On the evening of November 20, 2014, Bobby Livingston, the executive vice president of RR Auction, was working late. The Boston auction house, a boutique firm that focused in part on objects that had been flown into space, was hosting one of its regular seven p.m. sales. Lot 477, an innocent-looking envelope with several inked notary circles and three stamps, and emblazoned with the vibrant Emilio Pucci–designed insignia of the Apollo 15 mission, had a minimum bid of $1,000 on it.

As the clock ticked to the hour, the lot opened and, all around the world, the race was on. “The bidding started flying,” Livingston remembers. “It’s just very exciting to see these online bids come in.” As the system pushed bids higher in increments of 10 percent, Livingston watched the price rise in leaps and bounds. “When you start getting into numbers like 20,000, now it’s 22,000, then 26,000, 33,000, and 40, and it just goes up, whenever something gets in the mid–five figures, it’s pretty exciting. When something rare comes on the market and two people want it, you never know what’s going to happen,” he says.