The Apollo 14 Franklin Mint Medallions
by Howard C. Weinberger © 2011
Over the years there have been references to flown Franklin Mint medals for both Apollo 13 and Apollo 14, but reliable information had not been available to collectors. Some believe the controversy that arose with the flying of souvenirs for money by the crew of Apollo 15 caused people not to talk about the Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 Franklin Mint medals when they were discovered, as once again, it could be seen as more commercialization and profiting from souvenirs flown in space. Even years after the missions, it seemed like an effort was made to avoid any publicity about them, as requests to the Franklin Mint archive for the historical data concerning the medals for the two missions, although met with friendly responses, only produced confirmation that records going back that far have all been destroyed.
A flown Franklin Mint Apollo 14 medallion
It wasn't until 2007, when Dr. Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 crewmember, clarified the details about the Apollo 14 FM medals, and most importantly, provided the documentation that confirmed how many of them were flown. Dr. Mitchell's information solidified many loose ends, and his explanations should be the last word, which is consistent with how collectors treat the word of an astronaut who has confirmed whether or not an item has flown.
After consulting the original PPK contents lists, Dr. Mitchell was able to confirm that each of the three crewmembers carried 65 of the FM medals aboard the command module, Kitty Hawk, in their command module Personal Preference Kits (PPKs). He also confirmed that none of these went in the lunar module, Antares, to the lunar surface, contrary to what was previously reported in Russ Still's Relics of the Space Race.
Collectspace.com was also able to provide a valuable 1971 article from the Numismatic News that provided great insight into the controversy that these medals created. Among the interesting highlights in this article was the fact that the issue became the subject of a Congressional Investigation. More importantly, the article confirmed that there were 200 silver Franklin Mint medals made, referred to as specimens, and that 50 of them were returned to the Franklin Mint. The remaining 150 medals were divided among the three crewmembers.
Franklin Mint Apollo 14 mini-coin
From a melt of silver that included the coins the crew returned to the Franklin Mint, they struck 129,449 silver mini-coins, each 13 mm in size. According to the insert that accompanied each mini-coin, the melt included 10,000 grains of silver that had been flown to the moon aboard Apollo 14. The mini-coins were not for sale but were sent free of charge in 1971 to members of the Franklin Mint Collectors Society.
It's interesting that the mini-coins are quite well known among space collectors and regularly available, but details about the flown silver they were struck from have not been clear. The mini-coins can be regularly found on e-Bay in the $20-$50 range.
Further confusion about the medals has to do with the fact that the Franklin Mint struck identical silver medals for collectors as part of a 36 medal series called Special Commemorative Issues, also in 1971. The collector medals have the identical edge markings except they are not serial numbered. According to the 1971 book, Numismatic Issues of the Franklin Mint, the silver Proof Quality medals had a "Net mintage of 6477" with a notation "includes 200 specimens numbered on edge." which means 6277 collector medals and 200 specimens. It also lists 1725 Proof Quality bronze medals and 500 Proof-like Quality bronze medals as being struck.
Franklin Mint Apollo 14
Franklin Mint Apollo 14
The Special Commemorative Issues medals, including the Apollo 14 medal, were issued on a blister card, a heavy card stock with a cutout for the medal with the medal sealed over with a thin Mylar layer. The front of the blister card is titled:
CAPTAIN ALAN B. SHEPARD, JR.
The reverse of the blister card displays the population numbers and other details.
Also included with the blister packed medal was an additional information insert card that reads:
Dr. Mitchell also confirmed that Alan Shepard was the sole contact with Franklin and dealt with all the particulars, which is corroborated by the information on the additional information insert card that came with the blister card and the 1971 Numismatic News article.
Although it is documented that 200 numbered specimens were made, according to Dr. Mitchell's detailed records, only 195 of them were flown. And, even though the medals are individually serial numbered, the PPK inventories strictly list that 65 Franklin Mint medals were flown in each of the three crewmember PPKs, but no serial numbers are listed. So, of the 200 specimens made, there are five that exist that may have been given away before launch that were not flown. This fact makes a certification letter from a crewmember, confirming the flown status of a medal, critical.
