Space Exploration

Why Medallions Are Quintessential Space Collectibles

By Halina Loft
From Apollo 7 onwards, astronauts carried Robbins or Franklin Medallions in their Personal Preference Kits as they flew to space. These medallions are now quite valuable, as they offer collectors and space enthusiasts an opportunity to relive NASA's exciting history of space exploration. Sotheby's Space Exploration auction, which takes place 20 July, includes more than 20 examples of these fine silver souvenirs.

M ore than fifty years have passed since the first successful manned spaceflight – and in that time, only a select few have earned the privilege of seeing Earth from outer space. The rest of us may never experience life beyond the stratosphere – NASA only chooses a few outstanding men and women for space travel, and private flights are still a moonshot idea – but we can appreciate the next-best thing: momentos from the final frontier.

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Photo of American former astronaut Mike Collins's PPK, in which he carried his Robbins medallion.

Of all the space collectibles, flown medallions are among the most highly sought-after. Beginning with the Apollo 7 mission, NASA crew members commissioned The Robbins Company of Attleboro, MA (and later the Franklin Mint of Wawa, Pennsylvania) to produce sterling silver and gold medallions for each mission’s astronauts (to be clear, though, the medallions weren’t gifts – rather, astronauts could choose to purchase a medallion). The intent was for astronauts to carry the medallions in their Personal Preference Kit (PPK), a strictly-regulated bundle of flight souvenirs allowed aboard the spacecraft. Back on Earth, astronauts awarded these items to their family and friends as tokens from their travels. Some especially rare medallions, referred to Wives’ pins, were even encrusted with small diamonds. These were specially designed as gifts for the women in astronauts’ lives – and one is up for sale in the Space Exploration auction.

To assess the value of flown medallions, look to the three P’s: proximity, provenance and penmanship. Proximity refers to the distance a medallion achieved to the lunar surface (the closer to the lunar surface, the more valuable). Provenance relates to who owned the medallion: The most highly sought after are those that belonged to the Commander of the mission the medallion flew on, followed by that belonging to the Lunar Module Pilot of the mission, and then the Command Module Pilot; after this would be a medallion coming from an astronaut that flew on a mission other than the one the medallion flew on. Penmanship goes along with Provenance – if the original owner issues a handwritten letter of provenance, the medallion achieves greater value than if the medallion comes with a typed and signed leter of provenance, and far more than a medallion that comes with no letter at all.

Bearing in mind this criteria, Sotheby’s is pleased to offer a particularly high-caliber consignment of medallions from prominent collectors and the heroic astronauts themselves.

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Apollo 7

Flown on Apollo 7, Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham's Apollo 7 Silver Robbins Medallion

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FLOWN ON APOLLO 7. LUNAR MODULE PILOT WALTER CUNNINGHAM'S APOLLO 7 SILVER ROBBINS MEDALLION. Estimate $5,000 – 7,000.

One of only 255 minted and flown, this Robbins Medallion is also one of the first produced for the Apollo space missions. Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham carried this medallion aboard the Apollo 7 flight, and later produced a handwritten letter of provenance, which reads in part:

"I have sent a flown, silver Apollo 7 Robbins Medallion (serial No. 27) for your collection. It flew with me aboard Apollo 7, October 11-22, 1968, and has been part of my collection since the mission. My design of the Apollo 7 medallion emphasized the earth orbital character of the first manned Apollo mission, The circle represents the earth, while the ellipse is the shape of all earth orbital paths."
Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham

Obverse features the mission insignia with the command and service module encircling the Earth, reverse engraved with launch date ("Oct. 11, 1968") and serial number. The medallion is sterling silver, 32 by 25 mm overall.

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Apollo 8, 9 & 10

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Apollo 11

Flown on Apollo 11, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 Silver Robbins Medallion

Flown relics from Apollo 11 are among the most prized in this collecting field. As the fifty years anniversary of the first lunar landing nears, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin's personal Robbins Medallions affords an exciting opportunity to recapture the magic of that occasion, as Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out into the Sea of Tranquility, and into the unknown.

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FLOWN ON APOLLO 11. LUNAR MODULE PILOT BUZZ ALDRIN'S APOLLO 11 SILVER ROBBINS MEDALLION. Estimate $40,000 – 60,000.

This medallion is one of only 450 minted, and is a flown relic from the spaceflight that landed on the moon. It is originally from the collection of Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, and comes with a typed letter of provenance signed by Aldrin on his Starcraft Enterprises letterhead.

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Apollo 12 & 13

Flown on Apollo 12, Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean's Apollo 12 Silver Robbins Medallion

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FLOWN ON APOLLO 12. LUNAR MODULE PILOT ALAN BEAN'S APOLLO 12 SILVER ROBBINS MEDALLION. Estimate $10,000 – 12,000.

