From Maps to Mail: Latvian Map Stamps

You’re in charge of the mail for a newly-independent country following a brutal war and an extended time of chaos. You need to create stamps as soon as possible, but most of the paper was used in the war. What do you do?




This was exactly the problem that Latvia faced after World War I and the Russian Revolution. Originally under Russian control, and then occupied by German forces, Latvia had few resources left. In 1918, one week after the end of World War I, the country declared independence.



s-l1600 (6).jpgThere was a lot of work to be done to secure stability for the new country, and creating a good postage system was among the top priorities. Before the war, Latvia had been part of the Russian Empire, and used Russian stamps. During the war, when German forces occupied it, the country had used German stamps. Now, they needed their own postage. But stamps need paper, and there was an extreme paper shortage from the war. The Latvian government soon realized that there was one good source for durable stamp paper: the military maps of the occupying German Army.




The map stamps came in sheets of 228 stamps, in 12 rows of 19. On the back of the existing stamps, sections of Latvia are still evident, with names and grid positions. The new Latvian government only printed 11,956 sheets; fewer than 5000 were perforated. Only 4750 actually made their way to the new government by 1919.



The Republic of Latvia was short-lived; in 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact awarded the country to the USSR. During World War II, both the USSR and German armies occupied the country at different times. Finally, in 1945, it became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. After many years as part of the USSR, the Republic of Latvia once again declared independence on August 21, 1991, after a failed Soviet coup attempt. It joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.
There are many photos of Latvia map stamps here. Some excellent in-depth information on the stamps can be found here.


The Ladies Who Were Liberty

For much of America’s history, our coins featured Lady Liberty rather than any historic figure. Liberty has changed over the centuries, and many women have been models for the ideal: who are the women who are the face of Lady Liberty?

The Draped Bust Liberty: Ann Willing Bingham

draped_bust_se_half_dollarThe Draped Bust coin obverse design, in use from 1795 to 1807, was designed by Mint engraver Robert Scot to replace the Flowing Hair design, which was almost unanimously disliked. Though it cannot be conclusively proved, it is likely that Ann Willing Bingham, a socialite and considered one of the most lovely women of her day, was the inspiration for the Liberty on this coin. She was the subject of many portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart, who created the image that Scot used for his engraving of Liberty on the Draped Bust coins.


Ann Bingham was a regular correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, as well as other luminaries of the American Revolution. Abigail Adams wrote about her, “[Mrs. Bingham is] the finest lady I ever saw. The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say, its animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration.” She often hosted members of the Federalist Party, including Alexander Hamilton, for informal debates at her house. She has sometimes been credited with convincing Thomas Jefferson on the necessity for the Bill of Rights. She died in at the age of 37 in 1801 after contracting a serious illness after the birth of her third child.

The Morgan Dollar Liberty: Anna Willess Williams

800px-1879S_Morgan_Dollar_NGC_MS67plus_Obverse.pngWhen Congress passed the Bland-Allison act, the Treasury began buying silver to mint into new coins, resulting in the need for a new silver dollar design to be stamped onto the newly-minted silver dollars. George Morgan, newly appointed to the Philadelphia Mint in 1876, begin taking intensive art classes; in 1877, he began work on the designs for the new coins. Morgan’s friend, artist Thomas Eakins, encouraged him to use Anna Willess Williams, an art student from Philadelphia, as a model. Morgan considered her profile to be flawless, and was struck by her “crowning glory” of golden hair.

Anna_Willess_Williams_1892.jpgThough she had been guaranteed anonymity, Anna Williams’ identity as the “Silver Dollar Girl” was outed by a reporter in 1879. She was flooded with letters and visitors, to her great distress. She was offered a role on stage that could have made her a great deal of money, but rejected it in favor of a teaching position. She later took a job as a teacher of kindergarten philosophy at $60 a month. When it became known that she was engaged in 1896, interest in Anna Williams was revived. However, the marriage never took place, and Anna preferred to spend her time talking about her role as the supervisor of kindergarten schools in Philadelphia. She suffered a bad fall in December of 1925, and died of a stroke the following April at the age of 68.

The Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty: Elsie Stevens


The Walking Liberty design is considered one of the most beautiful designs among American coins. Created by sculptor Adolph Weinman, a German immigrant to the United States, the Walking Liberty may have been inspired by the “Sower” design on French coins. It is thought that the face of Liberty was modeled on Elsie Stevens, wife of poet Wallace Stevens.


Weinmann had earlier based his design for the Liberty on the Mercury dime on a bust he had sculpted of Elsie; the Stevens’ had rented an apartment from Weinmann from 1909 to 1916. (There is some evidence that silent film star Audrey Munson may have been the model instead, but most solid evidence points to Elsie.) Weinmann asked the young housewife to model for him, pinning her hair up under a winged cap that he said represented “freedom of thought.” The bust has been lost to history, though photographs of it remain.

The Peace Dollar Liberty: Teresa De Francisci

NNC-US-1921-1$-Peace_dollar.jpgDuring WWI, the German propaganda machine tried to spread the idea that the British government did not have enough silver to back all of their paper money in circulation, especially in India. The plan worked: the hoarding of precious metals caused silver prices to rise, increasing the cost of the British war effort. When the British turned to the United States to purchase silver, the government authorized the sale. This, however, resulted in a need for more silver US coins to be struck, and a new design was needed. Numismatists promoted the creation of a design celebrating peace following the war, and the idea caught on. 34-year-old Italian immigrant Anthony de Francisci produced a design that was unanimously selected for the coin; his wife, Teresa, was the inspiration for the Liberty on the obverse of the coin, though other elements were incorporated and stylized. De Francisci stated, “ I opened a window of my studio and let the wind blow on her hair while she was posing for me,” remarking later in 1922 that “the Liberty is not a photograph of Mrs. de Francisci. It is a composite face and in that way typifies something of America.”

teresadefrancisciTeresa de Francisci was born south of Naples, Italy, and came to America as a young child. Young Teresa was struck by the sight of the Statute of Liberty as their steamer ship approached Ellis Island, and often tried to imitate the pose as she grew up. She wrote in a letter to her brother, “You remember how I was always posing as Liberty, and how brokenhearted I was when some other little girl was selected to play the role in the patriotic exercises in school? I thought of those days often while sitting as a model for Tony’s design, and now seeing myself as Miss Liberty on the new coin, it seems like the realization of my fondest childhood dream.” She was the first Italian-American to graduate from her high school. After the death of her husband in 1964, she was a frequent guest as numismatic events; on the 50th anniversary of the Peace dollar, she was presented with a plaque which read, “To a Lady of Peace.”

She passed away in Manhattan on October 20, 1990, 26 years to the day after the death of her husband.

How Coins Betrayed Bonnie and Clyde

The Barrow Gang, led by the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, stormed across multiple states in a deadly crime spree lasting a year and a half. The gang killed both civilians and law officers when cornered or threatened, and escaped capture multiple times. Despite their formidable skill at evading (or simply mowing down) the law, the beginning of the end for the notorious Barrow Gang came from a stash of coins.


800px-Bonnieclyde_f.jpgClyde Barrow had his first arrest in 1926, at the age of 17, after failing to return a rental car on time; he was arrested again shortly afterward, with his brother Buck, for possession of stolen turkeys. Though he held legal jobs from 1927-29, Clyde also robbed stores, stole vehicles, and even cracked safes. After several incarcerations, he was sentenced to Eastham Prison Farm in the spring of 1930. He suffered terrible abuse in the prison (much of it from other inmates), and emerged as a hardened criminal with a grudge against law enforcement and the prison system. Ralph Fults, incarcerated at the prison farm with Clyde, reported that he changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake” during the 2 years he was at the farm.




Bonnie Parker married Roy Thornton at the age of 15, but soon grew estranged from her husband (though they never legally divorced.) She met Clyde Barrow at the house of a friend (according to the more credible reports), and the two fell in love at first sight. When Clyde rounded up friends and family to create his gang, Bonnie stayed by his side.



