Auction of silver medals flown on Apollo brings in $800K

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Coins in space: An auction in May of silver medals carried by astronauts on a variety of Apollo missions has brought in nearly $800,000.

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.


  • Wayne

    Thanks Mr. Z.!

    Personally, I’d love an Apollo-8 Medallion, but out of my price range!

    In addition to the “authorized” Medallions, astronauts also took a variety of personal items on Missions, (coins, jewelry, watches, personal-trinkets, etc.) and as the article states this material is only recently becoming available through the Estates of deceased astronauts. (It was against NASA policy for astronauts to “profit” off their Missions at the time, which further explains why this material is only now surfacing in greater numbers.)
    –in 2011, 11 silver Liberty Head dimes (from 1941) that were flown to Moon, were auctioned off. (They cost about $10-15K each.)

    And tangentially…. speaking of silver— Look up “Calutrons” from the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge. (Manhattan Project WW-2)
    Interesting Numismatic + Science story:
    –The wire they used (6K TONS) for the Calutrons, was all made out of silver coins & bullion, obtained from the US West Point Bullion Depository. (worth $1 billion at the time.) It was carefully fabricated into electrical-wire in New Jersey, wound into magnetic-coils in Wisconsin, & shipped to Oakridge for assembly into Calutrons.

    Interesting quote from the guy tasked with coordinating this with the Treasury:

    “He explained the procedure for transferring the silver and asked, “How much do you need?” I replied, “Six thousand tons.” ‘How many troy ounces is that?” he asked. In fact I did not know how to convert tons to troy ounces, and neither did he. A little impatient, I responded, “I don’t know how many troy ounces we need but I know I need six thousand tons – that is a definite quantity. What difference does it make how we express the quantity?”
    He replied rather indignantly, “Young man, you may think of silver in tons, but the Treasury will always think of silver in troy ounces.”

    Total amount of silver used at Y-12, was 430 million troy ounces. It wasn’t until 1970 when the last remaining 2 million ounces was recovered and returned to the Treasury. (In total, they lost a surprisingly small amount– estimated to be “1/3,600,000th” of the amount used.)

    Chances are extremely high, if you own American coinage made out of silver, at least some of it was used at Y-12.

    One last factoid– the Y-12 Plant required 80K vacuum-tubes, which was the entire national supply produced in 1943.

    (We really have no clue or appreciation, how serious WW-2 was in our Country, or to what extent we bet the entire farm on it’s outcome. We have the luxury of knowing “we always won,” but at the time, the outcome was by no means certain.)

  • Fascinating story about the Y-12 plant. Do you have a link?

  • Wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    –Yeah, the whole thing is fascinating and not well known amongst the general public.
    (Manhattan Project cost about $2 billion but that does not include the $1 billion in Silver they borrowed from the Treasury.)
    [massive amounts of Blood & Treasure, were expended in WW-2.]

    Copper was in short supply & they feared an order for “6K tons” could not be met & would have exposed the M.E.D. to unnecessary scrutiny and security breaches.
    (Totally tangentially– copper was in such short-supply, that we minted steel penny’s one year, (’43 I think…) to devote that copper to war-production.)

    The story is well-documented and available at a number of sources. (If you start with “Calutrons” at Wikipedia, or search at the Coin World site you will find primary-source material.)

    This 8 page PDF from the American Scientist magazine is perhaps one of the more ‘techie’ articles that touches upon the whole affair in fairly good detail. (Includes pictures.)

    There were over 1,000 separate Calutrons at the Y-12 Plant (the infamous “race-track.”) and after WW-2 they slowly replaced the Silver-wire with copper-wire during the course of general maintenance/replacement. It was not until 1970 that “all” the silver had been swapped-out and returned to the Treasury.

    Tangentially as well– fascinating documentary is available, on “The Calutron Girls,” at Y-12; an excess of 700 young-girls tasked with monitoring every Calutron, 24/7/365 in the Plant. They each sat in front of a Calutron control-panel & had to constantly adjust the power to keep a dial within a narrowly-range to achieve maximum separation. >None of them knew what they were really doing, only that if they talked about it, they would go to prison.

    Even more tangential, but absolutely fascinating— Y-12 Plant consumed massive (massive) amounts of electricity–all of which was supplied via the Tennessee Valley Authority. (If I’m not mistaken, they utilized 80% of all electricity produced via the TVA, some incredible figure like that…)

  • wayne

    Denise Kiernan, author “The Girls of Atomic City” (5 minutes)
    Good pictures of “calutron girls” monitoring their control-panels.
    (They had no idea what they were doing & no clue 400 million ounces of silver were in the equipment.)

  • Most fascinating. Thank you!

  • wayne

    Mr. Z., you are most welcome.
    (Those years of my endless, interesting factoid-accumulation, finally came to good use!)

    Absolutely off the rails & completely tangential— people would be totally surprised as to the shear number of “people with disabilities” that worked on the Manhattan Project. (and War-production in general, throughout WW-2.)
    Folks who were blind and/or deaf, were used extensively as “human-calculators” and in administrative duties, in area’s that were beyond “top-secret.”

  • wayne

    Interesting as well & more on point with the original post–

    “Treasure In Space”
    January 2015– GSA auction of 6 ingots of gold, weighing 193 ounces, believed to have been flown on the “Long Duration Exposure Facility ” for 69 months, between 1984 to 1990, fetched $265,607, at a GSA auction of “surplus property.”
    (High bidder bought it for slightly less than the per-ounce gold price at the time.)–flown-gold-bars-bring-six–figure-price-in-gsa-sale.html

    Government record-keeping is apparently so sloppy, the GSA admitted they did not know for a fact the gold was actually flown on a particular mission, but that it “had been in space for 69 months.” (This is sad… they can’t even keep proper track of gold.)

    Inquisitive space-collectors are however, convinced the gold was flown on the LDEF.
    – From the folks at Collect Space:
    “LDEF’s exterior panels did include gold plates. Mounted on the satellite’s trailing edge, the high-purity gold was part of the Chemistry of Micrometeoroids Experiment designed to capture cosmic dust residue and orbital debris particles in hypervelocity impacts. After 69 months in space, the gold plates returned with 199 craters.”

    Picture of one ingot, with impact holes, at the link.

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