. flag when signing his autograph.

His exact words "I don't write on the flag" appears to verify the "flag test" proposed by a group of collectors in March 2001 (see original article below).

The letter also makes mention of an "article" which Armstrong had not yet seen. Steve Zarelli, the New York autograph collector who first proposed the flag test, presumes the reference is to "my article that appeared in the November issue of Autograph Times."

Printed on his stationery, the letter is signed "Neil A Armstrong", but is not in the moonwalker's hand. Noted by a handwritten "V.W." below the signature, this is a secretarial Armstrong signature. V.W. are the intials of Vivian White, the astronaut's administrative assistant.

The recepient of the letter asked to remain anonymous.

Collectors flag Armstrong forgeries

March 11, 2001 — As a Boy Scout, young Neil Armstrong would have been taught how to care for the American Flag. Among the lessons the future first moonwalker would have received was to respect the flag, never letting it touch the floor, never to fashion it for clothing, and never to place a mark upon it.

It is this latter provision that is leading a group of enthusiasts to pose a simple test for identifying forgeries of Armstrong's signature.

"On white spacesuit portraits, Neil Armstrong does not write over the flag patch area on his left shoulder," commented Steve Zarelli, a New York autograph collector who was first to make the observation. "For some time, I had used the flag to know when a signature was wandering too far from its typical placement. But then I made the connection that the patch area was more than just a boundary, it was sacred ground not to be written over!"

Zarelli consulted with several well-respected collectors including Al Hallonquist, Gerry Montague, Russ Still, Bobby McLeod, Mike Joner, Rick Cigel, Ken Havekotte and Donnis Willis. The group then examined over 100 known-to-be-authentic Armstrong white spacesuit (WSS) autographed portraits, finding the "flag test" to prove true each time. In a few cases, Armstrong's writing slightly brushed the outer perimeter of the flag, but it never crossed into the interior.

That's not to say there weren't examples of Armstrong's writing crossing the flag. In those cases however, the signature had been previously identified as suspect before applying the test.

"I believe that Armstrong intentionally avoided writing on the flag, and it is not just a coincidence," says Zarelli. "It is clear that with some longer inscriptions, his writing carefully avoids going into the flag. Unusual line spacing and placement all point to a deliberate effort to stay off the flag patch area."

Given the sample size and the accuracy of the test so far, Zarelli's group is enthusiastic about using the observation as a means to authentication. They cite that even if an authentic 'flag-crossing' example were to be found, it would not necessarily nullify the method.

"This simple test is certainly one that I would not ignore," affirmed Russ Still, a member of the group and author of the collecting guide Relics of the Space Race. "The most common examples that fail the test appear to come from the same hand. Unfortunately, that style also appears on other types of photos where the 'flag test' cannot be applied. I think ultimately, collectors need to learn to recognize this particular style of forgery, using the flag test as a jumping off point."

Zarelli's findings will be published in the third edition of "Relics of the Space Race" to be released on April 1, 2001. In the meantime, collectors can find further information, including illustrations, on Zarelli's website.

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