One of only 262 minted and flown, this Robbins Medallion was carried by Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean during the Apollo 12 mission. This medallion is sterling silver, 32 mm in diameter. Obverse features the mission insignia with a clipper ship arriving at the Moon, reverse engraved with launch, landing, and return dates ("November 14, 1969 | November 19, 1969 | November 24, 1969"), and serial number. The medallion comes with a handwritten letter of provenance from Bean.

Commander James Lovell's Apollo 13 Franklin Mint Medallion

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COMMANDER JAMES LOVELL'S APOLLO 13 FRANKLIN MINT MEDALLION. Estimate $3,000 – 5,000.

A relic from the original Apollo 13 crew, this unflown Franklin Mint Medallion bears Thomas K. Mattingly's name, and is one of only 200 minted. While Robbins medallions were struck for all of the manned Apollo missions, Franklin Mint was only engaged to produce commemorative medallions for Apollo 13 and 14. Only 200 medallions were struck, and they are noteworthy for being one of only a few items discovered to bear the names of the original crew. All 404 Robbins Medals minted to commemorate the Apollo 13 mission were restruck to bear the corrected crew names, and to remove the unrealized lunar landing date.

Obverse features the mission insignia with three flying horses and the motto "Ex Luna, scientia," the reverse depicts the Command Service Module and Lunar Module, and the original crew names: "James A. Lovell, Jr., Fred W. Haise Jr., and Thomas K. Mattingly." This medallion comes with a typed letter signed by Lovell, on Lovell Communications letterhead.

Struck from Silver Flown on Apollo 13, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert's Apollo 13 Silver Robbins Medallion

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STRUCK FROM SILVER FLOWN ON APOLLO 13. CMP JACK SWIGERT'S APOLLO 13 SILVER ROBBINS MEDALLION. Estimae $10,000 – 12,000.

One of only 404 medallions, struck from the silver of 400 flown medallions, this lot is originally from the collection of Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert. Obverse features the mission insignia with three flying horses and the motto "Ex Luna, scientia," the reverse bears the corrected crewmember names ("James A. Lovell, Jr. • Fred W. Haise, Jr. • John L. Swigert, Jr."), mission launch and return dates ("April 11, 1970 | April 17, 1970") and the serial number. Previously set as a necklace, with the old setting and chain included, and with a handwritten letter of provenance signed by Swigert dated January 4, 1977; letter previously folded.

Struck from Silver Flown on Apollo 13, Commander James Lovell's Apollo 13 Silver Robbins Medallion

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STRUCK FROM SILVER FLOWN ON APOLLO 13. COMMANDER JAMES LOVELL'S APOLLO 13 SILVER ROBBINS MEDALLION. Estimate $10,000 – 12,000.

Re-minted from flown silver, is Apollo 13 Robbins Medallion is one of only 404 medallions struck from the silver of 400 flown medallions. Obverse features the mission insignia with three flying horses and the motto "Ex Luna, scientia," the reverse bears the corrected crewmember names ("James A. Lovell, Jr. • Fred W. Haise, Jr. • John L. Swigert, Jr."), mission launch and return dates ("April 11, 1970 | April 17, 1970") and the serial number. This medallion comes with a handwritten letter of provenance by James Lovell on Lovell Communications letterhead.

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Apollo 14, 15 and 16

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Apollo 17

Flown on Apollo 17, Commander Eugene Cernan's Apollo 17 Silver Robbins Medallion with Diamond

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FLOWN ON APOLLO 17. COMMANDER EUGENE CERNAN'S APOLLO 17 SILVER ROBBINS MEDALLION WITH DIAMOND. Estimate $50,000 – 70,000.

This rare, flown Robbins Medallion is originally from the collection of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. The medallion comes with a handwritten letter of provenance from Commander Cernan himself.

Robbins medallions with inset diamonds were produced as decorative gifts for close family members — typically mothers, sisters, or wives — and were commonly referred to as "Wives' Pins." These medallions were converted into by the Robbins Company after the mission, a process which entailed setting a small diamond into the face of the medallion, and adding a pinback mechanism to the reverse. These diamond medallions are quite scarce and desirable within the market for flown commemoratives. We can locate only 9 other examples with diamond inserts at auction since 1991, but no other examples of Apollo 17 Robbins Medallions set with a diamond insert. The placement of the diamond in the present example corresponds with the seating configuration on the spacecraft, demarcating where Commander Cernan would have sat.

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Apollo-Soyuz, Skylab & Columbia

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