Bonnie_apuntant_de_broma_a_Clyde_amb_una_escopeta.jpgThe numbers and members of the Barrow gang fluctuated, though Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche were frequently part of the group. They robbed over a dozen banks, as well as small stores and rural gas stations; they killed 9 police officers and several civilians, as well as the occasional kidnapping. Despite a great deal of public popularity, the ruthlessness of the Barrow Gang soon turned public opinion against them. A set of photos from their hideout in Joplin, Missouri, (many taken by Bonnie, who had a lifelong interest in photography) which fell into police hands after a raid, portrayed the Barrow gang as laughing criminals, brandishing guns and smoking cigars. These photos were almost certainly taken in jest (as well as poor taste); the reality of the gang’s life on the road was far less picturesque.




These photos, embellished by a press desperate for the next sensational crime story, ended up cementing Bonnie Parker’s image as a hardened gun moll and the power behind the throne; Bonnie Parker never killed anyone, though she did fire a Browning Automatic and was present for over 100 felonies. As the gang become more notorious, it became harder to find accommodation, forcing them to sleep in campground and bath in cold streams.



On June 10th, 1933, Clyde missed a warning sign at a Texas bridge and rolled the car into a ravine. Bonnie sustained a severe leg injury (sources agree it was a third-degree burn, but whether it was from a gasoline fire or battery acid has not been determined.) This made it harder than ever for the group to hide; Bonnie had to hop on her good leg or be carried, and was in constant need of medical supplies.
BlancheCapturedExfield1933.jpgThe beginning of the end came in July of 1933, at the Red Crown Tourist Court, in Platte City (now part of Kansas City), Missouri. The owner of the hotel was already suspicious when he saw the Barrow car being backed into the garage “gangster style,” for faster getaway. However, it was when Blanche Barrow paid for lodgings, five dinners, and five beers entirely in coins that he became certain he was dealing with robbers. He informed local law officials, which led to a shootout that mortally wounded Buck and resulted in Blanche Barrow’s arrest.


Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree came to an end a few months later in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, when they were caught in an ambush of questionable legality, gunned down by a hail of gunfire from law enforcement.



31121-021Though history does not record which coins Blanche Barrow paid with, we do know what coins would have been in wide circulation at the time. The Lincoln wheat cent (minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco) and Buffalo nickel (minted in Philadelphia and San Francisco) were common, as well as the Mercury dime (minted in Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco).



The Standing Liberty quarter was minted primarily in Philadelphia until 1930, with a few quarters coming out of Denver and San Francisco; it was replaced by the Washington quarter in 1932 (minted at all three locations.) The Walking Liberty half-dollar would also have been in circulation.



NNC-US-1907-G$10-Indian_Head_(no_motto).jpgThe gang might also have used the $10 Indian head coin, and the famous $20 Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin, possibly acquired during their bank robberies. Morgan and Peace dollars might also have formed part of the haul, though not minted during those years; some Indian Head cents and Barber coins would also likely still have been in circulation and part of the stolen money.


CaptureAt least two coins were recovered from the legendary couple’s car. A 1921 Morgan dollar, one of two said to have been taken from Clyde Barrow’s jacket pocket, sold for $32,400 in 2012. The coin was taken from the couple’s car by Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton, who was one of the gunman during the ambush; Hinton’s son wrote a letter to accompany the Morgan, detailing the recovery of the coins. “Nothing has ever been mentioned, written, or published about Clyde’s jacket being in the car right after the melee that morning. Only Ted and the other five posse members were aware of the jacket … I was later made aware of the jacket.” Hinton sold the coins in 1946 to a Dallas buyer, who later traded the coin to settle a debt with the notorious Gambino mob family. According to Coin World, “This provenance is detailed in a letter from Michael Kozlin. Kozlin reportedly received the coin in 1986 from his grandfather, Armand Castellano, a convicted bank robbery get-away-car driver and a cousin to Paulie Castellano. Armand had reportedly received the coin in 1966. Within the last year, according to RR Auction President Bobby Livingston, Kozlin contacted Linton Hinton, ‘who confirmed the details of the origin of the coin from Barrow’s jacket pocket.’ “


The Missing Treasure Train: Will It Reappear?

Secret tunnels, a train full of stolen gold and other treasures, and desperate Nazis: it sounds like something from an Indiana Jones movie, but it could be real.


