I fell in love with aliens and robots and space ships as a young boy growing up in the mid-1960s when I discovered science fiction. Books were my passion, much more than sports (which I was never very good at any way). During the school year, the school library was one of my favorite places, and during the summer, the weekly stop of the county library’s bookmobile in my rural neighborhood was my favorite time of the week (it was even better than getting an orange sherbet “push-up” from the local milk truck).
While in the library or on board the bookmobile, I sailed the bookshelves in the Nautilus with Capt. Nemo, or tramped through the jungle with the castaways on the Mysterious Island, or set out on an adventure with Podkayne of Mars. At other times, I imagined that local water towers were H.G. Wells's Martian tripods in disguise, awaiting some silent command to awaken them so they could sweep the flat northwest Ohio landscape with their death rays. As I entered my mid-teens I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’s wonderful creations in new paperback editions, many with gorgeous Frank Frazetta covers (a brilliant artist whose works often featured rugged male heroes, beautiful women, and terrifying beasts, and whose movie poster works included the caper comedy Who’s Minding the Mint?). Burroughs's most famous characters were Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Barsoom (Mars to us Earthlings) and her hero, John Carter of Virginia. As my tastes matured, I discovered newer authors, like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, and Robert Silverberg, and learned of “forgotten” writers like Stanley G. Weinbaum and his stunning short story “A Martian Odyssey.”
The 1960s to 1970s were also the early days of human space exploration, which I followed passionately, not surprising, considering my interest in science fiction. I still have the scrapbook I kept as a teenager as I followed the Apollo manned missions.
I especially became fascinated by mankind's unmanned probes to the Moon, and to the other planets in our solar system. I loved seeing the first close-up images of Mars taken from Mariner 4 in July 1965, though those first black-and-white images showed a landscape not unlike that of Earth's moon. Later missions would reveal a much more varied landscape, though no Deja Thoris, alas. No Podkayne, either.
It was during this same era, the mid-1960s to early 1970s, that I also became interested in collecting coins. While in middle school in Castalia, Ohio, I volunteered at the school library. When my fellow students paid their library fines, I always checked their change, and if I found a coin I needed for my collection, I quickly swapped out another coin for it. Working in the library also meant I had ready access to all of the science fiction books in the school's collection.
As I entered high school, I found that love of reading had led to an interest in writing, especially as I served on the staff of my school newspaper.
Eventually, I turned my passion for coins and literature into my profession, when I joined the Coin World staff in October 1976. I still maintained a passion for space exploration, which was beginning its golden age in the nation's Bicentennial year. That year, NASA placed two landers on the surface of Mars: Viking 1, which settled on the martian surface in July 1976, and Viking 2, which reached the planet's surface in September, at about the same time I interviewed for a job at Coin World.
The Viking program even made the pages of Coin World when a pair of beautiful art medals commemorating the missions began to be advertised. The high relief medals were designed by Marcel Jovine, a talented artist who first came to the United States during World War II as an Italian prisoner of war. Although he was repatriated to Italy at the war's end, he returned to the United States for good in 1946, where he began his long career as a toymaker, artist and sculptor. Even those outside of the numismatic community are familiar with two of his creations — the educational toys known as the Visible Man and Visible Woman, which show humans' internal organs.
Today, Jovine's Viking 1 and Viking 2 medals are among the prized possessions in my collection. Each shows a close-up sculpture of one of the landers resting on the martian surface, with the other side showing a globe of Mars. As soon as I saw the first advertisements for them, I knew I had to have a set.
These medals represent a marriage of my passions: the exploration of space, and numismatics. Isn't it grand when you can merge two passions into one?