The world’s most expensive bag probably wouldn’t attract the attention of any street style photographers or even Anna Wintour. And yet, the modest beta-cloth and polyester sac, whose only label says “Lunar Sample Return,” just fetched $1.8 million at Sotheby’s yesterday.
Of course the bag — which kind of resembles those free pouches you get when you spend over a certain amount at the Lancôme counter — has a pretty remarkable history. It was used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 to collect samples from the moon. According to the Sotheby’s catalog, it is the only artifact from that trip that is not in the Smithsonian, and therefore is extremely valuable.
The reason it is (or was) available for purchase is that the bag was misidentified, and almost thrown in the garbage. It then found its way to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center — or rather to the home of the center’s director, who was convicted of pilfering items from the museum and reselling them in 2003. The goods the US Marshall took from his home, including the bag, were then put up for auction, where a Chicago lawyer Nancy Lee Carlson, bought the bag for $995.
She then sent it to NASA, who confirmed that it was the very bag Armstrong used on that trip to collect moon samples. After a legal battle with the government (who argued that the bag had been stolen from them), Carlson was granted full ownership.
We now hope she uses at least some of her windfall to buy a slightly prettier bag.