US Coins

Space-flown medal from Apollo 11 mission sells at auction

Space-flown Robbins medal for the Apollo 11 mission is from the personal collection of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who as a crew member of the flight was the second man to walk on the moon.

All images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A medal that accompanied astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon realized $27,500 during Heritage’s Nov. 12 Space Exploration Auction.

The price for the medal produced by Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass., was below the auction firm’s estimates of $40,000 to $60,000. However, the price, which included a 17 percent buyer’s fee, was well above the prices for two other examples of the medal sold by Heritage in recent years. One sold in a Sept. 20, 2007, auction for $15,535, and another in an Oct. 8, 2009, sale sold for $11,950.

Heritage’s Nov. 12 Space Exploration auction in Dallas contained a number of Robbins medals from the collection of the second man to walk on the surface of the moon. The medals were once part of the personal collection of Aldrin, the lunar module pilot for the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission.

The .925 fine silver medals were manufactured by Robbins Co., a company that has had a long relationship with astronauts, beginning with the lunar era of the American manned space program. 

It became commonplace for America’s early astronauts to carry souvenirs with them into space, and oftentimes, they took with them coins, paper money and other numismatic items. Throughout the Mercury program and early days of the Gemini program, flight souvenirs were permitted by NASA officials (if unofficially) since most of them were distributed to family, friends and crew after the completion of the flights. However, in 1966 the highly publicized sale, at what was then a very high price, of a large cent carried aboard Gemini VII eventually resulted in stricter control over what could be taken into space, and what could be done with the souvenirs afterward.

Among the officially sanctioned medals that were produced after restrictions were imposed are those manufactured by Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass. 

These debuted during the Apollo program. As detailed in Coin World in its May 6, 2013, issue, beginning with the first manned Apollo flight, Apollo 7, mission crew members contracted with the Robbins Co. to create a series of gold and silver medals. The Robbins medals were ordered and paid for by NASA crew and staff, who were allowed to buy medals for any mission, regardless of their participation in the mission. A number of each Robbins medal was placed aboard the Apollo spacecraft during a mission. 

The medal, bearing serial number 51, was one of 450 carried aboard the Apollo 11 flight. 

Heritage outlined the medal’s historical significance in the lot description: “The obverse depicts [Apollo 11 crew member Michael] Collins’ early and original concept for the mission insignia with the eagle carrying an olive branch in its mouth. NASA thought the sharp, open talons of the eagle looked too ‘warlike’ and the olive branch, representing peace, was moved to the claws. This is one of, if not the only, major official item that renders the insignia as it was meant to be by the astronaut designer. The reverse has the dates of the mission, surnames of the crew, and the serial number. Included is the original plastic case with the numbered sticker on the bottom. This wonderful example was gifted to Aldrin’s older sister Fay Ann (his ‘name giver’). One of the most desirable of the Apollo 11 Robbins medals ever offered. An opportunity for the advanced collector.”

Australian Geographic medal

Another medal from Aldrin’s collection exceeded Heritage estimates. The Australian Geographic Award for Excellence Medal was presented to Aldrin in 2010. The gold-colored medal is 2.5 inches in diameter and housed in a custom case of leather and suede. As described by Heritage, “The obverse features James Cook’s compass at center with ’Australian Geographic Award for Excellence’ around. The reverse has ‘By Encouraging Adventure We Keep Alive A Vital Spirit of Australia’ around a center engraving: ‘2010. Honorary Lifetime of Adventure. Buzz Aldrin. For an extraordinary lifetime spent pushing the boundaries of exploration.’?” The medal is described as “Excellent” in quality and had an estimate of $300 to $500. It realized $1,125.

Other items

The auction also offered a rare (one of three produced by artist Josephine Mead) reproduction cast of Aldrin’s footprint on the moon. 

The cast was the second of three made on Nov. 7, 1969, in connection with Aldrin’s dedication of a hospital wing at the Illinois Masonic Medical Center. 

The artist kept the second casting, with the first going to the Smithsonian Institution and the third to the medical center. “Ms. Mead’s personal casting was passed on to a close friend before her death in 2000 and they have now consigned it to Heritage,” according to the lot description.

The casting sold for $6,875 on an estimate of $10,000 to $20,000. 

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