Collecting Spaceflight Coins, Part 2

The previous article I did about collecting space coins was quite broad; I included quite a few examples of all ages, sizes and themes. Since then I’ve added several more items to the holding; well, another twenty in fact, a mix of medalets, pins and cards.

Rummaging through the coin carry-case, I unearthed a few stamps that I’d forgotten about. I sorted them out so that they could be paired up with selected coins or pins where possible. Although the space-mission coins and medallions are my main interest, I mentioned last time that the selection of paper ephemera is enormous….and very enticing, given that many prices are not necessarily that high.

Some of the new stuff is still on its way here from the far reaches of the Ukraine and Moscow ….maybe it’ll feature in another write-up in the future.

Meanwhile….what can we look at today? One theme that is developing nicely is for astronaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space.

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Space walk pin badge, and stamp

No coins for this fellow at the moment, at least not made in his very early career. I have a small base-metal coin (shown below) from the 1969 Shell Collection of Man In Flight, which features  Leonov, Yuri Gagarin and  Apollo crews,  amongst others. There is a variety of commemoratives, however, to be found among some of the Eastern block currencies.

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First space walk; Voskhod 2, Leonov and Belyayev

Born in 1934 in  Listvyanka, West Siberian Krai, Russia, Leonov worked his way from a very poor family background to become a pilot; graduating in 1957 and becoming a lieutenant in the 69th Air Army of Kiev. In 1960 he was selected to be in the first group of people training to be cosmonauts. His friend Yuri Gagarin was chosen for the historic task of being the first man in Earth orbit, in 1961. Leonov later achieved his own historic “first”, a space-walk, in 1965.

Originally planned for action from Voskhod 1 (the three crew-members flew without space-suits), the space-walk was delayed to Voskhod 2; Leonov shared the craft with his commander Pavl Belyayev  , launching on 18th March  1965 from Baikonur.

His exit from the capsule was straightforward and he spent over twelve minutes free-floating in space, over-awed by the experience. President Brezhnev sent him a message of congratulation.

Leonov’s return to the Voskhod, however, was not exactly trouble-free. His space-suit had expanded, pulling his feet away from the boots and his hands from the gloved extremities; thus re-entering the hatch was like trying to stuff a sleeping-bag back inside its carry-pouch.

The incident had not been planned for, since during training on Earth there was no convenient vacuum available—weightless conditions had been provided by placing the astronauts in an  aircraft specially modified, flying a long session of parabolic arcs; the zero gravity being achieved when the plane went into steep dives at over 600 miles per hour. But no vacuum.

Leonov was able to reduce the pressure in his suit to some small degree by bleeding air out through a pressure valve, but it required a great deal of heaving and pushing to get himself back through the airlock. He chose to go in head-first and then turn one-eighty degrees to grab the airlock door and pull it shut.

The astronauts finally re-entered the atmosphere and landed in Siberian forests, where they had to shelter for several nights until rescue came.

After this flight, Leonov had to wait till 1975 for his next one, thanks to a series of mishaps and cancellations. He finally went up again as commander of  Soyuz 19, the Russian half of the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission with America.

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Franklin Mint silver coin with First Day Cover from I.S.P

The Apollo Soyuz commemorative coin with first day cover is a limited edition, issued by the International Society of Postmasters. The stamp shown top right is an official Soviet stamp also commemorating the mission; with a Moscow postmark.

The coin itself was produced by the Franklin Mint of America.

This international mission certainly got people’s attention. The American crew consisted of Vance Brand, Thomas Stafford and Donald (“Deke”) Slayton; the Russian side Alexei Leonov and Valery Kubasov.

Both craft launched a few hours apart on 15th July 1975; meeting up two days later to join space-craft together, Leonov and Stafford exchanging a handshake when the hatches were opened.

The silver medallion and pin below both relate to the mission. The five crew are shown on the one side and a diagrammatic spaceship on the other, along with the astronauts’ names. The pin badge was purchased on Ebay from an East European seller.

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Partners in Space; silver medallion obverse; pin badge; medallion reverse

Leonov’s long-abiding interest in art served him well. In his earlier years he had given up the idea of studying at the Latvian Academy of Arts due to high tuition fees; who knows what he might have been and done, had he followed that career? He held a number of exhibitions of his work; and was asked to create paintings for  six special first-day covers. These were to be dated 4th October 1977, twenty years to the day of Sputnik’s launch. The postmark (or “cancellation”) was to be shown as from Baikonur, the first time one was agreed from outside Moscow.

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First day Cover; International Cooperation in space

The other covers were: (1) Man’s first space flight ; (2) the first space walk ; (3) Research by orbital space stations; (4) First automatic space station; and (5) Interplanetary space research

Just recently I acquired a paperback book entitled “Two Sides of the Moon”, written by David Scott and Alexei Leonov; David Scott being an astronaut on Gemini 8, Apollo 9 and commander of Apollo 15. Their life stories are written side by side, moving through their own personal timelines and providing a deep insight into the joys and struggles of being an astronaut.

