I mooted this topic last week, as regards the value of the moon rocks at the Johnson Space Center. Here, then, are my thoughts on just how much extra value fame imparts to an object.

For a start, consider how much collectors have been willing to spend on everyday objects with iconic associations.

  • Rivets removed from the Golden Gate Bridge are sold for $40 each. 
  • Used light bulbs from the Las Vegas sign are priced at $47 each.
  • After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, six square inches of the turf from the field was selling for $135. (The normal price for that much grass?- 1.5 cents.) Multiplying that out, the entire field could have been sold for $68 million. 

All that separates the above from their humble cousins is their fame.

Of note, however, is the fact that the abovequoted prices are retail prices. In the field of valuation, those are what we would term replacement values. When we want to discuss “brass tacks” (or rivets?) value, however, we tend to work with fair market value. This reflects what you, as a private, can net on the open market. In my field, I search brick-and-mortar auction sales to obtain a sense of that kind of value.

Last year, I had to value the Crown Jewels of England and, as part of my analysis, I had to determine how much their royal notoriety added to their value. 

To do so, I reflected upon the auctions of the estates of two noble personages- Princess Margaret, and the “Queen of Camelot”, Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

I started with the estimates which the auction experts at Christie’s and Sotheby’s had assigned the pieces; assessments which would have been deemed entirely rational. What they did not yet know, though, was how much the fame of those celebrities would inspire irrational bidding. By comparing the estimates with the ultimate sale prices, I was able to calculate the average price bump, and that was what I termed the “memorabilia value”. 

Interestingly, I uncovered a correlation between the percentage increase and the intrinsic value of the items offered. For example, if a tiara with an intrinsic worth of $100,000 was offered in one of these sales, it sold, on average, for 4.2 times that amount, or $420,000. However, if an item with an intrinsic value of only $100 was offered, it sold for 11.5 times that amount, or $1,150. My instinct is that so many more fans of these celebrities could afford $1,150 as opposed to $420,000, that they all chased the low-end items. 

Whatever the reason, given these ratios, one can return to last week’s problem, the value of the moon rocks. As for the legitimacy of comparing diamonds to moon rocks, well, a rock is a rock is a rock, right?

I had calculated that 842 pounds of meteorite moon rock was worth $600 million. That would be a rather significant “intrinsic” value.  Hence, I would choose the 4.2 multiplier to calculate the added “memorabilia value” of the moon rocks brought back by Apollo. Hence, my conclusion would be that the Johnson Space Center moon rocks would be worth $2.5 billion. 

As usual, the possessions were overvalued by the owner- in this instance, by a factor of 32. (If only the government over-valued my tax refund by that amount.)

(P.S.- I am afraid that I have had to gloss over the detail that some of the moon rocks which were brought back by astronauts were vacuum sealed on the moon. Their greater scientific interest would impart to them added value beyond their memorabilia value. Apologies.)



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