Near the end of WWII, so the story goes, an armored train was loaded up with gold, jewels, artwork, and other goods stolen by the Nazis. The German troops were trying to stay one step ahead of the invading Soviet forces, and looking for a place to stash their loot. The train disappeared into a network of tunnels, and has not been seen since, though local legends of its existence have persisted through the decades.



Two men, one German and one Polish, claimed last August to have found the missing train buried deep underground, rather than buried in a tunnel as was previously thought. The dig, expected to take days, is located in Walbrzych, Poland; the team has been using several radar techniques to identify anomalies that show the shape of the missing train.



The two men have released a statement, reading “As the finders of a World War II armored train, we, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, declare that we have legally informed state authorities about the find and have precisely indicated the location in the presence of Walbrzych authorities and the police,” according to the AP.



The dig is currently in progress; only time will tell if the legendary treasure train will finally make an appearance.


The Coins and Currency of Brazil




The Portuguese real (plural: réis) was the first currency used by the settlers in Brazil, but the 1654 Dutch real was the first circulating money to actually bear that name during the Dutch occupation of northeastern Brazil.



In the mid 18th century, coins of many denominations circulated: 5, 10, 20, and 40 réis coins in copper, 75, 150, 300, and 600 réis coins in silver, and 1000, 2000, 4000, and 6400 réis coins in gold. In 1778, the silver coinage was reconsidered, and coins in 80, 160, 320, and 640 réis were introduced; over the next few years, gold coins worth 800, 1600, and 3200 réis were added to circulation. Copper and silver coins were counterstamped with Portuguese arms in 1809, increasing the value of some coins, and doubling others. In the early 19th century, 8-real Spanish coins were overstruck, creating coins for 960 réis.



587px-BRAZIL_1829_-20_REIS_a_-_Flickr_-_woody1778a.jpgWhen Brazil gained its independence in 1822, the real was retained; despite ever-growing inflation, the real was not subdivided into smaller denominations.During the decade of of 1823 and 1833, Brazilian copper coinage varied widely, including denominations of 10, 37½, 75, and 80 réis coins, amongst others. Copper coins were standardized by 1835; other reforms later in the century standardized gold and silver coins, and reduced the amount of precious metal in each. The currency fell in 1889 after the founding of the Republic, with further devaluations into the mid twentieth century. Cupro-nickel coins were introduced beginning in 1901, with aluminium-bronze coins coming in 1922, and other base metal coins in 1936. The cruzeiro replaced the real in 1942.



In 1942, the cruzeiro was adopted as the currency of Brazil. The term “cruzeiro” refers to the Southern Cross constellation, which is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere, and is a common emblem in Brazilian culture.



The initial cruzeiro was used between 1942 and 1967; according to Wikipedia, it “had the symbol Cr$ or ₢ (in Unicode U+20A2 ₢ CRUZEIRO SIGN (HTML ₢)). The ₢ sign was the only monetary symbol created specifically for Brazilian currencies: All the others used combinations of uppercase letters (in some cases, uppercase and lowercase) and the cifrão ($), including the current Brazilian real, which uses R$.” Cupro-nickel 10, 20, and 50 centavo coins were also introduced at this time, though the coins were quickly switched to aluminium-bronze and finally to aluminium. The centavos were withdrawn entirely in 1964, with other coins following suit by 1968.



s-l1600 (1)The second cruzeiro circulated from 1967 to 1986 after the country suffered economic collapse. Introduced as the “cruzeiro novo” or “new cruzeiro,” it used the symbol NCr before simply being known as the cruzeiro. In 1970, the symbol changed to Cr$; the original ₢ sign was eliminated due to lack of technical support: few typewriter keyboard carried the symbol. (In fact, the ₢ is still available for standard Brazilian keyboards; it can be produced with the key combination AltGr+C.) New coins appeared in 1967: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 centavo coins, with a 1 cruzeiro coin released in 1970. Several of the initial coins were struck in stainless steel; all of the coins were soon switched to steel.


