US Coins

Neil Armstrong space collection tops $5 million

Space exploration memorabilia consigned by the family of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong realized $5.2 million in the Heritage Auctions Nov. 1 to 3 sale of collectibles from the first man to walk on the Moon.

The auction was the first of several Heritage will stage offering space collectibles from the Armstrong Family Collection.

three auction catalogsInside Coin World: Three auction catalogs, three centuries: Our print-exclusive columns in the Nov. 19, 2018, issue of Coin World look at what ties together three auction catalogs issued in different centuries, and why 2018 is a great time to collect.

The highest single price realized for any Armstrong item was the $468,500 paid for the flown spacecraft identification plate from the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle.

The 5.25-inch by 1.75-inch ID plate from Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., Bethpage, New York, is mounted to a 10-inch by 11-inch shield-shaped wooden display plaque beneath a metal, die-cut representation of the lunar module.

Two different examples of the same medal, with different serial numbers but the same Numismatic Guaranty Corp. grade, realized widely different prices.

A price of $112,500 was realized for a sterling silver Apollo 11 Robbins medal. Bearing serial number 241, the 28-millimeter medal was one of 450 such medals carried as part of the mission’s payload. Numismatic Guaranty Corp. certified the medal Mint State 66.

Minted by the Robbins Company, of Attleboro, Massachusetts, the sterling silver medallions for each Apollo mission were paid for by the crews and available for purchase only by NASA astronauts at the time.

The Robbins medallions were produced for, and have been flown on, every manned U.S. mission since Apollo 7.

Another example graded NGC MS-66 realized $71,875. It appropriately bore serial number 11. The 28-millimeter sterling silver medal was also among the 450 flown aboard Apollo 11.

The obverse depicts mission astronaut 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,” so the olive branch, representing peace, was moved to the claws.

The Apollo 11 Robbins medal may be the only major official item that renders the insignia as the astronaut-designer meant it to be.

The reverse has the dates of the mission, surnames of the crew, and the serial number.

A gilt Apollo 1 Flightline medal was carried aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft by Armstrong as a memorial to the three Apollo 1 astronauts — Gus Grissom, Ed White II, and Roger Chaffee — who died in a fire during a pre-flight training exercise. The 32-millimeter Apollo 1 Flightline medal realized $275,000.

The Flightline medals were the predecessors to the Robbins medals. 

The Gemini 8 spacecraft flown in 1966 was the only other space mission in which Armstrong flew. An NGC MS-64 silver Flightline medal from that flight realized $12,500. The 25-millimeter medal was flown aboard Gemini 8 with Armstrong and astronaut pilot Dave Scott. 

The mission performed the world’s first orbital docking in space, with an Agena Target Vehicle, and is also notable for the near disaster occurring soon after docking. The joined spacecraft began rolling uncontrollably due to a stuck thruster, forcing an emergency undocking. Armstrong got the Gemini spacecraft under control and the mission was aborted, with the spacecraft returning to Earth on the next orbit, three days ahead of schedule.

The obverse of the medal shows the whole spectrum of objectives that were planned to be accomplished on Gemini 8. 

The text at the bottom is comprised of the zodiacal symbol for Gemini and the Roman numeral VIII.

The two stars are Castor and Pollux, which are in the constellation of Gemini, and are refracted through a prism to provide the spectrum.

The reverse has a struck “First to Dock in Space” and the engraved date of the flight, March 16, 1966.

Other memorabilia

An antiqued white metal Gemini 8 medal from the firm L.G. Balfour (known for its class rings and other achievement memorabilia), graded and encapsulated NGC MS-67, realized $2,000.

Armstrong presented a .900 fine gold 24-millimeter German “Moon money” medal to his mother, Viola, in 1969 on the occasion of his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. 

The 7.02-gram medal, graded and encapsulated NGC Proof 69 Ultra Cameo, brought $2,501.25.

The obverse features an image of the space-helmeted Armstrong with text translating to “The First Person On The Moon / 1969.” The reverse gives the denomination as 50 Lunare atop the lunar surface, with an inscription translating to “The First Moon Money / Moon Landing.”

A price of $57,500 was realized for a 5-foot by 8-foot American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 1969, the day Armstrong took his first step on the lunar surface. 

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