Alexei Leonov died in 2019, aged 85, after a long illness; decorated many times with Russian and foreign awards.


Since I’ve mentioned the Franklin Mint earlier,  now is a good time to look at some of their other space-mission medallions. The Franklin Mint in America was prolific in turning out quality collectors’ sets of all kinds. Founded in 1964, it became a buzzing production line of privately minted gold and silver commemoratives; moving on later to include legal tender coins for a number of countries. It also created plates and die-cast vehicles, featuring historical people and screen celebrities. Today the Franklin Mint brand has been bought out by another company; I am not sure what is happening with it. However, coin and medal sets from the 70s and 80s are still being actively traded by dealers, classed now as “vintage Franklin Mint” and seemingly in demand.

Their coins and medals frequently turn up for sale online at auctions, as individual items; and it is not particularly difficult to track down examples. “America in Space” and “Apollo Project”, for example are both silver collections; the first comprising 24 and the second 20 coins. It is notable however that sets often get split up…I have only a single example from the Apollo Project, pictured below:

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Lift off to the Moon

The number of  20-coin Apollo sets was limited to 4,967.  They are currently rated as moderately rare (3 stars out of 5), as a set.

If you can’t afford silver, there’s always bronze; and the items below are examples from the 24-set entitled “America in Space” , early U.S space missions (for which there is also a silver equivalent set).  These particular ones below depict satellites of various kinds, as labelled.

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Top row left to right: Mariner 2, Explorer 1, Telstar
Bottom row left to right: Relay, Mariner 4, Pioneer 5

Mariner 2 was an American probe to Venus, launched in 1962;   Explorer 1 in 1958 established the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth. Telstar launched in 1962, transmitting the first TV pictures through space. Relay was the first satellite to transmit tv from the USA to Japan, in 1962.

Mariner 4 was launched in 1964 to do a flyby of Mars; and  Pioneer 5 was sent up in 1960 to investigate interplanetary space between Earth and Venus. It was known as the “paddle-wheel satellite” due to its design.

The reverse of each one gives details of the mission; and you can see that there are a lot of sixtieth anniversaries up and coming during this decade.

Fairly easy to acquire are examples of limited edition later Apollo missions, again created by the Franklin Mint. Examples shown below are a bronze proof and a silver proof for Apollo 14 . Each coin comes with a nicely printed card showing the number of items minted for each series.

And, importantly, this year of 2021 is the 50th anniversary of both Apollo 14 and 15; the former launched on 31st January 1971 and the latter went up in July 1971.

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Bronze medallion for Apollo 14

The silver medallion (below) is very reflective and awkward to scan, but hopefully you can see the words “space craft Kitty Hawk and Antares—destination Frau Mauro 1971” in a little rectangle stamped into the lunar surface design.

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The card shows the mintage totals for both bronze and silver coins

Without doubt one of the most popular series of their medallions was “Eyewitness”. I have just this one, for SkyLab 1, which was actively manned 1973-1974.  It is sterling silver.  Although a limited edition I am still trying to find out what the mintage was.

Skylab was launched in May 1973, losing a critical meteor shield and solar panels on the way up. On the 25th of the same month, the first crew—astronauts Charles Conrad, Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin—was sent up via Saturn V rocket. They spent 28 days on board. Crew 2 (Bean, Garriott, Lousma) went aboard in July and the final crew 3 went aboard in November; Gerald Carr, William Pogue, and Ed Gibson.

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SkyLab sterling silver medallion in plastic case

The coin below isn’t from the Eyewitness series but fits nicely in the Skylab story. You may notice that the coin says Skylab-4, rather than 3. It appears there was some confusion at the time about numbering the series and another system was using SLM1-3 (for the manned flights, and not including the original launch of the station itself). Therefore some earlier products may bear different numbering. So what, you may ask….well, it’s important for numismatic rivet-counters!

I still haven’t worked out who minted this one.

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Sterling silver 3rd Skylab crew: confusingly labelled Skylab 4

I also have this one below….at first glance it is very much in the style of an Eyewitness medal, but isn’t, despite being a Franklin Mint product. The word “Eyewitness” printed on the blue card would seem to be the key issue and this one doesn’t have it.  It was issued for the 1986 appearance of Halley’s Comet. Again I don’t know how many were made, I am still trying to find that information.

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Halley’s Comet: Sterling silver coin in plastic case

Since my first article on this subject, one of the more detailed websites that I used to go to, to help with identification has been taken down by its owner. Fortunately for me I had printed out a lot of the info for my own personal research. It’s a pity but it shows how things can suddenly be lost from the Net—here today, gone tomorrow.

I shall finish here, being now rather round-eyed from staring at hundreds of photos of medallions. Maybe I’ll do another one, in time, and choose square stamps and envelopes for a change. I’m still digitally scanning my own collection. A couple of Russian first day covers arrived today in the post and I await a few more pin badges, plus a 50th anniversary medallion for Apollo 13.

Steady as she goes, Mr Sulu…..let’s see what’s out there…

© text & images C A Dark 2021

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