A third cruzeiro was issued in 1990 after a series of currency changes, using the symbol Cr$. All cruzeiros could be divided into 100 centavos. This currency remained in use until 1993, when it was replaced by the cruzeiro real. The cruzeiro real, in turn, was only used for a few months between August 1, 1993, and June 30, 1994. It could be subdivided into 100 centavos, but this was only used for purposes of accounting. 1000 cruzeiros equaled 1 cruzeiro real.


Before the final switch to the current real was made, Brazil used the unidade real de valor, which was held at parity with the United States dollar. This allowed the people to get used to a stable currency before the introduction of the current real.



5_CENTAVOS_Brasil_1998.jpgCurrently, the Brazilian real is subdivided into 100 centavos, and was adopted as part of the widespread reform package of the Plano Real in 1994. The real was intended to have a generally fixed exchange rate of 1:1 to the US dollar. In 1999, the real underwent a sudden devaluation and fell to 2:1 against the dollar, reaching as low as nearly 4:1 in 2002. It began to recover, but suffered a setback in 2015 during a domestic economic crisis.


The first new coins were introduced in 1994, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 50 centavos, and 1 real, with the addition of a 25 centavo piece soon after. All coins were struck in stainless steel; the original 1 real coins with dates from 1994-1997 have been withdrawn from circulation, but all others are still in use.


What Are Ancient Aliens Doing on This Silver Bar?

A fascinating numismatic item came into our offices the other day: a small bar of .999 fine silver from the Tennessee Silver Coin Exchange, dated 1974. That in itself is not so unusual, but the front of the bar is what holds real interest. The left side of the design shows an astronaut standing on the surface of the moon, holding an American flag. On the right is a drawing from a cave in Tassili N’Ajjer in the Algerian Sahara, depicting a bulbous-headed humanoid form wearing a shapeless suit. The inscription on the coin reads, “Moon, 1969 A.D. Sahara 4000 B.C. Astronauts of Two Ages.”



©Sven Teschke via Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons License

As odd as this item may seem at first, it begins to make sense in historical context. In 1968, a Swiss hotelier named Erich von Däniken published a book titled, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. In his book (which later turned out to be plagiarized in many sections from other, less known works; Von Daniken also admitted to fabricating evidence), von Daniken muses on the possibility that aliens may have visited human beings in ancient times, and that ancient architecture and art held clues to these meetings. Although the idea was not new (blogger and researcher Jason Colavito traces the modern “ancient astronaut” concept back to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft), it became wildly popular. A filmed version of von Daniken’s book, renamed “In Search of Ancient Aliens” and narrated by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, gave way to its own TV series. Von Daniken went on to publish over two dozen books on the same theme, and continues to appear on shows like “Ancient Aliens,” though his popularity has waned several times over the decades.



The_Sirius_Mystery,_first_edition.jpgIn 1976, Robert K. G. Temple published The Sirius Mystery, which claimed that aliens from the system surrounding the star Sirius had visited earth and made contact with ancient peoples, significantly impacting their culture. The evidence in the book later turned out to be severely faulty, but it only added to the ancient alien craze when it was first released. Temple came to believe that the ancient site of Tiwanaku, an ancient structure in western Bolivia, could be dated to 15,000 B.C.E., while archaeological experts believe the site to be no older than 1500 B.C.E. Undeterred, Temple continues to promote ancient alien theories.


bar2.jpgThe 1970’s were the high point of the initial ancient aliens craze, so the existence of an “ancient astronaut” silver bar from 1973 should be no surprise. In fact, on researching this piece, several more silver bars with similar themes were discovered, all from the early 1970’s. This particular bar is one of 1500 minted by the World Wide Mint for the Tennessee Silver Coin Exchange, Inc.


7 Mistakes To Avoid When Collecting Coins



s-l16001: Old equals valuable. Many beginning collectors opt for the oldest coins they can find, assuming that the age of the coin contributes significantly to the value. This is not the case; for one thing, fakes and replicas of ancient coins have flooded the market, and it is often difficult if not impossible to be sure which ones are real. The coins often have little to no provenance, and some have been collected illegally. If you want to collect ancient coins, by all means, go ahead! There are many beautiful and worthwhile coins in this category. Just be aware that these coins are not inherently valuable due to age.



