Memorable images captured for the venerable National Geographic Society are hitting the auction block for the first time this fall.

National Geographic has teamed up with Christie's for its first-ever auction from its collection of more than 11.5 million photographs and original artwork. Just a small portion of the vast collection detailing the world's cultures, historic moments, wildlife and expeditions of all sorts will cross the block  — 240 pieces dating from the late 1800s to the present.

Auction officials estimate the sale set for December in New York could bring in $3 million US.

Images etched into the North American psyche — from the faces of Papua New Guinea tribesmen to explorer Admiral Robert Peary en route to the North Pole in 1908 — are among the photos up for sale.  Some of the offerings have never before been published.

The lots will also include original paintings and illustrations, such as Charles Bittinger's view of Earth as seen from the moon. Several of the high-profile offerings include:

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Photographer Steve McCurry has prepared a special print of his iconic 1984 photo of an Afghan refugee girl for the upcoming National Geographic auction. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

  • The Duel on the Beach, N.C. Wyeth's painting of two pirates that carries a pre-sale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million US.
  • Wyeth's painting James Wolfe at Quebec, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000 US.
  • The 40-volume Edward Curtis photo portfolio and book The North American Indian, expected to fetch between $700,000 to $900,000 US.
  • Steve McCurry's haunting, iconic snapshot of a clear-eyed Afghan girl, taken during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Experts expect the special print McCurry has prepared could sell for $50,000 US (partial proceeds are earmarked for the Afghan Girls' Fund).

The sale, being held just weeks before National Geographic's 125th anniversary, is being held to celebrate and promote the society's image and video archive. The sale's proceeds will go to its preservation and also for "the nurturing of young photographers, artists and explorers... who are the future of the organization," according to archive senior vice president Maura Mulvihill.

The auction takes place on Dec. 6 at Christie's New York's Rockefeller Center location.

Based in Washington, National Geographic is among the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions. It funds research and exploration through National Geographic magazine. Its work also reaches audiences via the National Geographic Channel, books and other sources.