Jim Irwin's Hasselblad Apollo 15 lunar surface camera

A Hasselblad Electric Data Camera was brought back to Earth by astronaut Jim Irwin in 1971, after the Apollo 15 mission, to become part of Space History.

Jim Irwin's Hasselblad Moon camera was auctioned March 22, 2014 by the WestLicht Gallery in Austria for a record-breaking price of 660,000 euros (almost one million US dollars).

In Vienna, the lot the camera was in opened for sale at 80,000 euros (about US$ 110,000), and reached 660,000 euros (about US$ 1 million) after a long battle between bidders from all over the world.

On March 23, accounts of this auction sale appeared widely on Facebook, Twitter, TV shows and newspapers.
These accounts relayed what is most likely one of the first in a long series of record-breaking auction prices for Hasselblad Space collectibles.

All this was made possible thanks to WestLicht Gallery and Alain Lazzarini, former owner and consignor of the camera. Mr Lazzarini is a long time collector of Hasselblad cameras and author of the reference book "Hasselblad and the Moon".

 

Jim Irwin's Hasselblad Moon camera
Credits : WestLicht Gallery

 

"Enter Space History" by Alain Lazzarini

How a few people at collectspace spread rumors and tried to sabotage this sale.

A few days after WestLicht Gallery auctions catalogs went online (February 27, 2014)  I was contacted by someone claiming to be collectspace's editor. Let's call this person RP. I had already been in touch with many potential buyers from Japan, USA, Russia, France, Italy and other countries and readily answered their questions.

But this message from RP was quite strange, not like the legitimate questions from others. I was asked questions such as "Did you remove the engraving of '301' from the camera body?" or, even better, "Did you engrave the number '38' onto the Resseau plate?".

At first, I thought this was a joke. Why would someone ask such questions ? To what intent ?
I have been collecting Space cameras for more than 30 years and yet I had never heard of them. It was very strange.

Two days later, I was busy preparing the auction sale when a friend of mine mentioned several posts on collectspace.

Members, including RP, were writing comments such as :

  • "Is there any word over legal action to try and block the sale"
  • "The question, as always, is how this camera entered private hands. "

So-called Hasselblad experts

Browsing collectspace, I also found that RP had written an article back in January 2014 titled "NASA moon landing camera claimed to be used by Apollo astronaut up for auction". An article full of misrepresentations, wrong statements and inaccuracies, written by someone with basic knowledge of Hasselblad cameras.

Out of nowhere, RP was claiming my camera was not authentic. Why ? Most probably to sabotage the sale.
He was trying so hard to do this that he even submitted his article on several other websites.

The facts, only the facts

When I first heard about these posts, I tried three times to register on collectspace.

Unfortunately, registration required manual approval, and my account was never validated.
So here are a few excerpts taken from RP's article, followed by my comments.

Statement 1: "I have just seen the close up photos for this camera in the catalog,as i suspected ,the reseau plate number,upon which all this provenance relies,has been engraved into the plate at a later date,probably obscuring the original number in the process,from the DATA cameras in my collection it is evident that these numbers were not added,and certainly never engraved,post-production,but included during the manufacturing process(and therefore virtually impossible to fake),the numbers appear as a fine, clearly defined number on the same plane as the reference crosses,any photo taken with this camera would have a very coase,fuzzy outlined number" and later : "I am annoyed and amazed that no one is even slightly concerned about these discrepancies over its authenticity,"

My comment: this statement is completely wrong.

The engraved numbers on the reseau plates of the Moon surface HEDC equipped with Biogon for Apollo 15 up to Apollo 17 missions were hand-engraved by NASA after Hasseblad sent them. About 10 were hand-engraved out of the 40 pieces they received.

On all pictures taken on lunar surface during Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions it is evident that the number on the reseau plate is hand-engraved (irregular etching).

If you happen to own a HEDC, check the reseau plate of the camera. If the number is finely and regularly engraved that means that you do not have a Moon surface HEDC, but a Skylab HEDC.