2: Early 20th century is old. If you participate in any coin collecting groups on Facebook or other social media, you know that it’s not uncommon for a stranger to post in a group, asking for help getting a value for an “old” coin, that turns out to be from the 1940’s, or a similar date. Twentieth century coins can be valuable, but they are not considered particularly old (nor would being “old” necessarily add much value.) The penny has only changed reverse design a few times since 1909, and the obverse is almost unchanged. Many of our other coins are similarly static.



s-l1600 (1)


3: Errors are easy to spot. Many errors on coins are very difficult to see, and frequently only visible to a very practiced eye (armed with a good magnifying glass!) Some errors, like offset coins or other mint errors, are obvious, but usually less valuable than the more subtle errors.



4: Fakes are easy to spot. As with error coins, some fakes are obvious, but others are very difficult to detect. More and more mints around the world are using new technologies to prevent fakes from being passed off as real coins; as technology improves, so do the quality of fake coins.



s-l1600 (2).jpg5: “Very good” is an excellent grade of coin. Not necessarily. The Sheldon grading scale, the most common one in use today, ranks coins from good to worse as follows: Mint State (MS-66-70), Mint State (MS-60 to 65), About Uncirculated, Extra Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good. Coins in “Very Good” condition are often more affordable than others, but may not have the value of higher grade coins. However, if the main interest is the design of the coin rather than the condition, these can be excellent options for a collector.



6: Grading is objective. Not as much as we wish! It would make collecting and selling/buying coins much simpler if grading were perfectly objective. While there are some objective markers (damage to a coin’s surface, etc) that can affect quality, many coins may be graded differently by different people. Even experts don’t always agree. Most collectors are content with gradings done by professional grading services, but this is often cost-effective only for coins of higher value.



coin-graph7: Collecting coins is a good way to make money. Have people made money from coin collections? Absolutely. Is it a reliable gold mine? Absolutely not. A coin collection can be a decent investment, but is best enjoyed as a pursuit in its own right. (Those seeking investment opportunities might find that bullion meets their needs better than coins.) Why bother to collect coins if you don’t enjoy them? Collect what you like without worrying too much about investment.

One Small Step: When the Moon Landing Changed the World



47 years ago today, 2 men set foot on the moon for the first time in human history. This event captured the attention of the entire world; it is estimated that 500 million people (about 14% of total world population in 1969) watched the moon landing coverage live on television; it was the largest audience for a live broadcast at the time.  It’s no surprise that an event of that magnitude has been commemorated on coins and stamps as well.




As with many historic events, the space program was celebrated with commemorative tokens. These were struck for all the missions, from the initial Mercury project up through the Apollo program. NASA and its astronauts were national heroes, and many space-themed collectibles were created during the 1960’s.





The Apollo 11 mission, naturally, received special focus. By the time of the Apollo missions, the United States had pulled ahead in the space race, after coming in second to the USSR in nearly every milestone until the Gemini 3 mission. For Gemini 3, Gus Grissom (who died in the Apollo 1 disaster) and John Young (who went on to several Apollo missions as well as the Shuttle program) demonstrated the ability to change the orbit of their craft. Each Gemini mission had a special focus in order to build the knowledge and experience that was needed to safely reach the moon. The Apollo program took the information from the Gemini missions and set forth a daring but achievable plan to reach the lunar surface.



On January 27, 1967, a fire broke out in the Apollo 1 capsule during a routine test. The combination of an oxygen-rich environment and the design of the escape hatch resulted in the death of the Apollo 1 crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. NASA took time after the accident to reassess the module design and the cost of the space program. Flight Director Gene Kranz (most famous for his leadership during the Apollo 13 crisis) told the Mission Control team, “We were too ‘gung-ho’ about the schedule and we blocked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.” New safety measures and procedures were put into place, and the Apollo missions continued. The Apollo 1 mission name was retired in honor of the lost astronauts, and Apollos 2 and 3 never flew. Apollo 4 lifted off in November of 1967, and the race for the moon continued.




Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin


After successful trips around the moon with Apollos 8 and 10 (Apollo 9 was a test of all modules in low earth orbit), Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were aboard; only Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the lunar surface, as Collins stayed behind with the spacecraft.





