Tag Archives: philadelphia

When the Moon Throws You a Curve….

Kenneth Holland and Mary Lannin with Lannin's struck $1 silver coin.
Kenneth Holland and Mary Lannin with Lannin’s struck $1 silver coin.

There are few universal memories that make each of us think back and say, “Ah, I remember…”. One of these took place on July 20, 1969, when all nations were held mesmerized watching Apollo 11 and humanity’s first steps on the moon.

My link to that day culminated in an opportunity, as a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, to attend the ceremonial strike for the Apollo 11 $1 silver coin at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia on December 13. I was able to strike my own $1 coin, ably assisted by Coin Press Operator, Kenneth Holland. Other “temporary” press operators were the children of the Apollo 11 astronauts, Mark Armstrong, son of Neil Armstrong, Andy Aldrin, son of Buzz Aldrin, and Ann Starr, daughter of Michael Collins.

Ann Collins Starr (l.) and Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill (r.) holding photo of 'Buzz Aldrin on the Moon' taken July 20, 1969.
Ann Collins Starr (l.) and Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill (r.) holding photo of ‘Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’ taken July 20, 1969.

The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Program had been passed two years earlier by Congress, with common obverses and reverses required for the four coins in the series: a curved $5 gold coin, a curved $1 silver coin, a curved half-dollar clad coin, and a curved 5-ounce 3-inch $1 silver proof coin, the largest curved coin ever struck by the U.S. Mint. Quantities struck from this series should enable collectors to add to their collections – 50,000 $5 gold half-eagles, 400,000 $1 silver coins, 750,000 clad half-dollars, and 100,000 5-ounce $1 silver proof coins. The coins will be available for sale on January 24, 2019, and can be obtained at www.usmint.gov.

While the image of the reverse was mandated by the law—the famous ‘‘Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’’ photograph taken July 20, 1969, that shows just the visor and part of the helmet of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in which the mirrored visor reflects the image of the United States flag, the lunar lander, and the remainder of the helmet has a frosted finish—the obverse design was open to a juried competition, judged by selected members of both the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts, with the final selection made by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Obverse (l.) and reverse (r.) of the Apollo 11 $1 silver coin.
Obverse (l.) and reverse (r.) of the Apollo 11 $1 silver coin.

Gary Cooper had his design of the boot imprint on the lunar surface selected as the winning representation, sculpted by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna. U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill sculpted the reverse.

A sell-out of these coins will result in surcharges of $14 million for the three designated beneficiaries—50% to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum’s Destination Moon exhibit, 25% to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and 25% to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

—Mary Lannin, ANS Trustee

Philadelphia Sanitary Fair Tokens, 1864

Library of Congress

The United States Sanitary Commission was a relief agency created to support soldiers that fought for the Union during the Civil War. It was a private organization that raised funds, coordinated donations of basic necessities and medical supplies, and provided volunteers to care for the sick and wounded. In line with other benevolent organizations of the time, women played a leading role as the Sanitary Commission offered a way for them to make a meaningful contribution to the war effort.

Philadelphia sanitary fair catalogue & guide
Library of Congress

One of the ways that the group raised money was by organizing Sanitary Fairs, which were exhibitions that featured a panoply of art, technology, and entertainment (click on the cover image of the guide to the Philadelphia fair at left to get an idea of the range of attractions on offer). Such fairs were held all over the country during the war, but the one held in Philadelphia in June of 1864 was one of the largest. It was known colloquially as “The Great Central Fair,” and an enormous exhibition hall was constructed at Logan Square to host the proceedings. Patrons paid an entry fee and then there were a variety of goods for sale and charitable opportunities within, the profits from which were subsequently donated to the commission.  The fair occurred in the shadow of the Battle of Cold Harbor, where an ill-conceived frontal assault by Union forces had led to a frightful number of casualties. Despite the grim news from the front lines, the fair itself was by all accounts a great success. On June 16, President Abraham Lincoln paid a visit with his family, and made a rousing speech thanking the Sanitary Commission for its efforts  towards “the comfort and relief of the soldiers,” and beseeched the public for more assistance.

One of the interesting numismatic elements of the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair was a coining press for making tokens, which was operated by machinists at the US Mint.

New York Public Library (click to enlarge)

This stereoview shows the set up of the coining press at the fair amidst a thicket of American flags. The banner overhead advertised copper tokens for 10¢ each and silver for 50¢, and the ANS holds several examples of both kinds.

ANS, 1956.163.1402
ANS, 1956.163.1402


ANS, 1956.163.1401
ANS, 1956.163.1401

At 18 mm in diameter, they are almost exactly the size of a current dime, and they are not particularly rare so a goodly number seemed to have been produced during the fair. The bust might not be instantly recognizable as such, but it is George Washington, and the reverse has a simple and curved descriptive legend. The number of extant examples and the relatively high cost of the tokens vis-à-vis the materials used suggests that it was quite a successful fund-raiser.

A larger and more formal medal was also struck by the US Mint to mark the occasion. It was crafted by longtime engraver Anthony C. Paquet, and it neatly encapsulates the activities and purpose of the Sanitary Commission.

ANS, 0000.999.45520
ANS, 0000.999.45520

If you dropped the last “FOR US” part, the legend would make a nice rhyming couplet! In any case, this particular medal is I suspect a later restrike from the original dies. Together, these pieces are a useful reminder of the significant role that women and charitable organizations like the United States Sanitary Commission played in supporting the war effort and ameliorating the terrible impact the war had on the men who were fighting it.

For more on the Great Central Fair, the Library Company of Philadelphia has a small digital exhibition with lots of images that you can find here. A comprehensive contemporary account by Charles J. Stillé can be read here. On the larger and longer history of fundraising fairs in the United States, see Beverly Gordon’s Bazaars & Fair Ladies (1998).

Matthew Wittmann