It might also be a good idea to check the P/N of your camera. Numbers related to Skylab missions ended by 310, and if your HEDC has a serial number ranging from UH1860 to UH18860, then this HEDC is one from the last series bought by NASA in 1972 for Skylab missions. On such HEDC cameras, the numbers on the reseau-plate were engraved by ZEISS during manufacturing and look like little crosses.

Finally, if you compare numbers on pictures taken during Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions with the numbers on pictures taken during Skylab missions, you will see the difference almost instantly.

Why, then, would someone with anything beyond a basic knowledge of Hasselblad cameras and even a minimum of scientific reasoning try to compare 2 HEDC manufactured for different missions (the first one to take pictures on the Moon surface, the  second one during Skylab missions), manufactured in different years (1969 for the first and 1972 for the second) ?

Why would they further conclude that since they differ, that this is surely because there are discrepancies over the camera's authenticity ?

Statement 2: "The part number of the camera is SEB 33100040-301."

My comment: this statement is also wrong.

The number on Jim Irwin's Hasselblad Moon camera is SEB 33100040-307, definitely not SEB 33100040-301.
On this camera the part number is SEB 33100040-30 followed by a tilted bar ...not a 1 but a 7.

There never was a 301 camera : NASA used only 305, 307, and 309 after the part number. On my HEDC this tilted bar is a 7.

305 indicates a Moon surface HEDC with 60-mm Biogon, first series, for cameras used during Apollo 11, 12 and Apollo 14 missions.
307 indicates a Moon surface HEDC with 60-mm Biogon, second series, used during Apollo 15, 16, and Apollo 17 missions.
309 indicates a Moon surface HEDC with 500-mm lenses.

These numbers were originally written with a special red pencil, not engraved. Numbers made with such pencils fade with time. This HEDC still has little marks of the red pencil.

Be aware that this HEDC was inspected and disassembled several times by NASA and Hasselblad people because of its failures on the lunar surface.
I feel certain that someone at NASA or the Hasselblad factory must have noticed back then that these numbers had become too difficult to read.
They very likely decided to hand-engrave the number, just to make it clear that it was a HEDC used with a 60-mm Biogon of the second series.

Statement 3: "This HEDC might be good but only used around the Moon in the command module and not on lunar surface".

My comment: wrong, again.

During all missions to the Moon, only one HEDC was used exclusively in a command module. This was during the Apollo 14 mission. This camera is HEDC S/N 1036 with 80-mm lens, which is now displayed at Kansas Cosmosphere, but not with its original 80-mm lens (which was replaced by a 60-mm Biogon to make it look like the lunar surface HEDC).

All the other 14 HEDC used during Apollo missions took pictures on the lunar surface.

Statement 4: "The film magazine is not correct."

My comment: again, this statement is wrong.

On one of the WestLicht Gallery pictures you can read on the film magazine : "reflex camera film magazine"
HEDC is a non-reflex camera. The serial number of this magazine, UI310739, indicates it was made in 1974.

Nobody will ever find a NASA lunar surface Hasselblad with the original film magazine, simply because they were used with several film magazines during Apollo missions. After the cameras were returned to Earth the bodies, lenses and film magazines were stored in different locations.

There is not room here to list all the false statements on the collectspace website.
Clearly, they lack basic Hasselblad knowledge. There are so many errors and inaccuracies that it appeared to be a desperate and deliberate attempt to sabotage the sale.

One might suppose that a website claiming to be "The Source for Space History and Artifacts" would at least double-check their information before submitting articles to reputable websites. Clearly, that is not so. I can only recommend that their editors, especially RP, read books written by authentic Hasselblad experts.

A final word

The interest in Space History and memorabilia has been growing over the last few years.
With their Hasselblad cameras, American astronauts took many wonderful pictures of the Moon. They will forever remain part of Human History, as a testimony to the most beautiful Human adventure.

Jim Irwin's Hasselblad Moon camera was auctioned March 22, 2014, a date to remember. This was the first time (and probably the last) that such a unique camera was, or will be, auctioned.

Rendez-vous in 2019 for the 50th Anniversary of Man's First Steps on the Moon !

Yours faithfully,
Alain Lazzarini.

Journalists, bloggers, photographers and camera collectors may contact me directly here : webmaster_at_clubhasselblad.com.
I will gladly answer all your questions. Thank you.