On July 20, 1969, after a harrowing descent in which the “Eagle” lander ended up short on fuel and kilometers off course, Armstrong and Aldrin landed safely on the surface. Several hours later, the two astronauts descended onto the lunar surface, making history for their nation and for all of humanity.





Apollo 11 mission emblem

Since the first moment when Armstrong’s boots touched the surface of the moon, the image of the first moon landing have become iconic. They have been featured in movies, videos, songs, and on everything from t-shirts to jewelry. The eagle and moon motif on the reverse of the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars was based on the emblem for Apollo 11, since NASA was established during Eisenhower’s administration (the design was re-used for the Anthony dollar, though she had no connection to the program.)



On the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing, we remember the sacrifices made to further the cause of peaceful exploration and scientific inquiry, and look hopefully to the future.

A Vision For the Future


Last week, the world of collectibles lost a giant: Chet Krause, founder of Numismatic News and Krause Publications, passed away at the age of 92. There are many excellent remembrances and eulogies online; we recommend you read them.


chet_krause_ANSChet Krause’s genius was in understanding where the hobby stood at any time and seeing where it could go from there. Looking at his own situation in Wisconsin, largely cut off from other collectors except at shows, he realized that what coin collectors wanted and needed was a way to connect and share information. He began the iconic Numismatic News in 1952 and only a few years later was already respected as a major voice in collecting (see our post about the time coin collecting was almost made illegal for more on that story.)



The Numismatic News, along with other publications like the Standard Catalog of World Coins, revolutionized the hobby, connecting individual coin collectors with other hobbyists around the world. This consolidated information that had previously been difficult to find. It’s not a stretch to say that Krause’s work anticipated the rise of social media 50 years before it happened.



While he’s continued to do great things for his small town of Iola WI, Chet Krause’s impact has been felt world-wide. It’s impossible to know how many people he brought into the hobby by making information about coins more available to a wider range of people.



Chet was born in Helvetia, Wisconsin. Interestingly enough, Helvetia is the female goddess of Switzerland, and the name “Helvetia” is printed on all of Switzerland’s stamps and coins. (Perhaps this was the start of Krause’s interest in coin collecting?)





This kind of ability, to recognize the state of the hobby and see what the next step is, is the hallmark of true genius. It is this kind of ability that helped coin collecting not only survive the second half of the twentieth century, but enabled it to thrive. This is the sort of vision that will propel numismatics into the twenty-first century.


We offer our condolences to Mr. Krause’s friends and family, as we work to continue that legacy and expand the world of numismatics into the future.

These Unforgettable Journeys Display the Best of Human Courage

Exploration has been a part of the human experience from the very beginning, and we have commemorated our journeys in every form of art imaginable. One of the most popular ways to memorialize our journeys has been on postage stamps. Here are a few of our favorites.


The 1930 Europe-Pan American Flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin



The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was one of the most-traveled airships of all time. Built in Germany in 1926-1928, the commercial craft was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, pioneer of German airships. During its 12 years of operations, it flew more than 1 million miles in 590 flights.


The Graf first visited South America in 1930, as one stop on a flight between Spain, Brazil, and the United States. The ship offered passenger service, as well as express freight and air mail between all four countries. The first such flight left from Friedrichshafen on the 18th of May, 1930, before stopping in Seville and subsequently departing Europe.


The LZ 127 docked at Campo do Jiquiá in Brazil, to the welcoming shouts of more than 15,000 onlookers. It proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, then flew to Lakehurst, New Jersey; after departing for Seville on June 2, it returned to Germany. Two years later, the Graf had an established Germany-Brazil passenger, mail, and freight service; this route was active from 1932 to 1937.


graf zepplinFor many of its journeys, including the Europe-Pan American flights, the Graf found its funding from franked stamps on souvenir mail. Anyone could buy a stamp with the Graf’s design issued by Spain, Brazil, and the United States, which would be good for mail to be sent on one or more parts of the Graf’s route. In the United States, these stamps were issued in three denominations: $0.65, $1.30, and $2.60. However, since the United States was caught in the Great Depression during this time, very few stamps sold at such high prices. 1,135,000 of the $0.65 stamps were printed, with only about 20,000 sold or otherwise distributed. The numbers for the pricier stamps are low, too; for the $1.30 stamp, 1,005,000 were printed with only 30,000 distributed. The most expensive stamp only sold 5,000 of its 1,070,000 print run.


The stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, and over 3 million unsold stamps were destroyed; this made the Graf Zeppelin issues the smallest of the United States Post Office Department issues of the twentieth century.


Despite the low sales of stamps in the US, the Graf proved the feasibility of pan-Atlantic airship service. It offered regular services between Germany and South America in the summers for five years. The increase in commercial airplane service, as well as the high cost of the gas used in the zeppelin, contributed to the decline of demand for airship services, and the Hindenburg disaster made such journeys seem unsafe to the general public.


The LZ 127 was grounded the day after the Hindenburg crashed, and removed from service after its arrival in Friedrichshafen on May 8, 1937. In mid June, the Graf was taken to Frankfurt on its final flight, deflated, and opened as a public museum. Attempts to revive the airship program failed due to tensions between the United States and Germany. On March 4, 1940, Air Minister Hermann Göring ordered the ship to be scrapped for salvage, and melted for reuse by the German military.

Antarctic Exploration

800px-Mt_Murphy,_Antarctica.jpgAntarctica has been a land of mystery for thousands of years, as early geographical theories relied on a large southern continent to “balance” the land mass of the known world. “Antarctic” was coined in the second century AD, though it was not until the Cape of Good Hope was rounded in the 15th century that it was revealed to be a continent unattached to any of the other known land masses. Explorer Captain Cook and his crew were the first modern Europeans to cross the Antarctic Circle, though they did not see the mainland.


In the 1800s, Russian and British crews made claims to be the first to catch sight of the ice surrounding the continent, but it is unclear who actually gets credit. It is thought that American seal hunter John Davis was probably the first to actually walk on the ice. During the early twentieth century, various expeditions attempted to reach the South Pole, only to end in disaster and loss of life. On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the Pole, after an arduous race with Robert Scott of England. Scott reached the Pole 33 days after Amundsen, and all five members of his party died on the return journey.


48759-01__93433.1434408467.1200.1200Sir Douglas Mawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911-1914, focusing on the coastline between Mount Gauss and Cape Adare. The mission concentrated on mapping and surveying the land, and included discoveries such as Ninnis and Mertz glaciers, Queen Mary Land, and Commonwealth Bay. The Australian Antarctic Territory issued its first stamp in 1957.

The Journey to Space

600px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseThe greatest journey humanity has ever undertaken is the journey off our homeworld and into space. The 1960’s were characterized by an intense focus on human spaceflight, especially the race to land a human being on the moon. Russia and the United States both had scientific and political reasons for attempting this feat, but after a slow start, the United States quickly pulled ahead. On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission launched: it would be the first time human beings had left the orbit of the earth. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell (better known for his time on the Apollo 13 mission), and William Anders were the first human beings to see the entire planet from space, to see the far side of the moon with their own eyes, and the first to witness an earthrise over the lunar surface. The photo of this event is one of the most famous and evocative photos in history.


Due to complications with the Lunar Module, the mission was refocused to go without the module, and to leave a few months earlier than originally scheduled. This placed a great deal of pressure on the astronauts as their training was suddenly intensified. The Apollo 8 mission was the first manned launch of the legendary Saturn V rocket as it blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Taking three days to reach the moon, the crew and craft orbited ten times; the crew took this opportunity to share a Christmas Eve broadcast, which was the most watched television broadcast of the time. Upon returning to Earth via splashdown in the Pacific on December 27, 1968, the three astronauts were named Time’s “Men of the Year.” The Apollo 8 mission was crucial to the success of the later moon landing missions.



The moon race was of interest to the entire human race, not just the countries directly involved. This contemporary gold foil stamp from Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) shows the Apollo 8 command module, with a cratered lunar surface behind it.


Whether we are exploring the furthest reaches of our own planet, or trying to reach the stars, humanity loves to push ourselves further, and to document our journeys in whatever way we can. Whether it’s stamps, coins, fine art, or just graffiti, we know how to say “we were here!” with style.


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