US Coins

Space-flown silver medals soar at Heritage

Multiple space-flown medals brought big prices in Heritage Auctions' Space Exploration Signature Auction, May 20, in Dallas. 

The sale was the latest in a rapidly expanding auction category that is growing in popularity with collectors as more material becomes available on the market from the estates and collections of astronauts. As of May 23, the sale totaled nearly $800,000. 

Among the numismatic lots — and the fifth most expensive lot overall in the sale — was an Apollo 11 flown silver Robbins medallion, serial number 218, originally from the collection of Mission Support Crew Member Jack Swigert that sold for $30,000. 

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Robbins medallions were minted by the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass. These .925 fine silver medals have been produced for every manned U.S. mission since Apollo 7. The medals were paid for by the crews and available for purchase only by NASA astronauts at the time. 

Medals that were actually flown on missions are especially coveted. 

The small .925 fine silver medal measuring 28 millimeters in diameter was one of 450 flown aboard Apollo 11, July 16 to 24, 1969, which is notable as the first manned moon landing. Swigert supported crew members Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. On that mission Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon and Aldrin followed.

The design — familiar to collectors as interpreted on the reverse of the Eisenhower dollar — is explained in the catalog as follows, “The obverse depicts 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 includes the dates of the mission, surnames of the crew and a serial number. Provenance is key with valuing these medals and this one included a letter of authenticity signed by Virginia Swigert, Jack Swigert’s sister, stating, “this Apollo 11 Robbins medal flown — serial number 218 — was personally owned by Jack Swigert.” 

Buzz Aldrin medals

Several medals from the collection of “moonwalker” Buzz Aldrin also performed well at the sale. 

A .925 silver Apollo 8 silver Robbins medal that was flown on the Dec. 21 to 27, 1968, mission and graded Mint State 63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. brought $9,375. 

The triangular medal measured 38 by 30 millimeters and was one of 300 flown on the Apollo 8 mission, which was the second human spaceflight mission in the Apollo space program. It was the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth’s orbit and reach the Moon, orbit it and then return safely to earth. 

Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to see the Earth as a whole planet. The mission took three days to travel to the Moon. 

The medal was designed by Lovell and featured the mission insignia — a figure 8 with the surnames of the crew — and the moon. The shape of the medal suggests the shape of the Apollo spacecraft.

It was originally in the personal collection of the mission’s Backup Command Module Pilot Aldrin, who gifted this medal to his older sister Fay Ann Aldrin Potter near the time of the flight. The lot included a letter of authenticity executed by her son, Tom C. Potter.

Aldrin’s Apollo 14 Robbins medal was graded MS-66 by NGC and carried serial number 146. The 35- by 30-millimeter oval .925 silver medal was one of 303 flown to the moon aboard Apollo 14, Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, 1971, with crewmembers Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa and Ed Mitchell. It sold for $8,750. 

Heritage explains, “The obverse features the mission insignia depicting an Astronaut Pin (a gold pin that NASA gives to astronauts upon completion of their first flight) flying from the Earth to the moon.” The reverse features the dates of the launch, moon landing, and return engraved with the crew’s full names around along with the sterling and Robbins hallmarks. It, too was gifted by Aldrin to his sister soon after the mission. 

An ESP Connection

An Apollo 16 flown .925 silver Robbins medallion originally from the personal collection of Mission Backup Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell also sold for $9,375. It was numbered 54 of just 98 flown on the April 16 to 27, 1972, Apollo 16 mission. In total 300 were produced. 

The obverse depicts the mission insignia of an eagle and shield above the moon with the surnames of the crew members, while the reverse features the engraved dates of the launch, landing, and return.

The lot included a signed certificate of authenticity from Dr. Mitchell on his letterhead stating, “As a member of the Astronaut Office at the time of this flight, I was permitted to purchase this medal, one of only 98 that flew on the mission. There were 300 produced in total. I hereby certify that I presented this medal to Jean Beaulieu shortly after the mission and it has been in her possession since receiving it.”

A separate letter from Beaulieu states, “For several years I was fortunate to be both friend and associate to Astronaut Edgar Mitchell. Due to our association, Dr. Mitchell gave me a Robbins Medallion after each the Apollo flights. I still have nine of the flown medals in my possession. While I was employed as an artist at NASA, I submitted the insignia design which was chosen for the Apollo 14 Mission and used for the Robbins Medallion. Early in our association, I was pleased to introduce Dr. Mitchell to the psychic world. He developed a deep interest in the world of psychic phenomena, which lead him to conduct ESP experiments from space during the Apollo 14 flight.”

Mitchell became the sixth man to walk on the moon as a crew member of Apollo 14, which was NASA’s first lunar mission devoted exclusively to scientific research. On the mission he secretly conducted an experiment in extrasensory perception while his fellow astronauts were asleep.

Later in his life Mitchell was often quoted about his belief in alien life and the New York Times reported in its Feb. 5, 2016, obituary, “Mr. Mitchell created a stir in 2008 when he told a British radio station that his contacts in military and intelligence circles had told him that ‘we’ve been visited on this planet, and the U.F.O. phenomena is real,’ but that governments had ‘covered up’ the matter for at least 60 years.” 

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