Recovered letters from 1971 to members of the Franklin Mint Collectors Society confirm that 10,000 grains of flown silver was added to a special silver melt to strike the mini coins. The 10,000 grains of flown silver came from the melting of the Franklin Mint medals that were aboard the mission. A quick calculation shows that 10,000 grains equals 22.86 ounces. I have weighed one of the original flown medals at 0.9595 ounces (27.18g), which equates to 23.826 medals if all are exact. This calculation would be consistent with the reported information that at least 25 of the original coins were returned to the Franklin Mint.
The Franklin Mint struck a number of commemorative unflown medals for the Apollo missions, but it was believed that only Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 medals were intended to be flown.
The silver medals are 39 mm in size and have a reeded edge. However there is a 29 mm smooth gap in the reeding that contains the word STERLING along with the Franklin codes, "F" for the Franklin logo, "71" for the year of issue, "P" to indicate that it was a Proof strike, and the four digit serial number 0XXX. The medal I examined for this study was sterling silver and weighed 0.9595 ounces.
The Special Commemoratives Issues silver medals display all of the same characteristics as the specimens except that they are not numbered. The Proof Quality bronze and Proof-like bronze medals have a reeded edge around the entire coin and have no edge markings.
An interesting and important fact to consider is that these Apollo 14 Franklin Mint medals are intact and "as they were flown" aboard the mission. As Dr. Mitchell explained, they were stacked together, wrapped with duct tape around the edges of the coins, and put into the PPKs. Upon return to Earth, the duct tape was removed and the astronauts stored them away with their private possessions. This is much different than how the Robbins Medals were handled, which were returned to the Robbins Company for finishing and to have the launch, landed and return dates engraved.
Another point is that these were not made available to all of the astronauts like the Robbins Medals. The bulk of these, if not all of them, remained with the crew, thereby limiting their availability even further. And when one considers that any of these that may have come from Alan Shepard (deceased in 1998) or Stuart Roosa (deceased in 1994) were most likely given away without any type of certification because their untimely deaths preceded the realization that certification was important. So, from a rarity perspective, the only one who can produce a certified Franklin Mint medal now is crewmember Edgar Mitchell. Some time after the mission, Dr. Mitchell placed each of his remaining FM medals in a coin flip and hand wrote the serial number on each, along with the notation "Flown on Kitty Hawk" and his initials.
The fact that these have now been confirmed to be the only Franklin Mint medals that were flown makes them unique and likely very appealing to space collectors. Although they are not as aesthetically attractive as their Robbins Medal counterparts, their smaller number, 200 (150 after 50 were returned to the Franklin Mint) compared to 303 for the Robbins, certainly makes them scarcer.
A few years ago, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), one of the leading coin and medal grading companies agreed to certify and encapsulate the FM coins that were submitted to them with proper documentation certifying that they were flown. NGC also certifies the Robbins Medallions and Fliteline Medallions, which has been an important step in opening up the market to a broader audience; one that does not wish to become an expert in order to be certain of an items authenticity. Collectors can be assured as having the genuine article when acquiring an NGC certified piece.
Annex A: Unflown Apollo 13 Franklin Mint medallions sold at auction or identified in private or museum collections
Annex B: Flown Apollo 14 Franklin Mint medallions sold at auction or identified in private or museum collections
| References and assistance in compiling this article: |
Relics of the Space race second edition - Russ Still
Rich Hartzog - AAA Historical Americana - World Exonumia
Collectspace.com - The Editors Collection of Medallions
Dr. Edgar Mitchell - For providing details and PPK manifests
Numismatic News - September 21, 1971 article titled "Solon Attacks Franklin Mint Ad Claim; Company Replies"
Numismatic Issues of the Franklin Mint 1972 edition - Krause
Misc. - Franklin documents
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